TWM LESSON PLAN
THE END OF AMERICA'S NIGHTMARE DANCE WITH SLAVERY USING SPIELBERG'S LINCOLN
Age: 13+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language; Drama; 2012, 150 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Warning to Teachers: Watching this film is such a strong experience that showing the movie without proper scaffolding risks leaving students with the misimpression that Emancipation consisted of a month of rancorous debate and political logrolling in the House of Representatives. This Lesson Plan provides the information, discussions, and assignments to allow teachers to use the film without students retaining that misimpression. The materials below present the movie as an integral part of a unit on the end of America's nightmare dance with slavery.
Rationale: The decision to emancipate the slaves and to reject the bargain between North and South that gave Constitutional protection to slavery is one of the most important developments in U.S. history. President Abraham Lincoln is among the three greatest Presidents in U.S. history. The film Lincoln provides visual and emotional depth as well as a dramatic high point to the unit.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Lesson Plan: Students will understand the broad social movement that resulted in the emancipation of the slaves. They will retain striking visual images of Abraham Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, and the passage of the resolution sending the 13th Amendment to the States for ratification — all within the context of the broad effort to end slavery in the U.S. They will understand why the 13th Amendment was necessary to invalidate protections for slavery written into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers. Students will be motivated to do their best on research and writing assignments.
"It is the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century."
LESSON PLAN MENU
All citations are to the Bibliography in the Supplemental Materials.
The Thirteenth Amendment didn't just ban slavery, it invalidated the protections for slavery written into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers. The Thirteenth Amendment was like a surgery, cutting the cancer of slavery out of the Constitution.
The Thirteen Amendment states:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Amendment was passed in the Senate by the required 2/3rds margin on April 8, 1864. It was rejected once by the House of Representatives but passed on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by 3/4s of the states on December 6, 1865 at which point it became the law of the land.
Lincoln did not have an opportunity to write his memoirs, and we are left to speculate about his reasons for insisting that the 13th Amendment be passed in January of 1865 by a lame-duck Congress. This movie contains one of the best explanations of those reasons, whether on film or in print. See Response to Discussion Question #1.
1. PUTTING THE EVENTS OF JANUARY 1865 IN CONTEXT — STUDENT REPORTS OR LECTURE
27 Student Reports: In preparation for showing the movie, have students present short reports on the following topics. If a particular report does not include the "Important Facts," teachers should supply the missing information along with any additional insights that the teacher believes will be helpful. For a list of report topics click here. Omit reports on those topics that the class has already studied. In the alternative, teachers can provide the necessary background for the film through direct instruction using the "Important Facts" as the starting point for the lecture.
The End of Slavery in Great Britain and the British Empire
The Role of Slavery in the American Revolution and the South's Bargain with the North to Protect Slavery
Constitutional Protections for Slavery
Some of the Consequences of Slavery for the Slave, the Master, and Southern Society
George Washington and Slavery
Thomas Jefferson and Slavery
Benjamin Franklin on Slavery
How Northern Ingenuity Strengthened Slavery in the South and Help Set the Preconditions for Civil War
The Political Power of Slaveholders Before the Civil War
What Life was Like for Free Blacks in the U.S. Before the Civil War
Important Facts:Attitudes Toward Slavery in the South from the time of the Revolution through 1865
Important Facts:The Abolition Movement in the U.S.
Important Facts:The Dred Scott Decision
The Election of 1860
The Scorpion's Sting and Why the South Seceded When Lincoln Was Elected
Why Most People in the North Supported the War — Was the U.S. the only surviving democracy in 1860?
Actions Before January 31, 1865, Taken by Lincoln, Congress, the Army and Various States to Restrict or Eliminate Slavery
Important Facts:What actions did African-Americans, slave and free, take which set the stage for passage of the 13th Amendment?
Important Facts:Some War Democrats Changed their Position On the Amendment Out of Conviction - Including John Rollins, Samuel S. Cox and Tammany Hall,
Important Facts:At the end of this series of reports, teachers should note for the class the following:
A few more reports:
Elizabeth Keckley — Entrepreneur, Modiste, and Confidante of Mary Lincoln
Important Facts:Seward and Lincoln
2. WATCHING THE FILM
Watch the film with the class. There is no need for note-taking during the movie or to interrupt the film to explain events shown on the screen.
3. TURNING STUDENTS TOWARD THE HISTORICAL RECORD
Teacher Comments to the Class: Before the 1860s, the federal government was considered the greatest potential danger to liberty. The experience of the repressive policies of the British government that had led to rebellion only 85 years before was still fresh in the minds of Americans. Most of the first eleven amendments to the Constitution limited the powers of the federal government, and the Twelfth Amendment corrected a technical flaw in the operation of the Electoral College. It was not until the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that the Federal Government first became a protector of rights of individuals, including African-Americans. Since that time, several important reforms advancing the rights of oppressed classes were attained through federal action. These include national women's suffrage, which was enacted through the 19th Amendment in 1920, court decisions and civil rights legislation which assisted the black civil rights movement beginning in the 1960s, the 26th Amendment that gave the right to vote to 18-year-olds in 1971, and the American's With Disabilities Act of 1990.
With the need to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, with the advent of the Internet and cell phones, and the capacity of the government to collect and sort vast quantities of information about our daily lives, the federal government under Presidents Bush and Obama has created what many call "the Surveillance State." The question arises whether the historic alignment of the federal government with individual liberties is changing, and whether, as it was in the first 85 years of our nation, the federal government is now the greatest potential danger to liberty. Only time will tell.
Lincoln Readings: Immediately after showing the movie and the teacher comment, TWM recommends having students read selected excerpts of Lincoln's speeches and writings either individually or out-loud as a class activity. These readings use the strong identification that students will feel toward Daniel Day-Lewis' characterization of Abraham Lincoln to: (i) enhance their appreciation of Lincoln's eloquence; (ii) review and provide additional context for basic historical lessons of the Civil War period; and (iii) turn students toward the historical record. Click here for TWM's suggested readings in word processing format. Teachers should feel free to add their favorite Lincoln speech or writing and to delete passages as appropriate for their classes.
Final Student Reports
A Biographical Sketch of Thaddeus Stevens Through the end of 1864 focusing on his abolitionist beliefs, his relationship with Mrs. Smith and his Charity
Important Facts:Thaddeus Stevens 1865 and Beyond including his speech in support of the Thirteenth Amendment disavowing racial equality and whether Lincoln, had he lived, would have moved toward supporting Stevens' less forgiving position on reconstruction.
Important Facts:Teachers: After this report relate the following anecdotes to the class:
Stevens was an excellent orator and, as shown in the film, had a sharp wit. When a Louisiana senator proclaimed that slaves were the "happiest, the most contented, and the best-fed people in the world", Stevens countered with the following proposal: "If this be so, let us give all a chance to enjoy this blessing. Let the slaves who choose, go free; and the free who choose, become slaves."
A story about Stevens demonstrates his personal commitment to end slavery, his strong personal connections with people, and the corrosive influence of slavery on slaveholders. As his law practice grew, Stevens needed a set of law books to help him with his research. He saved up $300 and started out for Baltimore to buy the books. On the way, he stopped at an inn for the night. Stevens knew the owner and his staff, having stopped there several times before. One of the servants was a mulatto young man, known to Stevens to be the son of the proprietor and a slave. As Stevens went to his room, he heard a woman crying and inquired what was the matter. She was of mixed race and told him that her husband, the young mulatto man who was the son of the proprietor, was going to be sold South because the owner/father needed money. Stevens went to the owner of the inn and offered him $150 if he wouldn't sell his son. The man refused insisting on the full price for the young man. Stevens finally paid the $300, manumitted the inn-keeper's son, and returned home without the law books. Korngold p. 45. For another version, see Brodie p. 52.
Finally, show students a picture of the real Thaddeus Stevens and have them read the following excerpts. Click here for a version to print and hand out to the class.
On January 5, 1865, Thaddeus Stevens gave a speech on the House floor in support of the 13th Amendment. The high point of those remarks were:
Those who believe that a righteous Providence punishes nations for national sins believe that this terrible plague is brought upon us as a punishment for our oppression of a harmless race of men inflicted without cause and without excuse for ages. I accept this belief; for I remember that an ancient despot, not so cruel as this Republic, held a people in bondage — a bondage much lighter than American slavery; that the Lord ordered him to liberate them. He refused. His whole people were punished. Plague after plague was sent upon the land until the seventh slew the firstborn of every household; nor did they cease until the tyrant 'let the people go.' We have suffered more than all the plagues of Egypt; more than the first-born of every household has been taken. We still harden our hearts and refuse to let the people go. The scourge still continues, nor do I expect it to cease until we obey the high behest of the Father of men. We are about to have another opportunity to obey this command. We are about to ascertain the national will by another vote to amend the Constitution. If gentlemen opposite it will yield to the voice of God and humanity and vote for it, I verily believe the sword of the destroying angel will be stayed and this people be reunited. If we still harden our hearts and blood must still flow, may the blood of the victims sit heavily on the hearts of those who cause it. Congressional Globe, 38 Cong. 2 session, January 13, 1865, p. 124Stevens' fellow congressman, Isaac Arnold, wrote of the final debate on the 13th Amendment, January 13, 1865:
And now, on the 13th of January, came Thaddeus Stevens, Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, and the recognized leader of the House, to close the debate. As he came limping with his clubfoot along down the aisle from his committee room, the members gathered thickly around him. He was tall and commanding in person, and although venerable with years, his form was unbent and his intellect undimmed. The galleries had already been filled with the most distinguished people in Washington. As the word ran through the Capitol that Stevens was speaking on the Constitutional Amendment, senators came over from the Senate, lawyers and judges from the court rooms, and distinguished soldiers and citizens filled every available seat, to hear the eloquent old man speak on a measure that was to consummate the warfare of forty years against slavery."Stevens' discourse was more reflective than argumentative:
From my earliest youth I was taught to read the Declaration and to revere its sublime principles. As I advanced in life and became somewhat enabled to consult the writings of great men of antiquity, I found in all their works which have survived the ravages of time and come down to the present generation, one unanimous denunciation of tyranny and of slavery, and eulogy of liberty. Homer, Aeschylus the Greek tragedian, Cicero, Hesiod, Virgil, Tacitus, and Sallust, in immortal language, all denounced slavery as a thing which took away half the man and degraded human beings, and sang paeans in the noblest strings to the goddess of liberty.
Abraham Lincoln's Views of African-Americans
Cutting Out the Cancer: The Thirteenth Amendment
Enforcing Liberty: The Fourteenth Amendment
Voting Rights for Black Men: The Fifteenth Amendment
Flaws in the Original Constitution: Provisions That Protected Slavery:
Article I, Section 2 clause 3 provides that:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
Article I, Section 9 provides that:
"The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress, prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person."
Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 provides that:
"No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."
Article V provides that:
" . . . [N]o amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article. . . ."
The remaining provisions of Article V, which required that amendments be passed by 2/3rds of each House of Congress and ratified by 3/4s of the states protected the other pro-slavery provisions of the Constitution by making it impossible to amend the Constitution without the agreement of the South.
When the President gave what turned out to be his final speech at the White House on April 11, Tad picked up the pages of his speech as he discarded them. When a listener suggested that the defeated Rebels should be hung, Tad said, "Oh, no, we must hang on to them." President Lincoln responded, "That's right, Tad, we must hang on to them." Family: Thomas Lincoln (1853-1871) from Mr. Lincoln's White House, citing Lincoln's Sons by Ruth Painter Randall. However, some historians believe that if Lincoln had lived to deal with the resurgent oppression of blacks by Southern whites, he would have taken a different position. See Foner, p. 335.
For a clear description of Lincoln's doubts about the legality of the Emancipation Proclamation's, see Excerpts from the script: The scene in which Lincoln talks the Cabinet about the legality of the Emancipation Proclamation and the need for the 13th Amendment.
Former President John Quincy Adams feared that disputes over slavery might lead to civil war. He predicted that when the war came, it would lead to the end of slavery. In speeches on the House Floor, where he served after his term as President, J. Q. Adams stated that in such a conflict the war power of the President would supercede all Constitutional barriers protecting slavery and that the commander in chief of the army could emancipate slaves in occupied areas. Foner, p. 164.
It is interesting to note that the South always saw secession as an effort to protect slavery. The constitution of the Confederacy explicitly recognized and protected slave property. Alexander H. Stephens, its vice-president, said that the cornerstone of the Confederacy was slavery and the belief in black inferiority. Foner, p. 163.
Note the following irony. Slavery was protected by the original Constitution and because of the difficulty of passing an amendment, the North could never have mustered the votes to pass the 13th Amendment had the Southern states not withdrawn their representatives from Congress. The South seceded and went to war to protect slavery, but in doing so, it handed to a President who hated slavery but acknowledged that it was protected by the Constitution in the slave states, the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and allowed anti-slavery factions in the House and Senate to gain the super-majorities necessary to amend the Constitution.
Lincoln Passive or Simply Shut-Mouthed?
Movies require action. So, the film doesn't emphasize the many times that Lincoln appeared passive nor does it show the occasions when he listened and did not respond.
" . . . It is true that Lincoln always battled an abiding sadness, but his passivity has been greatly exaggerated. In 1864, he wrote to a Kentucky editor that 'I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me'; but read in context the remark was a humble effort to persuade a dubious border-state newspaperman of the rightness of emancipation, not a profession of inaction. Some of Lincoln's contemporaries ascribed his silences and his evasions to a combination of indecisiveness and inertness. Yet as the Illinois senator Lyman Trumbull observed, these impressions mistook political shrewdness for passivity: Lincoln, Trumbull wrote, 'communicated no more of his own thoughts and purposes than he thought would subserve the ends he had in view.'" Lincoln in Hollywood, from Griffith to Spielberg by Sean Wilentz in The New Republic, 12/21/12.
Author Joshua Shenk asserts that Lincoln's reticence grew out of a discipline that he had learned in order to master deep depressions which had plagued Lincoln all his adult life. As a young man, Abraham Lincoln often talked about his feelings, including depression and a desire at times to commit suicide. However, as a mature man, he rejected emotion and became a devotee of reason, usually expressing himself only after filtering his feelings through a very careful process of reasoning. See Lincoln's Melancholy — How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk. This made Lincoln appear to be, in the words of William Herndon, his law partner, "the most shut-mouthed man I know."
Slavery: the Nation's "Peculiar Institution": While most people think of slavery as the South's "peculiar institution", in this lesson plan we refer to it as the nation's "peculiar institution". The reason for this is that the cotton industry and the Southern slave economy brought benefits to many parts of the nation. Many New England fortunes had been built on the slave trade. The Northern fabric industry was based on cheap, slave-raised cotton. During the Civil War, the mayor of New York, the same Fernando Wood who is portrayed in the movie as a strong defender of slavery and properly vilified by Thaddeus Stevens, advocated secession by the City of New York and alignment with the Confederacy in order to preserve New York's economic ties to the Southern slave power and its cotton.
Great Lincoln Sayings
"When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally." Abraham Lincoln to an Indiana Regiment passing through Washington, March 17, 1865 (29 days before he was assassinated). Introduction to the Mr. Lincoln and Freedom Website.
"If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."
The above quote is contained in this passage: "I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. . . . And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power." from Lincoln's letter to Alfred G. Hodges, April 4, 1864.
Describing the Republican Radicals Lincoln told his Secretary, John Hay: "They are nearer to me than the other side in thought and sentiment, though bitterly hostile personally. They are utterly lawless – the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with – but after all their faces are set Zionwards." Brodie p. 199.
Lincoln on the 13th Amendment: "It is the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century." Reported by his portrait painter, Frank B. Carpenter. Brodie p. 205
"I am President of the United States, clothed with great power. The abolition of slavery by constitutional provision settles the fate, for all coming time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come — a measure of such importance that those two votes must be procured. I leave it to you to determine how it shall be done; but remember that I am President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those votes." Goodwin p. 687.
"I do not agree with those who say that slavery is dead. We are like whalers who have been long on a chase – we have at last got the harpoon into the monster, but we must now look how we steer, or, with one 'flop' of his tail, he will yet send us all to eternity." Comment to New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan. Preface to Mr. Lincoln and Freedom.
Historian Joshua Zeitz: "Steven Spielberg's film reminds us that there was another Lincoln: a profoundly controversial, loved and hated president. Before his apotheosis on Good Friday, 1865, he was scorned as much as he was revered. 'It is a little singular that I who am not a vindictive man should have always been before the people for election in canvasses marked for their bitterness,' Lincoln told Hay. But Abraham Lincoln understood that politics was combat. He was able to reconcile his supreme confidence and a people's touch. He came to believe that he was the hand of God without believing that he was God." Fact-Checking 'Lincoln': Lincoln's Mostly Realistic; His Advisers Aren't by Joshua Zeitz, The Atlantic, 11/12/12;
Lincoln privately urged border state representatives to emancipate their slaves under generous terms, before the tide of war swept away the whole system under no terms at all. "You can not if you would, be blind to the signs of the times," he warned. Ibid.
Professor Kate Masur:
It would not have been much of a stretch — particularly given other liberties taken by the filmmakers — to do things differently. Keckley and Slade might have been shown leaving the White House to attend their own meetings, for example. Keckley could have discussed with Mrs. Lincoln the relief work that, in reality, she organized and the first lady contributed to. Slade could have talked with Lincoln about the 13th Amendment. Indeed, his daughter later recalled that Lincoln had confided in Slade, particularly on the nights when he suffered from insomnia. In Spielberg's 'Lincoln,' Passive Black Characters New York Times Op-Ed Article by Kate Masur; 11/12/12.
Professor Joshua Zeitz writes:
A year and a half after the events portrayed in the movie, Stevens gave a rousing campaign speech in which he excoriated the Democratic party. "We shall hear it repeated ten thousand times," he intoned, "the cry of 'Negro Equality!' The radicals would thrust the negro into your parlors, your bedrooms, and the bosoms of your wives and daughters....And then they [Democrats] will send up the grand chorus from every foul throat, 'nigger,' 'nigger,' 'nigger,' 'nigger!' 'Down with the nigger party, we're for the white man's party.' These unanswerable arguments will ring in every low bar room and be printed in every Blackguard sheet throughout the land whose fundamental maxim is 'all men are created equal.'" In one paragraph, he managed to take down the crude racial incitements of his opponents, while simultaneously assuring listeners that those incitements were false. That was a politician.
The movie's focus on Thaddeus Stevens as the leader of the Radical Republicans should lead to a re-evaluation of this much-maligned giant of the abolitionist movement. Stevens expounded the modern view of race relations, and it took the U.S. a century to catch up. If his plans for reconstruction had been fully implemented, African-Americans might have been saved from Jim Crow oppression in the South and a hundred years of discrimination throughout the land. Generations of whites would have been saved from the guilt and psychological injury caused by the perpetration of oppression and the betrayal of the values of the Declaration of Independence. Some modern historians believe that had Lincoln lived, he would have been inexorably led by events (as he claimed he always was) to take a harder approach to Reconstruction in order to complete the eradication of the Slave Power and protect the former slaves.
Optional Discussion Questions:
1. Why was President Lincoln anxious to get the joint resolution from the House and Senate proposing the Emancipation Amendment to the states passed by the end of January of 1865? The character of Lincoln in the movie tells us. What does he say? Suggested Response: (1) He knew that that Emancipation Proclamation was on shaky legal grounds once the war was over. (2) He knew the great strength of the Slave Power and its allies in the North; he didn't know if promises of emancipation would be honored by governments that came after he left office unless slavery was abolished by the Constitution. (3) While he had appointed Republican judges to the Supreme Court, including the abolitionist Salmon P. Chase as the Chief Justice, he knew that courts can come up with unexpected decisions (for example a determination that the Emancipation Proclamation applied only to those who had crossed Union lines during the war or that it didn't apply to children of the former slaves); (4) the nation needed to get beyond the issue of slavery before it could progress or as the Lincoln character in the movie said,
. . . I can't accomplish a goddamned thing of any human meaning or worth until we cure ourselves of slavery and end this pestilential war, and whether any of you or anyone else knows it, I know I need this! This amendment is that cure! We're stepped out upon the world's stage now, now, with the fate of human dignity in our hands! Blood's been spilt to afford us this moment!2. Was Lincoln justified in offering federal offices to Democratic Congressmen in return for their votes for the 13th Amendment? In the present day, this conduct would be illegal. See 18 United States Code § 201 paragraphs (b) and (c). Suggested Response: See Optional Assignment #1 below.
3. [This question is particularly appropriate for schools in the eleven States that seceded from the Union.] In the late 1800s and most of the 20th century, many in the South subscribed to a view of history that romanticized the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy." This was the idea that the Civil War and Reconstruction saw a virtuous, chivalrous, heroic South crushed by the overwhelming force of a coarse and industrial North. It accused the North of cultural and economic aggression seeking to destroy the Southern way of life. Many popular books and movies, such as Gone With the Wind were based on this theory. Is the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy" myth or reality? Defend your position. Suggested Response; Strong answers will deal with the following issues: The alleged right to secede was a retrograde regionalism and an unworkable political theory that would have resulted in the country splintering into many parts and, possibly, to anarchy. (See Lincoln's First Inaugural.) It protected a barbaric and utterly evil institution, that of slavery. In fact, the Southern slaveholding class was perpetrating crimes against humanity by maintaining slavery. As for the North, it can be said that the war was the effort of an industrialized region to impose its values on a primarily agrarian, slave holding region. However, in 1861 most Northerners supported the war to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. In 1861 most of Europe was in the hands of a resurgent aristocracy and the democratic promise of the French Revolution was in retreat. The U.S. was the world's only major democracy. See Why Most People in the North Supported the War — Important Facts. If the U.S. could not hold itself together the cause of democracy, not only in America but in the World, would have been set back for generations, if not discredited entirely.
4. Some historians view the U.S. Constitution before the 13th Amendment as having been a defective instrument for governing the nation. Do you agree or disagree? Suggested Response: (There are good arguments on both sides. Here are a few of them.) The purpose of a system of government is to resolve disputes. In a dictatorship, the dictator decides. In an oligarchy, the aristocrats decide. In a direct democracy, the people vote (as they did in Ancient Athens). In a representative democracy, such as the British parliamentary system, the representatives of the people decide. In a modified representative democracy, such as the U.S., the representatives of the people (the House of Representatives) are but one part of the legislative branch. The Senate, which is not representative of the people, is the other part of the legislative branch. In addition, in the U.S. the legislature shares power with the Executive and the Courts. Despite many attempts such as the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Constitutional system could not resolve the issue of slavery, and eventually the South attempted to secede. Once the slavery issue was decided by the war and the 13th Amendment, the U.S. constitutional system has been able to resolve all issues of dispute in American politics. While Americans have disagreed about policies since that time and recently government has become gridlocked on several occasions causing temporary shutdowns of the government, since the Civil War there have been no issues which have caused a total break down of the system for governance.
5. Why was the second clause of the 13th Amendment an historical first, and what was its importance? Suggested Response: In the U.S. Constitution, Congress only has the powers specifically delegated to it. For example, before the 13th Amendment Lincoln and most Americans believed that Congress had no power to ban slavery in the states. In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court held that Congress had no power to ban slavery in the territories. The second clause of the 13th Amendment gave Congress the power to enforce the abolition of slavery. None of the first twelve amendment to the Constitution had delegated new powers to the Congress, and most had restricted the power of the government generally or Congress specifically. The 13th Amendment was the first that delegated additional powers to the Congress.
6. In the movie, the character of Stevens says,
. . . [T]he inner compass that should direct the soul toward justice has ossified in white men and women, north and south, unto utter uselessness through tolerating the evil of slavery. White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country's infinite abundance with Negroes.
It has been often said that the people know more than the politicians about what is right and what is best for the country. However, from 1776 through just before 1865, most whites in the U.S. supported slavery. In January of 1865, a majority only supported emancipation as a war measure to hurt the Confederacy and bring an end to the conflict. Was the Stevens character right about American whites? What does this say to us about the wisdom and morality of majorities in democratic societies? If the Stevens character was right, why are majorities given the power to govern by choosing their leaders and to set policy by choosing their legislative representatives? Suggested Response: As Lincoln said, "If anything is wrong, slavery is wrong." The support given by American whites to slavery and later to discrimination against African-Americans tells us that the people can be wrong and that majorities govern, not because they make correct decisions, but because in democratic societies, majorities have the right to govern. It is the responsibility of the people to choose representatives who will make the right choices.
Alternative Question for #6 Lincoln said, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." However, most of the American people North as well as South, supported obedience to the Constitution which protected slavery in the South. In 1865, the Emancipation Amendment was supported by a majority of the American people only as a war measure. Seen from our time, this was a colossal failure of morality. What does this tell you about the role of the people in a democratic government. Suggested Response: In democratic societies majorities govern, not because they make correct decisions, but because they have the right to govern. It is the responsibility of the people to choose representatives who will make the right choices. This is a very important responsibility and every voter must think about this when he or she votes -- or chooses not to vote.7. Mrs. Keckley's son, who was at least 3/4s white, had claimed to be a white man and enlisted in the U.S. Army when blacks were not permitted to enlist. Had the army recruiters known that his mother was a mulatta slave, he would not have been permitted to serve. Mrs. Keckley's son was killed in battle early in the war. In the movie, when the Abraham Lincoln character says that he doesn't know her people, she responds by saying:
As for me: My son died, fighting for the Union, wearing the Union blue. For freedom he died. I'm his mother. That's what I am to the nation, Mr. Lincoln. What else must I be?
What does it mean that in 1865 a black woman would say that her significance to the nation was that she was the mother of a Union soldier who died in the war? Suggested Response: The service and heroism of the black troops during the Civil War was an important factor in changing the attitudes of white Northerners toward Emancipation and African-Americans in general. A mulatta former slave whose son had died for the Union brought home the fact that black men had fought and given the ultimate sacrifice for their nation and therefore deserved recognition as citizens.
8. Well into the Civil War abolitionists like Frederick Douglass saw Lincoln as a pro-slavery candidate. Why was that? Suggested Response: He recognized that the Constitution protected slavery in the South and, in his attempt to keep the Union together, had vowed not to seek to abolish slavery in the states in which it was legal.
9. For decades Thaddeus Stevens had been a supporter of racial equality, not just equality before the law. The movie celebrates him for compromising the principle of racial equality, something we take for granted, in order to get the Amendment passed. One critic of the movie, has pointed out that ". . . it is fundamentally reactionary to celebrate, as Lincoln does, a man of such strong progressive principles only in the moment when he was forced to compromise with political reality." Do you agree with this comment or was Stevens' false statement of his beliefs worth making in order to pass the resolution supporting the 13th Amendment in January rather than in the next Congress when then Amendment would probably have passed easily without the necessity of Stevens making a false statement of his beliefs? Suggested Response: There is no one answer to this question. Something is certainly wrong when a man is forced to deny his belief is something as basic as racial equality. Yet, the refusal to compromise breeds gridlock and leads to inaction. Lincoln is praised as a wise leader because while he hated slavery and knew it was wrong, until 1864 he supported the right of the Southern states to maintain slavery. It was only when the country was sick of war and ready to embrace an end to slavery in order to destroy the South's ability to fight, that Lincoln began to lead the nation toward full emancipation. For the critique, see 'Lincoln,' Thaddeus Stevens and Why American Politics Still Needs Radicals by Richard Kreitner, The Nation, December 10, 2012,
Additional discussion questions can be found at TWM's Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction.
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a research and writing prompt. Teachers should select an appropriate rubric for the essay. Additional assignments include:
1. Civil War Movies Homework Project: Have students watch one of the following movies at home and fill out TWM's Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction: Glory, Gettysburg, or Little Women. Alternatively, students can watch at home any documentary on the Civil War era and fill out TWM's Film Study Worksheet for an Informational Documentary. TWM has Learning Guides to the following documentaries on the Civil War era: The Civil War - A Documentary by Ken Burns; Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives; and Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided.
2. Have students research and debate or write research papers pro or con on the following proposition: "Resolved, that President Lincoln was justified in trading jobs for votes to get the House of Representatives join the Senate in proposing the 13th Amendment to the States for ratification during the lame duck House of Representatives in January of 1865."
Based on TWM's research, the following are some of the arguments for the proposition.
Based on TWM's research, the following are some of the arguments against the proposition.
3. Take an important scene from the movie and evaluate it from the standpoint of historical accuracy and its importance in the history of the times. Select a scene from this list: (1) the opening scene of combat; (2) the interview of Mr. and Mrs. Jolly; (3) Lincoln discussion of the Emancipation Proclamation with his Cabinet; (4) the House debate in which Thaddeus Stevens states that he is not for racial equality in all things; (5) Robert and Lincoln visit the hospital.
Teachers: Click here for TWM's detailed review of the historical accuracy of the movie. Select any other scene that seems important.4. Select your favorite passage from one of Lincoln's greatest speeches: The House Divided Speech, the Chicago Speech, the Cooper Union Speech, the First Inaugural, the Gettysburg Address, or the Second Inaugural. Set the speech in the context of Lincoln's career and in his thinking about slavery and describe why you like it.
5. Write a research paper on Thaddeus Stevens and the differences between Stevens and Abraham Lincoln. In your paper, give and support an opinion about whether, when faced with a resurgent planter class in the South which sought to oppress African-Americans, Lincoln would have adopted elements of Stevens' harsh Reconstruction policy.
6. Evaluate two of the following scenes or groups of scenes from the movie from the standpoint of historical fiction and its need to both tell a good story and communicate a sense of what historians believe actually happened: (1) The scenes showing lobbyists employed by Secretary of State Seward trading government jobs for votes on what today seems such an obvious human rights issue; (2) Thaddeus Stevens' speech to the House in which he states that he only believes in equality or the races before the law, not equality of the races in all things; (3) the basement conversation between Lincoln and Stevens about their competing proposals for reconstruction; (4) the first scene in the movie in which black Union soldiers are in hand-to-hand combat with Confederates and (5) the scene in which Thaddeus Stevens brings a copy of the Amendment to his mixed-race housekeeper/mistress.
TWM suggests that teachers require students to use several sources, both from the Internet and from books, and that selected responses be presented orally to the class by the students who wrote them and discussed in class. During the discussion, it will be beneficial to cite to the class the comments by Eric Foner and Steven Spielberg about historical fiction set out in the Supplemental Materials.
This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and last updated on September 8, 2014.
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