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December 19th, 2008
Looking for Lincoln's Views on Slavery
Lesson Overview

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Grades 5-8

Two 45-minute class periods

In this lesson, students will examine Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery and race, which evolved both throughout his early life and throughout his presidency. The lesson will begin with students examining how aspects of American society and life have changed over the course of their lifetimes, as well as the reasons for change in their own personal lives. Students will then review how Lincoln’s stance on slavery shifted over the course of his political career. Through an examination of historical quotations and primary source documents, students will learn that the Emancipation Proclamation was the result of a complex and sometimes contradictory interplay of circumstances – some political, some personal, and some societal. Students will view segments from the PBS film LOOKING FOR LINCOLN, read and analyze quotations from different historical figures on slavery and race, and utilize an online timeline interactive, before creating a position paper outlining a response to a historian’s perspective on Lincoln and slavery. This lesson is best used before, during, or following a unit on the American Civil War. Students should have a basic familiarity with Lincoln’s presidency and the Emancipation Proclamation prior to embarking on this lesson.

Social Studies; U.S. History


Students will be able to:
• Articulate causes of change at the personal and societal level;
• Summarize Lincoln’s changing views on slavery and race;
• Analyze historical quotations and appreciate historical perspectives;
• Synthesize a response to a historian’s perspective addressing Abraham Lincoln’s changing views on slavery.


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: Early Views

Lincoln’s views on slavery early in his presidency.

Clip 2: White Supremacist?

Lincoln’s views on racial equality.

Clip 3: The Road to Emancipation

Strategic and moral arguments for emancipation.

Clip 4: Growth and Change

Lincoln’s capacity for growth.

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

Web sites:

The Life of Lincoln Interactive Timeline
This interactive timeline game challenges students to place Lincoln images, documents, and quotations into the correct chronological order.


For the class:
• Computers with internet access
• Computer, Projection screen, and speakers (for class viewing of online/downloaded video segments)
• “Who Said It?” Answer Key (download here)
• “Looking for Lincoln’s Views on Slavery” Video Organizer Answer Key (download here)

For each pair of students:
• “Who Said It?” Student Organizer (download here)

For each student:
• “Looking for Lincoln’s Views on Slavery” Video Organizer (download here)


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

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

Download the video clips 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.

Print out and make copies of the “Who Said It?” Student Organizer for each pair of students, and the “Looking for Lincoln’s Views on Slavery” Video Organizer for each student.

Familiarize yourself with the “Life of Lincoln” interactive timeline activity, which you will be leading for the class in Learning Activity 3.

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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