Lesson Plan 2 “How We Got to Kansas-Nebraska”


This lesson will explore several of the causes of the American Civil War. It will consider, through the examination of primary source documents, the 3/5's Clause, the Compromise of 1789, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, the Dred Scott decision, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The students will study the evolution of the issue of American slavery in the American political system.

Guiding Questions

  1. How have American political leaders dealt with the question of slavery from the time of the writing of the Constitution of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854?
  2. How did these activities help to lead the country to the Civil War?

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to describe each of the events and its relationship to the causes of the American Civil War.

Students will be able to explain why the question of slavery was such a major issue, especially in the westward expansion of the United States.

Preparing to Teach This Lesson

Teachers of this lesson should be familiar with the events considered in the primary source documents. That is the 3/5's Compromise in the United States Constitution; the Missouri Compromise of 1820; the Compromise of 1850, esp. the Fugitive Slave Act; and the formation of the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company. The following sources will be of help to teachers who need some additional background information in these subjects (in many cases, they may be used with students as well):


The U.S. Constitution, see article 3 of section 1


Brief, but good background on Missouri Compromise


A look at the actual Missouri Compromise Document


Background on the Fugitive Slave Act



Students should have completed the reading of the events leading to the start of the American Civil War in their United States History textbook.


  1. Students will be divded into four teams.
  2. Each team will be given one of the primary source documents.
  3. Each team will be instructed to study the primary source and research it on the internet.
  4. Each team will answer the following question in a short essay: What effect on slavery did this event have?
  5. Each team will report (read the essay) to the class on their findings.
  6. Members of non-reporting teams will take notes on the report... they too must answer the driving question "How did the United States deal politically with the question of slavery until the Civil War?"
  7. Each student will produce an essay which answers the driving question listed in the above activity.


  1. Each student's participation in the team activity will be assessed.
  2. Each student will share the team's grade on their response to the question of how their event effected slavery.
  3. Each student's essay will be assessed and graded.

Massachusetts Framework Standards Addressed

USI.35 Describe how the different economies and cultures of the North and South contributed to the growing importance of sectional politics in the early nineteenth century. (H)

A. the Missouri Compromise (1820)

D. the Compromise of 1850

F. the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)

Time Required

This lesson will require two 56-minute classes and one homework extension.

Skills Used