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The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

Teacher Guide By Richard Cleggett

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Lincoln Presidency Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln Include:

Abraham Lincoln’s presidential service is remarkable, both in the obstacles he faced, and the manner in which he overcame them. Through his audacious leadership in a period of national strife, Lincoln has come to be regarded as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. History.

The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Abraham Lincoln Timeline: Rise to the Presidency

Using a timeline, have students outline and define the major events that led to Lincoln’s election as president in 1860. This will provide students with a historical context for Lincoln’s rise to power, but from a political perspective. Students should concentrate on what Lincoln did politically to eventually win the presidency, by defining his ideas and ideologies (as well as that of the Republican Party). This will also give insight as to why his election in 1860 directly led to the secession of South Carolina, and beginning of the American Civil War.


Example Abraham Lincoln Timeline

August 4, 1834 - Lincoln Wins House Seat in Illinois


Emerging on the political scene, Lincoln, a well-known lawyer, wins his first political position in the Illinois House of Representatives. Lincoln will hold the seat for years to come, launching himself into the political arena.

April 3, 1837 - Speech Against Slavery


As the debate over slavery and its extension continues to heat up, Lincoln officially and publicly declares his anti-slavery sentiments. He is publicly opposed to its extension across the nation into new territories.

December 6, 1847 - Wins U.S. House Seat


Lincoln breaks into the national political scene by winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ironically enough, it will be his first and only term served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

February 8, 1955 - Lincoln Loses U.S. Senate Bid


Lincoln decides to run for the U.S. Senate instead, giving up his bid for reelection to the House. However, state legislature chooses Lyman Trumbull instead, effectively pushing Lincoln out of the political picture... for the moment.

June 16, 1858 - Lincoln Delivers his “House Divided” Speech


As part of his seven debate series with Stephen Douglas in their race for a Senatorial position, Lincoln delivers his famous “House Divided Speech", remarking on the inability of a country to remain half slave, half free. It is the foundation of his ideologies.

November 2, 1858 - Lincoln Loses to Douglas


After a series of debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln wins the Senatorial popular vote for U.S. Senator, but still loses the election to Douglas. Despite this, his political race has made him a key candidate for the newly-formed Republican party.

November 6, 1860 - Lincoln Wins Presidency


After winning the Republican nomination for president, Lincoln goes on to tour the country, and gains support. In a four-way presidential race, Lincoln emerges victorious, and is inaugurated as the nation's 16th president in March of 1861.



Extended Activity

Have students choose one timeline topic to expand on for deeper understanding of its significance and its relation to Lincoln’s rise to the presidency. Students can select Abraham Lincoln facts, or the teacher can pre-select 1-3 topics to choose from. Have students utilize a spider map to expand on the 5 Ws, or major components, of that topic.

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Terms in Understanding Lincoln’s Presidency Vocabulary Lesson Plan

Have students create a word map of major terms needed for understanding the political actions and decisions of Abraham Lincoln. By defining each term thoroughly, students will be able to explain and further analyze how these words assist in understanding the actions Lincoln took. This will provide a contextual background to not only Lincoln’s presidency, but constitutional law and executive powers overall. Teacher may pre-select any terms they feel necessary to help guide and teach students about Lincoln’s presidency.



Martial Law Martial law is the suspension of some guaranteed rights listed in the Bill of Rights, and emergency rule by military authorities is initiated. Lincoln was the only president in history to exercise this presidential right, as he aimed to preserve the country throughout the Civil War.
Republican Party The Republican Party is a political party founded in 1854, with Lincoln at the forefront. Their political stance at this time was anti-slavery, in addition to being against slavery's extension. Lincoln became president as the Republican candidate in 1860. The party exists to this day.
Writ of Habeas Corpus The writ of habeas corpus is an American citizen's constitutional right to be heard in a court of law to determine if they are being lawfully detained. Without it, people may remain imprisoned for any period of time without any legal precedent. It may be suspended in a time of rebellion.
Executive Powers Executive powers is a broad term to describe the president's powers. The powers are listed in Article II of the Constitution. Powers include the veto and passage of laws, conducting war, and making foreign treaties. They are, however, checked and balanced by both the Judicial and Legislative Branches.
Presidential Cabinet The term presidential cabinet refers to the president's advisers. The positions of Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State are all major positions within the presidential cabinet. The cabinet has grown to include many advisers over time.
Veto Power The president also holds the power to veto a law, or determine that the law shall not pass. In order for a bill to become law, the president must sign off on it. However, they also possess the power to veto, or deny it. In addition, a presidential veto can be overridden by 2/3 vote from Congress.


Extended Activity
Have students expand on one term, further explaining it, what the term means to Lincoln’s presidency, and its significance for other presidents. Students can correlate the term between Lincoln and future (or past) presidents to better understand its use in politics and American history.

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Lincoln’s Expansion of Political Power and its Constitutionality

Using a grid storyboard, have students define a specific constitutional rule, demonstrate how Lincoln expanded on that law, and provide rationale for its (un)constitutionality. Students will examine and define constitutional law, relate it to Lincoln’s actions as president, and finally determine whether or not his actions were constitutional or unconstitutional.

The first column should be dedicated to the actual words or rule of the Constitution, the second to Lincoln’s actions regarding that law, and the third to the student’s rationale. Students will be able to analyze and synthesize Lincoln’s actions throughout the Civil War in regards to its debated constitutionality.

The example below addresses three constitutional rules, but the number of rules should be at the teacher’s discretion.



Suspension of Habeas Corpus

  • Constitutional Law

    "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it", and Amendment V states that, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger..."

  • Lincoln’s Actions

    Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus to ensure that all war criminals participating in the rebellion against the Union are detained and held. Ultimately, he suspends suspected rebels' rights to court and a fair hearing to determine their breaking of the law.

  • Rationale

    The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus can be argued as both constitutional and unconstitutional. While it is a constitutional right, it is also noted it may be suspended in a time of rebellion, which applied to the Civil War.


Emancipation Proclamation

  • Constitutional Law

    Amendment IV states that, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

  • Lincoln’s Actions

    The Emancipation Proclamation effectively eliminated rebellious states' rights to their slaves. The Proclamation declared that all slaves were now free in states where slaves were considered property, as well as the driving economic force. According to the citizens of those states, people's right to property and unwarranted confiscation of their property was being violated.

  • Rationale

    One could argue that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was not a violation of constitutional rights, considering the South was in rebellion against the Union, and therefore was not subject to the Constitution. In addition, the Proclamation served as a war measure, as well as a moral one, to undermine the South's ability to fight the Civil War.


Call for Military Build Up

  • Constitutional Law

    Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution declares that, "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress..."

  • Lincoln’s Actions

    In the onslaught of the Civil War, Lincoln exercised his power as president to build up the military, increasing the number of readied soldiers to 75,000. In addition, Lincoln authorized the borrowing and spending of money to fund the war efforts. Primarily, all war decisions and actions are left to Congress, as stated in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

  • Rationale

    One could argue that Lincoln's actions in expanding the military were unconstitutional. Lincoln took powers and matters into his own hands to conduct Union troops in the Civil War - powers that are primarily delegated to Congress alone. Lincoln did this without congressional approval, and his actions also sparked further secession of southern states, including Virginia.


Extended Activity

Have students create a similar grid on another president’s expansion of powers in a time of crisis, the constitutionality of that power, and their rationale on it. An example is George W. Bush, and his expansion of powers during the War on Terror in post-9/11 America. Teachers may select any president during any time, and use it as a comparison to Lincoln.

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Document Analysis: "The Emancipation Proclamation"

Using the grid layout, have students analyze and make inferences about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln by examining his Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation itself is a primary source, a seminal document that gives significant insight into how Lincoln evolved as a president during the Civil War. Moreover, it gives perspective on how he operated politically, and how he conducted the war. Students will be able to analyze and synthesize direct quotes from the Emancipation Proclamation, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the presidency of Lincoln himself.



That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons…



Meaning/Rationale:
In this excerpt, Lincoln officially declares all slaves held in rebellious states as free, from this moment onward. In addition to this, Lincoln also declares that the federal government of the Union, including military personnel, will recognize slaves' freedom and aim to preserve it.


Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three...



Meaning/Rationale:
In this excerpt, Lincoln justifies his freeing of the slaves as a war measure to suppress the rebellion. For Lincoln, it is necessary in order to fight, and win, the Civil War, and end the rebellion of the South and Confederate States of America against the Union.


And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

Meaning/Rationale:
This excerpt in the Proclamation declares that all freed slaves suitable for fighting can, and are encouraged, to join the ranks of the Union army. This also relates to the fact that Lincoln is issuing the Proclamation as a war measure. In addition, this will boost Union numbers and their overall fighting power. Over 140,000 African Americans will join the Union army.



Extended Activity

Have students analyze and synthesize the words of "The Gettysburg Address". Students should again utilize the grid layout to relate direct quotes, comment on the quote, and put it into their own words. While short, "The Gettysburg Address" was a rallying cry at a crucial point in the Civil War, and is considered a seminal document today.

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“Team of Rivals”: Lincoln’s Cabinet

In this activity, students will identify, explain, and analyze the major figures of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. This will allow students to see who exactly Lincoln chose to work with, and who strongly influenced his major political decisions throughout the Civil War. In addition, students will further understand what positions make up the executive cabinet.

Students will be able to identify and explain these major figures in Lincoln’s cabinet, and their significance to Lincoln’s presidency. Teachers may pre-select cabinet members they want their student’s to further analyze and explain.

Major figures include:


William H. Seward William H. Seward served as Lincoln's Secretary of State. Despite having disagreements, Seward was instrumental in advising Lincoln on both domestic and foreign affairs. He is also highly credited with keeping European nations out of the Civil War, and helped navigate the Trent Affair with Great Britain.
Edwin M. Stanton Edwin M. Stanton served in Lincoln's cabinet as Secretary of War. Stanton distrusted Lincoln, especially his actions leading up to the Civil War. He is noted for his insight and organizational abilities, despite his clashing with President Lincoln. After Lincoln's assassination, Stanton went on to serve under President Andrew Johnson.
Salmon P. Chase Under Lincoln, Salmon P. Chase served as Secretary of the Treasury. Chase, who supported Lincoln as a presidential candidate, helped initiate the National Banking Act which allowed the creation and circulation of greenback dollars in order to fund war efforts. Chase also established the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which would later become the Internal Revenue Service.
Andrew Johnson Andrew Johnson served as Lincoln's vice president in 1864, helping balance the ticket for Lincoln's reelection bid in that same year. Johnson was a Southern democrat from Tennessee, but refused to join the Confederacy. Johnson would take over as president after Lincoln's death, changing many policies in regards to Reconstruction.
Gideon Welles Gideon Welles served in Lincoln's cabinet as Secretary of the Navy. At the time of the Civil War, the Union navy was in shambles. Welles, however, oversaw the construction of improved ironclad ships, instituted key blockades of Confederate ports, and authorized the enlistment of freed slaves into the Navy. In addition, Welles was with Lincoln at the time of his assassination.
Edward Bates Edward Bates was a well-respected lawyer who served in Lincoln's cabinet as Attorney General. Bates lost to Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election, but as Attorney General, supported Lincoln's executive initiatives. In addition to this, Bates was anti-slavery, but did oppose full rights for African Americans, and was also against their serving in the armed services.


Extended Activity

Have students expand on one specific figure of Lincoln’s cabinet using a spider map. Students should detail their role, actions, rise to their position, and what major contributions they had to Lincoln’s presidency. This will promote deeper understanding of both the figure, and their contribution to Lincoln’s performance as president.

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Abraham Lincoln Background

In the early to mid-1800s, the United States expanded its boundaries and wrestled with the issue of slavery. The “slave question” divided America both politically and socially. Typically, the northern states argued to deny the expansion of slavery into new territories, while southern states vied for the retention of slavery to drive their economy.

After years of practicing law, serving as a representative, and helping found the Republican Party of 1854, Lincoln rose to the presidency during one of the darkest periods in American history. The country, as well as Lincoln, was severely tested as the U.S. entered civil war, tearing itself apart.

Lincoln, acted as no president had, ever or since. Stretching his powers to the limit, he did anything and everything to preserve the country and save it from total destruction. Lincoln’s efforts as chief executive set new precedents for presidential powers in a time of crisis. From expansion of armies, to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, Lincoln exercised powers that arguably challenged, if not defied, constitutional law. Whatever the constitutionality of his actions, because of Abraham Lincoln, the country persevered and the standards of the presidential position were forever changed.

In these Storyboard That activities, students will be able to analyze, explain, and connect Lincoln’s decisions and actions in regards to the Civil War, as well as how they connect politically to the constitution and powers of the president. Students will examine and define these actions, their implications, and ultimately, the major effects they had on both law and the war itself. By examining Lincoln’s presidency, students and teachers alike will be able to create a deeper understanding of the man behind winning the Civil War, who forever altered the presidential office.

Essential Questions for The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

  1. How did Lincoln expand his powers throughout his presidency?
  2. How can we argue the constitutionality of Lincoln’s decisions and actions throughout the Civil War?
  3. What major implications did Lincoln’s presidency have on the nation at the time, and in the future?
  4. What political actions were taken by Lincoln to help preserve the Union in a time of crisis?
  5. How did Lincoln set the precedent for presidential powers and their constitutionality?
  6. What overall effects did Lincoln have on the war and the constitution?
  7. How did Lincoln support his actions with the ideas and ideologies of his Republican party?
  8. What conflicts arose from decisions and actions taken by Lincoln?
  9. Who served in Lincoln’s cabinet? How did they influence Lincoln and his decision making?

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