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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Politics of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Use the excerpt from the Chesnutt biography, the chapter from Douglass’s autobiography, and the excerpt from the Noah Brooks biography to delve into the biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Using textual evidence, describe three aspects of each of their lives that propelled them to a life of service and advocating for others.

  2. How did Lincoln’s view on slavery develop throughout his life? Give specific examples from the texts of two Lincoln speeches and the Emancipation Proclamation.

  3. Cite textual evidence from the excerpt from the Chesnutt biography, the excerpt from an 1847 Frederick Douglass speech, the text of “What, to a slave, is the Fourth of July?”, and the chapter from Douglass’s autobiography to discuss Frederick Douglass’s stance on the institution of slavery. Did Douglass believe slavery was incompatible with American democracy?

  4. What was Douglass’s “true north?” Use the texts of two Lincoln speeches, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 1888 reminiscence by Frederick Douglass, and the 1876 speech given by Frederick Douglass to determine how Lincoln’s stances and conclusions compare to Douglass’s.

  5. What are the striking features of Freedmen’s Statue as seen in the photograph? Explain the words Douglass used to describe Lincoln in his 1876 speech. How do you believe this speech and statue were perceived in the 1870s? How could they be viewed in a twenty-first century context?

Classroom activities

Using the 1879 photographic portrait of Frederick Douglass, the excerpt from the Chesnutt biography, the excerpt from an 1847 Frederick Douglass speech, the text of “What, to a slave, is the Fourth of July?”, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 1888 reminiscence by Frederick Douglass, the 1876 speech given by Frederick Douglass, and the photograph of Freedmen’s Statue as a guide, students should consider how Abraham Lincoln might have memorialized Frederick Douglass if the order of their deaths had been reversed. In groups of two to four, students should write a speech and develop plans for a memorial which would honor Frederick Douglass. The speech and plans should be developed from Lincoln’s perspective on the life, work, and accomplishments of Douglass. Students should present their speech and memorial plans to the class. This is a project which could appeal to all learners: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.

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