For Teachers - An Introduction
Back to Lesson Menu
Lesson Plan: Abolition
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to an event in Minnesota history. Your students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research itself. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.
Abolition in Minnesota:
The issue of abolition in Minnesota came to the forefront during the 1860s when Eliza Winston, a slave who was brought to Minnesota from the South by her vacationing master Colonel Christmas, was freed from slavery while in the state. Her release prompted a barrage of editorials on both sides of the issue in local papers. Although the Minnesota State Constitution forbid slavery within the state, many vacationing Southerners had been allowed to keep their slaves while visiting without any legal ramifications.
What You Will Need for This Lesson:
- Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
- Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
- If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.
The student will be able to:
access primary sources online for research and study
identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and
Using This Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, instruct them to do the following in this order (you may wish to do this with them on an overhead projector screen):
Go to the Communities web site.
Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
Click on St. Anthony.
Click on Abolition.
Read the introductory information about abolition and click Enter.
This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of handcuffs. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).
What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
What follows is a listing of each source provided on the Abolition section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source (these are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button).
Click on the Object 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a photograph of some handcuffs worn by slaves in America.
1.1) What can these handcuffs tell you about the life of slaves in America?
They were restricted in their movement and forced to wear chains and shackles so they wouldn't escape from slavery.
1.2) What in this picture tells you that these were handcuffs and not shackles for a slave's feet?
The chain connecting the two rings is too short. Slaves would not have been able to walk if these had been on their ankles.
1.3) What other people in American society might have worn handcuffs like these?
Criminals were all forced to wear handcuffs when they were caught.
1.4) Beside keeping slaves from running away, how might shackles affect how a slave felt?
They probably made the slaves feel defeated and lowly. Shackles also probably made slaves feel like their situation was hopeless, which may have kept them from trying to run away.
Click on the Document 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a copy of the part of the Minnesota State Constitution that forbids slavery.
2.1) In what cases were Minnesotans allowed to be forced into involuntary servitude?
Minnesotans could only be slaves if they had been convicted of a crime and slavery was the punishment.
2.2) Do you think all slaves who came to Minnesota with their masters were immediately freed?
No. Many slaves who came to this state remained slaves while in Minnesota and returned to the South with their masters.
2.3) Why might a slave choose to stay with a master as a paid servant, even if they had their freedom?
Being free didn't mean that a former slave had a place to live and food to eat. Some freed slaves may have felt they had nowhere to go, so they chose to stay with the life they already knew.
2.4) Why might Minnesotans not have fought to free every slave that came to Minnesota with a master?
Southerners spent a lot of money on vacation in Minnesota, and merchants didn't want to drive away their business by freeing their customers' slaves.
Click on the Document 2 button to open the primary source.
This is the account Eliza Winston gave during her court case.
3.1) Why do you think it was important for Eliza to mention that she had never been unfaithful to her masters?
If she were a faithful slave, there might be a chance that more people would support her and want to give her the freedom she wanted. It was important that she not look like a troublemaker to the court.
3.2) What earlier attempts to gain her freedom had Eliza planned and why didn't they work?
Her husband was going to buy her freedom, but he died in Liberia before he could make enough money. She also wanted to marry another free black, but Col. Christmas wouldn't allow it.
3.3) What in this document might suggest that Eliza did not write it all herself?
The fact that she had to sign it with her mark (X) instead of with her name suggests that she couldn't read or write.
3.4) What one thing about her life with Col. Christmas might have made her want to stay with them if they promised to grant her freedom later?
She has grown attached to the child that she helped raise when Mrs. Christmas was sick.
Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This article describes an abolitionist's view of the Eliza Winston case.
4.1) The author of this article thinks that Minnesotans aren't enforcing the law that slaves should be made free when they enter the state because Minnesotans don't want to lose the money that Southerners bring to Minnesota. What does the author think is more important than that money?
Freedom for Eliza and all slaves.
4.2) The editors of the newspaper disagree with the author of this article about one thing. What is it?
They agree that slaves should be freed, but they don't like the way the abolitionists act when freeing slaves and how they treat the Southerners whose slaves are being freed.
4.3) Newspapers often present more than one side of a story. Do you think that this newspaper does that?
This paper is willing to print both sides of a story, but it also includes its own views in responding to those who write articles for the paper.
4.4) How could the fact that author of the "Slavery in Minnesota" article has only been in town a few weeks affect the opinion local readers might have had of his ideas?
Some people might think he doesn't completely understand the events in the town because he is just a visitor.
Click on the News 2 button to open the primary source.
This article is written by a Minnesotan who disagrees with the actions of the abolitionists in Eliza Winston's rescue.
5.1) What in this article almost immediately reveals the opinion of its author?
The title of the article refers to Eliza's rescue as an "abduction" and calls the actions of the abolitionists "outrageous." This shows that the author disagrees with the way in which Eliza was freed.
5.2) Why do you think the author of this article makes the point that the sheriff of the town was particularly courteous toward the Christmases when everyone else was not?
The author might not want to offend the sheriff of the town or hurt his reputation.
5.3) How can this source give you a hint about what political party the author might have sided with?
The newspaper is called the Pioneer and Democrat, and the author attacks the Republicans who were involved in the event. These two facts suggest the author is a Democrat.
5.4)What is the author's final conclusion about why Eliza was freed?
The author suggests that Eliza was freed more to embarrass Col. Christmas and his family than to give Eliza her freedom from slavery.
Click on the News 3 button to open the primary source.
The editors of the Falls Evening News respond to the events of the Eliza Winston case.
6.1) Is the purpose of this article to explain what happened with Eliza Winston at Lake Harriet?
No, it says in fact that there isn't room for all of the stories. Instead, it says that most "thinking" people seem to believe that what happened was right, and suggests how people ought to behave now that Eliza has been freed.
6.2) What reasons do the editors give for not retelling the story?
They say that not only is there not enough space in the paper for all of the stories, but also that the people involved were busy preparing to release their version of the story.
6.3) What do the editors suggest is the best way to deal with these situations?
They think that Minnesotans should hold firm to their principles, but not use violent methods.
6.4) How does the article encourage people to act toward Southerners?
It suggests that no one should be too servile to them. The phrase "dignity and firmness" implies that people should not back down from their beliefs, but at the same time they should not resort to violence.
Thought Questions for Online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.
1. Editorials can often be used by historians to learn what people in a community were thinking about an important topic of the day. What do the articles shown in the Abolition section tell us about the personal opinions involved in this issue? Based on the number and content of the articles in this section, how important do you think the issue of slavery was to the community at the time? What other sources might also have told us what people were thinking about Eliza Winston's situation?
2. Artifacts like the handcuffs on this site can tell us much about an event or a person we are studying. Although the handcuffs in this photograph are actually from Williamsburg, Virginia, and were never used on Eliza Winston, they can still tell us many things about slavery during the 1800s. What can an artifact like this tell us about a topic we are studying? What artifacts might historians find in 100 years that would tell them about our lives today? What are the shortcomings of using only artifacts in your research?
3. The media played a large role in the Eliza Winston case. People wrote letters and articles on both sides of the issue. Do newspaper accounts impact how we view a story or an issue in our current events today? What is helpful to know about a newspaper while we are reading an article about an issue? Do you think newspapers sometimes offer opinions in articles that are labeled "news"? How can you tell fact from opinion in a newspaper article?
4. As you learned in the Eliza Winston case, the interpretation of what a law says and how it is applied is not always the same in all cases. Name some other examples in history or in your community in which a law was not followed "to the letter." What reactions do you think people at the time had to that event and to how the law was or was not applied? What events happening now are similar? What sources might you use to determine if a law is or is not being applied properly?
Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes in Abolition
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to abolition in Minnesota. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about abolition does not provide a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.
1. The media and personal opinion
2. The U.S. Constitution in real life
The media and personal opinion
The student will be able to :
- identify, evaluate and present examples of local media efforts regarding a current event that has captured public opinion.
- understand the role of opinion in the media
Allow students time to discuss this in small groups or as a class using the following questions:
- What current issues (local, national, or world) are producing letters to the editor or discussions today? Choose an issue to continue your discussion with the following questions.
- What opinions are being voiced on each side and how is each side promoting or supporting its opinions?
- Evaluate the role the media is playing in these discussions. Is your local newspaper reporting each side objectively? Are they presenting both sides of an issue? How are your local TV news programs portraying the situation?
- How would you report this event and the issues involved differently? Whose perspective might be left out by the mainstream media? Why? What could you do to get another perspective heard on the issue?
- Have students research and prepare in groups their own imaginary TV "newsbreak" on a current topic (you may wish to have students sign up ahead of time so that no two groups choose the same topic). Encourage them to follow journalistic methods (the five Ws of Who, What, Where, When, and Why) and present their report in as unbiased a way as possible to the class. They may wish to use posters, diagrams, or maps to complete their presentation.
- Ask students to take a news story from the local paper and rewrite it with a definite bias toward one side of the issue or another. Have them read their stories aloud to the class and ask the class to guess which perspective the author is taking. Ask students to explain to the class what they did to change the story from a news story to an opinion piece.
- Have students choose an issue that is important to them and write letters to the editor about that issue. How did they support their opinion? What writing techniques (metaphor, comparison, etc.) did they use to make their point more effective? You might ask students to get into pairs and discuss their letters and offer revisions.
- Create a class newspaper that "publishes" the articles written above, or have students write new articles. You may wish to make the topics silly (e.g., "why all coffee makers should be purple") if you would like to make the activity more focused on the style of writing than on the topic. Ask students to write each article in three ways: unbiased, biased toward one opinion, and biased toward the opposite opinion. This would work most effectively if done in small groups. Assemble each set of three articles from each group into a class newspaper.
The U.S. Constitution in real life
The student will be able to:
Class discussion :
- explain and identify the differences between what the
Minnesota Constitution said about slavery and what was
really happening in Minnesota.
- understand other instances of constitutional conflict
Give students the opportunity to discuss the issues in small groups using these questions:
- Do you think slaves who were brought to Minnesota with their masters should have been freed immediately as they entered Minnesota? Why or why not?
- Describe the question of slavery in Minnesota from the perspective of a slave owner who is vacationing here. What would his opinion most likely be and how would he support that opinion? Describe the situation from the perspective of a slave who was brought here by his or her master. (You may also wish to have students describe the perspective of a hotel manager or an abolitionist.)
- What might have caused Minnesotans not to want to make a large issue out of slaves entering the state with their masters? What happens when laws or rules are not uniformly enforced? Are there any times when there should be exceptions to the rules? If so, when?
- Do you agree with every law that is passed in your state? What are some examples of laws that you don't agree with? Does that mean that those laws are necessarily bad or wrong?
- Ask students to debate the issues in the Eliza Winston case by setting up a mock trial to determine whether or not she should have been freed. (This activity should be approached with extreme care, due to the racial issues involved.)
- Have students follow or research an event in modern times that might have some similarities to Eliza's situation. You may wish to refer to an organization like Amnesty International for information about someone who may be illegally held in custody and discuss with the students the issues of perspective, legality, and the role of sovereign nations (or states) in issues like these.
- Ask students to research slave life in the 1800s and how typical Eliza's life as a household slave may have been.
- After being freed, Eliza spoke at some abolitionist meetings to tell her story. Ask students to reconstruct what Eliza might have said about her life as a slave and what her life may have been like after she was freed.
- Ask students to research Prohibition as another example of when the Constitution was not always obeyed. Debate in class the issues involved and how the Constitution should or could have been enforced.
- Discuss school rules. Are they applied equally to all students? Create a survey to evaluate the rules (or the student handbook). Have the class write a school newspaper article describing the results of the survey.
- Discuss the Supreme Court school segregation rulings. How has our understanding of the law changed?