Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

by Kathy White

Unit Objective

This lesson on Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core–based units. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Students will demonstrate this knowledge by writing summaries of selections from the original document (and related documents) and, by the end of the unit, articulating their understanding of the complete document by answering questions in an argumentative writing style to fulfill the Common Core Standards. Through this step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Lesson 1

Objective

In this lesson, students will analyze Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. A graphic organizer will guide them as they read sections of the address, select key vocabulary and critical text, and summarize each section.

Introduction

Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election of 1864 by a 55 percent to 45 percent vote over George McClellan. The first president re-elected since Andrew Jackson in 1832, he carried 22 of the 25 states that voted and won the Electoral College by a vote of 212 to 21. On his inauguration day in March 1865, the Civil War was drawing to a close, Grant was forcing Lee back toward Richmond, and the Union was within days of victory, the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery throughout the United States was being ratified, and Lincoln delivered one of the most remarkable and famous speeches in American history. Instead of setting out a Reconstruction plan, as many expected, Lincoln’s reconciliatory and almost evangelical tone established a basis for restoring the Union. The 703-word speech is one of the shortest inaugural addresses on record and sought to heal rather than to divide the nation.

Materials Needed

Procedures

Teachers may have students work independently or in groups of two or three students.

  1. Distribute copies of the Second Inaugural Address.
  2. The teacher then share reads with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  3. Distribute copies of the Second Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer. Model expectations by completing the first section with the students. The teacher will lead the class in a discussion of the key words, critical text, and paraphrasing of the section. The students will analyze the section and discuss its impact on the address and on the nation.
  4. Students will continue the same work on the remainder of the address, and the teacher will facilitate similar discussion on each of the sections.

Lesson 2

Objective

In this lesson, students will read excerpts from Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address carefully.  As in the first lesson, a Graphic Organizer will guide them through the study of key words, critical text, and the paraphrasing of each section of text.

Introduction

When newly elected President Abraham Lincoln delivered his First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861, he had won the presidency with 39.8 percent of the vote but seven states had seceded from the Union. The first Republican president, Lincoln received a clear majority of the electoral vote (180 of 303), but all votes came from northern states since his name was left off the ballots of nine southern states. Sectionalism was strong and divisive, but Lincoln chose a tone of reconciliation and promised not to interfere with slavery in the United States.

Materials Needed

Procedures

Teachers may have students work independently or in groups of two or three students.

  1. Distribute copies of Excerpts, Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.
  2. The teacher then share reads with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  3. Distribute copies of the First Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer. Model expectations of the student by completing the first section with the students. The teacher will lead the class in a discussion of the key words, critical text, and paraphrasing of the section. The students will analyze the section and discuss its impact on the address and on the nation.
  4. Students will continue the same work on the remainder of the address, and the teacher will facilitate similar discussion on each of the sections.

Lesson 3

Objective

In this lesson, students will read and analyze reactions to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and evaluate the changes that occurred between the first and second addresses. A graphic organizer will help students analyze reactions to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and evaluate the reaction compared to the actual text of the address. A second graphic organizer will help guide students through their analysis and evaluation of the changes in Lincoln’s message and the impact of his message on the nation in 1865. At the conclusion of these activities and discussions, students should be prepared to answer the argumentative essay that addresses the essential question of the lesson series.

Introduction

Frederick Douglass, during the war and just before the Second Inaugural Address, was critical of President Lincoln for not being a stronger advocate of emancipation. Toward the end of the war, the two men developed a shared vision for the country. However, many Southerners were not so forgiving and generous in their opinions, as shown in the Valley Press excerpts. In the second graphic organizer, students will examine the changes over time between the two addresses and analyze the impact they had on Lincoln’s message and on the nation. Of course, Lincoln was assassinated just forty-one days after he delivered his Second Inaugural Address.

Materials Needed

Procedures

Teachers may elect for students to work independently or in groups of two or three students.

  1. Teacher distributes Reactions to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and share reads the first reaction. The teacher leads students in a discussion that includes a summary of key points, an analysis of the reaction, and an evaluation of the reaction compared to actual text of the document. 
  2. Students work through the other reaction documents and photographs using the Graphic Organizer: Reactions to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
  3. Each student group reports its analysis of the reactions to the class, and the teacher leads a class-wide discussion.
  4. The teacher distributes the Graphic Organizer: Analysis of Two Inaugural Addresses and models the assignment by leading students through the first compare/contrast/analysis issue. 
  5. Students work through the other compare/contrast/analysis issues, and each group again reports to the class. 
  6. The teacher leads a class discussion that addresses the comparison and contrast of the issues and prepares students to be able to write a rich, rigorous response to the essential question essay.
  7. The teacher follows up with individual students in an appropriate manner to help them revise and re-write the essay if necessary.

Essay

With the end of the Civil War imminent, was President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address the “right” message at the “right” time for the nation? Substantiate your argument with evidence from the texts.

Possible Extension

How would Reconstruction have been different if Lincoln had not been assassinated? Substantiate your answer thoroughly.

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