Election of 1860

The Aftermath of the Election of 1860: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Written by Peter Joseph, RHAM High School, Hebron, Connecticut

Grade Level: High school, designed for 11th grade general level U.S. History curriculum

Expected Class Sessions to Complete: Two 45-minute class periods

Objectives: Students will be able to:

  • Identify causes of secession
  • Identify reasons for remaining in the Union
  • Synthesize historical information and create a course of action
  • Present a logical argument for a course of action

Skill Sets Used:

  • Problem-solving
  • Decoding historical documents
  • Public speaking

Materials Needed:

Assigned textbook

Historic Newspaper Articles

  • The Past and Present Great Republics of the World- the Secession Movement- Lessons of History, New York Herald, Jan. 1, 1861, pg. 4
  • A Genuine Union Speech, Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 6, 1861, pg. 2
  • The Southern Confederacy: No Temporizing, Georgia Weekly Telegraph, Feb. 7, 1861, pg. 3
  • Dissolution and its Consequences “The Inexorable Logic of Events”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 22, 1860, pg. 4


  • Secession
  • States' Rights
  • Union
  • Fire-eaters
  • Appeasement
  • Compromise



Before the lesson: Students should have already read the applicable textbook sections on the election of 1860.

The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 placed the nation at a crossroads. Throughout the campaign the fire-eaters in the Deep South had pledged to destroy the Union if Lincoln or any Republican was elected. In their eyes, Lincoln and the Republicans would destroy the Southern way of life by abolishing the institution of slavery. Secession conventions were called across the South, as states decided whether or not to remain in the Union.

The class will be simulating its own secession convention. The articles discuss potential problems surrounding Lincoln's election, secession, or the aftermath of a state's decision to secede. The instructor may need to help students see how the assigned article for their group fits into the debate over secession.


Lesson Procedure:

  • Divide the class into pairs or groups of three. Each group represents one county of our state, and will have one vote as we make our decision.
  • Each group should be given the article The Past and Present Great Republics of the World as well as one other newspaper article from 1860. Based on these two readings, the students need to complete the following tasks:
  • Identify arguments for and against secession
  • Identify arguments for and against remaining in the Union
  • Take a position on the issue. Using the supplied readings, as well as their knowledge of the time period, draft a persuasive letter or speech arguing for or against secession from the Union.
  • Each group should create a poster advocating their position, and create a 30-second speech/commercial to inform the voters of their position
  • One student from each group will present the speech/commercial to the class.
  • After each group in the class has presented their speech/commercial, the class should take a vote as to whether to secede from the United States based on the election of Abraham Lincoln.


Suggestions for Evaluation:

Students can be evaluated on their speech/commercial, or on their poster

  • Is it accurate?
  • Does it represent a clear position?
  • Is it persuasive?

What Happens Next?

  • Students write a brief description of what happens next based on their decision. What new challenges and difficulties do they face? If they seceded, what is their next step? If they remained loyal, how do they help the Union effort?


Extension Activities:

If class opted for secession, have them create a new state constitution

If class opted for remaining in the Union, draft a letter to President Lincoln advising him on how to deal with Forth Sumter and the rebellion.


Standards Correlation:

NCSS Standards:

II. Time, Continuity, & Change

b. Apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity

d. Systematically employ processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and reinterpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, and searching for causality.

IV. Power, Authority, & Governance

b. Explain the purpose of government and analyze how its powers are acquired and justified

d. Compare and analyze the ways nations and organizations respond to conflicts between forces of unity and forces of diversity

f. Analyze and evaluate conditions, actions, and motivations that contribute to conflict and cooperation within and among nations


Connecticut State Frameworks for the Social Studies

Standard 1: Content Knowledge

1.1- Demonstrate an understanding of significant events and themes in United States history.

1.7- Explain the purpose, structures, and functions of government and law at the local, state, national, and international levels.

1.8- Describe the interactions between citizens and their government in making and implementation of laws.

Standard 2: History/Social Studies Literacy

2.1- Access and gather information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including electronic media

2.2- Interpret information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including electronic media

2.3- Create various forms of written work to demonstrate an understanding of history and social studies issues

2.4- Demonstrate an ability to participate in social studies discourse through informed discussion, debate, and effective oral presentation

Standard 3: Application

3.1- Use evidence to identify, analyze, and evaluate historical interpretations

3.2- Analyze and evaluate human action in historical and/or contemporary contexts from alternative points of view.