Lesson Plan 2: Free Market Labor vs. Slave Labor

Debating the "Mud-Sill" Theory

By. Tara L. Dirst



Students will summarize support for free market labor vs. slave labor in antebellum America

Students will explain how existing economic conditions influence support for free market labor vs. slave labor

Materials Needed:

  • Excerpt from Lincoln, Abraham. "Annual Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859." The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5. Eds. John G. Nicolay and John Hay. New York: Francis D. Tandy Company, 1894.
  • Excerpt from Hammond, James H. Speech of Hon. James H. Hammond, of South Carolina, on the Admission of Kansas, Under the Lecompton Constitution. Delivered in the Senate of the United States, March 4, 1858. Washington: Lemuel Towers, 1858.
  • Questions on the Readings
  • Internet access and Real Player to show the video clip

Time Required:

One 50-minute class period

Student Preparation:

Students should read the appropriate textbook section on this topic. Sample text: Danzer, Gerald A., et al. The Americans. "Slave Owners Defend Slavery." Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2003. 252-253.


Show the 3-minute Eric Foner video clip "Abraham Lincoln and the Idea of Free Labor."  Ask questions to get the students to summarize the main points of Foner's video clip. Suggested questions:

  • Describe the free market ideology Foner talks about.
  • What is the South's criticism of the North's free market system?
  • What is wage slavery?


Break the students into small groups (4-6 students). Give half of each group the Lincoln speech and the other half of each group the Hammond speech. The students should read the speeches and then discuss the questions. One person in the group should record the group's answers to be handed in at the end of the period.


If the groups complete the questions and there is still time remaining, lead the whole class in a discussion on each question to see if there are any differences between groups.

State Standards Addressed:

  • 15.A.5a Explain the impact of various determinants of economic growth (e.g., investments in human/physical capital, research and development, technological change) on the economy.
  • 16.C.5b (US) Analyze the relationship between an issue in United States economic history and the related aspects of political, social and environmental history.


The Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding this lesson plan under the We the People Project.