Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Popular Sovereignty or Shall Kansas Be A Free or Slave State?
Mike King
American History
Time Frame:
2 Days
Civil War

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • As the class works its way towards sectionalism, nullification, and the mid 1850s, at some point, two speeches will be made available to the students:  David R. Atchison’s May 21, 1856 speech to proslavery supporters before sacking Lawrence, KS, and Sen. Charles Sumner’s “The Crime Against Kansas” speech delivered in the U.S. Senate just a couple days before Atchison’s speech, so students will know that these two differing opinions occurred at the same time.   Some ‘jigsawing’ will occur as the lesson progresses.

  • To illustrate the two differing/opposite points of view on the expansion of slavery into the territory of Kansas—and later the issue of slavery in the entire country.

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

1. principles expressed in the documents shaping constitutional democracy in the United States

5. comprehend and evaluate written, visual and oral presentations and works

6. discover and evaluate patterns and relationships in information, ideas and structures

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • McGraw-Hill “American Vision”

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Atchison- http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/90822


Sumner- http://www.sewanee.edu/faculty/Willis/Civil_War/documents/Crime.html

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • After preliminary information and material is introduced, and instructions given, the class will be divided in two: one section will be proslavery advocates, and the other section will favor the free-soil side. (Depending on class size and other tangible differences in each class, the students may select the side they wish to participate in, or teacher can assign randomly or with some purpose) Each side will the read, digest, and comprehend the speech they will soon reenact and deliver to the entire class—OR, if schedules can be arranged, my high school students can perform in a lower grade social studies class or an English/Literature section doing “The Red Badge of Courage” that is, or will soon be covering the same topic…just a thought for cross curricular purpose.
  • As each side completes their speech, students not speaking will create a list of at least three major points the speaker(s) present as they give their respective speeches.  Teacher may, and should, at appropriate times, review with entire class to make sure these important components of each speech are noted and understood and introduce the next speaker(s).

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • This particular assignment/assessment will not be major in nature, but done for review and/or “fun” but effective and purposeful reasons.  The assessment can loosely based on:


  • Important facts of the issues made clear in ‘speech’ (3=well done and accurate; 2=moderately done and mostly accurate; 1=attempt made; 0=not prepared at all)—And/or the six important facts can be handed in for completion grade.