School Improvement in Maryland

Lesson Seeds: The lesson seeds are ideas for the indicator/objective that can be used to build a lesson. Lesson seeds are not meant to be all-inclusive, nor are they substitutes for instruction.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 5. Analyze factors affecting the outcome of the Civil War

Objective b. Analyze the ideological breakdown that resulted from different events and issues, such as Virginia-Kentucky resolutions, the Hartford Convention, nullification/states' rights, political party division, the Dred Scott decision, John Brown raids

The concepts of states’ rights, nullification, and secession may be difficult for students to grasp, but they are critical to understanding the first half of the nineteenth century and the Civil War. Primary source documents relating to these two topics are usually very theoretical and legal in nature, making them inaccessible to most 8th graders. To help students understand the issues, perform the following classroom exercise:

Explain that, as individuals, each of these students is independent and has rights, but that, to maintain classroom order, you’d like to create a “Classroom Constitution” to govern behavior. Working together as a class, have students draft a set of 5-10 classroom rules (e.g., no talking when someone else is talking, etc.). When finished, explain to students that this is the new “Classroom Constitution,” and ask students to raise their hands to indicate that they agree to be governed by these rules.

Now ask if anyone disagrees with any of these rules. Ask the dissenting student to explain which rule s/he opposes. Pose the following questions to students for debate:

  • Considering that this student is a free individual with rights and that s/he helped to create this new government, does this student have the right to declare invalid, or nullify, the rule s/he doesn’t like and just ignore it?
  • Which is supreme: the student’s individual rights or the “Classroom Constitution” agreed to by all?
  • If the students are participating in this government voluntarily, does each have the right to decide which rules to obey?
  • What would happen if students had the right to decide for themselves which rules to obey?
  • Does each student have the right to decide that s/he simply doesn’t want to abide by these rules anymore and withdraw, or secede, from the class?
  • What would happen to the class government if states could withdraw, or secede, from the agreement?

Generate a classroom debate over these issues. Explain that, throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Americans debated these same issues of nullification, states’ rights, and secession. Explore the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the Nullification Crisis, using excerpts from primary sources depending upon the abilities of the students. Valuable, but difficult, primary sources defending nullification are the Virginia ( and Kentucky ( Resolutions, Robert Hayne’s 1832 Senate speeches (, and Hayne’s 1832 speech as Governor of South Carolina ( Andrew Jackson’s 1832 proclamation about the Nullification Crisis ( and Daniel Webster’s 1832 Senate speeches ( argue against nullification.

Resources for Objective 5.C.5.b:
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