Lesson Plans

Early National

Analyzing the Culture of Jacksonian America
Author: Mary Ellen Sturm
School: Rosa Parks Middle
Grade Level: 8th
Time Estimated: 2 days (45 minute periods)

Enduring Understanding

The songs chosen will examine the politics, culture and slavery during the Jacksonian era. Students will examine these issues as a way to understand why social reform was needed to stop drinking, gambling, slavery and greed.


Students will analyze lyrics of music from the Jacksonian era to be able to describe one aspect of the culture. Students will create their own lyrics to describe why social reform was needed.


Unit 8.3: "Geographic and Economic Change Shape the Nation: 1815-1850"
Lesson 4.5: "Social Reformers React to Change"



  1. Students will be divided into six heterogeneous groups and each group will receive the lyrics to a popular song or poem.
  2. Students will analyze the lyrics as a group to determine what the lyrics reveal about the culture of America at the time and record their findings on a Capture Sheet.
  3. Groups will share out the information.
  4. Students will create their own song lyrics to show why social reform was needed.


Students will work in heterogeneous groups to analyze music.


Students will write their own lyrics to describe the culture in Jacksonian America and why reform was needed.

References: Web

Stephen C. Foster. "Camptown Races." Baltimore, MD: F. D. Benten, 1850. Poetry and Music of the War Between the States.http://www.civilwarpoetry.org/music/camptown.html
Camptown Races Music and Lyrics from Civil War Poetry. This website contains both music and lyrics for the Stephen Foster favorite about the gambling and chaos surrounding a famous horse race in Camptown, Pennsylvania.
Stephen C. Foster. "My Old Kentucky Home." Boston, MA: F. Triffet, 1898. Folksongs around the World. http://ingeb.org/songs/othesuns.html
My Old Kentucky Home Music and Lyrics This website provides both the original lyrics and the melody to this song about a slave who is sold and longs for his previous home. Also available in sheet music and lyrics form via the Duke University Libraries Digital Collections, Historic American Sheet Music collection: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/hasm.b0655/
"America." n.p. n.d. America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets, Civil War Song Sheets, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/amss:@field(DOCID+@lit(cw100120))
America (My Country 'Tis of Thee) Music and Lyrics from the American Memory Historical Collections from the Library of Congress. This website shows both the lyrics and copies of sheet music covers for America (My Country 'Tis of Thee). The tune to this song was popular throughout Europe before Reverend Samuel Francis Smith was asked by the famed organist and composer Lowell Mason to either translate the song from German or write lyrics. In 1831 Smith added his own lyrics to the tune to make it a popular patriotic favorite.
Poem from, Thomas Hood, Miss Kilmansegg: Her Moral In: San Francisco business directory and mercantile guide for 1864-65: A general business directory for all persons throughout this state; also, oregon, nevada territory and Mexico B.F. Stilwell & Co. San Francisco: Agnew & Deffebach, 1864. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist6/poem.html
Poem from Miss Kilmansegg: Her Moral, by English poet Thomas Hood (1799-1845). This website is the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco and contains many primary source documents pertaining to the California Gold Rush, including this poem. The poem speaks to both the curse and the blessing of finding gold.
"Song for Independent Day." From The Massachusetts Temperance Union. Boston, 1842. Teach US History. Temperance Reform in the Early 19th Century. Teach US History.org.http://www.teachushistory.org/Temperance/pto-picnic.htm
Song for Independence Day (to the tune of Yankee Doodle) The website shows copies of sheet music for the song. It does not play the tune, but the tune is one that is familiar to the students. This song was written to encourage Temperance on Independence Day since drinking in excess and alcoholism were growing problems.
Thomas Birch. "Zip Coon." New York: Atwill's Music Saloon, 1834. Digitized by Nathan Piazza at the Digital Media Center, Clemons Library, University of Virginia. Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture, Stephen Railton and the University of Virginia.http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/minstrel/zipcoonfr.html
Zip Coon Music and Lyrics This website has both the music and lyrics. This song has several subtle references to the politics of Jacksonian America.