Civil War and Reconstruction Toolkit
Popular Graphic Arts. Lincoln's address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, November 19, 1863. Public domain, from the Library of Congress. Digital ID cph.3a05745.

Civil War and Reconstruction Toolkit

The American Civil War was fought from 1861-1865, and followed by the period of Reconstruction, generally accepted by scholars to have ended in 1877. The following collections include documents essential to gaining and understanding of how the war began, progressed, and ended, and how Reconstruction was conceived and attempted.

Guiding Questions

  1. What did Americans think about slavery and emancipation as a constitutional matter, and how did their disagreement over the institution and its possible elimination shape the coming of the Civil War and its prosecution?
  2. How did Americans understand secession and the problem it posed for the viability of self-government?
  3. How did Lincoln and Americans understand the nature of the federal union and Constitution in relation to state sovereignty?
  4. What problems did Reconstruction pose for Presidents and Congresses both during and after the Civil War, and to what extent did the federal structure of the American union, along with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, complicate the return of peaceful self-government to the United States?

Suggested answers

Essential Documents

  1. Fragment on the Constitution and Union, 1861, Abraham Lincoln
  2. South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession, 1860
  3. “Corner Stone” Speech, 1861, Alexander Stephens
  4. The War – Its Cause and Cure, 1861, William Lloyd Garrison
  5. Message to Congress in Special Session, 1861, Abraham Lincoln
  6. Letter to Horace Greeley, 1861, Abraham Lincoln
  7. Final Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, Abraham Lincoln
  8. Gettysburg Address, 1863, Abraham Lincoln
  9. Resolution Submitting the Thirteenth Amendment to the States, 1865, Abraham Lincoln
  10. Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, 1876, Frederick Douglass



  1. Documents in Detail: Gettysburg Address
  2. Moments of Crisis: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
  3. Documents in Detail: Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
  4. American Controversies: Did Lincoln Violate the Constitution?
  5. Great American Debates: Secessionists vs. Unionists
  6. American Minds: Frederick Douglass
  7. Documents in Detail: Lincoln’s Fragment on the Constitution and Union
  8. Special Webinar: What Can We Learn from the Election of 1860?
  9. Special Webinar: Heroes of the Civil War
  10. Enduring American Questions: Did Slavery Cause the Civil War?
  11. Documents in Detail: “Cornerstone” Speech
  12. Documents in Detail: Final Emancipation Proclamation

Lesson Plans

  1. On the Eve of War – A one-day lesson focused on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the North and the South on the eve of the American Civil War
  2. Battles of the Civil War – Help students learn the essentials about important battles of the war in this two-day lesson
  3. Abraham Lincoln and Wartime Politics – This in-depth 3-4 day lesson explores Lincoln’s handling of the war as a political event
  4. Abraham Lincoln on the American Union – a four-lesson arc examining the president, his ideas, and his actions
  5. The Battle over Reconstruction – a three-lesson mini-unit on the tumultuous years after the war
  6. Making Sense of Secession – a week-long sequence of lessons exploring Southern justifications – constitutional, legal, and moral – for secession
  7. Civil Rights, Andrew Johnson, and the Radical Republicans – a 3-day lesson sequence helping students understand the foundation of the post-Civil War Civil Rights movements