Photo courtesy of Emma Nishimura: Henry Brody ‘18, Flore LeBlanc ‘18, and Megan Matt ‘18 defended Lincoln’s use of power.
In the weeks following the winter break, students who are taking AP United States History participated in the mock impeachment trial of Abraham Lincoln. This tradition has been a part of the AP United States History class for more than 15 years now. All the students were given parts as either witnesses or attorneys to participate in the trial, which follows an in depth process. The witnesses are required to hand in papers outlining their character and their feelings about each charge filed against our 16th president. After this process for the witnesses, the attorneys intake all the information and come up with strategies in order to defend or prosecute Lincoln. When the attorneys have brainstormed their strategy for each charge, they must begin to start writing their lines of questioning. While this may seem like a lot of work for the attorneys, almost everyone agrees that it was worth their time. All of this work from both the attorneys and the witnesses comes into fruition on the day of the actual trial. The witnesses become the jury and must take notes throughout the trial in order to make an educated vote in the end. Lincoln is brought to this mock trial for abusing his constitutional powers as Commander-in-chief, wantonly violating the bill of rights, and bringing unnecessary destruction to the South. The jury must find Lincoln guilty on only one charge, but they need a two-thirds majority in order to indict him.
Even though all students who take the course go through mostly the same initial phase of this process, the two APUSH teachers Ms. Scudder and Mr. Goldberg differ in their formatting of the actual trial. Ms. Scudder prefers to knock out the entire trial in a full day, excusing her students from their other classes. Joe Cohn 18’, who is a student in Ms. Scudder’s class, commented, “In my opinion, taking the entire day to execute the trial gives students a more accurate simulation of the court system.” On the other hand, Mr. Goldberg usually decides to perform the trial over the course of the entire week. Some students prefer this method, such as Meagan Matt 18’, who offered, “Doing the trials over the course of a week gives both the lawyers and the jury time to breathe and reflect on what is being said.” Although the teachers differ in the format of the trial, both teachers agree on the effectiveness of the activity.
When the day of the trial came along this year, it was a nervous day for everyone. All of the lawyers’ meticulously written questions were finally going to be asked. In the end, the actual verdict of Lincoln wasn’t the only gratifying portion of the assignment for the lawyers. “Being a lawyer allowed me to really delve into the period and extract meaning from events that I otherwise never would have learned,” said Henry Brody 18’. While this project allowed lawyers to analyze events to build their case, it also asked of them to recognize the opposition argument and react appropriately. This mock trial provided students with an opportunity to be competitive with their fellow classmates, while still maintaining an academic environment.
Some witnesses recall being very scared for their testimonies because each witness can be questioned on obscure pieces of information and expected to synthesize these documents in a meaningful way. Despite the witnesses being intimidated by being deposed in front of an entire class, students agree that they felt well prepared for their questions. Each student portrayed a different character of the Civil War, but all were imperative in deciding whether or not Lincoln was guilty or innocent. Overall, the mock trial is an interactive and creative way for AP students to learn about the civil war. It has been so successful with past grades that Ms. Scudder and Mr. Goldberg have continued to implement this project in the curriculum. The trial has been met overwhelming acceptance from nearly every student that does it. The trial does not only provide the student with merely facts, but also strong analysis of the repercussions of Lincoln’s actions.
By Marc Gowda