In a House Divided, 1850-1890

Teachers Level Two

Learning Goals and Objectives--Grades 6 - 8

Voices and Choices--Philander King
Note: It is a good idea to print Level Two for easy reference.

Voices and Choices

Philander King and his wife Margaret have a small farm in Illinois at the time of the Civil War. The war has brought great economic hardship to small farms like theirs. They cannot afford for Philander to be drafted into the Union army. Philander must decide whether to try and avoid the draft or to trust his luck that he will not be called to fight.


These themes can be explored with either a social studies or language arts curriculum. Use these themes to tie in other resources to your class discussion, i.e., other books, other cultures, students' own lives.


What do you think?

These questions, which come at the end of each story (minus "the answer"), can be used to start class discussions or be assigned as homework.

Why doesn't Philander King want to fight in the Civil War? Who depends on Philander?

Philander and his wife Margaret own a small farm that provides their basic needs. They cannot afford for Philander to join the Union army and fight in the Civil War. Moreover, should Philander be killed in the war, Margaret would be hard pressed to successfully provide for her children.

In what ways might the Civil War have brought economic hardship to his family?

The government raised the tax on goods and services in order to support the war effort. As prices rose, families like the Kings suffered. Many were reduced to living an almost hand-to-mouth existence.

Is Philander's primary concern the state of the nation or his family? Why do you think so?

Philander's primary concern is the survival of his family. Ask your students to think about the conflicting emotions they might have if America was at war with itself. On one hand, they might feel responsible for protecting and aiding their family, and on the other hand, they might feel very committed to the issues being fought over.

If you had been a Civil War soldier from Illinois how would you have felt about men like Philander King who evaded the draft?

To answer this question, students need to consider their own personal views on warfare. As a class, discuss why men go to war and, in particular, why men fought in the Civil War. Some men chose to fight in the Civil War in order to preserve a way of life they had been brought up to believe in. Other men were drafted into the Union army and had no choice but to fight.

How many Illinois men served in the Civil War? How many died? See the timelinetimeline

The Civil War took 256,297 Illinois men away from their families; over 34,000 were killed or died of disease.

How does Philander's decision reflect the desires of his family?

Together Philander and his wife decide he should avoid the draft at all costs. It would appear that Philander makes his decision based on his wife's desires as much as on his own.

Do you feel Philander made the right decision? What would you have done?

This question has been left open-ended so that students can reflect on the issues that surrounded the Civil War, as well as their own opinions regarding warfare.


These are suggested classroom activities and student projects that you may want to use with your students or as models to create your own.

1. Letter Writing

Review the excerpt from Margaret's letter of April 7, 1864, to Philander.

2. Oral Interview

Interview someone you know who has fought in a war or who has had a family member fight in a war. What kind of economic impact did that person's leaving for the war have on the family? What kind of economic impact did the war have on the family?

3. Civil War Letters

UC Santa Cruz has made available a collection of Civil War letters written by Iowa soldier, Newton Scott, at:
Remote Link
  1. Read a few of Newton Scott's letters and make a list of themes or subjects he writes about.
  2. Imagine that you are Philander and have joined the army. Write a letter home to Margaret describing your life as a soldier. In your letter include some of the themes you have identified in Newton Scott's letters.
  3. Compare Margaret's letter to Philander with one of Newton Scott's letters. Can you tell that one is written by a woman and one by a man? Do they have different writing styles? Compare the hardships the men lived through with the hardships Margaret experienced trying to run the farm on her own.

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