Secondary Grades 9-12

The Underground Railroad


1 Class Period 90 minutes



Students will question and justify whether they would have aided a fugitive slave in their quest for freedom to a free state.


Students will recognize both ideologies as it pertains to the Fugitive Slave Law, (fleeing or abiding by the law).


Students will evaluate and debate the morality or immorality of breaking the Fugitive Slave Law.



Distribute a copy of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 for a point of reference.


Students will be shown pictures of the Reverend John Rankin Home in Ripley, Ohio and its relative location to the Ohio River and freedom for fugitive slaves, for a point of geographical reference.




  1. Students will read and discuss the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
  2. Students will be told the story of Reverend John Rankin of Ripley, Ohio.

(Do you know of a minister that openly breaks the law? What are your feelings of

one who breaks the law? What are your feelings and attitudes of one who breaks an immoral law?)

  1. Students will write down the pros and cons of breaking an immoral law like that

of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, (to prepare for a debate).

  1. Students will be divided into two groups and prepare to debate the acts of

breaking immoral laws, and relate it to modern, real-life situations.


Student Assessment-

Students will be individually monitored for their active participation in the debate, for participation credit and an organized debate.


Upon the conclusion of the debate, students will be asked to answer a two-part open- ended response question, from what they have learned from our discussion and group debate:

1.      After studying the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, would you have broken this law? Why or why not?

2.      Is there a situation in our society today that would cause you to break a law for moral reasons? Why or why not?


Teacher Resources-

Website pertaining to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850:

Website pertaining to Reverend John Rankin: