Lesson Plans

Early National

Northern and Southern Differences in 1856

Author: Heather Coffey

School: Mill Run Elementary

Grade Level: 4th

Time Estimated: 1 day (60 minute period)

Historical Background

The 1850s were a time of differing viewpoints between the North and the South. Slavery, once regarded as necessary by many, had become a strong conflict in the United States. Many southern plantation owners insisted that owning slaves was a necessity to their lifestyle and economic success whereas northerners had no need for slaves, as their economy was based primarily on manufacturing. As new territories were added to the country, the question of whether to allow slavery in them continued to plague many people. While some viewed slavery as necessary to maintain a successful agricultural society, others, particularly those in the North, began to view slavery as morally wrong and sought to abolish it. With such a strong difference of opinion on the matter, this issue became a major factor in the start of the Civil War.

The "Political Chart of the United States: 1856" is a campaign ad for Republican John C. Fremont. The chart itself provides facts about the North and South during the pre-Civil War era. The Republican party was a new party, having been founded in 1854. It was formed in direct response to the controversy over slavery. Republicans at the time were opposed to the spread of slavery into new territories in the country. Many democrats declared that the southern states would secede due to Fremont's strong opposition to slavery. Fremont lost to James Buchanan, but was still able to secure 45% of Northerners votes. Due to the fact that the Republican part was so new, this was seen as an amazing accomplishment.


  1. Students will identify the role of an agricultural based economy as a need for slavery in the South.
  2. Students will identify the role of an industrial based economy in the North as a need for paid workers rather than slaves.
  3. Students will write about how the North and the South each viewed slavery.

SOL Skills

VS.1a The student will identify and interpret artifacts and primary and secondary source documents to understand events in history.
VS.1d The student will draw conclusions and make generalizations.
VS.1g The student will interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives.
VS.1h The student will discuss issues orally and in writing. VS.1i The student will analyze and interpret maps to explain relationships among landforms, water features, climatic characteristics, and historical events.

SOL Content

VS.7a The student will demonstrate knowledge of the issues that divided our nation and led to the Civil War by identifying the events and differences between northern and southern states that divided Virginians and led to secession, war, and the creation of West Virginia.



  1. Introduce: Ask students to share with a friend all the ways they can think of to earn money as a kid. As a class, ask students to think of ways people in the 1800s might have earned money. Ask students if people made money in different ways depending on where they lived in the country.
  2. Have students create a T-Chart in their "Write to Learn Journals." One side should be labeled "North" and the other "South." Give students 2-3 minutes to brainstorm what they know about each part of the country in regards to how they made money.
  3. Allow students to partner up and share their ideas with a friend. Let them "steal" any ideas that they would like to add to their lists.
  4. As a class, create a large T-Chart with students’ ideas and thoughts.
  5. Instruct: Pass out the political chart of the United States (1856) to each child along with a pad of sticky-notes. Give the students 5 minutes to explore the map and use their sticky notes to write down any questions, confirmations, or ideas they have while looking at it. Students should be allowed to explore the map in groups of 2 or 3. At the same time, the overhead copy should be displayed for magnification purposes.
  6. After 5 minutes, hand each group a copy of the "Guiding Questions" sheet. Together, the group should discuss the questions and try to answer them on the sheet itself. Allow 10 minutes for this.
  7. As a class, allow students to share their sticky note ideas and questions. (Sticky notes could be compiled on a class chart according to teacher’s wishes. One idea is to create a K-W-L chart based on the sticky notes.)
  8. Have students focus on how states were labeled. An emphasis should be put on "free state" vs. "slave state." Have students locate the slave states. Students should be able to draw the conclusion that the slave states were in the south while free states were primarily in the north.
  9. Ask students to discuss why the southern states had slaves. Students should be able to use the words agriculture, tobacco, cotton, slavery, land, and economy.
  10. Ask students to discuss why the northern states did not have slaves. Students should be able to use the words industry, paid workers, manufacturing, and economy.
  11. Homework: Each child will do a reflection in their “write to learn” journals about the political map they studied today. They should answer the question "Why do we need this map today?"


Students will be working in a number of groups throughout the lesson. Groups will be both student-selected and teacher chosen.


With a partner, students should work to write a persuasive list of 5 facts about life from the viewpoint of either a southern plantation owner or northern factory owner. Students will be given 15-20 minutes to compile a notecard of facts from their viewpoint. They should try to convince the "opposite" side that their way of life is necessary and important. Slavery should be a requisite component of the list. If time allows, have groups on "opposing" sides team up to share their facts. Encourage students to try and go beyond their list and have a true discussion.

Persuasive Writing/Sharing with Grading Rubric

References: Web

"A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln," Chicago Historical Society

    This site provides an online copy of the "Political Chart of the United States" (1856) map. It does not provide background information solely on the map, but gives a plethora of information about the slavery debate during Abraham Lincoln's time.

References: Books & Media

Baicker, K. Primary sources teaching kit: Civil War. New York: Scholastic Professional Books (2003), page 7, 20.

    This book is a compilation of primary sources from the Civil War. It not only provides the source, but also gives the background and history of the source as well as a variety of ways to teach it to students. This book is geared for fourth through eighth grades.