Curricular Unit Information

Unit Title: The Struggle to Build the United States Capitol
Course: US History
Grade Level: 8th Grade
Unit Length: 11-13 days
Length of Class Period: 90 minutes
Personal Stake:
During my time in the Teaching American History Grant, I learned a lot about the Civil War and the power of place.  My classmates and I were tasked with choosing a place of historical significance that has some connection to the Civil War. I wanted my "place" to be a place that was also significant and unique to the to Black/African-American experience.  This led me to recall a story I heard about slaves working on the Capitol Building.  When they learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, they continued about their business doing the work of building the Capitol.  Aside from challenging this urban myth, I wondered what was it about building the United States Capitol that inspired such pride in these enslaved persons? Similarly, how did the conflict over building the Capitol and the conflict over slavery interact? This unit plan seeks to answer these questions.

Unit Topic:

What are the big ideas students should develop?

1.A place can be used as historical text

2.The Civil War influenced the building/construction of the Capitol

3.What, why, and how a building is constructed give it its significance

4.Slavery was a national debate

What is important for students to know and be able to do?

•·Students should know (or have a working knowledge) of the Civil War

•·Students should know the difference between a primary and secondary source

•·Students should know how to interpret basic building schematics

•·Students should be able to work in cooperative groups

•·Students should be able to effectively manage their class time

•·Students should be able to sequence events (and place them on a timeline)

•·Students should be able to graphically organize information/take guided notes

•·Students should be able to use word processing programs to create a brochure (a suggested template will be provided)

•Students should be able to answer higher ordered questions based on primary and secondary resources 

What knowledge, skills, and attitudes do you want students to encounter and be familiar with in this unit?

•·Importance of national symbols/institutions/heroes and how or why we preserve them – with special attention to the office of the presidency, Congress and the Capitol

•·History of slavery in North America (Antebellum to Reconstructions)

•·There were proponents and opponents (abolitionists) to slavery and reasons varied from legal to moral 

•There were proponents and opponents to building/restoration/expansion of the Capitol

•· The enslaved (and immigrant populations) were the primary labor force on building projects in the nation's capital

•·Why the United States needed a new Capitol and why several lawmakers were initially opposed to the idea

•How could the man who was an early champion of the Capitol be the same man to lead the Southern succession

Why is it important for the United States to build monuments 

DCPS Content and Skills Standards:

8.5. Broad Concept: Students analyze the aspirations and ideals of the people of the new nation.  

  • 8.5.2 - Explain and identify on a map the territorial expansion during the terms of the first four presidents(e.g., the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Louisiana Purchase). (G, P) 
  • 8.5.3 - Describe daily life — including traditions in art, music, and literature — of early national America (e.g.,through writings by Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper). (S, I)

    8.7. Broad Concept: Students analyze the paths of the American people in the North from 1800 to themid-1800s and the challenges they faced. 

    8.7.1 - Locate and identify the states that made up the Northern region of the United States on a map. (G)

    8.7.2 - Describe the influence of industrialization and technological developments on the region, including human modification of the landscape and how physical geography shaped human actions (e.g., growth of cities, deforestation, farming, mineral extraction). (G)

    8.7.3 - Outline the physical obstacles to and the economic and political factors involved in building a

    network of roads, canals, and railroads (e.g., Henry Clay’s American System). (G, E)

    8.7.4 - List and describe the reasons for the wave of immigration from Northern Europe to the UnitedStates, and describe the growth in the number, size, and spatial arrangements of cities (e.g., Irishimmigrants and the Great Irish Famine). (G)

    8.8. Broad Concept: Students analyze the paths of the American people in the South from 1800 to themid-1800s and the challenges they faced.

    8.8.1 - Locate and identify the states that made up the Southern region of the United States on a map. (G)

    8.8.2 - Describe the development of the agrarian economy in the South, the locations of the cotton-producing states, and the significance of cotton and the cotton gin. (G, E)

    8.8.3 Explain the characteristics of white Southern society and how the physical environment influencedevents and conditions prior to the Civil War. (G, S)

    8.8.4 - Trace the development of slavery; its effects on black Americans and on the region’s political, social,religious, economic, and cultural development; and the strategies that were tried to both overturn andpreserve it (e.g., through the writings of David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Martin Delany, and Frederick Douglass and the historical documents on Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey). (P, S)

    8.10. Broad Concept:Students analyze the issue of slavery, including the early and steady attempts toabolish slavery and to realize the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. 

    8.10.1 - Describe the abolition of slavery in early state constitutions. (P, S)

    8.10.2 - Describe the significance of the Northwest Ordinance in education and in the banning of slavery in

    new states north of the Ohio River. (P, S)

    8.10.3 - Identify the various leaders of the abolitionist movement (e.g., John Quincy Adams, his proposed constitutional amendment and the Amistad case; John Brown and the armed resistance; Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad; Theodore Weld, crusader for freedom; William Lloyd Garrison and The Liberator; Frederick Douglass and the Slave Narratives; Martin Delany and The Emigration Cause; and Sojourner Truth and “Ain’t I a Woman”). (P)

    8.10.4 - Describe the importance of the slavery issue as raised by the annexation of Texas and California’s admission to the union as a free state under the Compromise of 1850. (P, S)

    8.10.5 - Analyze the significance of the States’ Rights Doctrine, the Missouri Compromise (1820), the Wilmot Proviso (1846), the Compromise of 1850, Henry Clay’s role in the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), the Dred Scott v. Sanforddecision (1857), and the Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858). (P)

    8.10.6 - Identify the conditions of enslavement, and explain how slaves adapted and resisted in their daily lives.

    8.10.7 - Describe the lives of free blacks and the laws that limited their freedom and economic opportunities (e.g., Cincinnati riots and the Ohio Black Codes). (P, S, E)

    8.11. Broad Concept:Students analyze the multiple causes, key events, and complex consequences of the Civil War.

    8.11.4 - Describe Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his significant writings and speeches and their relationship to the Declaration of Independence (e.g., his House Divided speech in 1858, Gettysburg Address in 1863, Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and inaugural addresses in 1861 and 1865). (P)

    8.11.8 - Explain how the war affected combatants, civilians, the physical environment, and future warfare. (G, M, S)

Common Core Standards (connections):

Key Ideas and Details

  • RH.6-8.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • RH.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • RH.6-8.3. Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Craft and Structure

  • RH.6-8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • RH.6-8.5. Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
  • RH.6-8.6. Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • RH.6-8.7. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • RH.6-8.8. Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
  • RH.6-8.9. Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

  • RH.6-8.10. By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Text Types and Purposes

  • WHST.6-8.1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
    • Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
    • Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
    • Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
    • Establish and maintain a formal style.
    • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
  • WHST.6-8.2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
    • Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
    • Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
    • Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
    • Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
    • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone.
    • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.

Production and Distribution of Writing

  • WHST.6-8.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • WHST.6-8.5. With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • WHST.6-8.6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • WHST.6-8.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • WHST.6-8.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • WHST.6-8.9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

  • WHST.6-8.10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Methods of Inquiry:

Having just won the Mexican War, the United States had accumulated a huge tract of territory. There was still plenty of vacant territory left over from the Louisiana Purchase. With these territories clamoring to become states, all of the sudden you are going to have many more senators and many more congressmen in Washington, and the existing building, which is now the center section of the current building, was simply not big enough. What better way for students to learn about bias in secondary sources, grapple with reading primary sources and answer a historically relevant question about arguable one of the most magnificent architectural project in our nation's capital. What would result is a cross curricular lesson that would engage students through historical, cultural and visual literacy.

•Individually and cooperatively analyze primary & secondary sources

•Multi sensory & tiered inquiry & instruction


•Develop comprehension, evaluative, analytical, Language Arts, technology, and application skills


·Curiosity - develop an intrinsic curiousity about the buildings in thier own neighborhoods.

·Questioning - how or why buildings are constructed with special attention to government (local/state/federal) projects.

·Deference - to public buildings, especially those that are purportedly for "the people".  Moreover, an acknowledgement of the work/contributions of slaves, free blacks and immigrations to build not only the Capitol but other iconic structures.

Essential Questions:

  • How did the conflict over building the Capitol and the conflict over slavery interact?
  • How did major historical events leading up to Civil War and the conflict influence the building/construction of the Capitol?

Physical Features

·What is the Capitol Building?

·When and why was a Congress House established in its current location?

·What, if anything is its central focus?

·What are its boundaries and what distinguishes it from adjacent areas?

·How and why have the size, shape, and image of the Capitol Building changed over the years?

·How and why have architectural styles varied or remained the same? Has the use to which various structures have been put changed significantly?

·What have been the important institutions in the Capitol, and what has been their role in the Capitol’s history?

Social Features

·Who has worked in Capitol Building? (famous or infamous)

·What groups (ethnic, religious, occupational, or social) and economic classes have been represented? In what proportions?

·What causes people to come to the Capitol?

·How and why events, activities, or problems brought residents to the Capitol, if at all?

·Have there been parties, festivals or parades, or other celebrations? If so, what has been their nature?

·Have disapproved activities been conducted in the neighborhood?

·Who have been the Capitol’s leading figures? Why did they acquire influence, and how did they use it?

·In what respects has the neighborhood thought of itself as different from the other building in Washington, D.C.? The nation? The world?

Kyvig, David E. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You, 2nd ed. Altamira Press, 2000.

Diagnostic Assessment:

  • Timeline Activity (Lesson 1 Resources)
  • Anticipation guide with 6-8 teaching points (Lesson 1 Resources).Students will answer with True, False, fill in the blank or numerical responses.
    • Students will then make a tab-book Foldable with the talking points.This will serve as their introductory lecture[1].
    • Students will take a similar assessment and the end of the curricular unit

Formative Assessment:

  • Students will be tasked with analyzing the documents packets using the National Archives and Records Administration Worksheets.The quality of answers will be scored with a rubric
  • Students will participate in daily discussions with prompts from teacher
  • Students will complete exit notes and the end of each day

Summative Assessment:

  • Individually, students will use their document packets (primary sources) to write a 1-page response to the essential question.
  • Cooperatively, students will publish a brochure that serves to inform the public (specifically visitors to the Capitol) about the role of slavery at the Capitol
  • Students will have the opportunity to analyze various primary and secondary sources ranging from photographs and paintings to excerpts from books scholarly articles. 
  • Students will be grouped in mixed-ability cooperative groups of 3-4 students. 
  • National Archives Records Administration Document Analysis Worksheets are included for lesson modification
  • The assessments are designed to accommodate different learning styles and can be modified for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

Community and Cultural Resources:

  • Library of Congress
  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • US Capitol Historical Society
  • Architects of the Capitol
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • US Capitol Visitor's Center
  • Jefferson Davis advocates for the  Capitol
  • Compromise of 1850
  • (Kid-friendly) Timeline 1850- 1877 
  • Picture history of the Capitol - Archives - US Capitol Historical Society -
  • List of Senators and Representatives Pre Mexican American War to Succession
    • the number will increase because of the new lands/territories 
  • Find accounts of the Capitol building (visitors, politicians, architects) 
  • Monuments or major government expenditures 1850-1865 
  • tour of the Capitol through the lens of AFAM
    • Visitor's Center
    • Capitol Building Society 
Daily Instruction:
Part I: The Civil War & History of the US Capitol
Day 1: Causes of the Civil War Activity
Day 2: Causes of the Civil War Activity (cont’d)
Day 3: Introduction to U.S. Capitol
Day 4: Slavery, States Rights & Civil War
Day 5: Slavery, States Rights & Civil War (cont'd)
Part II: Field Study & Learning Application
Day 6: DBA*
Day 7: DBA*
Day 8: Writing Workshop & Pre-write DBQ
Day 9: DBQ
Day 10: Field Study (Tour of U.S. Capitol & Library of Congress)
Day 11-12/13: Field Study Extension (Brochure)

*Document Based Activities

NARA Artifact Analysis Worksheet

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NARA Cartoon Analysis Worksheet

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NARA Map Analysis Worksheet

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NARA Motion Picture Analysis Worksheet

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NARA Photo Analysis Worksheet

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NARA Poster Analysis Worksheet

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NARA Sound Recording Analysis Worksheet

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NARA Written Document Worksheet

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