Confederate currency: An inflation simulation
Using primary sources from the Documenting the American South collection, students will engage in a brief simulation of inflation during the Civil War while learning about issues faced on the home front in North Carolina.
A lesson plan for grade 8 Social Studies
- learn more about the economic situation in North Carolina during the period of 1862-1864.
- learn about economic trends such as inflation and deflation.
Time required for lesson
15 minutes per day for five or six days — This lesson is designed to last over a series of days. After the introduction on the first day, subsequent activities should take just a few minutes at the start of class.
- Printed copies (enough for all of the students to have multiple denominations) of the currency of the Confederate States of America from the DocSouth website
- Computer lab or individual student computers
- Computer with internet connected to a multimedia projector
- Access to Money Troubles on the Home Front by Neil Fulghum
- To introduce the Confederate States of America financial simulation, use an project three examples of North Carolina/CSA currency on the board.
- Tell students they will be a part of the simulation in which they will be issued $720.20. They will be given the chance to show loyalty to the new Confederacy, selfishly buy quiz points, or save money for possible hard times.
- Display the image of a North Carolina ten-cent note printed in 1861. Ask students to consider the following questions:
- Why was North Carolina printing its own money in 1861?
- What are possible explanations for the positioning of the hornet’s nest as the main image on the bill?
- Why would the government issue “change” on paper during wartime?
- Students could compare this to the colonial problem of specie versus provincial money. What other uses for the metal probably were considered more important during this time?
- Display the CSA $100 note next. Because this note could be turned in only for cash six months after the South won, have students consider questions of its potential value over time. Discuss the following questions:
- If the note is worth $100 plus two cents a day, how much would it have been worth if the south won in six months, one year, or four years?
- How much would the note have been worth if the south had lost?
- What are possible reasons why a southerner would have bought one of these notes?
- Why was the government issuing these notes?
- Show the NC $100 bill printed on the back of former New York City bond paper. Ask students to consider the following:
- Why would the government of the CSA print its currency on used Yankee paper?
- What does this bill tell you about the southern government during the Civil War (e.g., availability of supplies, ease of counterfeit bills, etc.)?
Issue each student a page of the NC/CSA currency. Have students cut out their bills and write their initials on the back of each bill. Tell students that they can turn in one $100 note for a homework pass, “as appreciation from Jefferson Davis.” Their two ten-cent bills will buy them bread for a week and they can buy shoes for $15. Other luxuries and necessities will be offered as they become available.
Bring in a treat that the students cannot resist. This could be some type of food, snack, video, alternative activity, etc. Set a minimal price for the item — ten cents, for example.
Tell students that it is 1863 and some critics are beginning to complain that this is a “rich man’s war, a poor man’s fight.” They must pay $300 to pay for a substitute or get drafted into the army. This means they will need to take a pop quiz if they do not pay immediately. The quiz is equivalent to military boot camp, so if they take the quiz to join the army they will receive an additional $13 a month.
Bring the same or similar treat as on day two. This time allow students to “buy” access with the understanding that it is 1864, the war has dragged on for four long years, and inflation has increased prices for some items hundreds of times larger than original. Charge students $10 for the treat.
Confiscate all of the darker $100 notes and explain to students that these were counterfeit bills printed in Philadelphia — costing 50 cents total to produce but forging up to $2000! Ask students to consider relative questions such as: How can people identify fake bills? If the CSA printed over 70 types of currency, how could anyone be familiar with them all?
Have students read Money Troubles on the Home Front by Neil Fulghum and wrap up the simulation with a discussion or brief writing assignment in which you ask students to consider life on the home front in North Carolina, especially in terms of the devaluing of the Confederate currency and increasing prices.
You may choose to provide excerpts from southern accounts of the Civil War such as Mary Chestnut’s diary or show clips from a film portraying the Civil War that further illustrates the economic difficulties faced on the home front.
- North Carolina Essential Standards
- Social Studies (2010)
- 8.E.1 Understand the economic activities of North Carolina and the United States. 8.E.1.1 Explain how conflict, cooperation, and competition influenced periods of economic growth and decline (e.g. economic depressions and recessions). 8.E.1.2 Use economic...
- 8.H.2 Understand the ways in which conflict, compromise and negotiation have shaped North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.2.1 Explain the impact of economic, political, social, and military conflicts (e.g. war, slavery, states’ rights and citizenship...
- Social Studies (2010)
North Carolina curriculum alignment
Social Studies (2003)
- Goal 4: The learner will examine the causes, course, and character of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and their impact on North Carolina and the nation.
- Objective 4.03: Assess North Carolina's role in the Civil War and analyze the social and economic impact of the war on the state.