Election of 1860 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.

Have your students cast their votes during your instruction on the election of 1860. Comprehension is boosted with an in-class vote and a Study.com video lesson. Deeper exploration of the topic is available with the use of the optional supplementary activities and related lessons.

Learning Objectives:

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

  • name the candidates of the election of 1860
  • outline the major issues of the election of 1860
  • describe the outcome of the election of 1860 and its implications


30 minutes to 1 hour


  • Mock ballots with the following names listed and check box next to each: Stephen Douglas, John C. Breckenridge, John Bell, and Abraham Lincoln

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.


  • Divide students into two groups. Group One will represent the North. Group Two will be the South.
  • Now play the Study.com video lesson The Election of 1860: Definition, Summary, Candidates & Significance, pausing at 3:30.
  • Pass out the ballots, one for each student.
  • Ask students to consider the campaigns of each candidate as described in the video lesson. They must then check the box next to their favorite candidate to cast their vote. Explain that this will represent the popular vote.
  • As the students are filling out their ballots, write the names of the four candidates on the board.
  • Collect all of the ballots.
  • Tally the votes, one by one, with tick marks on the board next to the appropriate candidate.
  • Announce the winner of the popular vote in the class.
  • Play the remainder of the video lesson for the class.
  • Did the class vote match the popular vote of the time? Why or why not? What fundamental differences exist between the population of 1860 and the population of today? How could this have contributed to the outcome?

Discussion Questions

  • Did the outcome of the election of 1860 cause the American Civil War?
  • Should elections be determined by popular vote alone? Why or why not?


  • Have students select one of the four candidates to research. Ask them to write a biographical report on their candidate.
  • Ask students to assume that a candidate other than Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860. How different might our country be today if that candidate had won?

Related Lessons

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