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Abraham Lincoln, the Writ of Habeas Corpus, and Civil Liberties


Abraham Lincoln, the Writ of Habeas Corpus, and Civil Liberties shows students engaged in thinking about the extent of presidential power by looking at Abraham Lincoln's Civil War suspension of habeas corpus. Recommended Grade Level: Grades 8-12.

This video provides examples of two promising practices:

  • Asking students to consider larger questions by examining particular historical cases
  • Challenging students to support their views by citing historical evidence

This is a 2-3 day lesson that focuses on Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during a unit on the Civil War. Students are first introduced to the Constitutional right of habeas corpus and then divided into groups to analyze primary source documents like Lincoln’s draft of orders suspending the writ of habeas corpus during the war. In groups, students complete worksheets that accompany the documents. They then reconvene as a class to share their findings regarding documented evidence about whether Lincoln acted constitutionally. In making their arguments for or against Lincoln’s action, students are challenged by the instructor to cite textual evidence.

What’s Notable?

This class gains a powerful relevance because the instructor asks students to consider a question that resonates across historical periods, in this case: how much power should the president have? By asking students to carefully consider one historical case, he helps them not only learn about Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War, but also to think carefully about this larger question as well as tensions between civil liberties and security. Further, by asking students to support their views with evidence, the teacher helps them develop the valuable historical thinking skill of supporting claims with documentary evidence.

Viewing Instructions

To view this example, select the link in the "At a Glance" section to the left. After following the link, scroll down to "Lesson Plan by David Manuell," and select "Abraham Lincoln and the Writ of Habeas Corpus."

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