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Debating Abolitionist Strategies

In this lesson, students will host an abolitionist meeting in the 1850s, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. Three strategies for ending slavery will be presented, and students will evaluate and debate the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy.

Objectives

  • Students will understand the different strategies available to abolitionists during the 1850s as the national crisis over slavery deepened

  • Students will use reasoning to debate and evaluate the strategies available to abolitionists

Instructions

Step 1.  Select volunteers to read aloud each of the three strategies (armed uprising, politics, underground railroad) included in the Abolitionist Strategies Worksheet.

Assign small groups of students to each strategy and hand out the worksheet pages for that strategy.

Step 2. Have students work together to write down their ideas about the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy. All students should fill in the chart, so that they will have the information.

Step 3. Instruct each student individually to write a paragraph explaining why their assigned strategy would be best for ending slavery. 

Step 4. Moderate a discussion among the entire class, where students debate the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy. Make sure that their ideas and assumptions reflect the realities of the 1850s, not present times.

Step 5. As a final writing assignment, instruct each student individually to write a paragraph evaluating the strategies and explaining why they are likely or unlikely to succeed at ending slavery.

Activity Extension

To introduce students to the Fugitive Slave Act and its impact, teachers might use Boston Abolitionists Warn of Slave Catchers and the accompanying worksheet.

Historical Context

When Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, federal law required all Americans, even those in non-slaveholding states, to assist in the return of runaway slaves to their owners. This change alarmed many northerners and drew increased numbers of supporters to the abolitionist cause.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Debating Abolitionist Strategies,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 16, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/2057.

Materials for this Activity

Abolitionist Strategies Worksheet

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