Empire of Liberty or Empire of Slavery?

Duration: 90-120 min

This three-stage lesson explores Thomas Jefferson’s plans to create an “Empire of Liberty” and the problems he faced in realizing his goals. In so doing, it considers the state of abolitionism in the early-nineteenth century, westward expansion, and the complications posed by the 1820 Missouri Compromise. What links these subjects are the disconnect created by the seemingly incongruous pairing of Jefferson’s progressive vision for his new nation and the preservation of the institution of slavery. More broadly, the issues explored here could help lead students to consider long term causes of the American Civil War in future lessons.

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Grade Level

High School

Type of Lesson

Cooperative Learning

Common Core Standards

English Language Standards: History/Social Studies, Grade 11-12:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1, 11-12.2, 11-12.3, 11-12.4, 11-12.5, 11-12.6, 11-12.7, 11-12.8, 11-12.9.


History and Social Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools, Grade 11:

Virginia and United States History: VUS.1 (a, b, c, d, e, f, h, i) VUS.6 (a, b)

Author Info

Name: Adam Burns
Email: adb31@le.ac.uk
School: Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital
School Address (opt): Berkeley Place
City: Bristol
State: United Kingdom