Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Timeline Activity 1848-1856
Author:
Valerie Schrag
Course:
AP U.S. History
Time Frame:
Two class periods
Subjects:
Civil War

Grade Levels:
11

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • The students will create a timeline of events from 1848-1856, highlighting the critical events that moved the nation away from compromise and toward civil war.

Rationale:
  • Students must understand the progression of events in the 1850s to comprehend how difficult it became to reconcile differing opinions in the nation over slavery, states’ rights, and territorial expansion.  Chronological analysis and cause/effect are both important skills for students to master prior to the national Advanced Placement United States History exam.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – 8th Grade U.S. History, Benchmark 2, Indicator 3 – “retraces events that led to sectionalism and secession prior to the Civil War”
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – 8th Grade U.S. History, Benchmark 2, Indicator 4 – “explains the issues that led to the Civil War”
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – High School U.S. History, Benchmark 5, Indicator 3 – “uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning”

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Mark Carnes & John Garraty, The American Nation: A History of the United States, 11th edition (2003), chapter 12 (pp. 331-336) and chapter 14 (pp. 365-377)
  • supplemental AP U.S. History textbooks, as available to the teacher

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • My AP U.S. History students use a primary source reader edited by Laura A. Belmonte, entitled Speaking of America: Readings in U.S. History (Thomson Wadsworth, 2005).
  • See the specific list of primary source documents below in the description of the Timeline activity.

Technology Required:

whiteboard or butcher paper, markers, supplemental textbooks

Full description of activity or assignment.
  1. Prior to the start of class, students will need to complete their reading of The American Nation, chapter 12 (pp. 331-336) and chapter 14 (pp. 365-377).
  2. Randomly assign a topic to each student.  Ideally, two students should be assigned to each topic.
  3. The students should use their textbooks and the additional AP U.S. History textbooks to identify the critical information about their topic.  They must also read the primary source(s) affiliated with their topic and be prepared to verbally summarize the source(s) for their classmates.
    1. Topics & Primary Source(s)

                                          i.    Election of 1848 – Whig Party Platform and Democratic Party Platform (available from “The American Presidency Project” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/).  Click on “Documents” at the top of the homepage and then select “Platforms” on the left side of the webpage.)

                                        ii.    California Gold Rush – Alonzo Delano, “A Forty-Niner (1849-50),” in Laura Belmonte, Speaking of America, document 9:10.

                                       iii.    Compromise of 1850 – John C. Calhoun, “Proposal to Preserve the Union (1850)” and William H. Seward, “’Higher Law’ Speech (1850),” in Laura Belmonte, Speaking of America, documents 10:1 and 10:2

                                       iv.    Election of 1852 – Whig Party Platform and Democratic Party Platform (available from “The American Presidency Project” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/)).

                                        v.    Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe, excerpt from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852),” in Laura Belmonte, Speaking of America, document 10:3

                                       vi.    Young America Movement – excerpt from the Ostend Manifesto (1854) (available at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/hns/ostend/ostend.html) and excerpt from the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) (available from the Avalon Project at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/br1850.asp)

                                      vii.    Kansas-Nebraska Act – excerpt from the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) (transcript available at www.ourdocuments.gov)

                                    viii.    Anthony Burns incident – Anthony Burns statement (available from the companion website to the PBS series Africans in America, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2916.html) and broadside poster for a public meeting (available from the companion website to the PBS series Africans in America, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h1566.html)

                                       ix.    Know-Nothing Party – “The Know-Nothing Platform,” in Laura Belmonte, Speaking of America, document 10:4

                                        x.    creation of the Republican Party – Republican Party Platform (available from “The American Presidency Project” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/)).

                                       xi.    Bleeding Kansas – Charles Sumner, “Bleeding Kansas (Crime Against Kansas speech) (1856),” in Laura Belmonte, Speaking of America, document 10:5

                                      xii.    Election of 1856 – Republican Party Platform, Whig Party Platform and Democratic Party Platform (available from “The American Presidency Project” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/)).

  1. Once the students have identified the critical information, they should place their event in the correct chronological position on the timeline.  In order to have enough space for all the events and descriptions, use an entire whiteboard or a long sheet of butcher paper that can be posted in the classroom.
  2.  After all information has been placed on the timeline, go through and discuss the events together as a class.  Each pair is responsible for presenting the information on their topic and for summarizing the primary source for the class.  The teacher will add to the information presented.  Throughout the discussion of the timeline, the teacher should reinforce the difficulties related to compromise, and how the nation began to address its differences with violence by the time of Bleeding Kansas.  During the discussion, the students are responsible for taking notes on the timeline.
  3. Conclude the timeline discussion by reminding the students of the numerous times Congress had compromised on the issue of slavery, dating back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.  Ask the students why it had become so difficult to compromise on this issue, and its implications for the impending Civil War.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • The students will be given a score for their timeline and primary source presentation.  Scores will be based upon the clarity of the student’s presentation and the accuracy of his/her primary source analysis.  This score will count as a part of the student’s notebook grade for the Civil War era.