Lesson Plan 6: Lincoln, Patriotism, and Protest

By Jennifer Erbach



Students will utilize primary source documents to explore arguments surrounding Abraham Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican War.

Students will compare the arguments surrounding Lincoln's opposition to war with those surrounding war protestors during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Students will consider the definition of patriotism in light of a country's decision to go to war, and write a 1-2 page paper defining and defending their position on the question "Is protest patriotic?"


Prior to this assignment, students should read the following documents and write down any questions that they have about the documents.


Is protest patriotic? Spend a couple of minutes gathering some initial student responses to the question. Our goal for the next two days is to further explore this question by examining the arguments of ordinary citizens, professors, politicians, and a former president. We'll be examining and comparing arguments surrounding the opposition to two wars in U.S. history: The Mexican War in 1848 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Day 1:
Part I:

Review information from the "Background and Context" sheet regarding the Mexican War and Lincoln's objections to that war. Take a few minutes to answer any student questions from the reading.

As a class, discuss the following:

  • What was Lincoln's position on the war with Mexico?
  • What specifically was his response and how did he justify it?
  • How did Lincoln's opponents portray his protest of the war?
  • How did his stance on the Mexican war effect Lincoln's later political career?
  • What issues seem to have been of particular concern to people? Why do you think these issues were so important to them?
  • Look again at Document #1. Did Lincoln believe that those who opposed war ought to speak out while the country was engaged in fighting that war? Why then, did he speak out?

Part II:

In small groups, students should consider the following question:
  • In the elections of 1858 and 1860, Democrats tried to paint Lincoln as being unpatriotic for protesting the Mexican War. Do you think that Lincoln's actions were unpatriotic? Why or why not?

After discussing their answer, groups should write 2-3 paragraphs explaining their position. Wherever possible, students should refer to specific documents from the readings. If class time allows, groups should share their answers with the rest of the class and engage in further debate and discussion over the issue.


Students should read Document Packet 2: "Patriotism & Protest During the Gulf War" for the next class.

Day 2: Introduction:

We've considered arguments surrounding Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican War. Now let's fast forward and look at some modern arguments about protest. In 1991, the U.S. went to war against Iraq, sparking protests movements, and with them more debate about whether protesting war was patriotic.

Part III:

Review information from the Background and Context sheet on the Persian Gulf War. Review the material discussed in class on the day before, and take a few minutes to answer any student questions about the readings.

As a class, unpack each of the four documents that the students read. On the board, write the position that each author takes as to whether or not protest is patriotic. Underneath, list the reasons given by each author in support of their position.

Now let's compare the arguments in these documents to the readings and discussions from the previous day. As a class, discuss:

  • What accusations were leveled against those who protested the Gulf War?
  • How do these accusations compare to those leveled at Lincoln?
  • How did protesters defend their actions?
  • How does this defense compare to Lincoln's?

Part IV:

Get back into your small groups from the previous day. Considering all of the arguments that we have looked at over the past 2 days, discuss the original question, "Is protest patriotic?"

After about 10-15 minutes, students should use the remaining class time to begin working on a 1-2 page paper in which they will take a position on the question "Is protest patriotic?" Students should work on their papers individually, but may use their group members as a sounding board for their ideas. As they build their own argument, students should address at least two of the arguments for and two of the arguments against their position that were raised in the readings from the past two days.

State Standards Addressed:

14.C.4 Describe the meaning of participatory citizenship (e.g., volunteerism, voting) at all levels of government and society in the United States. 16.B.5a (US) Describe how modern political positions are affected by differences in ideologies and viewpoints that have developed over time (e.g., political parties' positions on government intervention in the economy).

Notes for the Instructor:

  • Time required for this lesson should be about two 50 minute class periods.
  • The "Background and Context" packet can be supplemented with readings from the course textbook on the Mexican War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
  • Some of the documents in Document Packet 1 have been transcribed with the original grammar, spellings, and crossed out words, which makes them more difficult to read.
  • Some of the documents in Document Packet 2 make reference to protests from the Vietnam War. Teachers may want to provide additional background information to students about the nature of protest during the Vietnam War era.