Teaching Students About Conscience Whigs

Conscience Whigs were a faction within the Whig party in the mid-19th century who were opposed to slavery and sought to limit the expansion of slavery in the United States. The movement was founded by individuals such as Charles Sumner, Salmon P. Chase, and Joshua Giddings, who were determined to uphold the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Today’s students should learn about Conscience Whigs and their contributions to the anti-slavery struggle to better understand the importance of fighting for justice.

Teaching students about Conscience Whigs would require a brief understanding of the political context of the mid-19th century. The United States was grappling with issues of slavery expansion and states’ rights. The Compromise of 1850 had temporarily resolved the issue of slavery in the new territories. However, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 further exacerbated the tensions between the free and slave states. It was during this period that Conscience Whigs emerged as a voice of conscience in the Whig party.

In the classroom, it could be useful to employ primary source documents to get a better understanding of the Conscience Whigs’ ideology. For example, the 1850 Whig National Convention was a critical moment for the party, and there were several debates about the future of slavery that ultimately led to the creation of the Conscience Whig movement. Students could read the speeches of key figures such as Charles Sumner, who argued that the United States’ founding principles were being undermined by slaveholding interests.

Another primary source that could be useful is the 1856 “Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress,” which condemned the Kansas-Nebraska Act and called for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. Students could analyze this document to understand how politicians were using their platform to advocate for the abolition of slavery.

Teaching students about Conscience Whigs provides valuable lessons for today’s context. The movement represents the importance of standing up for what is right, even when it is not politically expedient. Conscience Whigs risked their political careers to voice their opposition to slavery and uphold the values of the Declaration of Independence. This is a valuable lesson for young people to take away: that having the courage to stand up for what is right is essential for creating a society that reflects our highest values.

In conclusion, teaching students about Conscience Whigs is crucial for understanding the anti-slavery movement in the United States. Students can learn about the political context of the mid-19th century and analyze primary source documents to gain a deeper understanding of the movement’s ideology. The courage of Conscience Whigs in advocating for abolition is a valuable lesson for young people today and an encouragement to stand up for what is right, even when it is difficult or unpopular.

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