Causes of the Civil War Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Don't be daunted by your instruction on the causes of the Civil War! has simplified the process with the help of two fact-filled video lessons and an eye-opening activity for students.

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • name the political parties and candidates involved in the election of 1860
  • explain the Battle of Fort Sumter and its implications
  • outline the causative factors that led to the Civil War


45 minutes to 1 hour

Curriculum Standards


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

Key Vocabulary

  • Southern Democrats
  • Northern Democrats
  • Constitutional Union Party
  • Republicans


  • Begin by telling students that it is 1860, and they are potential voters in that year's election.
  • For a collaborative option, divide the students into four groups: the Southern Democrats, the Northern Democrats, the Constitutional Union Party, and the Republicans. For an independent option, ask students to create a four-part chart for the parties and fill in pertinent information during the video lesson.
  • Now show the video lesson The Election of 1860: Definition, Summary, Candidates & Significance, pausing at 1:37.
  • Ask the students to list the name of their candidate along with his stance on the issue of slavery. Now have students predict a winner of the election.
  • Play the video lesson, pausing at 4:41.
  • Did they predict that Lincoln would win? If not, who? Have students consider Lincoln's win. Discuss:
    • How would the other parties have felt?
    • What kind of problems might arise from the differences in regards to slavery?
    • Which party might have the biggest issue with Lincoln's win?
  • Play the remainder of the video lesson. Discuss, if necessary.
  • Play the entire video lesson The Battle of Fort Sumter & the Start of the Civil War.
  • Using the information gleaned from the two video lessons, have students (individuals or groups) list three potential causes of the Civil War from the perspective of each party. Have students consider this question: which party, if any, was justified in their actions?
  • For a collaborative element, have groups present the causes as you write them on the board or chart paper for discussion. Does everyone agree on these causes?

Discussion Questions

  • How could the Civil War have been prevented?
  • What might have occurred if the Battle of Fort Sumter had not taken place?
  • How different might our lives be today if Abraham Lincoln did not win the election of 1860?


  • Have students research and report on the battle of Fort Sumter in greater detail, including key figures and pivotal moments.
  • Show the students one of the many cinematic interpretations of the Civil War. How do the events shown in the film match up with their list of causes of the war?

Related Lessons

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