Lesson Plan 10: To Come to Illinois -- Or Not?

By Tara Dirst


  • Students will explore the Lincoln/Net database looking for materials related to early settlement in Illinois.
  • Students will analyze primary documents to determine whether the author is pro- or anti-emigration.
  • Students will outline reasons for or against immigration to Illinois during the early 19th century.
  • Students will support their reasons based on examples given in primary texts.
  • Students will challenge the opposition's argument.

Notes on the Lesson:

This lesson is intended for history classes that have access to computers during class time so students can do research for the assignment. If computer access is unavailable, and/or students will not have the ability to perform the research outside of class time, excerpts from the primary sources are provided under Materials Needed. However, this lesson is intended to have students research the Lincoln/Net database to find appropriate sections of the primary sources to use in their arguments. Students should limit all results using the theme Frontier Settlement.

Materials Needed:

Packet of selected excerpts to be photocopied for students that do not have Internet access. Excerpts are from:

Birkbeck, Morris. Letters from Illinois. London: Taylor and Hessey, 1818. (pro-migration) For the full-text, please click here.

Birkbeck, Morris. Notes on a Journey in America. London: Severn and Company, 1818. (pro-migration) For full-text, please click here.

Wright, John Stillman. Letters from the West; or a Caution to Emigrants: Being Facts and Observations Respecting the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Some Parts of New-York, Pennsylvania and Kentucky: Written in the Winter of 1818-1819. Salem, NY: Dodd and Stevenson, 1819. (anti-migration) For the full-text, please click here.

Faux, W. Memorable Days in America: Being a Journal of a Tour to the United States, Principally Undertaken to Ascertain, by Positive Evidence, the Condition and Probable Prospects of British Emigrants; Including Accounts of Mr. Birkbeck's Settlement in Illinois: and Intended to Shew Men and Things as They Are in America. W. Simkin and R. Marshall, 1823. (anti-migration) For the full-text, please click here.

Time Required:

One 50-minute class period, and overnight to complete the assignment. If students don't have access to the Internet at home, more time may be given to complete the assignment so they can utilize the school or public library computers.


Ask the students if any of their parents were immigrants to the United States. If not, ask about grandparents, etc. Ask the students:

1. What motivates people to pack up and move to an unknown place, and leave their country behind?

2. Do you have any family stories about the immigration experience?

3. Think about what you know about life in 19th century America. Would your motives for emigration be the same as people's motives today? Would there be any additional motivating factors?

4. What would be particularly difficult about moving to the United States from Europe during the 19th century? (Write this list on the board.)


Divide the class in half and have one group write an essay back to people in England giving reasons why they should come to Illinois, and the other group write an essay telling people not to come to Illinois. This should be written from the time period of 1817-1820. To write such an essay, students should search, read and cite from primary documents available on Lincoln/Net (http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/). Citations required. For the pro-migration essay, students should offer information on:
a) reasons to migrate
b) preparation for the trip
c) how to get to Illinois
d) geographical description of recommended settlement area
e) what to do to get established
f) why Illinois is the most recommended
g) address at least one argument from an anti-migration person and state why you disagree
h) any other issues

For the anti-migration essay, students should outline:
a) at least 4 reasons why migration is not a good idea
b) address at least 3 arguments from a pro-migration person and state why you disagree
c) any other issues

Acknowledgments: The Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding this lesson plan under the We the People Project.