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Teaching Guide

Teaching Causes of the Civil War

A classroom united.


Without the Patrick Swayze TV mini-series, how will anyone learn about the events leading up to the Civil War? From you, of course, with the help of this teaching guide.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing a variety of viewpoints: the North's view of the South, the South's view of slavery, and Lincoln's view of the whole mess.
  • modern connections, like Ken Burns's Civil War documentary.
  • related reading on topics like Reconstruction and Abolitionism.

It may have been a nation divided, but you'll have a classroom united with this teaching guide.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

1. Attacking and Defending Slavery

Over the first six decades of the nineteenth century, divisions over slavery grew more pronounced. On the one hand, we can trace expanding efforts to restrict and/or abolish slavery. On the other, we can identify increased efforts to strengthen the institution and protect it from federal interference.

Select twelve dates and place them on a timeline -- two from each decade, one illustrating the growing opposition to slavery and one illustrating Southerners' attempts to strengthen it.

2. Slave and Free Black Resistance

While white abolitionists campaigned against slavery, slaves and free blacks waged their own war on the institution. Select and place on a timeline seven dates illustrating this war.

(Possible answers: Haitian Revolution, Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion, Denmark Vesey plot, David Walker’s Appeal, Nat Turner’s rebellion, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Margaret Garner’s case, Dred Scott’s case)

3. The Growing Divide after 1850

In 1850, North and South reach yet another compromise on the divisive topic of slavery. After that, however, tensions between the two regions escalated and no further compromise was possible. Select and place on a timeline five events during the decade that contributed to or illustrated the growing tension between the regions.

(Possible answers: Publishing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Anthony Burns episode, the Kansas Nebraska Act,” Bleeding Kansas,” the caning of Sumner, the Dred Scott decision, John Brown’s raid)

(Lesson aligned with CA History-Social Sciences 9th-12th grade chronological and spatial thinking standard 2; historical interpretation standards 1, 2, 3)

Instructions for Your Students

Timelines start as just a list of dates and events. But by picking and choosing which events to include, you can make a timeline tell a story. Choose several events from Shmoop's Causes of the Civil War Timeline and put them in an order that tells one of those stories.


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    Test Review    
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