This interactive exercise will guide you through the process of evaluating primary sources in order to develop a thesis.

INSTRUCTIONS:
Using the provided primary source materials as evidence, you will consider four different hypotheses about the causes of the Civil War. The relative importance of these arguments remains a hotly debated issue among historians, so do not assume that one clear answer exists.

Step 1 - Review the four hypotheses

  • Conflicting Economic Interests
  • Preservation of the Union
  • Slavery
  • State's Rights

Step 2 - After weighing the importance and authority of each piece of evidence provided, determine which explanations you think the evidence supports (it may be more than one) and how strongly it supports each hypothesis.

Step 3 - Once you complete this process, you will rank the four proposed causes of the Civil War from the factor that is most-supported to the least-supported, creating your own thesis about this considerable historical question.

Step 4 - Finally, you will discover whether your thesis matches the way you distributed the evidence. On the final screen you will receive a statistical breakdown that tells you how much evidence you found for each cause and how strong you thought the evidence was for each argument.

Keep in Mind...

Making decisions about the relative importance of different hypotheses is part of the process of writing and teaching history. The body of evidence you will be presented is a limited selection of materials from which to draw support for the four hypotheses.

By examining these primary source materials in this exercise and deciding what it suggests about the reasons why the Civil War happened, you will learn a method that you can use (and teach to your students) to create your own arguments about why particular historical events happened as they did.