1856-1865 – Abolitionists and the Civil War

6, 7, 8

Using literature and research, learners will identify acts of philanthropy that occurred during the Civil War era.

Lesson Rating 
PrintFour Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • analyze the impact of literature in the abolitionist movement.
  • describe how the geographic concept of “location” affected runaways and the Underground Railroad.
  • explain individual acts of philanthropy during the Civil War period.
  • list protections granted by the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution.
  • The video, Uncle Tom's Cabin (see Bibliographical References )
  • Reconstruction Amendments ( Handout One )

National Geographic. The Underground Railroad interactive website. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/railroad/j1.html

Uncle Tom's Cabin . Stan Lathan, Director. Republic Studios, Dec. 18, 2001.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Put the word “abolitionism” on the chalkboard. Ask the learners to explain what it means. If they can, have the learners identify any persons who were known as abolitionists and describe how they tried to end slavery.


  2. Go over the following terms to provide background information for the video:

    • Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 : a federal law requiring state and city authorities, as well as ordinary citizens, to assist in the capture and return of enslaved persons who were runaways.
    • Underground Railroad : a well-organized series of routes and stopovers (stations) leading north to Canada for runaways.
    • Harriet Beecher Stowe : author of Uncle Tom's Cabin , a worldwide best-selling book which highlighted the evils of slavery.
  3. On a map or globe, locate Canada, Kentucky and Ohio. Ask the learners to make inferences about why these locations were important to runaways in the story.

  4. Show the video, Uncle Tom's Cabin . Discuss whether the author achieved her purpose of bringing the “peculiar institution” to the viewer's (reader's) attention. List rights that were not granted to enslaved persons. Discuss who could be considered a philanthropist in the story by giving of their time, talent or treasure to come to another's aid.

  5. Distribute Reconstruction Amendments ( Handout One ). Read the excerpts of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments out loud. Let the learners work in small teams to fill in the worksheet as they did in Lesson Three: The Bill of Rights . Report the findings. Explain that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments have been significant in American history past the time of Reconstruction.

  6. Have the learners select and research one of the following (paying special attention to their philanthropic contributions): Abolitionists, Underground Railroad, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Lucretia Mott, John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Emancipation Proclamation or Clara Barton. [Teacher's Note: Add other names as needed.] Share the information as oral reports.


The worksheet and researched oral report will serve as an assessment of learning.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced the nation's history.