Considering Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation
In elementary school I learned that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. I held on to that belief for many years. It wasn’t until college that I was forced to confront what was, for me, an uncomfortable reality: preserving the union was Lincoln’s overarching objective, not emancipation.
It’s been 150 years since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite his misgivings–and in spite of more convenient motivations that may have spurred his action—the proclamation was a key step toward ending “that peculiar institution” in the South.
The video in this workshop features teachers as students and asks them to study primary source documents to find evidence to support their points of view. Early in the video, teachers are asked to consider what Lincoln believed. As you watch the video, consider the different perspectives these teachers have. Was freeing the slaves a tactic? Or, as one teacher believes, did Lincoln act on a moral imperative? What happens when the teachers examine the primary source document?
How might this approach to teaching history be used with students? How might you ask students to report their conclusions?
Analyzing Primary Sources
As the Primary Sources workshops show, using primary source documents can give us a deeper understanding of historical events. You can also use primary source documents from the Civil War era to spur students’ imaginations.
As we learn in Artifacts & Fiction: A Workshop in American Literature, analyzing artifacts requires students to ask questions, explore possible answers, and draw conclusions.
A terrific tool to get you started is the Pair Finder. Select a literary movement and a discipline. The Pair Finder will provide an artifact, such as a painting, a photograph, or a commonly used item. When I paired Slavery and Freedom with Ritual Artifacts, for example, a picture of a painting that appeared on flags of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) was provided.
Use images like this to inspire a creative response in your students. For example, your students could assume the role of a newly freed slave and express how they feel when they see the flag and the men marching behind it. Ask students to write a journal entry to describe their thoughts and feelings.
Explore the Pair Finder and other primary source documents you find, and think about how you can incorporate these documents into your lessons.
Bringing it Full Circle
It has been a long time since I was in elementary school. It may not be fair to say, but I’m not sure my teachers were interested in exploring Abraham Lincoln’s contradictions. Why do you think the teachers in the Primary Sources video were willing to wrestle with that reality? How will their students benefit?
I, like one teacher in the video, still hold to the belief that Lincoln did, at his very core, abhor slavery and was shrewd enough to gradually introduce the idea of emancipation to a torn nation.
What do you believe? And what is your evidence?