Teaching Guide: Exploring the Secession of the Southern States

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Secession of the Southern States, 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. Look at the 1858 speeches by Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. How do these speeches presage the conflicts that will lead to secession and civil war? How do they frame the central issues differently?
  2. Read the letter from A. A. Echols to former Massachusetts governor Emory Washburn. How does Echols understand regional and political differences around slavery and its extension? How does Echols predict secession will play out?
  3. Compare and contrast the official documents citing reasons for South Carolina’s and Texas’s secession from the Union.
  4. Examine the sheet music for the “Grand Secession March,” the “Epitaph on the United States of America,” the lithograph of Davis’s inauguration, and the broadside of “Jeff. Davis in the White House.” How did the creators of Secession and Confederate States of America propaganda understand that identity? How and why did they reimagine the political conflicts that led to secession?
  5. Using the broadside announcing defeat and the print of a Union volunteer, explain how the events at Fort Sumter were understood differently in the North and South. What actions did the events at Fort Sumter prompt for each region?
  6. Citing evidence on the 1862 map, explain the impact of secession on the Union by 1862.
  7. How does Robert E. Lee’s amnesty oath retroactively characterize secession? How does it understand the relationship between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America after the war?

Classroom activities

Break the class into pairs or small groups and use the 1862 map to identify the states that seceded from the Union. Assign each pair or group a state (including the initial seven and the border states but excluding South Carolina) and ask them to create a brief presentation about the secession history of their assigned state. Using the Digital Public Library of America and other resources, they should locate the official document listing a rationale for secession and summarize its reasoning in their presentation. The presentation should also include a timeline of major events on the state’s road to secession. Groups should present their findings to the class. The whole class should then discuss the ways in which other states’ stories of and reasons for secession are similar to or different from South Carolina’s.

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