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AP United States History

Antebellum Congress Simulation

In order to understand the issues that faced the increasingly sectionalized United States of the antebellum
period, we will recreate the major congressional arguments of that period. The class will be divided into groups
representing the North, South, and West In our congress, the number of states that are a part of each section
will determine the number of votes that section will have on the issues. Just as it happened historically, the
relative influence your section will change as the country expands.

Your section will analyze each of the following topics in relation to your own interests. Consider the impact of
your section’s position on each of these topics in relation to the issues presented throughout the simulation.
States’ Rights

Your goal is always to protect the interests and relative power of your section. As the issues come before
congress, you will have to plan well researched arguments that you will present in the form of legislation.

There will be three different two-day sessions of congress, representing different periods and issues of the
antebellum era. The first day is a research and argument preparation day for your section. The second day of
each session will be floor debate among the sections, and voting on the proposed legislation.

In your group discussions before the vote, you should address the following questions:
• What SPECIFICALLY are your solutions to the issues at hand?
• What impact will your solutions have on your section?
• Why should others support your section?
• What are you willing to give up to achieve the ideal solution?
• NEED concrete facts, research

It is advised that you assign topics and research to members of the group BEFORE the group work day, as there
will be no time provided on the second day for preparation. On the second day, the format for debate and
voting will be as follows:

1. Each section will give a 5 minute PREPARED speech on their ideal solution to the issues at hand
2. Each section will give a 2-3 minute rebuttal of the other two sections’ proposals
3. The entire congress will get 15 minutes of negotiation with the other sections, sending liaisons to try and
craft legislation that can be passed in congress.
4. The congress will vote on the proposed piece(s) of legislation to resolve the issues. The number of votes
that each section will have will be announced by the teacher.
Sectional Frameworks
Use this information as a basis for your argument as well as to anticipate the disposition and possible questions
of your congressional opponents.


Political—The region developed a broad-based democracy as property qualifications for voting were either
reduced or eliminated for white males
Economic—The area’s diversified economy included commerce banking, manufacturing, forest and mining
products and stable, family-sized farms
Social—A wide class structure ranged from wealthy businessmen to a few remaining indentured servants.
Public schools, as well as a number of universities had developed, and urban centers with a cultural and
intellectual base were emerging


Political—An aristocratic form of government, which had existed since colonial times, was well-established by
the nineteenth century
Economic—The planter aristocracy dominated the economy and produced a staple crop with slave labor.
However, most whites lived a marginal existence on small farms
Social—Few centers of learning or urban centers existed in this agrarian setting. A small percentage of white
planters ran the establishment. Yeoman farmers yearned to become planters and supported slavery to keep
African Americans in a subordinate position.


Political—A democratic society based on white male suffrage developed, but African Americans and women
were not granted the right to vote
Economic—Farms, owned and operated by the family, used large-scale agriculture and the new machinery of
the period to produce food for eastern markets
Social—While a few cities developed as centers of commerce, most people lived a rural life. The Northwest
Ordinance had placed an emphasis on education. In the early 1830s, Oberlin College became the first college to
admit women and African Americans.
The Issues for Debate and Voting
1820-1844 (Day 2 & 3)
 Slavery in Louisiana purchase
 Will the decision to allow slavery in the new territories be left to the national government or the

 Texas annexation
 Settlers in the Mexican territory of Texas have applied to join the United States? Is it in the
interests of your section to accept the application and risk war?

1845-1849 (Day 4 & 5)

 Slavery in Mexican cession
 The war with Mexico is won; the new territories will eventually apply to be states. What will you
do to protect your sections interests in the new land?

 Gold in California
 Rush of settlers, applies for statehood as a free state

1850-1856 (Day 6 & 7)

 Kansas & Nebraska are organized as territories
 What should be done with about the provisions of the Compromise of 1850, with the organization
of the Kansas and Nebraska territories?
 Kansas has applied for statehood, but there are two competing groups that have proposed
constitutions, one in Topeka and one in Lecompton. Which do you support?

Participation in this simulation is expected to take place at a very high level. In order to effectively present
the issues that your section was concerned with, you will need to complete a significant amount of research,
and be excellently prepared for each day.

It is suggestion that you utilize The Enduring Vision as a general source, specifically chapters 10, 12, 13, &
14. Your research can take place in the school library, where there is a book cart prepared for your in-class
use. The internet will also be a helpful source, and there will be computer lab access on the group work

Both Mr. D’Amico and Mrs. Parker have created space on their websites with additional internet sources.