A House Divided: Reconstruction

This lesson plan covers the Reconstruction period with three artworks. It also includes a short introduction to different Reconstruction plans from three different political viewpoints. The goal is to understand the events and feelings of Reconstruction as seen by the featured artists and other citizens of the time.

Source Smithsonian National Museum of American Art and Portraiture
Dates and Eras Reconstruction
Themes Soldiers, African Americans, Women
Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.6 VS.8 a,b,c USII.3 a USII.4 c VUS.7 d,e,f VUS.8 c

Suggested Questions

  1. Which painting feels the most hopeful and which feels the most pessimistic about reconstruction and why? Why do you think the artist chose to paint with that mood in mind?
  2. Why do you think artists chose to represent things like the taking of oaths and A Visit from the Old Mistress? What is the significance of each of these events and what kinds of people are represented?
  3. Radical Republicans wished for a strict Reconstruction. How did the outcomes of Reconstruction agree or disagree with their beliefs? Use the Reconstruction plans and art pieces to explain why or why not.
  4. On the sculpture, there is a boy in tattered clothing. Who do you think he is? Why is it important that he is present at this oath-taking?

Suggested Activities

  1. Have students watch the short video about A Visit from the Old Mistress. Then have students explain the importance of making the scene tense, and explain how the scene would/could have come across with more joy and ease.
  2. Have students pick a painting, then proceed to write the dialogue they believe to be occurring.
  3. Have students imagine they are one of the figures within a painting, and have them explain the situation and the emotions they feel.