Learning Lincoln On-line


(Topic Fifteen: Slavery and the Underground Railroad:  Illinois)

  Lincoln's Response to Slavery, and What He Thought of it, As expressed through his words and writings throughout his lifetime

Also visit:  Abolitionists Presidential Press-Conference




1.   Read from the 19th Century School Books Collection Pages 240-242"...a conversation between a slave (that has attempted to escape) and his master."
2.   Even in Free Illinois, many complications for the Underground Railroad made it very dangerous for flight for freedom in a northern state.  (In Illinois)  The Black Laws of 1819, the conditions for flight are displayed.   Click Here to find out about them.


3.   Read the short version: An American History of Slavery Timeline
4.   Review The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850--  A federal law that demands that runaway slaves be returned from the north, and no aid be given to them.  Jail time and a $1,000 fine could occur by persons breaking this law.

5.   Songs used by slaves to communicate to each other.  Very few could read & write, and it would be very dangerous to use written notes, so .......A song like "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was used to provide secret messages on how to travel on the railroad.  Songs slaves sang often had double meanings. Since slaves were forbidden to read and write, they had to communicate in ways that would not be obvious to their slave owners. One way was through song. (In tribal cultures of Africa, songs were often used to  transmit  information and therefore historians tell us that slaves used this same method when captured and enslaved in America.  Have students listen to and/or read the lyrics to the song Follow the Drinking Gourd and then challenge them to crack its code. (Historians know that the lyrics secretly identified landmarks and constellations to guide slaves along the trail to freedom. A “drinking gourd” described the Big Dipper constellation and its North Star, since slaves were familiar with carved gourds which they used to scoop water from buckets to get a drink.)

6.  Study the lyrics of "Follow the Drinking Guard."   Teachers can find lyric meanings at the NASA Quest Archives.

7.  Visit the 20th Century Declaration of Human Rights, from the United Nations.  Think about our American "Declaration of Independence."  How do they compare?

Underground Railroad sites can be used to find your information.
Aboard the Underground Railroad (Listing and description of RR sites by state)
The Underground Railroad (National Geographic)
American Visionaries: Frederick Douglass
Ads for Runaway Slaves


Task 1 The Lincoln-Matson Slave Trial, Coles County, Illinois
Charleston, (Coles County) Illinois, was the location of a Lincoln-slave court case, in which Abraham Lincoln defended a slave owner.
This is a very interesting, and early demonstration of Lincoln-the-lawyer's dealings with slavery.  Go to  Mr. Lincoln and Freedom site (lower half of the reading) to read about this case.  Answer the listed questions.


1.  Do you think Abraham Lincoln was right in taking the case of Mr. Matson, the slave owner? 
2.  How do you think Lincoln, the lawyer, felt after losing this case in the Coles County Courthouse?
3.  What happened to the Bryant family?

Task 2 Slavery and Underground Railroad tasks

Follow the directions as provided.

1.    Go to Slavery in the South for additional information.

2.    Read the two pages from the 19th Century School Books Collection, involving the conversation between a slave and a slave-owner.

3.    Write a statement about what you think about slavery in our country.

4.    What was the Fugitive Slave Law?

5.    Where were the Underground Railroad Stations in Illinois?  Other States?  What country would the runaway slaves be most safe in?

Task 3   Click into Frederick Douglass National Park Service site 

Click Here   [This site has tabs for each question answer-section]

Read and Answer the questions listed with information from the site.

1.  What does the introduction say he is now called? 

2.  Go to the Mighty Word link, and what was his newspaper called?

3.  Go to  the Power of an Idea.  What is the Frederick Douglass quote?  

4.  Go to Women’s Rights.  What did Douglass stand for concerning women’s rights?  

5.  Go to Home In Washington D.C. find where Frederick Douglass ended up living for the last years of his life?


Lincoln's Thoughts about Slavery (Albert G. Hodges Letter)

Slavery in America by PBS

Slavery in the South

Learning On-Line Slavery Project Home Page

Learning Lincoln On-Line Topics Index

Learning On-Line Home Page