Students will study how James Buchanan’s decisions regarding the Lecompton Constitution impacted Kansas Territory and the United States.
Students will address a question that is seldom addressed in history – why was a leader ineffective? Hopefully, the discussion leads to a greater appreciation of the examples of quality leadership that American history provides.
- Students will understand that groups wrote four constitutions in Kansas Territory
- Students will explore sectionalism and the divisive politics of the 1850s
- Students will create theories as to why Buchanan is rated so low by Presidential historians.
Kansas State Social Studies Standard: A successful student will recognize and draw conclusions about significant historical, economic, and political choices and the resulting consequences.
- Student can demonstrate what they know by interpreting information in different ways to build meaning.
- Student can independently evaluate multiple pieces of evidence from different disciplines to build meaning.
- Student can pose and respond to questions about a topic and address them with accurate evidence based explanations of their thinking.
- Student can compare the short and long term impacts of different choices related to the same topic or event and explain their causes.
Ask students to create two lists:
- Who are the greatest Presidents in American history?
- Who are the worst Presidents in American history?
NOTE: You might want to qualify this in two ways:
- Exclude recent Presidents – from their lifetime or your lifetime - with the idea that enough time has not passed in order to fairly judge them.
- Qualify what is meant by “great” – in other words, they had a large positive impact upon the country.
Discuss the student lists, then look at the Wikipedia page that lists Presidential rankings:
Ask students: Do you see anything you find surprising?
Create a T-Chart with these two columns: What are characteristics of a great leader? What are characteristics of a poor leader? Have a discussion while filling out the T-Chart as a class.
Introduce the central question: Why do historians generally consider James Buchanan to be one of the worst Presidents of all time?
These videos explain the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
A video that discusses Buchanan’s background. This video avoids a more in-depth discussion involving Buchanan’s personal life.
Assign students the reading packet. Using criteria from the introductory discussion, have students hunt for evidence that Buchanan points toward Buchanan being an effective leader, or evidence pointing toward Buchanan being an ineffective leader.
- What evidence did you uncover?
- Was the situation impossible for Buchanan?
- Was somebody else more at fault than Buchanan?
- Why do you think historians generally consider James Buchanan one of the worst Presidents of all time?
- How could lists like this be helpful? How could they be flawed?
Write a paragraph where the student explains how four terms are interconnected.