These activities highlight select events featured in our online exhibition, Building a More Perfect Union: Congress, the Capitol Building, and the Civil War. We are providing four pre-visit and on-site activities for educators to implement with their students. The activities and images are in PDF format to allow for easy downloading. Although the activities were designed for middle and high school students, they are flexible enough for an educator to adapt for their students’ learning styles.


The House of Representatives used the “gag rule” to end discussions and debates about petitions calling for an end to slavery. Southern members of Congress were concerned about the increasing opposition to slavery. Representative John Quincy Adams fervently opposed the rule because he felt that it was a restriction on free speech. This activity engages students in analyzing documents, discussions and research to determine the outcome of using the “gag rule” and Representative Adams’s role in ending it.

In November 1860 a deeply divided nation teetered on the brink of a civil war. In December 1860 South Carolina became the first southern state to secede from the United States. Eventually 10 additional southern states left the Union. What political issues caused these states to leave the Union? Did they have the right to withdraw from the Union? What actions did the Senate take in response to the seceding states? This activity engages students in analyzing primary sources to determine what the Senate’s responses and actions were toward the seceding states.

The U.S. Capitol was constructed by many laborers – free and enslaved. This activity introduces students to Philip Reid, an enslaved laborer who helped to complete the making and installation of the statue of Freedom on the top of the Capitol Dome. Construction of the dome continued through the Civil War and the dome was topped with the statue of Freedom in December 1863. This activity engages students in learning about an enslaved laborer and his contribution to the building of the Capitol.

We are able to learn about Congress’s activities during the Civil War by analyzing primary sources generated during this period. Many of these sources are available for us to study and learn about the work of Congress. This activity engages students in studying legislative primary sources to learn about Congress’s actions on key issues they faced during the Civil War.