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The Deadly Equilibrium Lesson Plan
Overview
This lesson is designed as a cumulative activity following students' reading the narrative The Domestic Slave Trade and studying the Dred Scott decision, as well as exploring the expansion of slavery into the western territories in the years before the Civil War. The lesson also has adaptations for use with the narrative Runaway Journeys. The domestic slave trade simultaneously relieved an over-supply of slaves in Maryland and Virginia and the excess demand for slaves in the Deep South. Students will determine if the economic model of slavery in the United States could or could not survive without expansion of slavery to the western territories.
Grade Levels:High school, grades 9-12
For use with:The Domestic Slave Trade, Runaway Journeys
Concentration Area:Social Studies: Economics
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • The ways slavery shaped social and economic life in the South after 1800 (e.g. the cotton gin and ways the opening of new lands in the South and West led to increased demands for slaves; differences in the lives of plantation owners, poor free black and white families, and slaves; methods of passive and active resistance to slavery; escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad).
  • Different economic cultural and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g. the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Atlantic slave trade; ways slaves forged their own culture in the face of oppression; the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved; the experiences of escaped slaves).
Time required
One 50-minute class period
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set
For Use With The Domestic Slave Trade

  1. Provide students a copy of the narrative, The Domestic Slave Trade, and ask them to focus on the sections “Exporters and Importers” and “The National Debate” to answer the following questions:

    1. What was the first key factor in creating the domestic slave trade?
    2. What was the second factor in creating the domestic slave trade?
    3. How many individuals were estimated to have been displaced by the domestic slave trade between the 1760s and 1865?
    4. Which states exported slaves by the 1760s?
    5. Which states imported slaves by the 1760s?
    6. Which states exported slaves by the 1790s?
    7. Which states imported slaves by the 1790s?
    8. Which states exported slaves by the 1820s?
    9. Which states imported slaves by the 1820s?
    10. What the general trend in the export of slaves from the 1760s to the Civil War?
For Use With Runaway Journeys

  1. Provide a copy of the narrative Runaway Journeys, specifically the section, “The Peaks of Migration,” and the narrative, The Domestic Slave Trade, specifically the section, “The National Debate,” and ask students to answer the following questions:

    1. Were recaptured fugitive slaves the largest group of individuals sold in the domestic slave trade?
    2. Did enough fugitive slaves escape on a regular basis to disrupt the plantation system?
    3. In what instances were the economics of the plantation system disrupted by mass migrations of fugitives?
For Use With Both Narratives:

  1. Discuss, as a class, whether the domestic slave trade was essential to the economics of slavery and the reasons why or why not.
  2. Explain to students what equilibrium means, in economic terms.
Procedures

  1. Ask students to review the arguments over the expansion of slavery to the western territories and the Dred Scott decision rendered by the United States Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in 1857. They should also answer the following:

    a) What was the argument offered by Dred Scott to justify his freedom?

    b) What was the key portion of the Supreme Court's decision?
  2. Pose to the class the question:

    For The Domestic Slave Trade: Did the domestic slave trade, like most commodity markets, have to maintain a series of equilibriums? Those equilibriums are listed below (a through e):

    For Runaway Journeys: Could slave escapes and migration have been contained if the Dred Scott decision had supported the “once free, always free,” philosophy and granted Dred Scott his freedom? Would insuring the free status of all who came to free territories upset the economics of slavery that was maintained by a series of equilibriums? Those equilibriums are listed below (a through e): a) Balancing supply and demand of slaves, thereby supporting prices of slaves.

    b) Balancing the productivity of the individual slave against the costs of maintaining the slave.

    c) Balancing the oversupply of slaves in some areas with the shortage of labor in others to serve as an “escape valve” to slave overpopulation.

    d) Insuring an adequate supply of labor on the frontier so it could be profitably developed.

    e) Protecting property rights of slave owners.
  3. Ask the students to select one of the five elements of the “deadly equilibrium” above, to conduct research, and to write a position paper. For The Domestic Slave Trade, the focus should be on whether the domestic slave trade could have survived without expansion to the western territories. For Runaway Journeys, focus on whether the domestic slave trade could have survived if fugitives knew they would be free if they reached free territories in the western lands.
Assessment

Evaluate the position paper on a 20-point scale (and multiply by five to convert to a 100-point scale or to letter grades) using the following rubric:

Grading Element and Total Possible Points Excellent Good Fair Not Satisfactory No Work
Written Assignment's Historical Comprehension 10 points (10) Demonstrates excellent historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • (9-8) Demonstrates good historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • (7-6) Shows fair historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • (5-1) Shows little historical:

  • analysis of information
  • command of facts
  • synthesis of information
  • interpretation
  • 0
    Technical Writing Skills 10 points (10) Shows excellent:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • (9-8) Shows good:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • (7-6) Shows adequate:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • (5-1) Shows inadequate:

  • compositional structure
  • sentence structure and variety
  • vocabulary use
  • grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • 0

    Related Works

    • The Schomburg Center's online exhibition, The African Presence in the Americas 1492-1992, available at: http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Schomburg/, examines the migrations and work of African Americans.
    • The National Park Service administers the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri, where the Dred Scott case was argued. The Park Service website, http://www.nps.gov/jeff/ocv-dscottd.htm, includes excellent information about the background of the case and the legal arguments that were made.
    • Washington University in St. Louis maintains a website with a chronology of events and links to documents produced during the many phases and trials that marked the eleven-year odyssey of Dred Scott through the judicial system. They are available at: http://library.wustl.edu/vlib/dredscott/
    Interdisciplinary Links

  • Government: Ask students to investigate the series of trials, arguments, and opinions that marked the Dred Scott case during the eleven years it was argued. How do the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case?
  • Economics: Ask students to investigate an aspect of the economics of slavery, past and present. Students may determine, for example, what factors contributed to the prices paid for slaves, differences in profitability between agricultural operations run with wage labor and slave labor, or the impact of the business cycle on the slave trade.
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