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The Election of 1896 - Gold or Silver?

Lesson Plan

Ohio Content Standard:

Grade 11, History 4; Grade 12, History 3; Grade 12, Economics 7

Duration of Lesson:

2 class periods

Learning Objectives:

Students will understand the issues behind the Election of 1896.

Students will be able to describe the positions of William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan.

Students will analyze editorial cartoons supporting McKinley's candidacy and evaluate the effectiveness of the cartoons.

Students will create editorial cartoons supporting Bryan and explain their cartoons.


This lesson is designed to explore the Election of 1896 and how editorial cartoons were used to support the candidates. Students will analyze cartoons supporting McKinley's candidacy and create cartoons supporting the candidacy of Bryan. Students will determine the effectiveness in persuading the public's vote.

Materials needed:

for Teacher:

  • Editorial cartoons 1-4 and accompanying slides
  • Election of 1896 Fact Sheet
  • Overhead projector

for Students:

  • Editorial cartoons 1-4
  • Cartoon Analysis worksheet
  • White paper for political cartoon drawing
  • Drawing supplies


Review with students the Election of 1896. A fact sheet is attached to this lesson if needed. A reading may also be made available to students or assigned from a text book to provide some background information on this important election.

Instructional Steps:

Day 1

  • Complete pre-assessment discussion.
  • Provide students with a copy of the four attached editorial cartoons and a Cartoon Analysis worksheet.
  • As a class, assign a number to each of the cartoons so that as students complete the Cartoon Analysis worksheet, they complete the cartoons in the same order.
  • Allow students time to analyze each cartoon and complete the Cartoon Analysis worksheet.
  • As a class discuss the students' findings. Students will likely point out that these cartoons are all in support of McKinley. Ask students who they would vote for after analyzing these cartoons and why. Discuss the effectiveness of the cartoons.

Day 2

  • Review discussion from day 1.
  • Students prepare their own political cartoon in support of Bryan.


Students present their political cartoons, explaining their use of symbolism and the message of the cartoon.

Extension Activities:

Students will write a summary of the political cartoon they created.

Students will write summaries of the two candidates' political positions.


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