Lesson Plan: Impact of Lincoln’s presidential election, the secession crisis, and outbreak of Civil War on enslaved African Americans Understanding Goal



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Lesson Plan: Impact of Lincoln’s presidential election, the secession crisis, and outbreak of Civil War on enslaved African Americans
Understanding Goal:

The outbreak of the Civil War had a significant impact on most Southerners, including enslaved African Americans in the South. The enslaved African Americans had no rights, and they faced uncertainty with Lincoln’s election and white Virginians' preparing for war. Some enslaved African Americans saw their roles change; some anticipated freedom as a result of Lincoln’s presidential victory; and others took their liberty into their own hands.


Investigative Questions:

  • What was the status of enslaved African Americans in Southern society?

  • What choices did enslaved African Americans have to make during the Civil War?

  • What role did enslaved and escaped African Americans play during the Civil War?


Primary Sources:

  • The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine, Political Cartoon, 1861.

  • Fugitive African Americans Fording the Rappahannock, Photograph, August 1862.

  • Transcription of trial record in the case of the Commonwealth v. Sam (a slave), Mecklenburg County, May 21, 1861.

  • Pay Roll of Slaves Employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, for Coast, Harbor and River Defenses, on the Defensive Works at Gloucester Point in the Month of April 1861.

  • The Escaped Slave and The Escaped Slave in the Union Army, from Harper’s Weekly, July 2, 1864.


Length of Activity:

One 40–50 minute class period


Standards Addressed:

Virginia Standards of Learning:



VS.1 The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis and responsible citizenship, including the ability to

a) identify and interpret artifacts and primary and secondary source documents to understand events in history;

b) determine cause-and-effect relationships;

d) draw conclusions and make generalizations;

f) sequence events in Virginia history;

g) interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives;

h) evaluate and discuss issues orally and in writing;

VS.7c The student will demonstrate knowledge of the issues that divided our nation and led to the Civil War by

c) describing the roles played by whites, enslaved African Americans, free African Americans, and American Indians.

USI.1 The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis and responsible citizenship, including the ability to

a) identify and interpret primary and secondary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in United States history to 1865;

e) evaluate and discuss issues orally and in writing;

d) interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives;

i) identify the costs and benefits of specific choices made, including the consequences, both intended and unintended, of the decisions and how people and nations responded to positive and negative incentives.

USI.9 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the causes, major events, and effects of the Civil War by

f) describing the effects of war from the perspectives of Union and Confederate soldiers (including African American soldiers), women, and enslaved African Americans.

VUS.1 The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis and responsible citizenship, including the ability to

a) identify, analyze, and interpret primary and secondary source documents, records, and data, including artifacts, diaries, letters, photographs, journals, newspapers, historical accounts, and art, to increase understanding of events and life in the United States;

b) evaluate the authenticity, authority, and credibility of sources;

c) formulate historical questions and defend findings, based on inquiry and interpretation;

f) develop skills in discussion, debate, and persuasive writing with respect to enduring issues and determine how divergent viewpoints have been addressed and reconciled;

h) interpret the significance of excerpts from famous speeches and other documents;

i) identify the costs and benefits of specific choices made, including the consequences, both intended and unintended, of the decisions and how people and nations responded to positive and negative incentives.

VUS.7 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era and their importance as major turning points in American history by

  1. evaluating the multiple causes of the Civil War, including the role of the institution of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict.


Materials:

  • Student Handout 1: Payroll of Slaves Employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia

  • Student Handout 2: Transcription of trial record in the case of the Commonwealth v. Sam (a slave)

  • Student Handout 3: Photograph— Fugitive African Americans Fording the Rappahannock

  • Student Handout 4: Political Cartoon—The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine


Historical Background:

Almost half a million Virginians, nearly one-third of the entire population of the state, lived in slavery in 1860. More enslaved people and more owners of slaves lived in Virginia than in any other state. Of all of the regional differences within the United States, the most important were between the states where slavery was legal and of greatest economic importance and the states where slavery was not legal.


Enslaved African Americans provided the foundation of Virginia's social order. Within the confines of this oppressive system, enslaved men and women asserted their humanity and built a distinctive African American culture. The state's laws did not recognize marriages of enslaved people as legal and offered no protection to families living in slavery, but enslaved men, women, and children often created meaningful bonds of kinship that endured in some instances for generations. The hiring out of enslaved workers sometimes provided opportunities for those workers to purchase their own freedom or that of their family members, but it also frequently separated members of slave families for a year or more. The interstate slave trade permanently tore apart the families of tens of thousands of black Virginians.
In one way or another, many white Virginians were deeply invested in the economy of slave labor, using enslaved people either to work on their farms and plantations or as cooks or household servants. A majority of white Virginians did not own slaves, but many of them leased enslaved laborers to assist as domestic servants, cooks, or farmers. During the 1840s and 1850s industrial development and improvements in transportation created new demands for enslaved labor in the salt industry and in coal mines and ironworks, on railroads and canals, and in mills and urban factories. Many Virginians who owned more slaves than they could profitably employ responded to the economic changes by leasing enslaved laborers to people and businesses who needed extra workers or domestic servants. Rapid expansion of cotton planting in the lower South generated its own great demand for slaves, and Richmond emerged as a center of the massive interstate slave trade. By the 1850s, that trade may have been the largest commercial business in the state. Traders annually sent eight to ten thousand Virginia men, women, and children to slave markets in other states. It is likely that sales of slaves brought more money into Virginia than any other exports.
Enslaved African Americans were not only hired or leased by individuals. Student Handout 1 shows the second page of a two-page itemized list of the expenses that the state's Engineer Department incurred in renting slaves and horses to work on defensive works at Gloucester Point, on the north bank of the York River, in the month of April 1861.
In January 1861, the General Assembly appropriated $1 million for the defense of the state and employed a military engineer to direct the work. This printed form, with the place, month, and final digit of the year left blank to be filled in when completed, indicates that the state and the engineer planned to rent slaves by the day for heavy work and suggests that a printer or state official anticipated that the defensive works might require laborers beyond the year 1861. This page also records the renting of several horses from the owners of the enslaved laborers and indicates that the rate for hire of laborers and of horses was the same, $0.50 per day.
On May 21, 1861, a court in Mecklenburg County, along the North Carolina border, convicted a slave named Sam of plotting and conspiring to make insurrection because Sam had stated that if a war began he and the other slaves "will all be free pretty soon." Sam specifically mentioned the roles that warfare and President Abraham Lincoln might play in freeing the slaves. He said that "if his master were to tell him that he had to go to fight for the South that he would not go, and that if he had to fight it would be a different way to that." Sam also stated that "he knew there were no negroes in his district that would join the South." Despite Sam’s claims, Lincoln was initially unsure and cautious about emancipating the slaves. On several occasions Lincoln made it clear that his primary intention was to save the Union, regardless of the outcome as it related to slavery.
From the beginning of the war, the camps of the Union forces were inundated with African Americans seeking freedom. On May 27, 1861, General Benjamin F. Butler, the commander of the Union army in the Virginia and North Carolina during the Civil War, issued a decree that his troops would not follow the Fugitive Slave Act, and instead all slaves who fled to Union lines would be treated as “contraband of war” and would therefore not be returned to the Confederacy. This decision influenced thousands of enslaved African Americans to flee from their owners to Fort Monroe and thousands more to Union army encampments throughout the South. In July 1861, Union soldier Edward Whitaker remarked, “Runaway slaves come into camp every day.” By the end of the war in 1865, there were more than 10,000 refugees at Fort Monroe or the “Freedom Fort,” as it became known. Congress validated Butler's decree on August 6, 1861, by passing the First Confiscation Act, which prohibited Union military officers from returning to their masters runaway or captured slaves who had been used in the Confederate war effort.
The political cartoon entitled The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine (Student Handout 4) highlights the movement of enslaved African Americans from lives in bondage to the hope of freedom as Union “contraband.” The poignancy of this cartoon comes from juxtaposing Butler's decision with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, when President James Monroe forbade European countries from colonization in the western hemisphere, promising retaliation if the doctrine was broken. This foreign policy decision established the United States as the protector of the hemisphere. Similarly, Butler's decree and Congress' Confiscation Acts clearly established the Union forces as a protector of the runaway slaves. The unknown artist of this cartoon used easily recognizable stereotypes as symbols, thereby allowing for the point to be made with pictures and a few words of text.
Similarly, the photograph, Fugitive African Americans Fording the Rappahannock (Student Handout 3), depicts a group of African Americans actively engaged in seeking freedom for themselves by following the Union army. Enacted on July 17, 1862, the Second Confiscation Act emancipated all slaves coming under Union military jurisdiction who were owned by Confederate masters. This explains the presence of slave refugees in the middle of a Union retreat. The safety and freedom of the refugee slaves was dependent on their proximity to the Union army.


Teacher Actions:

  1. Preactivity (5–7 minutes): Ask the students to imagine life as an enslaved African American in Virginia in early 1861. Describe the system that limited their freedoms. What would enslaved African Americans know about the political climate surrounding them? How would they know this? In what ways would Lincoln’s election, the secession crisis, and the outbreak of the Civil War affect their lives?

  2. Analysis and Discussion (10 minutes): Have Students read and examine Student Handout 1, Transcription of trial record in the case of the Commonwealth v. Sam (a slave). Explain to students the facts surrounding the case. Have students discuss the ideas of fairness and justice. From reading the transcription of this case, what can students determine about the status of enslaved African Americans in antebellum Virginia? Could they imagine a similar circumstance happening to a white member of Virginia society? If this was the reaction to talking about freedom in light of Lincoln’s election and impending civil war, what options did enslaved African Americans have?

  3. Analysis and Discussion (10 minutes): Have students read and analyze Student Handout 2, the Pay Roll of Slaves Employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Consider using one of the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Sheets. When was it created (and what would that mean as it relates to the Civil War)? Who created the document? For what purpose was it created? What does the payroll reveal? Is there anything about this document that the students find surprising? What kind of work were the slaves doing for the Commonwealth? Point out that the document lists both slaves and animals in the same category; what does that say about the status of enslaved African Americans?

  4. Analysis and Discussion (10–15 minutes): For the next exercise, divide the students into three groups. Give one of the groups Student Handout 3, the photograph of Fugitive African Americans Fording the Rappahannock, another group Student Handout 4, the political cartoon entitled The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine, and the final group, Handout 5, the images of The Escaped Slave and The Escaped Slave in the Union Army from Harper’s Weekly. Have students from each group take turns leading the discussion. Explore what is going on in each of the images. What story is being told? What did the artist want the viewer to take away from the image? Have the students address the ideas of freedom and agency, and tie these ideas back to the Trial of Sam discussion from earlier. Be sure to extend the conversation to include Handout 5. The story of the enslaved and the escaped African Americans does not end with the escape from bondage, but includes their involvement in the fighting of the Civil War as well.

  5. Assessment/Reflection (10 minutes or homework): Ask students to think about the ways that the Civil War changed the lives of enslaved African Americans. Ask each student to write a letter or a diary entry from the point of view of any figure from either the Fugitive African Americans Fording the Rappahannock photograph, the The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine political cartoon, or The Escaped Slave in the Union Army image. The writing should explain the context of the figure within the image, and must include two factual points to support the explanation.


Further Reading:
Engs, Robert Francis. Freedom's First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia, 1861–1890. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979.
Morgan, Lynda J. Emancipation in Virginia's Tobacco Belt, 1850–1870. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992.
Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.


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