North or South? Racial Attitudes before the Civil War
5 - 8
Length of lesson:
1 period optional extensions/homework
- Theme: Change and continuity in American democracy: ideas, institutions, events, key figures, and controversies
- Era: The American Republic: 1760-1870
Was anti-Black sentiment limited to the southern (and soon to be) Confederate
states in the years leading up to the Civil War?
What were racial attitudes in the North in the years leading up to the Civil War?
This lesson uses online resources including a compiled town history, magazine
articles, and a contemporary folk painting, to examine an eye-opening incident in New
Hampshire history. It gives students what may be a surprising glimpse into pre-Civil War
racial attitudes in the North.
Chronology of the Town of Newport, NH, (see 1835 sidebar)
Magazine articles about the incident at:
- Paper and writer’s journal. Overhead or projector to use with laptop.
- Two documents to use with overhead/projector (included in download):
- 1. The 1835 sidebar from the Town of Newport Chronology (see above) with key
identifiers removed (Noyes Academy Overhead1.doc)
- The original 1835 sidebar including the identifiers (Noyes Academy
- (Optional) Painting Analysis Worksheet (included with download).
- Begin the lesson by asking students to do a silent quick write in their writers'
notebooks responding to the prompt: "How did Northerners feel about slavery?
How did Southerners feel about slavery?"
- Have students share their responses with a partner.
- Share a few responses with the larger class.
- Project Noyes Academy Overhead1.doc (with identifiers removed).
- Read the document aloud and ask students where they think this incident
happened and why (thinking about what they just wrote).
- Project the complete document with locations filled in (Noyes Academy
Overhead2.doc). Students are usually quite surprised. This leads to a very
fruitful discussion of the question, "What does this incident say about racial
attitudes in the North?"
Depending on where a teacher wants to go with this lesson, there are a number of
- Have students respond to the question in #6 above for homework.
- Use the discussion as a jumping off point for researching complicity in the slave
trade in the North. The Hartford Courant (Northeast Sunday Magazine) did a series
entitled “Complicity” about five years ago and would be a good resource.
- Have students examine the painting of the Removal of Noyes Academy, (page down to
the bottom to see the painting by Mikel Wells) and write a response to the painting
using the Painting Analysis Worksheet (included in download).
- Have students look at the reasons given for removal and what residents’ fears were
and compare them to reasons given against immigration and the fears people say
they have today. You can find lists of these fears in many places, but here’s a decent
- Using the same idea in #4, have students tune into a talk radio show about
immigration and have them listen for and identify these same arguments against
While not formally assessed, student work in this lesson (especially in Follow Up Activity
#4 above) can be used as a formative assessment to determine whether students are
beginning to grasp the connection between pre-Civil War racial attitudes and current
events relating to immigration.
6.4 Historical Connections
6.10 Meaning of Citizenship
6.13 Institutional Access
6.15 Forces of Unity and Disunity