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December 18th, 2008
Looking for Lincoln During the Civil War
Lesson Overview

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TIME ALLOTMENT: two to three 45-minute class periods

OVERVIEW: Abraham Lincoln’s presidency was defined by the Civil War. Before he even took office—and largely because of his election—southern states were seceding from the Union, and he would barely live to see peace finally restored. Using segments from the PBS film LOOKING FOR LINCOLN and a detailed interactive game from the National Constitution Center, this lesson will explore the unique challenges Lincoln faced during the five years of bloody civil war that made him America’s greatest but most controversial wartime leader.

The Introductory Activity uses the “Lincoln’s Crossroads” online interactive to challenge students to make two of the earliest and most difficult decisions Lincoln faced during his presidency. A segment from the series is then used to promote discussion of the relative similarities and differences between Lincoln and another wartime president: George W. Bush. The Learning Activities continue with film segments providing background on Lincoln’s presidency and additional rounds of the “Lincoln’s Crossroads” interactive which call on students to “walk in his shoes.” The Culminating Activity asks students to write a hypothetical speech for Lincoln.
This lesson is best used as an introduction to a unit on the American Civil War.

SUBJECT MATTER: U.S. History/Social Studies


Students will be able to:

• Describe the unprecedented scale of the losses sustained by both sides during the American Civil War.
• Identify significant events and milestones of Lincoln’s presidency.
• Articulate the difficult choices faced by President Lincoln in leading the nation during an often unpopular civil war.
• Discuss the development of how Lincoln’s position on the issue of slavery and emancipation changed during the course of the war, and why.


History Standards for Grades 5-12

Historical Thinking Standards
Standard 1: Chronological Thinking

E. Interpret data presented in time lines and create time lines.
F. Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration; explain historical continuity and change.

Standard 2 : Historical Comprehension

B. Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage.
F. Appreciate historical perspectives.

Standard 3 : Historical Analysis and Interpretation

A. Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas.
B. Consider multiple perspectives.
C. Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation, including (a) the importance of the individual in history; (b) the influence of ideas, human interests, and beliefs.
F. Compare competing historical narratives.

Standard 5 : Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making

A. Identify issues and problems in the past.
E. Formulate a position or course of action on an issue.

United States History Standards
Era 5
Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

STANDARD 1: The causes of the Civil War

Standard 1A: The student understands how the North and South differed and how politics and ideologies led to the Civil War.
• Explain the causes of the Civil War and evaluate the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict. [Compare competing historical narratives]

STANDARD 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people.

Standard 2A: The student understands how the resources of the Union and Confederacy affected the course of the war.
• Identify the turning points of the war and evaluate how political, military, and diplomatic leadership affected the outcome of the conflict. [Assess the importance of the individual in history]
• Evaluate provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s reasons for issuing it, and its significance. [Examine the influence of ideas]



LOOKING FOR LINCOLN, selected segments

Clip 1: Bush on Lincoln

An interview with President George W. Bush about the parallels between his and Lincoln’s presidencies.

Clip 2: Proving Ground

An introduction to the Civil War and Lincoln’s view of the Confederacy.

Clip 3: “How Could God Have Allowed This?”

A description of Lincoln’s need to ennoble the the Civil War’s horrors with the higher cause of abolition.

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.


Abraham Lincoln’s Crossroads
An interactive game from the National Constitution Center in which players are challenged to make the difficult decisions faced by Abraham Lincoln.


For the class:
• A computer with internet access connected to a projector and speakers for classroom use.

For each student:
• “Lincoln’s Crossroads” Student Organizer (download here)


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments and Web site used in the lesson.

Download the video segments used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the Web site used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Play the “Lincoln’s Crossroads” interactive to familiarize yourself with the flow of gameplay and learn where you will need to pause it for classroom participation.

Print and copy the “Lincoln’s Crossroads” student organizer.

Next: Proceed to Activities

Lesson plans for LOOKING FOR LINCOLN were created by the LAB@Thirteen, Thirteen’s Community and Educational Outreach Department.

Inside This Lesson

State Farm

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