Practice applying historical source literacy skills to another primary source through modeling. Below is an excerpt from Congressman Robert B. Elliott’s speech in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Begin by reading over the context and Elliott’s speech.

As we demonstrated in the previous lesson, modeling our thinking benefits our students’ learning. After familiarizing yourself with the source, record yourself modeling historic source literacy skills. Below are questions to help you consider Elliot’s speech.

You do not need to edit or heavily produce your recording. This exercise is meant as a practice. Think about what you want to say and how you will say it so your students can learn through your modeling.

Who was Robert B. Elliott?

A well-educated and gifted speaker, Robert B. Elliott rose to prominence in the Republican party following the Civil War. He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives for South Carolina in the 42nd (1871–1873) and the 43rd Congresses (1873–1875). While serving, Elliot spoke unwaveringly for Black civil rights and against Klan violence. His speech was given to argue for a civil rights bill for African Americans. Elliott continued to protest the lack of civil and political rights for African Americans in the South until he died in 1884.

Excerpt of Congressman Robert B. Elliott’s Speech in Support of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, on January 6, 1874

“. . . To arrest its [slavery’s] growth and save the nation we have passed through the harrowing operation of intestine war . . . absolutely necessary to extirpate the disease which threatened with the life of the nation the overthrow of civil and political liberty on this continent. In that dire extremity the members of the race which I have the honor in part to represent—the race which pleads for justice at your hands today, forgetful of their inhuman and brutalizing servitude at the South, their degradation and ostracism at the North—flew willingly and gallantly to the support of the national Government. Their sufferings, assistance, privations, and trials in the swamps and in the ricefields, their valor on the land and on the sea, is a part of the ever-glorious record which makes up the history of a nation preserved, and might, should I urge the claim, incline you to respect and guarantee their rights and privileges as citizens of our common Republic.

. . . The passage of this bill will determine the civil status, not only of the negro, but of any other class of citizens who may feel themselves discriminated against. It will form the cap-stone of that temple of liberty, begun on this continent under discouraging circumstances, carried on in spite of the sneers of monarchists and the cavils of pretended friends of freedom, until at last it stands in all its beautiful symmetry and proportions, a building the grandest which the world has ever seen, realizing the most sanguine expectations and the highest hopes of those who, in the name of equal, impartial, and universal liberty, laid the foundation stones.”

Questions to Consider

Who wrote this?
When was the speech delivered?
Question: Why was it written?

Compared to today, what was different about the time period in which the speech was delivered?
Compared to today, what was the same about the time period in which the speech was delivered?
How might the circumstances in which the speech was delivered affect its content?

Question: What do other documents say?
Question: Do the documents agree? If not, why?
Question: What are other possible documents that you’d want to read to better understand this speech?

Close Reading:
Question: What claims does Elliott make?
Question: What evidence does Elliott use?
Question: What language (words, phrases, images, symbols) does Elliott use to persuade the document’s audience?