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The Multiple Dilemmas of Abraham Lincoln

The lesson plan revolves around an interactive website that will provide students with a more 'humanized' view of Abraham Lincoln.

Political Cartoon, Lincoln & Douglas in a Presidential Footrace, 1860, J. Sage &

This lesson, an interactive historical simulation, presents students with five difficult decisions Abraham Lincoln made between his election in November 1860 and the battle of Fort Sumter in April 1861. The strength of this lesson is the wealth of primary and secondary source evidence that it uses to help students understand the challenging questions Lincoln faced.

This lesson is designed for students to complete online, but can be modified for classrooms that lack computer access. It is presented through five online modules, each centered around a different dilemma. All modules provide students with historical background, an explanation of the issues facing Lincoln and resources that shed light on some of the information Lincoln had to consider when making the decision.

Students are given a list of the likeliest decision options available to Lincoln, but are also encouraged to come up with their own solutions for these historical dilemmas. Of particular value, is the ability to read about Lincoln’s actual decision and compare it to student generated ones.

Due to the length of this lesson and its reliance on computers, we recommend that teachers consider focusing on only one of the decisions, printing out only the relevant resources to use in class.

The authors of this lesson note the shortcomings of historical simulations, pointing out that students’ simulated policy decisions might be colored by presentism and hindsight. Rather than a simulation, teachers could use these materials to examine the issues Lincoln faced and his responses, and then use the documents to evaluate why Lincoln responded as he did.

Teachinghistory.org Lesson Plan Rubric
Field Criteria Comments
Historical Content Is historically accurate?

A wealth of bibliographic information is provided for each component of the lesson.

Includes historical background?

A tremendous amount of relevant background information is available. Several parts of the site have "Commentary" links where students can read about how historians interpret related events and issues.

Requires students to read and write?

The only formal writing activity is note-taking, but all of the tasks can be easily turned into writing assignments.

Analytic Thinking Requires students to analyze or construct interpretations using evidence

This is the heart of the lesson—using evidence to understand decisions made by Lincoln.

Requires close reading and attention to source information?


Scaffolding Is appropriate for stated audience?


Includes materials and strategies for scaffolding and supporting student thinking?

If students need more background information, they can click on specific words and get additional information about a topic in the forms of text, video, and images.

Lesson Structure Includes assessment criteria and strategies that focus on historical understanding?

Reflection questions are included in the end, but they are not comprehensive assessments nor is any specific assessment criteria provided.

Defines clear learning goals and progresses logically?


Includes clear directions and is realistic in normal classroom settings?

Requires students to be working at a computer individually for an unspecified amount of time.