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“Was Abraham Lincoln an Abolitionist?” Activity


In this activity, students engage in the complex questions of slavery and abolition in the 1850s and 1860s. Intended for use as an activity within a larger unit of study, students will first review prior knowledge about these topics and define the term, “abolitionist,” together as a class. Working in small groups, students investigate Abraham Lincoln’s position on the subject of the abolition of slavery by analyzing his own writings for evidence. Lastly, students present a case for or against applying the term “abolitionist” to Lincoln based on their primary source findings.


After completing this learning activity, students will be able to:

  • Define the term “abolitionist”
  • Satisfactorily analyze Lincoln’s writings for evidence of abolitionism
  • Establish a position on the question of Lincoln’s abolitionism
  • Present a case for or against applying the term “abolitionist” to Lincoln, using his writings as evidence

Time Required

Two class periods

Recommended Grade Range



African American History; Presidents; War, Military

Subject/ Sub-Subject

Social Studies


McREL 4th Edition Standards and Benchmarks

Historical Understanding

Standard 2. Understands the historical perspective

United States History

Standard 12. Understands the sources and character of cultural, religious, and social reform movements in the antebellum period

Language Arts

Standard 4. (Writing) Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Standard 7. (Reading) Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Standard 8. (Listening and Speaking) Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes


David Hollander, Kennedy Junior High School, Naperville School District 203, Illinois.

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