Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War

Edited by Adam Sanchez

Review by Aleisha Forbes

     First, I want to state that I am reviewing this book from three perspectives: from the standpoint of an educator with an advanced certificate in Secondary Education, as a historian with a master’s degree in History, and as an African American woman. This book, Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War, is essential for various reasons. Primarily it pushes students to challenge their assumptions about enslavement and the response to the question of “who freed the slaves?” Students are taken on a journey in which they recognize the agency of the enslaved while dispelling the “Great Man” narrative that names Abraham Lincoln the “Great Emancipator.” Finally, this book aims to be encouraging and uplifting by promoting the possibility of social change by often overlooked historical actors. It inspires students to recognize their parts in resisting unjust authority figures in their own lives.

     Although this book may seem idealistic in its aims, it takes a very systematic approach to increasing student engagement when dealing with a polarizing segment of American history. The authors aptly include poetry and art, along with primary and secondary source analysis. The book offers units of varied lengths depending on what the teacher is able to implement in their curriculum. As a teacher with knowledge of the students in my classroom, I wouldn’t follow their prescribed trajectory completely. The lessons that seem most valuable from my perspective are lesson one: Frederick Douglass fights for freedom; lesson two: poetry of defiance; lesson five: raising the voices of abolitionists through art; lesson eight: a war to free the slaves; and lesson nine: who freed the slaves.

     The authors explains that if necessary, a teacher can begin at lesson eight, which is focused on Lincoln, in order to increase student “buy-in” to the unit’s topic. Lesson eight challenges the myth that the civil war was a war to free the slaves. It does this from an inquiry-based perspective where students investigate the statement that Lincoln and the North fought the Civil War to free the slaves. It also poses the question: How might U.S. history have turned out differently had the Southern states accepted Lincoln’s offer in 1861 to support the original 13th amendment to the Constitution which would have guaranteed slavery forever. This is a compelling question because in my experience, students are always interested in examining alternative versions of history and answering the question “What If?” Overall this lesson seems to be very engaging for students because it is discussion centered, however it needed more direct teacher modeling if this would be the first lesson in the unit. If presented to a classroom of diverse learners, the text would need to be chunked while defining challenging vocabulary for students and pushing them to write gist statements of what they read in their own words. This would ensure that they are able to grapple with the rigorous material of Lincoln’s inaugural address and the Emancipation Proclamation.

     A method that the authors included to assist diverse learners was “role-play. “Lesson seven, a role-play on the election of 1860, was in my opinion the most complicated lesson in the series. It was a multi-step lesson that required vast preparation on the part of the instructor. Although it is worthy because it will increase student involvement and ownership of their learning, the teacher may be apprehensive due to the theatrical nature of this lesson. The major benefit of this lesson is the fact that is outlines the campaign points of the various candidates. However, it assumes that all students will be compliant and get into character in order to achieve lesson outcomes. All in all, this lesson is a great support for students with varying learning styles who need a more hands on approach to learning, but it can be time consuming to implement properly.

     The most intriguing lessons were lesson two: poetry of defiance, and lesson five: raising the voices of abolitionists through art. Both lessons present the narrative of resistance in captivating ways. Lesson two uses poetry to challenge the notion that slaves were happy and protected while in the system of enslavement. Students examine quotes that illustrate several methods that the enslaved incorporated to resist the system of oppression. This lesson lends itself to the opportunity to make several text-to-world connections in the form of Negro spirituals such as “Wade in the Water” and popular movies such as “Beloved 1998” and “Birth of a Nation 2016.” Making these instructional decisions will assist students in the culminating poem writing exercise. It is a spectacular tool in shifting the narrative of enslavement for the next generation of students, especially with present day figures such as Kanye West spewing false accounts that slavery was a choice. The powerful quotes that are included in this text illustrate that the enslaved were far from mentally imprisoned. On the contrary, they were the architects in their own form of resistance and freedom.

     Lesson five brings this project full circle because it connects the voices of abolitionists through art with contemporary artists who use art as a form of opposition. Two of these pieces, Frederick Douglass’ “the meaning of July fourth for the negro” and Sojourner Truth’s “ain’t I a woman” are poignant pieces that are sure to draw out responses from students, especially in the era of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest and the growth of the Me-Too movement. In the social studies classroom, we often task students with image analysis of political cartoons and various art pieces, but there is value in having them create their own illustrations to powerful speeches that were aimed in invoking strong feelings from the reader. In my own classroom, I use illustrations for vocabulary practice and poster presentations. However, using it in response to famous historical pieces is an important instructional decision.

     All in all, this book is a valuable tool in a 21st century social studies classroom. It challenges students’ misconceptions and pushes them to be more civic minded. The use of role-play and the incorporation of art and poetry along with primary and secondary source analysis present a balanced approach to teaching about a difficult topic.

     In my own instructional practice, I have struggled to find effective lessons on slavery, abolition, and the Civil War. This book of lessons will allow me to incorporate new techniques into my teaching. My main concerns about the implementation of role-play activities, the chunking of challenging texts, definition of challenging vocabulary, and modeling of rigorous material are all instructional choices that a teacher can make to adapt the material to meet the needs of students in their classroom. This book will help Rethinking Schools achieve their goals of helping students realize the possibility of social change, especially on the part of ordinary citizens by analyzing the toppling of the institution of slavery by abolitionists and the enslaved alike. Students will be able to realize the impact they can make in the world, whether they aim to tackle school shootings, racism and injustice, or immigration and female empowerment in order to shift their outlook.

Evaluating the New Global History and Geography Regents

     In June 2019, New York State high schools had the option of having students take the new Global History and Geography Regents or one based on the earlier format. Both exams cover world history and geography since 1750. The three-part new exam included 28 multiple choice question, each based on document analysis of a quote or image (Part I); two sets of constructed response questions, each based on a pair of documents (Part II); and an “enduring issues essay” requiring students to identify “a challenge of problem that has been debated or discussed across time” and “that many societies have attempted to address with varying degrees of success” (Part III). For the “enduring issues essay” students were provided with five documents and expected to identify and define an enduring issue presented in the documents, argue why the issue they selected is significant, and how it has endured across time. There essay was required to include a “historically accurate interpretation of at least three documents” and “relevant outside information from your knowledge of social studies.” The initial “enduring issues essay” had documents on the industrialization of Great Britain in the 19th century and its impact on world trade, the continuing problem of child labor, the export of electronic waste across international boundaries, a contemporary commentary of globalization, and an advertisement for South Asian tea in a British newspaper. The easiest enduring issues to discuss would be “Impact of Trade” or “Impact of Globalization,” however students could also make a case for “Impact of Technology,” “Impact of Industry,” “Impact of Imperialism,” and “Tensions between Traditional Cultures and Modernization.” The EngageNY website has an online enduring issues chart (https://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/2enduring-issues-chart.pdf . A video describing the new exam is online at https://www.engageny.org/resource/regents-examglobal-history-and-geography-ii. Both Global Regents formats will be issued through June 2020. The United States History Regents will have a similar transition from June 2020 through June 2021.

Below is a sample document pairing with two multiple choice questions from the exam:

. . “I started from Cork, by the mail, [coach] (says our informant), for Skibbereen and saw little until we came to Clonakilty, where the coach stopped for breakfast; and here, for the first time, the horrors of the poverty became visible, in the vast number of famished poor, who flocked around the coach to beg alms: amongst them was a woman carrying in her arms the corpse of a fine child, and making the most distressing appeal to the passengers for aid to enable her to purchase a coffin and bury her dear little baby. This horrible spectacle induced me to make some inquiry about her, when I learned from the people of the hotel that each day brings dozens of such applicants into the town. . . .”

Source: James Mahony, “Sketches in the West of Ireland,” Illustrated London News, February 13, 1847 (adapted)

What is the most likely purpose of this document?

  1. to highlight the benefits of free markets
  2. to record the negative impact of child labor
  3. to minimize the impacts of agricultural innovations
  4. to inspire social and political reform  

The conditions described in this passage directly resulted in

  1. Ireland invading Britain
  2. millions of Irish emigrating to the United States
  3. most landlords forgiving the rent the Irish owed
  4. Britain agreeing to withdraw from Ireland

Teaching Social Studies asked New York State social studies teachers to comment on the new exam.

Karla Freire, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning High School, Queens, NY:  I am concerned that if the new framework for the Global Regents, if not improved in some areas, will ultimately harm rather than help our students. The areas of the exam I find problematic, are Parts II and III. Both of these sections contain questions that need rephrasing or concepts that need to be changed completely, in order for students to better understand what is being asked of them. For example, several constructedresponse questions need to be clarified. Providing a document and asking a student to describe the historical context or events that led to what is being described, is not enough. It is vague and confusing. Having an open-ended question like this, with an endless possibility of answers, may appear to be helpful, however, the reality is that it is too broad of a question for any student to answer in a timely manner. If a student was anything like I was in school, the first instinct for a very studious student is to overthink the question. For example, a myriad of factors led to major events and paradigm shifts in history. Events, such as, conquest and colonization cannot be explained by one sole factor or motive. Therefore, by asking a student to explain which events led to a major historical event, it can be overwhelming for the students to go through all the possible answers to this question. How will they be able to determine which events are the “correct” ones to mention in their answer? On the other hand, if a student did not prepare as much for this exam, they would not be able to determine an answer, either. He or she may be greatly discouraged to even attempt to answer such a question, given the enormity of history. It’s much too broad, and one cannot ask anyone to historically contextualize an image or text within 2-3 lines of space. Additionally, within the 2-3 lines that are provided, the chances that students are producing actual analysis is slim. It is more likely that a factual, rote answer regarding historical chronology will be constructed. We need to reframe the question and ask for specifics. For example, “explain 1-2 factors that led to the Industrial Revolution” and allow for space for a larger response. Otherwise, it should be eliminated, given that our goal as educators is to push students towards critical analysis. In Part III, the “Enduring Issues” essay is flawed in the sense that anything can be described as an enduring issue in history. Once again, history is being viewed much too broadly. Accepted enduring issues, such as “interconnections,” can be anything from cultural diffusion to trade to peace treaties. It is an unusual and unrealistic way of interpreting history. Other acceptable enduring issues, like “conflict,” is problematic given that history is filled with conflicts. Having a student write an entire essay on a general category, can lead to redundant answers that are void of analysis. Overall, as a Social Studies teacher, the new Global Regents will shape how I will plan curriculum, as I will have to schedule time to teach students how to successfully take this exam. Ultimately, it is more classroom time dedicated to teaching solely for a test, because historians do not interpret history in the same way the Regents does.

Alicia Szilagyi, Hutchinson Central Technical High School. Buffalo, NY: Overall, the exam was fair, and what I had expected. The questions for the most of the multiple choice and document selections were fair and expected. The Enduring Issues piece was excellent. There are a variety of topics that could apply to the EI. The CRQ was nicely done as well. The only questions I really was not a fan of were: 9 & 10. The Political Cartoon had too much symbolism going on, and the choices were not that great. Given that we cannot rate our examinations, until we have our conversion charts, and are unable to analyze trends – I feel I cannot answer this question yet. In the future, my primary focus will be on writing skills, cross-topical teaching, and applications. A lot of the questions were not comprehension-based, but content-based. It required our students to draw on content knowledge that is very specific.

Kim Cristal, West Irondequoit Central School District:  I am responding before we’ve started scoring… but my and my department’s feeling was that the assessment was totally fair and aligned with our expectations. We felt our efforts for preparation aligned to what the test looked like. We will continue refining the major shifts we’ve already made over the past two years. Overall, we feel relieved and confident that we did all we could to prep our students.

Fayezeah Fischer, Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management:  The exam was basically a DBQ question with choices. The readings were too long. The readings were too lengthy for a special education student. If the person creating the question, had to pick a document that required them to re-read several times, that person should reconsider the document or the wording of the question. The Mao Zedong document was a terribly worded document and discussed a time period that is not discussed in length. It was difficult to prepare the students for the multiple choice. I think we all had a false sense of the length of documents to be used for multiple choice, and the amount of inferring the student would need to do. The enduring issue wasn’t too bad. I think that ended up being the most subjective item to teach. The Irish Potato famine question, and the Mao Zedong question were terrible questions. Again, these are not topics well covered (or enough time to cover Mao to that extent.) As a department we also believed that the point value on the 3rd CRQ should be two not one. If this type of exam is going to be given, then the amount of curriculum to be taught needs to be reduced. We cover so much, and the true depth and understanding can’t truly be met that is expected from this exam. I think the enduring issue did a fair assessment though. That was the student demonstrating their knowledge. I plan on getting to the 20th century sooner, and using more readings to help the students get use to longer documents. I also plan on changing the multiple choice to more document based than I did this year. I did use New Visions multiple choice, and I don’t think they used anything as rigorous as we saw on this exam. Rigorous questions will need to be created by myself to better prepare my students. We can only hope for a generous conversion chart for this first exam.

Student Takeover at Cornell University (1969)

Steven Rosino and Alan Singer

Background: During the 1968-1969 school year racial tension escalated at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York following the burning of a cross on the lawn of the Wari House, a dormitory for African-American women, and disciplinary action taken against African-American who protested against what they experienced as racism on campus. On April 18, 1969, members of the Cornell University Afro-American Society (AAS) occupied its student center, Willard Straight Hall, to protest what they believed was Cornell’s institutional racism, its biased judicial system, and its slow progress in establishing a Black Studies program. In the early morning of Parents Weekend, Black students evicted visiting parents from Willard Straight Hall and seized control of the building. After white students from the Delta Upsilon Fraternity unsuccessfully attempted to retake the building by force, some of the occupying students left the building and returned with rifles and shotguns in case of another attack. The Black students were supported by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a predominately white student group, which formed a protective cordon outside the building. The occupation of Willard Hall lasted 36 hours and ended when the university’s administration agreed to student demands. It led to the formation of a University Senate, restructuring of the Board of Trustees, a new campus judicial system, and the foundation of the Africana Studies and Research Center. The takeover drew national media attention because of photographs and television coverage of the African American students carrying rifles. By the end of the academic year, Cornell President James Perkins, under pressure because he had negotiated with the AAS students, resigned.

Instruction: Documents A-D are photographs of the student takeover of Willard Straight Hall. Document E is a link to a video about the events. Documents F-P are headlines and excerpts from New York Times articles. The final four documents, Q-T, are reflections on the events written from different perspectives. Examine the documents, answer guiding questions, use the New York Times articles to establish a chronology of events (article dates are one day after the actual events), and answer the following five questions with extended responses.


  1. Were African American students justified in the takeover of Willard Straight Hall?
  2. Did Cornell University administrators handle the takeover in an appropriate way? Explain.
  3. In your opinion, was the New York Times coverage of the events impartial or biased? Explain you view citing evidence from the text?
  4. Wicker, Muller, Sowell, and Jones (R-U) have different perspectives on the events at Cornell in April 1969. Based on you reading about the events, whose point of view is closer to your own? Explain your choice and support it with evidence from the coverage and the quotes.
  5. In your opinion, what is the “legacy” of the Willard Straight takeover?


  1. Why did the white student urge the faculty to reject the settlement ending the takeover?
  2. In your opinion, how did the presence of rifles and shotguns escalate the situation at Cornell?
  3. What point of view about the takeover is presented in the narration of the video footage?

F. Negro Coeds’ House Is Target Of a Cross Burning at Cornell, New York Times, April 19, 1969, p. 16.

“A cross was burned on the doorsteps of a Negro women’s cooperative house at Cornell University early this morning and 11 false alarms were set off in campus buildings. The rash of false alarms continued tonight, with five campus call boxes being pulled and two telephoned bomb threats between 8:13 and 10:40 P.M. One of the false alarms drove several hundred people into a chilly rain from Willard Straight Hall, the student center. They included some of the parents gathered here for Parents Weekend. After the last false alarm, half a dozen black students were picked up for questioning and released. The cross made of 1-by-2 inch strips of lumber that resembled the legs of an artist’s easel was discovered on the porch of the small wooden frame house at 2:52 A.M. The house, known as Wari House (“Wari” is Swahili for home) – is a co-op residence for 12 Negro coeds. A stone was also thrown through one of the windows . . . The cross burning took place less than an hour after the university’s student-faculty board on student conduct gave reprimands – a light punishment – to three black students and dismissed charges against two others for their part in the demonstrations last December . . . Resentment has simmered among some white students, particularly athletes and fraternity men, and among some faculty members who feel that the administration has maintained a separate standard in its efforts to deal with the 250 black students on the 14,000-student campus.”

G. Cornell Negroes Seize a Building; 30 Visiting Parents Ejected as 100 Students Protest Disciplining of 6 Blacks, New York Times, April 20, 1969, p. 1.

“About 100 black students at Cornell University staged a surprise raid on the student union building at dawn today. They ran through the halls shouting ‘Fire!’ and pounding on doors, and ousted 30 sleeping parents from guest rooms. The invaders ordered the parents, and about 40 university employees, to leave the building. Then they seized it, chaining the doors shut . . . Black students briefly seized the campus radio station, WVBR, in the building and announced their action on the air. Minutes later an engineer at the transmitter, five miles away, cut the station off.”

H. Armed Negroes End Seizure; Cornell Yields; Armed Negro Students End 36-Hour Occupation After Cornell Capitulates, New York Times, April 21, 1969, p. 1.

“Carrying 17 rifles and shotguns, Negro students at Cornell University marched out of the Student Union Building today, ending a 36-hour occupation. A few minutes later, rifle-carrying students stood by in front of the cottage that the Negro students used as their headquarters, while university officials signed an agreement . . . The administration also capitulated to a series of other demands by the Afro-American Society.”

I. Excerpts From Talk by President of Cornell University on Student Dissension, New York Times, April 22, 1969, p. 34.   

“We meet this afternoon at a time of trial and anguish for our country, for higher education and for Cornell University. And the question before the house today and in the immediate days to come is whether we have the collective wisdom and sensitivity to sufficient measures to deal with what I am sure future historians will doubtless call one of the great testing points in that peculiar institution we call the university.”

J. Cornell Negro Plan Begun in ‘65; Officials on Campus View Curriculum as Best in Nation, New York Times, April 22, 1969, p. 34.

“Four years ago, Cornell University began a program to recruit Negro students from the slums, and last fall announced plans for an Afro-American curriculum, actions which officials here believe put Cornell far in advance of any university in the country. More than 100 students in that program seized the university’s student union building . . . and emerged 36 hours later carrying 17 rifles and shotguns, bandoliers of ammunition, home-made spears and clubs. The events of the weekend left white Cornell shocked, angry and baffled . . . Perhaps the strongest emotion among the blacks is one of fear, for they feel themselves in a hostile environment. They are also angry and bitter because they feel the education being offered will fit them only for white society.”

K. Cornell Faculty Votes Down Pact Ending Take-Over; Resolution Assails Seizure of Student Center and the Carrying of Guns,” New York Times, April 22, 1969, p. 1.

“The Cornell University faculty voted overwhelmingly tonight to reject an agreement that armed black students signed with administration officials yesterday . . . By a hand vote of more than 1,000 members of the faculty – the faculty meeting was the largest in Cornell’s history – a proposal . . . to dismiss penalties imposed on three black students following campus disorders last December and January was decisively defeated. The vote, taken at a closed meeting also condemned the occupation of Willard Straight Hall and the “carrying and use of weapons.”

L. Peaceful Sit-In at Cornell Ends New Seizure Threat; Peaceful Sit-In at Cornell Eases the Threat of a New Seizure by Negro Students,” New York Times, April 23, 1969, p. 1.

“A threatened seizure of campus buildings by militant students of Cornell University and faculty sympathizers of Negro student demands turned into a peaceful sit-in tonight on a basketball court.”

M. Cornell’s Whites Try to Understand, New York Times, April 23, 1969, p. 30.

“Cornell’s non-radical white student’s expressed today both their fear and an attempt to comprehend the black militancy that has thrown this hilly 730-acre campus into turmoil . . . Many of the white students feel that the university administration has given in to the blacks, has appeased them . . . Many white students have adopted a ‘black-is-right’ stance: that is, they condemn the seizing of the building and carrying of guns, but believe that black demands on the university are justified. ‘I can understand how people from the ghettos, the Afros, are lost up here.”

N. Cornell Faculty Reverses Itself on Negroes; Disciplinary Action Is Nullified,” New York Times, April 24, 1969, p. 1.

“The Cornell faculty, facing the threat of building seizures by militant students and by some of its own members, reversed itself today and nullified disciplinary action against five Negro students . . . But a minority of senior professors expressed disgust. Calling it ‘abject capitulation,’ they ridiculed the idea that the faculty’s dramatic reversal of its own decision . . . was brought about by a sudden fresh perception of the complexities of the crisis. They charged that the faculty reversal was nothing short of ‘surrender to intimidation.’”

O. Negroes at Cornell Charge They’re Liberal Window-Dressing, New York Times, April 24, 1969, p. 34.

“They brought us here for their benefit — to integrate the place. This is Cornell, the great liberal campus in the East. And you can’t be liberal without Negroes.”

P. Faculty Revolt Upsets Cornell; Charges of Sellout Made — Many Won’t Teach Until Assured Guns Are Gone, New York Times, April 25, 1969, p. 1.

“The administration of Cornell University, accused by some leading faculty members of ‘selling out to terrorists,’ faced a growing revolt today by professors who refused to teach until they had written assurance from President James A. Perkins that the campus was disarmed.”

     Documents Q, R, S, and T are opinion pieces discussing events at Cornell from different perspective. Tom Wicker, who is white, was an opinion columnist for the New York Times. His second column is based on an interview with a Cornell University administrator, Steven Muller, who was also white. Thomas Sowell, who is African American, was an assistant professor of economics at Cornell University from 1965 to 1969, and is a leading conservative academic. In this article he described the Cornell students occupying Willard Straight Hall students as “hoodlums” with “serious academic problems” who were “admitted under lower academic standards.” He denied seeing or experiencing “the pervasive racism that black students supposedly encountered at every turn on campus.” Tom Jones, who is African American, was part of the AAS leadership team. In a radio interview during the takeover he declared that Cornell “has three hours to live.” After graduation Jones became head of the nonprofit workers’ retirement fund TIAA/CREF and a Cornell trustee. In 1995, he endowed the Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding in honor of former President James Perkins.

Q. “In the Nation: These Guns in These Hands” by Tom Wicker, New York Times, April 22, 1969, p. 46.

“The widely distributed photograph of black students at Cornell carrying their rifles and shotguns out of a building they had seized may well be the most shocking evidence yet — at least to white people — of the extent to which the American people have been divided into hostile, nearly warring forces . . . These guns in these hands, no matter how unjustified and even irrational, are what white Americans must face up to – not because there necessarily are all that many of them but because they are symbols of a profound and potentially disastrous national failure to make clear and unmistakable, to blacks as well as whites, an imperative national commitment to bridge this dark and yawning gulf that divides and threatens us. If that commitment exists, not enough blacks can believe it. And the burden of proof is not on them.”

R. In the Nation: Humanity vs. Principle at Cornell” by Tom Wicker, New York Times, April 27, 1969, p. 17.

“Steven Muller, Cornell University’s Vice-President for public affairs, came to New York this week for a television appearance, then flew right back to the troubled upstate campus. Tired from too little sleep, Mr. Muller yet managed in a brief conversation to put recent events at Cornell into a rather different perspective . . . Muller dares believe that Cornell ultimately will find itself the better for its week of upheaval – its students and faculty more the free and open community that is the university ideal, and its blacks more fully a part of that community. And although he is saddened that a number of Cornell faculty members, including some with high standing, plan to resign in protest, Muller believes that they have then opportunity to stand on principle this week only because university officials were willing, last Sunday in Straight hall, to put real concern for humanity above abstract principle.”

S. “The Day Cornell Died” by Thomas Sowell (Weekly Standard, May 3, 1999).

“No one who was at Cornell University in the spring of 1969 is ever likely to forget the guns-on-campus crisis that shocked the academic community and the nation. Bands of militant black students forcibly evicted visiting parents from Willard Straight Hall on the Cornell campus and seized control of it to back up their demands. Later, after the university’s capitulation, the students emerged carrying rifles and shotguns, their leader wearing a bandoleer of shotgun ammunition. It was a picture that appeared on the covers of national magazines and was even reprinted overseas. What happened behind the scenes was at least as shocking. Death threats were phoned to the homes of professors who had opposed their previous actions or demands. Shots were in fact fired into the engineering building. In a decade noted for its student riots, this was the most violent in the nation. In an academic world noted for its weak-kneed administrators, Cornell had the quintessential appeaser and dispenser of pious rhetoric in its president, James A. Perkins. As an assistant professor of economics at Cornell at the time, my characterization of Perkins in the media was that he was “a veritable weathervane, following the shifting cross-current of campus politics.” After thirty years, there is no need to take back any of that . . . The Cornell tragedy began with one of those good intentions with which the road to Hell is paved. When James Perkins became president of Cornell in 1963, it had an almost totally white faculty and student body. When I joined the faculty two years later, I did not see another black professor anywhere on this vast campus. Perkins, like other presidents of elite colleges and universities, sought to increase minority student enrollment — and to do so by admitting students who would not meet the existing academic standards at Cornell. The emphasis was on getting militant ghetto kids, some of whom turned out to be hoodlums who terrorized other black students, in addition to provoking a racial backlash among whites . . . Certainly there was a racist backlash among some white students after innumerable incidents of unpunished violence and disruptions by black militants, as well as other needless provocations by ghetto kids with chips on their shoulders. The racial atmosphere on campus became so charged that one of the black students moved in with my wife and me to escape dangers from both blacks and whites in the dormitory. The local black community in Ithaca was also not thrilled by the importation of hoodlums by radical chic whites at Cornell.”

T. An Interview with Tom Jones, part of the AAS leadership team (“Getting It Straight,” Cornell Alumni Magazine, March/April 2009).

“I was in the Class of ’69, so I came to campus in the fall of 1965 . . . To be totally honest, I was not in favor of taking over the building. We voted, and the majority thought it was necessary to do something that would shock the University, grab its attention. Parents’ Weekend would be a perfect time. The Straight was a good target . . . At first, it was kind of fun. Then the guys from Delta Upsilon came in. I was playing pool and I heard this commotion. I went to see who it was, and here were some frat boys who had decided they were going to throw us out. Something clicked inside of me: ‘This cannot end this way. Not with some frat guys deciding they’re vigilantes.’ I went up to the first guy and I punched him. There was a fight, and we threw them out. After that, the atmosphere changed, because now there was an element of ‘Are they going to come back with more people? Are the police going to do something?’ That ultimately led to the decision to arm ourselves for self-defense . . . I’m proud of the courage of all of those black students who didn’t crack, who didn’t succumb to the fear of what might happen . . . I’m proud that so many white students said, ‘We’re not going to let these black students stay isolated. We’re going to rally and create a buffer between them and the police’ . . . Some of the black students, particularly those from southern and rural backgrounds, had never stood up to white people in their lives. I intentionally took the position of being the last to leave the building, because I wanted that symbolism to reflect what I felt, which was 100 percent commitment . . . It not only shocked Cornell, it shocked the country. I believe it’s one of the reasons this country decided to try to fully incorporate all of its citizens, whatever racial or ethnic background . . . When I used words like ‘Cornell has three hours to live,’ it was a metaphorical statement. Because if violence erupted, it would have been the end of Cornell as we knew it . . . I’m not proud that an implicitly violent act was used to settle a dispute, when that’s counter to everything that the University stands for. I’m certainly not proud that President Perkins became a scapegoat for the rage that erupted. He was a good person and that is the tragedy of these things . . . I do not think Barack Obama would be president today without what we did in Willard Straight Hall in 1969. I believe Barack Obama stands on our shoulders. The Straight was part of a series of historical events that began with Rosa Parks in 1955 and continued through the Sixties with the Freedom Riders and the marchers at Selma, Alabama, and made possible this magnificent thing that happened in January 2009. I think we’re part of a chain of history. I’m not saying the most important part, but we’re one of the links.”

“We Are All Bound Up Together” (May 1, 1866)

Speech by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper at the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City

Background:   In May 1866, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a leading African American poet, lecturer and civil right activist, addressed the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City. Other speakers included white suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. New York Times columnist Brent Staples (“When the Suffrage Movement Sold Out to White Supremacy,” February 3, 2019) charged that “official suffrage history reduces . . . Harper to a bit player, even though she was central to the struggles for both African-American and women’s rights and delivered what has come to be recognized as a visionary speech on the relationship between the two.” History of Woman Suffrage (six volumes published between 1881 and 1922) by Stanton and Anthony et al report on the 1866 meeting but ignored Harper’s speech. Historian Nell Irvin Painter argues that Harper’s words were “too strong” for white suffrage leaders. They viewed her “polished, self-assured style as antithetical to what they viewed as blackness,” preferring the “uneducated version of black womanhood embodied by the formerly enslaved suffragist Sojourner Truth, who entertained her audiences as she imparted her ideas.”

Instructions: Read excerpts from the speech by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and answer questions 1-4.

  1.  Harper claims that when “the hands of the black were fettered,” white men were also deprived of the liberty. In your opinion, what did she mean by this statement?
  2. According to Harper, what prevents this “grand and glorious revolution” from reaching its “climax of success”?
  3. What is Harper’s view on women achieving the right to vote?
  4. In your opinion, why did some white suffragist react negatively to Harper’s assertion that “white women of America” needed to be “lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness”?
  5. Harper argued “We are all bound up together”? Do you agree with Harper’s assertion? Explain.  

A. I feel I am something of a novice upon this platform. Born of a race whose inheritance has been outrage and wrong, most of my life had been spent in battling against those wrongs. But I did not feel as keenly as others, that I had these rights, in common with other women, which are now demanded . . . We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press.

B. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members. At the South, the legislation of the country was in behalf of the rich slaveholders, while the poor white man was neglected. What is the consequence today? From that very class of neglected poor white men, comes the man who stands today, with his hand upon the helm of the nation. He fails to catch the watchword of the hour, and throws himself, the incarnation of meanness, across the pathway of the nation. My objection to Andrew Johnson is not that he has been a poor white man; my objection is that he keeps “poor whites” all the way through. That is the trouble with him.

C. This grand and glorious revolution which has commenced, will fail to reach its climax of success, until throughout the length and breadth of the American Republic, the nation shall be so color-blind, as to know no man by the color of his skin or the curl of his hair. It will then have no privileged class, trampling upon outraging the unprivileged classes, but will be then one great privileged nation, whose privilege will be to produce the loftiest manhood and womanhood that humanity can attain.

D. I do not believe that giving the woman the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of life. I do not believer that white women are dewdrops just exhaled from the skies. I think that like men they may be divided into three classes, the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The good would vote according to their convictions and principles; the bad, as dictated by prejudice or malice; and the indifferent will vote on the strongest side of the question, with the winning party.

E. You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me. Let me go to-morrow morning and take my seat in one of your street cars — I do not know that they will do it in New York, but they will in Philadelphia — and the conductor will put up his hand and stop the car rather than let me ride.

F. In advocating the cause of the colored man, since the Dred Scott decision, I have sometimes said I thought the nation had touched bottom. But let me tell you there is a depth of infamy lower than that. It is when the nation, standing upon the threshold of a great peril, reached out its hands to a feebler race, and asked that race to help it, and when the peril was over, said, “You are good enough for soldiers, but not good enough for citizens.”

G. Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted     out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.

Source: https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/directory/franc es-ellen-watkins-harper/

4th Grade NYS and Slavery Inquiry

Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Integrated Social Studies/ELA Curriculum

April Francis

Editors Note: This is the first multi-day lesson in a three lesson sequence designed for fourth grade on slavery and New York developed by April Francis for the Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Integrated Social Studies/ELA Curriculum. Lessons 2 and 3 will be included in future issues of Teaching Social Studies. Lesson 1 addresses the compelling question “What were the experiences of enslaved African Americans in New York State?”

Compelling Question: Why did New Yorkers have differing views of American Slavery in the 1800s?

Supporting Questions

  1. What were the experiences of enslaved African Americans in New York State?
  2. Why did some New Yorkers show support for slavery?
  3. How did some New Yorkers resist the slave system?

Staging the Compelling Question Narrative & Procedure

     This beginning activity will help frame the compelling question and deepen student understanding of this hard history topic. Teachers should be mindful of how they present this information in their classroom, by using techniques that support all students. Teaching Tolerance has a guide entitled “Let’s Talk: Discussing Race, Racism, and other Difficult Topics with Students” that provides strategies and support for teachers in this area. Some of these strategies have been included in this inquiry’s narrative. Additionally, to build their own historical context, teachers can view the videos: New York State & Slavery: Complicity & Resistance (19 minutes) and TedTalk-Ed: The Atlantic Slave Trade. (approx. 6 minutes) Additional Resources for Slavery in the North: https://peoplenotproperty.hudsonvalley.org/

Preparation for the Lesson: Queue video

Discovery Education Streaming Subscribers: “Slavery Begins in America”        https://app.discoveryeducation.com/learn/videos/7bbeb461-871c-411b-a1ff-1eb44ed89381/ (4 minutes) OR Free video: “Slavery in America” https://www.teachertube.com/video/slavery-in-america-a- history-ofamerica821-316094 (show only the first 6 minutes)

● Make copies of “Vocabulary Terms,” “K-W-L chart,” and “Circle Map”

Lesson 1 / Day 1 Engage (20 minutes)

1. The teacher can begin this unit by informing students that “We will be learning about an important topic this week, this topic often can be hard to discuss because it involves how people’s rights were taken away from them, and the harsh treatment forced on them for many years in our country. This topic is called Slavery in America.”

a. The teacher can introduce some strategies in the “Let’s Talk” booklet to ensure students feel they are in a safe environment to learn about this topic. Some helpful strategies can be found on pgs. 7-11.

2. Next, the teacher should display the compelling question “Why did New Yorkers have differing views of American slavery in the 1800s?” And ask for a student volunteer to read it aloud. The “teacher should also highlight that “when we are referring to people who have been forced into slavery, we state ‘enslaved people’ since no one is born a slave, but can be enslaved.”

3. Next, the teacher should display Source 1 on the smart board and distribute the “K-W-L” chart. Using source 1 as a stimulus, the teacher can have students record what they “know” about slavery in America. This activity will allow students to share their prior knowledge of the topic, as well as what they want to know. (Note: Source 1 is a picture of a Virginia Slave auction)

4. Once students have filled in their charts, the teacher can ask students to share what they “Know” and what they “Want” to know. The teacher can write these answers on chart paper (or students can write their answers on sticky notes and place them on the class chart paper). Teachers can use the following questions to guide their discussion: “What do we know about where slavery was located in the United States? What do we want to know?

Using the lens of social sciences:

Geography: – Where was slavery located? – Where did slavery exist in the U.S.? -Where did enslaved Africans come from? – How did they get here? – How the geography of a place affected the work and conditions for enslaved people?

Economics: – What type of work did enslaved people do? – Who benefited from their labor? – How did the labor and industry for enslaved people change from place to place?

Civics: (Political, Social, Law & Life – Was slavery legal in the U.S.? – What laws existed that protected slavery in the U.S./New York State? – Could you escape slavery? Did many enslaved people escape? – How many enslaved people were there in the U.S./New York State? – What was life like for enslaved people? (And what sources can we turn to help us understand the experiences of enslaved people in America/NYS?)

Explain (15 minutes): Next, the teacher can transition the lesson by displaying the vocabulary terms and review each word with the class as a foundation for the inquiry. (Alternative activity – have the students       participate in a “word sort” activity.) After reviewing the vocabulary terms, inform students they will watch a video regarding the history of slavery in America. (This will provide historical context for students, and can be referred back to throughout the lesson) The teacher should have the students watch the video and, and as a class, fill out the circle map based on what they learned. (Teacher can repeat video for emphasis.)

a. After the video the teacher should do a “check-in” with students to ascertain their emotions regarding this topic. The “Thumbs up/Thumbs Down” strategy found on pg. 11 of the Teaching Tolerance “Let’s Talk” booklet can be helpful.

Explore & Elaborate (15 minutes): Next, the teacher can ask students to share some of the information from the video to create a class “circle map.” The teacher should remember this is a sensitive topic, and be mindful of student responses and how information is written on the map (i.e. enslaved person, rather than “slave”) Next, the teacher can have students journal or draw (see “Let’s Talk” guide) how they feel about the video. The teacher should collect this, and follow up with any journal or drawing that may need extra attention and support.

Evaluate (10 minutes)

1. The teacher can ask students to fill out the “L” portion of their K-W-L chart and ask “What are 3 things you learned today about slavery in America?” (an additional strategy- students can write on sticky notes and place it on a class K-W-L chart.)

2. The teacher can close the lesson by informing students, “I know that some of the questions you asked in the “W” portion of your chart may not have been answered today, I do hope by the end of our inquiry, you will have those answers.”

Source 1

“K-W-L” Chart Directions: We are going to be discussing a “hard history” topic. What do you know about the economic system called slavery in America? What would you want to know (questions you have)?

Vocabulary Terms

Circle Map

Directions: As a class, we will watch the video about the history of Slavery in America. While you watch the video, fill in the bubbles with facts that you have learned.

Supporting Question 1: What were the experiences of enslaved African Americans in New York State?

Lesson 1 / Day 1 Narrative & Procedure

     In this lesson, students will be introduced to the origins of the slavery system in New Netherlands and later New York. Students will analyze both primary and secondary sources in groups, and then use this information to develop a timeline of important events. Note: Modify this script to meet your classroom needs.


  • Queue video: Sojourner Truth (History.com) 2:29 minutes
  • Make copies of Source 1-5, “Map of NYS Counties”, and the “Source Analysis” worksheet
  • Smart board to project documents for whole class analysis
  • Chart paper to record student responses

Engage (15 minutes)   The teacher should begin the lesson by displaying the Supporting Question for the whole class “Were there enslaved Africans in New York State?” The teacher should ask for a volunteer reader. The teacher should then remind students of what they learned yesterday, using student “K-W-L” chart responses.

Next, the teacher should distribute Source 1, and, as a whole class, read aloud the account of Sojourner Truth, and use the guiding questions to review key points. The teacher should then show the video “Sojourner Truth” (History.com) 2:29 minutes

Explore (15 minutes)      

1. Once students complete the guided reading and video, the teacher should distribute and display the Map of NYS Counties, and highlight that in the video, they included a political map of where Sojourner Truth grew up. The teacher can state, “A political map is a map that shows borders and boundaries of a state or country. Let’s review our own political map of the counties in NYS.” The teacher can use these geographic reasoning questions for a whole class map analysis:

  • a. Place a “star” next to the county we live in. Place a “square” around our state Capital. Place an “X” on NYC. “Circle” the county Sojourner Truth was born (Ulster).
  • b. How would Sojourner’s environment affect how she lived?
  • c. What type of work would be needed in Ulster county- farming, fishing, or shipbuilding? Why? (farming- more rural area)
  • d. What type of work would be needed in the NYC area- farming, fishing, or shipbuilding? Why? (shipbuilding and fishing- near water)

2. After students have shared answers, the teacher can inform students that today they will be working in teams, investigating the supporting question through various source documents. The teacher should review with students the difference between primary vs. secondary sources. The teacher can ask students, “What type of source was the reading on Sojourner Truth?” (Secondary source).

Explain (15 minutes)

3. Next, the teacher should distribute the “Source Analysis” worksheet, and inform students that in their teams, they will analyze sources and record the main ideas on this chart. The teacher should model this activity with the students, using the Sojourner Truth reading (Source 1).

 4. The teacher should place students in groups of four and have each student analyze one source from Source 2-5 and record the main idea on the Source Analysis worksheet an (alternative strategy- Jigsaw activity.) Note to Teacher: source modification is encouraged to meet the needs of your students.

5. The teacher should rotate between groups, and ask critical thinking questions:

  • a. Were there enslaved persons in New York State? How do we know?
  • b. Using your map, can you locate the counties Jupiter, Frederick, and Thomas were from?
  • c. Were there Africans who were not enslaved in New York State? How do you know? What does that mean?
  • d. What were some of the work enslaved persons did in New York State? Did the type of work depend on their geographic area? Why?

Elaborate (15 minutes)

1. Once students have completed analyzing the sources in groups (moderated and supported by the teacher), the whole class should review the “Source Analysis” worksheet. The teacher should record student responses on chart paper.

2. As a closing activity, ask students to identify one positive character trait they believe an enslaved person had to have to survive living in slavery. Students should then explain why they chose that trait.

Preparation for Day 2 –  Poster paper and markers for student group timelines

Lesson 1/ Day 2

Evaluate (55-60 minutes)

1. The teacher should ask students “What is a timeline?” “Why do we use timelines?” The teacher should share a sample timeline for students to review. After reviewing the different parts of the timeline the teacher should inform students they will be creating timelines based on the information they analyzed yesterday.

2. The teacher should inform students of the steps needed for them to create their group timelines:       

a. Each group must agree on three major events to include on their timeline- these events should be in chronological order and have a connection. The events should be taken from at least three sources.

b. Each timeline must have the following: (Teacher Timeline reference guide: http://dohistory.org/on_your_own/toolkit/timeline.html)

  • i. Title
  • ii. A specific span of time
  • iii. Create time segments
  • iv. A summary of the importance of this timeline

3. Once student groups complete their timelines, each group will present to their final product to the class. Teacher should model presentation strategies for student groups.

Source 1: Slavery in the North (www.readworks.org)

     In 1806, 9-year-old Isabella Baumfree and her family lived on the property of Charles Ardinburgh of Ulster County in New York. When Ardinburgh died, Isabella found her mother in tears. “Mau-mau, what makes you cry?” Isabella asked. “Oh, my child, I am thinking of your brothers and sisters that have been sold away from me,” her mother replied. Soon after, Isabella too was separated from her mother. She was auctioned—along with other slaves, horses, and cattle—and purchased for $100. She was sold again and again, from master to master, until she was emancipated in 1828. Students of history know Isabella better by the name she chose as an adult—Sojourner Truth. Truth was an abolitionist. She spoke out against slavery. But what some people may not know is that Truth was one of thousands of slaves who were bought, sold, and forced to do labor in the North. “Many people are surprised when you talk about slavery in the North,” Alan Singer, a professor of education at Hofstra University, told Senior Edition. “We associate slavery with the South, even though the biggest importer of slaves—after South Carolina—was New York City.” Historians are beginning to bring slavery in the North into the spotlight. The New York Historical Society recently presented an exhibition on slavery in that state. Singer, who travels the country to talk to students about slavery in the North, wants people to remember that slavery was a national institution. It’s important to understand how slavery affected the entire country, because its effects linger through discrimination, Singer says. “Kids see slavery as something that happened in the deep past,” he told Senior Edition. “I want children to know that we still live with the effects of that slavery society.

Guided Questions for Source 1

  1. Where did Isabella and her family live? Why was her mother crying?
  2. What were some experiences of Isabella as an enslaved person?
  3. What did Isabella change her name to? Why do you think she did that?
  4. Who was the 2nd biggest importer of enslaved people in the United States? Why are many people surprised at the answer?
  5. According to Alan Singer, why is it important for us to discuss the effects of slavery?

 Map of New York Counties

  Source 3: Jupiter Hammon: First Colonial Published African American

     Jupiter Hammon was born on October 17, 1711 on Lloyd Neck. Jupiter’s father, Obadiah, was a slave belonging to Henry Lloyd and his wife, Rebecca. From the beginning Jupiter was close to the Lloyd family. He lived in the Manor house with the family, and went to school with the Lloyd children. This closeness is further evidenced by the fact that he is referred to as “brother Jupiter” in later correspondence between the Lloyd sons and their father.

     Jupiter worked alongside Henry in Henry’s business, and he was often sent to New York City to negotiate trade deals…It is clear from his writings that Jupiter Hammon was also a deeply religious man. His first published poem, which appeared in 1761, was entitled “An Evening Prayer”, when published the credits read: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen’s Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760.

     Henry Lloyd died in 1763, and Jupiter went to live with Henry’s son, Joseph. Joseph Lloyd was a patriot during the Revolutionary War, and when the British captured New York and confiscated his land he fled to  Connecticut, taking Jupiter with him. When the war ended they returned to the Manor, where Jupiter continued to write poetry.

     Jupiter went on to become a leader in the African American community. In 1787 he delivered a speech to the African Society of New York City entitled “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York”. In the speech he empathized with their disappointment at not having been emancipated by the new American government…Jupiter Hammon’s death was unrecorded, but historians place it somewhere around 1806. SOURCE: http://www.lloydharborhistoricalsociety.org/jupiter.html

Source 4 from the Autobiography of Thomas James

     I was born a slave at Canajoharie, New York, in the year 1804. I was the third of four children, and we were all the property of Asa Kimball, who, when I was in the eighth year of my age, sold my mother, brother and elder sister to purchasers from Smith- town, a village not far distant from Amsterdam in the same part of the state. My mother refused to go, and ran into the garret to seek a hiding place. She was pursued, caught, tied hand and foot and delivered to her new owner. I caught my last sight of my mother as they rode off with her. My elder brother and sister were taken away at the same time. I never saw either my mother or sister again. Long years afterwards my brother and I were reunited, and he died in this city a little over a year ago. From him I learned that my mother died about the year 1846, in the place to which she had been taken. My brother also informed me that he and his sister were separated soon after their transfer to a Smithport master, and he never heard of her… fate. Of my father I never had any personal knowledge, and, indeed, never heard anything. My youngest sister, the other member of the family, died when I was yet a youth. Source: From the Library of Congress: selections from A Slave’s Autobiography by Rev. Thomas James: Post-Express Printing Company, Mill Street (1887).ROCHESTER, N.Y

Source 5 Narrative of Frederick Douglass

     In 1845, Frederick Douglass, a runaway enslaved African American wrote about his experiences on two plantations he lived on in the south, before he arrived in New York. He was born, Frederick Washington Bailey, into slavery in 1818 in Maryland. He later changed his last name to Douglass when he arrived in New York City in 1838 to protect his identity.

Global History Mini-Unit on the Dangers of Climate Change

Anthony Richard and Maria Efstratiou

Background: Climate change may be the major issue of the 21st century as industrialized societies have contributed to the wastes and emissions that are deteriorating the conditions of Earth’s atmosphere and environment. A greater acknowledgement of the natural and human-made dangers of climate change, as well as information on how to improve the environment, could greatly improve efforts to prevent any further damage from occurring. Lesson 1 introduces the concept of climate change through the investigation of the natural disaster of the Krakatoa eruption and Hurricane Katrina. Students work individually and cooperatively to analyze images, texts, and video clips. In Lesson 2, students work independently on a document assessment of the Paris Climate Accord and cooperatively through a gallery walk illustrating impacts on the climate. In Lesson 3, students examine different forms of climate change protest that have occurred over recent years. Activist events such as the Anti-WAAhnsinn festival, the Plane Stupid Protest, the UN Protest, and the March 2019 student strike are investigated through individual and cooperative efforts.

NYS State Frameworks for this mini-unit: 10.9 Globalization and a Changing Global Environment (1900-Present):  Technological changes have resulted in a more interconnected world, affecting economic and political relations and in some cases leading to conflict and in others to efforts to cooperate. 10.9c Population pressures, industrialization, and urbanization have increased demands for limited natural resources and food resources, often straining the environment.

Lesson 1 Aim: Is climate change a threat to humanity? Main ideas:

1. Climate Change is a present day issue that could threaten humanity if not taken seriously.

2. Daily actions could be taken by individuals to evade the dangers of climate change.

3. Natural disasters of the past between the 1883 Krakatoa eruption and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 exemplify.

Next Generation Skills:

• Cite textual evidence to support conclusions on how natural disasters have come about due to natural or human activities.

• Determine central ideas about how Climate Change could bring forth harmful effects on the Earth’s environment.

• Analyze events and ideas and causality of the damage done by various natural disasters


Climate Change: A change in global or regional climate patterns due to increased levels of carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.

Greenhouse Effect: The trapping of the sun’s warmth in Earth’s atmosphere due to the infrared radiation emitted from the planet’s surface.

Renewable Energy: Energy produced from a source that is not depleted when used such as wind power or solar energy. Fossil Fuels: A natural fuel such as coal or gas formed from the remains of living organisms.

Do Now: Students will be given a handout with a political cartoon that characterizes the transparency of a country’s political absence of climate change. Four questions will be provided for students to answer as well as they observe the image. After the students are given a few moments to individually answer the questions, the class will come together to assess the importance of the cartoon. Remaining inactive toward putting forth actions to combat Climate Change will equate to nothing but the continued destruction of Earth’s environment. The sooner countries shift their focus to the issues of climate, the more efficient future actions can be taken to preserve the planet.

Motivation: The lesson will open with discussion unfolding with each question answered from the do now. I will gauge observations from the students about what they saw from the political cartoon and then facilitate their understandings in accordance to the questions that have been provided for them to answer. After this, I will provide students with a questionnaire that indicates if their daily actions contribute to the preservation of the environment. The questions provided for students will connect the actions that could be taken by common individuals to promote the health of the Earth’s conditions.

Individual/Team/Full Class Activities: Cooperative groups will be formed for students to read and analyze together the two short texts that present differing effects from Climate Change. Students will fill in their graphic organizer with significant evidence on either the natural or human causes of damage from the natural disasters of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption and Hurricane Katrina. The class will then examine a video clip that assesses the conditions of Climate Change, what properties perpetuate its influence on the environment, and its potentially devastating effects on the planet.

Differentiation and Multiple Entry Points: Multiple entry points include political cartoon analysis, discussion, textual analysis, evaluating arguments, and video analysis. Students will work individually and in teams to support different learners and learning styles.

Compelling Questions:

  • Do global countries tend to make Climate Change their number one focus?
  • Are the consequences of greenhouse gases forever irreversible?
  • How can the individuals communicate with one another to protect the environment?


Informal: Teachers work as an ex officio member of student groups and review work as teams conduct research and reach conclusions.

Formal: Collect and evaluate an exit ticket where students answer the question: Is climate change truly a threat to humanity? Form your answer while using a specific example.

Closure: The class ends with student discussion of the question: Is Climate Change truly a threat to humanity? I will link the question back to the focus of the Do Now political cartoon and ask students to determine if it is difficult for countries to direct their efforts to resolving Climate Change.

Classroom Applications: Students will have access to other images and video of Climate Change and its influence on natural disasters.

Your Personal Carbon Footprint

Directions: Do you care for your planet? Prove it. Answer the questionnaire below to see how much action you take daily to prevent climate change. Count every question you answer “Yes” and tally your total “I care about the environment” score. Once you finish the poll, answer the additional question below.

Why do you believe it is essential for individuals to keep their environment clean using methods such as the ones listed above?

“Causes and Effects of Climate Change”

Instructions: View the video “Causes and Effects of Climate Change” then answer the following questions. Be prepared to share your interpretations to the class.

Source; National Geographic (3 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4H1N_yXBiA

  1. How does the Greenhouse Effect impact the temperature of Earth’s surface?
  2. Describe the various consequences of Climate Change.
  3. How can humans combat the harmful effects of Climate Change?

Exit Ticket: Based on evidence presented in this lesson and your knowledge of the issues, in your opinion, is climate change truly a threat to humanity? Explain citing evidence.

Natural or Human Disaster?

Directions: Read the historical context below and analyze the following sources. Examine how the Earth’s environment can be altered from natural or human causes then interpret how climate change has influenced the damages accrued from natural disasters.

Historical Context: Climate Change refers to the change in global climate patterns from sea level rises to ice glacier losses. It has existed for the past hundreds of thousands of years as the conditions of the Earth have been adjusted due to natural alterations of the environmental properties. However, recent human activity since the Industrial Revolution has been severely influencing Earth’s environment to the point of no return. If further human activity remains unmonitored for the consideration of Earth’s properties, unforeseen consequences could result in negative impacts for all living beings.

Krakatoa and its Threats to Civilizations (1883)

Sources: https://phys.org/news/2016-04volcanoes-trigger-crises-late-antiquity.html; https://www.livescience.com/28186-krakatoa.html

     Natural phenomenon like volcanic eruptions give scientists clues to how climate can rapidly change and the impact of these changes on human civilizations. Krakatoa is a volcanic island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. It is about 3 miles wide and less than miles long. Prior to a massive eruption in 416 A.D., it was actually an isthmus connecting the other two islands. There were also volcanic eruptions in 535, 850, 950, 1050, 1150, 1320, 1530, 1680, and 1883. The 1883 eruption spewed so much volcanic ash into the atmosphere that average global temperatures fell by 2.2 °F the following year and weather patterns did not return to normal until 1888. The 535 eruption combined with suspected volcanic activity in Central America and Iceland in 540 to low average global temperature by 3.6°F producing the coldest decade in the last 2,000 years. A sun-blocking blanket of sulfur particles in the stratosphere led to famine across much of Europe, the continents first recorded pandemic of Bubonic Plague, and may have been the final blow causing the end of the Roman Empire. The eruptions also contributed to crop failure and mass starvation in China where it snowed in August, drought in Peru, a dense fog covering North Africa and Southwest Asia, the decline of native civilizations in Mesoamerica, and the migration of Mongolian tribes westward.

Krakatoa Eruption (1883)

1. Were damages caused by natural or human activity? Explain using evidence.

2. How does this article provide evidence to support concerns about climate change?

Hurricane Katrina Disaster (2005)

Source: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/08/28/profi ts-over-people-the-human-cause-of-the-katrinadisaster/ 

     The political and engineering failures that caused the devastation in New Orleans were decades in the making. First, the storm surge was amplified by years of oil and natural gas companies degrading the integrity of the wetlands with pipelines, causing the land to sink at an alarming rate. The Mississippi River levee system was created in response to the sinking wetlands, but this system actually compounds the problem by preventing much of the river’s silt from being deposited in the ocean where it creates a natural buffer. Combined, these factors have eroded one million square acres of Bayou since 1930, bringing the coastline 30 miles closer to New Orleans and leaving only a 20 mile buffer from hurricanes. Katrina surges of 10 – 20 feet in New Orleans would have been 0 – 9 feet with better oversight of corporations carving up the wetlands – not big enough to breach the levees.

     Another preventable human aspect of Katrina was a network of levees suffering from poor design and disrepair from bureaucratic bickering; an 80% cut to levee repair funds under the Bush Administration and misspent money. After Katrina, the Corps admitted that “the hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only,” “an inconsistent patchwork of protection, containing flaws in design and construction, and not built to handle a hurricane anywhere near the size of Katrina.”

Hurricane Katrina (2005)

  1.  Were damages caused by natural or human activity? Explain using evidence.
  2. How does this article provide evidence to support concerns about climate change?

Lesson 2 Aim: How do a country’s policies influence climate change?

Main Ideas: 

  1. The governments of the world must take active and responsible actions to support the sustainability of Earth’s environment.     
  2. Collaborative efforts amongst countries can be a constructive approach to advance the world’s actions to limit the wastes emitted onto Earth’s atmosphere such as the composition of the Paris Climate Deal.
  3. Irresponsible actions of various countries such as the commencement of the Syrian Civil War equate to worsening conditions of the Earth’s climate.

Next Generation Skills:

Determine central ideas of a government’s influence on the conditions of Climate Change.

• Compare viewpoints and assess reasoning on the differing advantages and disadvantages of the Paris Climate Deal.

• Use of multiple sources of information to assess the various consequences of actions on the environment as exhibited through the Syrian Civil War.


Paris Climate Accord: An agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to limit the amount of greenhouse gases produced by each individual country.

Syrian Civil War: An ongoing armed conflict between the forces of the Ba’ath government who is determined to remove its current government.

Emissions: The Greenhouse gases released into the air produced by human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels.

Carbon Footprint: The amount of carbon dioxide produced due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular group, person, etc.

Do Now: Students will be given a handout with a political cartoon that characterizes the inactive state country governments may take prior to the escalation of harmful Climate Change effects. Four questions will be provided for students to answer as well as they observe the image. After the students are given a few moments to individually answer the questions, the class will come together to assess the importance of the cartoon. A country’s agenda should be devoted to preventing any disasters from occurring that could harm the safety of a country’s people. This notion should also pertain to the threat Climate Change could potentially have if it is not properly addressed in an urgent matter.

Motivation: The inactivity of a country’s government toward Climate Change can be related to a student’s decision to procrastinate from a school assignment. Although it may be tempting to focus on matters that can be viewed more significant at the moment, the failure to execute a task in a timely matter could evolve into an urgent matter that is rushed and not properly taken care of. A poor grade on a rushed assignment can signify a future result of a deteriorating environment of the planet if government officials do not take the necessary actions that are needed. This connection can communicate to students the current state of the political issue of Climate Change and how significant it is for the world’s leaders to collaborate their efforts to formulate a solution before it is too late.

Individual/Team/Full Class Activities: Individuals will view the article on the Paris Climate Accord, formulate their interpretations, and then offer their findings to the class. Differing views will be opened to a class discussion for all to contribute. Cooperative groups will then be formed to participate in a gallery walk of the three sources related to the Syrian Civil War. Groups will observe each source and then answer the guiding questions provided to them. Once each source has been observed by the groups, all students will participate in a class discussion to discuss the significant qualities from each source and how it relates to the issue of a government’s irresponsible actions toward Climate Change.

Differentiation and Multiple Entry Points: Multiple entry points include political cartoon examination, document analysis, discussion, and evaluating opinions. Students will work individually and in teams to support different learners and learning styles.

Compelling Questions:

  • What are the dangers of leaving decision makers unaccounted for?

• Could government acts with good intentions be as ineffective as taking no action at all?

• How could the wars of foreign countries indirectly influence our world?


Informal: I will be an ex officio member of student teams and review work as teams conduct research and reach conclusions on the various consequences of good and bad government action to combat Climate Change.

Formal: Teacher collects and evaluate an exit ticket where students answer the question: how could the actions of countries positively and negatively influence Climate Change?

Closure: The class will end with and exit ticket student discussion of the question: how could the actions of countries positively and negatively influence Climate Change? I will allow students to evaluate for themselves how government actions are capable of the best and worst possible results possible in regards to the monitoring of Climate Change.

Classroom Application: Students will have access to other images and videos that analyze the consequences of climate change on a society.

Paris Climate Accord of 2015

Directions: Analyze the article excerpt below on the details surrounding the ratified Paris Climate Accord to stop Climate Change, then answer the following questions. Be prepared to present your findings.

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/paris-climate-change-conference/12047909/Paris-climatechange-agreement-a-major-leap-for-mankind.html

     The world has agreed the first universal, legally binding deal to tackle global warming, in a move that David Cameron said marked “a huge step forward in helping to secure the future of our planet”. The deal, agreed at UN talks in Paris, commits countries to try to keep global temperature rises “well below” 2C, the level that is likely to herald the worst effects of climate change. It also commits them to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5C  – a highly ambitious goal that could require the U.K. to take even more radical action than under its existing Climate Change Act.

     Amber Rudd, the Energy Secretary, admitted that the world did not “have the answers yet” as to how it would meet the long-term goals of the Paris deal, which would require carbon to be extracted from the atmosphere by the second half of this century. The deal requires countries to set increasingly ambitious targets for cutting their national emissions and to report on their progress – but, crucially, leaves the actual targets, which are not legally binding, for countries to decide for themselves. The deal also requires developed nations to continue to provide funding to help poorer countries cut their carbon emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change – but does not set a legally binding level of money.


  1. What was decided by the Paris Climate Accord?
  2. How could the agreement benefit the world’s efforts to stop Climate Change?
  3. Why would politicians oppose the Paris Climate Deal?
  4. In your opinion, do you believe the Paris Climate Deal is an effective measure for the entire world to combat Climate Change?

Climate Change and War

Directions: Read the historical context below and then analyze the following sources. Consider the information from each source then answer the following questions.

Historical Context: In recent time, governments of various countries have become more mindful of their actions regarding Climate Change to prevent environmental conditions from worsening. Some governments have taken progressive steps through actions devoted to stop climate change, such as the Paris Climate Deal. Other countries, however, have committed questionable actions that threaten the health of the environment as well as the conditions of their society, such as the Syrian Civil War.

Source #1: Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria



1. What were the main causes of the Syrian War?

2. How have environmental conditions been affected as a result of the Syrian war efforts?

     The devastating civil war that began in Syria in March 2011 is the result of complex interrelated factors. The focus of the conflict is regime change, but the triggers include a broad set of religious and sociopolitical factors, the erosion of the economic health of the country, a wave of political reform sweeping over the Middle East and North Africa region, and challenges associated with climate variability and change and the availability and use of freshwater. Water and climatic conditions have played a direct role in the deterioration of Syria’s economic conditions. There is a long history of conflicts over water in these regions because of the natural water scarcity, the early development of irrigated agriculture, and complex religious and ethnic diversity. In recent years, there has been an increase in incidences of water-related violence around the world at the subnational level attributable to the role that water plays in development disputes and economic activities.

Source # 2: Syrian Civil War Climate Change Graphics



1. In Box A and B, respectively, how have the conditions of precipitation and surface temperature reacted since 2006?

2. How will Syrian war efforts influence the climate conditions already present in Syria?

Source #3: Syrian Political Cartoon



  1. What does the map implicate about the targets in Syria as well as the act of making war advancements in general?
  2. How could foreign influence in war efforts be detrimental toward Climate Change efforts?

Exit Ticket: Based on the information from today’s lesson, how could the actions of countries positively and negatively influence Climate Change? Use specific examples in your answer.     

Lesson 3 Aim: What actions can individuals take to stop or reduce the threat of climate change?

Main Ideas:

  1. Activists across the world have the capability to influence an organization’s actions on issues; including Climate Change.
  2. Not all activist efforts are peacefully negotiated and must be considered with care.
  3. The simple act of informing the public can qualify as an honest activist effort.

Next Generation Skills:

  • Determine central ideas of the influences of activism on the agendas of organizations toward Climate Change
  • Compare the different viewpoints of varying activist efforts and consider why certain protests ended more viciously than others.


Activism: The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

Anti-WAAhnsinn Festival: Protest involving a series of rock concerts to raise awareness to stop the construction of Power Plants in Germany.

Plane Stupid Protest: Protest involving the blocking of airplanes from leaving the Heathrow Airport to prevent further construction that could induce Climate Change to increase. 2018 UN Protest: Protest effort from young adults to coerce national leaders to shift their agenda focuses on stopping Climate Change

Do Now: Students will view a video on the “Rise for Climate” March and assess the characteristics of the protest. Students will be asked to investigate the qualities of the protest from the attitude, the protest itself, and the end results, This evaluation will provide a proper introduction to the nature of activism and how it influences the decisions of lawmakers and the public.

 Motivation: Students discuss if they have ever participated in or witnessed a protest. Once experiences are shared, the class will discuss if they believe activist efforts influenced government policy. This will transition into the conversation of activism in general and how it plays a pinnacle role in advocating for Climate Change reform.

Individual/Team/Full Class Activities: Students will form into cooperative groups read and analyze three protests across history around the world and assess the significant qualities from each protest. The class will then come together to assess their findings from each source and determine the overall effectiveness of each protest. Students will discuss the process that creates an effective protest and how its success differentiates itself from the efforts of individual contributors with personal agendas.

Differentiation And Multiple Entry Points: Multiple entry points include document analysis, discussion, evaluating opinions, image analysis, and video. Students will work individually and in teams to support different learners and learning styles.

Compelling Questions:

• When should people engage in activism and protest?

• What makes a protest effective or ineffective?

• How do we decide if a protest achieved its goals?


Informally: I will be an ex officio member of student teams and review work as teams conduct research and reach conclusions on the various protests that have been conducted regarding Climate Change.

Formally: I will collect and evaluate an exit ticket where students answer the question: what kinds of actions can individuals take to stop Climate Change?     

Closure: The class will end with and exit ticket student discussion of the question: what kinds of actions can individuals take to stop Climate Change? I will allow students to evaluate for themselves if it is logical to make act differently from a country’s status quo if a collective interest is achieved to alter the decision of the private majority.

Classroom Application: Students prepare a “protest campaign” to stop or reduce climate change.


Historical Context: The concept of activism has existed for centuries as individuals aim to voice their concerns about the current state of their country’s government. Whether it intends to spread awareness on a certain matter or bring about immediate change to an issue, activism has been an essential tool for the common public to influence the state of their societal rights. In regard to Climate Change, plenty of individuals have taken activist action throughout the years to preserve the health of the Earth’s environment.

1. Anti-WAAhnsinn Festival (1980s)


     Because the Upper Palatinate in Wackersdorf wanted no nuclear waste, they organized in 1986 the “antiWAAhnsinns” festival. 120,000 spectators and the first league of German rock musicians gathered for a unique protest event. The grounds of the “Anti-WAAhnsinns” rock festival on 26 and 27 July 1986 in Burglengenfeld is surprisingly well documented. In Wackersdorf in Upper Palatinate, a reprocessing plant for nuclear waste was planned, and the resistance benefit concert with the then top staff of Deutschrock, held by youth center activists in the nearby Burglengenfeld, is still the second largest music festival with 120,000 spectators. The rallies offered the bands unimaginable publicity, in return brought the new stars the much needed by citizens’ initiatives anthems on the radio. But above all, the “Anti-Waahnsinns” festival is a monument to a huge civic movement.

2. Plane Stupid Protest (2016)


     Thirteen activists who cut through a fence at Heathrow Airport and chained themselves together on a runway have been told to “expect jail sentences”. The protesters, part of action group Plane Stupid, were found guilty at Willesden Magistrates’ Court of aggravated trespass and entering a security restricted area. They oppose the planned expansion of the Heathrow Airport and its environmental impact. District Judge Deborah Wright said all the defendants were people of integrity who were concerned about climate change and Heathrow expansion. The activists previously admitted to being on the runway but said such action was necessary to stop people dying from the effects of pollution and climate change.

3. UN Protest (2018)


     The summit agreed rules for implementing the 2015 Paris agreement, which aims to keep global warming as close to 1.5C (2.7F) as possible, but it made little progress in increasing governments’ commitments to cut emissions. The world remains on track for 3C of warming, which scientists says will bring catastrophic extreme weather. National leaders at the summit, however, had failed to address the urgency of climate change, which is already making heatwaves and storms more frequent and intense, harming millions of people. May Boeve, the executive director of the 350.orgclimate change campaign group, said: “Hope now rests on the shoulders of the many people who are rising to take action: the inspiring children who started an unprecedented wave of strikes in schools to support a fossil-free future; the 1,000-plus institutions that committed to pull their money out of coal, oil, and gas, and the many communities worldwide who keep resisting fossil fuel development.”

4. Global Student Climate Strike (2019)


     On March 15, 2019 hundreds of thousands of high school and middle school students around the world will walk out of school to demand immediate government action to reverse the global climate crisis. As of Sunday March 10, over 950 protests were planned in more than 80 countries. In an op-ed published in the British newspaper The Guardian, the global coordination group of the youth-led climate strike wrote: “We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis. It’s devastating impacts are already felt by millions of people around the globe . . . The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.”

Political Documentary Activism

Instructions: Sometimes, activism can take place simply by informing the public of a present-day issue. View the clip from the Harrison Ford documentary “Last Stand” and then answer the following questions. Prepare to share your answers to the class. Last Stand Clip (2 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=1RFP0B_gdv8          


1. How does deforestation impact the environment?

2. How is the production of palm oil related to Climate Change?

3. What was this documentary piece successful in communicating?

Exit Ticket: Based on the information from today’s lesson, what kinds of actions can individuals take to stop Climate Change? Compose your answer with a specific example.

Historians Debate: Was the Electoral College Designed to Protect Slavery?

Three historians debate whether the Electoral College was written into the United States Constitution to provide a defense of slavery. Sean Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton and the author, most recently, of No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding. Akhil Reed Amar is a professor at Yale Law School. Alan Singer is a historian and teacher educator at Hofstra University. Their essays are briefly edited for length (each entire essay is available online). Read the three positions and write a Letter-to-the-Editor of approximately 250-words explaining your view using supporting evidence from the essays, the Constitution, and other sources.

The Electoral College Was Not a Pro-Slavery Ploy

By Sean Wilentz https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/opinion/theelectoral-college-slavery-myth.html A11 q1tyyp0767,5

     Like many historians, I thought the evidence clearly showed the Electoral College arose from a calculated power play by the slaveholders. By the time the delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 debated how the president ought to be chosen, they had already approved the three-fifths clause — the notorious provision that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person to inflate the slave states’ apportionment in the new House of Representatives. The Electoral College, as approved by the convention in its final form, in effect enshrined the three-fifths clause in the selection of the president. Instead of election by direct popular vote, each state would name electors (chosen however each state legislature approved), who would actually do the electing.

     The framers’ own damning words seem to cinch the case that the Electoral College was a proslavery ploy. Above all, the Virginia slaveholder James Madison — the most influential delegate at the convention — insisted that while direct popular election of the president was the “fittest” system, it would hurt the South, whose population included nonvoting slaves.  

     On further and closer inspection, however, the case against the framers begins to unravel. First, the slaveholders did not need to invent the Electoral College to fend off direct popular election of the president. The convention, deeply suspicious of what one Virginian in another context called “the fury of democracy,” crushed the proposal on two separate occasions.

     The winning, plan, which became known as the Electoral College only some years later, certainly gave the slaveholding states the advantage of the three-fifths clause. But the connection was incidental, and no more of an advantage than if Congress had been named the electors. Most important, once the possibility of direct popular election of the president was defeated, how much did the slaveholding states rush to support the concept of presidential electors? Not at all. In the initial vote over having electors select the president, the only states voting “nay” were North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia — the three most ardently proslavery states in the convention.       

     When it first took shape at the convention, the Electoral College would not have significantly helped the slaveowning states. Under the initial apportionment of the House approved by the framers, the slaveholding states would have held 39 out of 92 electoral votes, or about 42 percent. Based on the 1790 census, about 41 percent of the nation’s total white population lived in those same states, a minuscule difference.

     There are ample grounds for criticizing the Constitution’s provisions for electing the president. That the system enabled the election in 2016 of precisely the kind of demagogic figure the framers designed the system to block suggests the framework may need serious repair. But the myth that the Electoral College began as a slaveholders’ instrument needs debunking — which I hope to help with in my book’s revised paperback.

Actually, the Electoral College Was a ProSlavery Ploy

By Akhil Reed Amar

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/opinion/elect oral-collegeslavery.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks& pgtype=Article

     As James Madison made clear at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia, the big political divide in America was not between big and small states; it was between North and South and was all about slavery. Behind closed doors at the Constitutional Convention, when the idea of direct presidential election was proposed by the Northerner James Wilson, the Southerner James Madison explained why this was a political nonstarter: Slaves couldn’t vote, so the slaveholding South would basically lose every time in a national direct vote. But if slaves could somehow be counted in an indirect system, maybe at a discount (say, three-fifths), well, that might sell in the South. Thus were planted the early seeds of an Electoral College system.

     Some have argued that direct election was doomed because the Philadelphia delegates disdained democracy. Behind closed doors these elites did indeed bad-mouth the masses (as do elites today). But look at what the framers of the Constitution did, rather than what they said. They put the Constitution itself to a far more democratic vote than had been seen before. They provided for a directly elected House of Representatives (which the earlier Articles of Confederation did not do). They omitted all property qualifications for leading federal positions, unlike almost every state constitution then on the books.

     So why didn’t they go even further, providing direct presidential election? Because of Madison’s political calculation: Direct election would have been a dealbreaker for the South.

     When George Washington left the political stage in the mid-1790s, America witnessed its first two contested presidential elections. Twice, most Southerners backed a Southerner (Thomas Jefferson) and most Northerners backed a Northerner (John Adams). Without the extra electoral votes generated by its enormous slave population, the South would have lost the election of 1800, which Jefferson won.

     When the Constitution was amended to modify the Electoral College after 1800, all America had seen the pro-slavery tilt of the system, but Jefferson’s Southern allies steamrollered over Northern congressmen who explicitly proposed eliminating the system’s pro-slavery bias. As a result, every president until Abraham Lincoln was either a Southerner or a Northerner who was willing (while president) to accommodate the slaveholding South. The dominant political figure in antebellum America was the pro-slavery Andrew Jackson, who in 1829 proposed eliminating electors while retaining pro-slavery apportionment rules rooted in the three-fifths clause — in effect creating a system of pro-slavery electoral-vote counts without the need for electors themselves.

     Today, of course, slavery no longer skews and stains our system — and maybe the Electoral College system should remain intact. The best argument in its favor is simply inertia: Any reforms might backfire, with unforeseen and adverse consequences. The Electoral College is the devil we know.

     But we should not kid ourselves: This devil does indeed have devilish origins.

James Madison Responds to Sean Wilentz

By Alan Singer


     If I understand Sean Wilentz’s new position on the origin of the Electoral College, it, like slavery, was an undemocratic element of the new Constitution endorsed by writers from the North and South who feared slave insurrection, democratic insurgencies like Shay’s Rebellion, and popular government, who represented slave states (there was still slavery in most of the North) or commercial interests tied into the slave trade, and probably got a slaveholder elected President in 1800, but historians shouldn’t conclude that they considered that the Electoral College, like the 3/5 clause, the fugitive slave clause, and the ban on banning the slave trade for 20 years, might protect slavery.

     On July 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention debated a series of proposals for selecting a national “Executive.” According to James Madison in his Notes of the Constitutional Convention, “The Option before us then lay between an appointment by Electors chosen by the people — and an immediate appointment by the people.” The idea of an Electoral College was reintroduced by Pierce Butler, a South Carolina rice planter, one of the largest slaveholders in the United States, and one of slavery’s strongest defenders. Butler also introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause into the Constitution, supported the Constitution provision prohibiting regulation of the trade for twenty year, and demanded that the entire slave population of a state be counted for Congressional apportionment. According to Butler, “the Govt. should not be made so complex & unwieldy as to disgust the States. This would be the case, if the election should be referred to the people. He liked best an election by Electors chosen by the Legislatures of the States.”

     The issue of selecting an Executive was then referred to a special Committee of Eleven, also known as the Brearly Committee. On September 4, the Brearly Committee reported its recommendation that “Each State shall appoint in such manner as its Legislature may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and members of the House of Representatives, to which the State may be entitled in the Legislature.” Pierce Butler defended the recommendation, although “the mode not free from objections, but much more so than an election by the Legislature, where as in elective monarchies, cabal faction & violence would be sure to prevail.” The motion was then put on hold while the committee considered objection, not to the selection of the Executive, but to the process for removal. The Brearly Committee’s recommendations for the organization of the Executive branch and acceptance of the Electoral College was finally accepted by the Constitutional Convention and submitted to the states for approval.

     What I find most suggestive in the debate is the role played by Pierce Butler, one of the Convention’s greatest slavery champions. The Electoral College may not have been expressly designed only to protect African slavery, but based on Madison’s notes, it was the mode most preferred by pro-slavery forces