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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

7. Slavery and

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Abraham Lincoln - Teaching Tips

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  • In order to appreciate the significance of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," students should have some background on the battle of Gettysburg. Fought in early July 1863, Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with a total of 51,000 casualties--more men died at Gettysburg than in any other battle on North American soil before or since. Gettysburg marked an important turning point in the Civil War; the Confederate Army never recovered from the heavy losses it suffered there. After giving students this background, ask them to think about how Lincoln grapples with the scope and nature of Gettysburg as a national tragedy in his address. You might have them consider how this speech compares with other presidential speeches following catastrophic events (such as Franklin Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor speech, or George W. Bush's responses to September 11, 2001).

  • Ask students to pay attention to the changes in Lincoln's rhetorical treatment of slavery between the "House Divided" speech (1858) and the "Second Inaugural" (1865). While the earlier speech is a rigorously logical, legalistic argument for keeping slavery out of the West, the "Second Inaugural" claims that slavery is an evil in the eyes of God and that the emancipation of the slaves was wrought by divine will. Ask students which speech they find more powerful or persuasive. Ask them to consider the different historical circumstances in which these two speeches were composed.

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