Chapter 8 Grade Five – United States History and Geography: Making a New Nation Introduction

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Source: California History-Social Science Project, University of California, Davis. This example is summarized from a full unit, and available for free download, developed as a part of the Teaching Democracy project, a partnership between Cal Humanities ( and the California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP, Contributors: Jennifer Brouhard, Oakland USD and Tuyen Tran, Ph.D., CHSSP.
Primary Sources:

Draft Preamble to the United States Constitution, August, 1787. Source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana. (

Preamble to the United States Constitution, September 17, 1787. Source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention Broadsides Collection (

CA HSS Standards: 5.7

CA HSS Analysis Skills (K-5): Chronological and Spatial Thinking 3, Historical Interpretation 1

CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy: RI.5.1, W.5.1a,b,d, W.5.8, L.5.6

The U. S. Constitution vested the federal government with power divided among three branches, while it also preserved states’ and individual rights. Teachers can use the metaphor of a three-legged stool to describe the three branches of government. Students learn about the significance of the Constitution by investigating the following question: What was The Great Compromise? And how did the Constitution get ratified with the inclusion of the Bill of Rights? Students also study how state constitutions written after the Revolution influenced the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Students identify the division of power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and study powers enumerated to states and citizens. Students can study Article I, sections 8, 9, and 10, to investigate the economics aspects of the Constitution, for example, the regulation of interstate commerce, congressional power to tax, and enforcement of copyright.

Students also address the debate over ratification and the addition of the Bill of Rights by conducting a simulated congressional hearing in which students take and defend positions that framers of the constitution debated. The Bill of Rights was originally proposed during the Constitutional Convention, but this proposal was defeated. Federalists who supported the Constitution argued that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary because federal power was already limited and most states already had their own bill of rights. Anti-Federalists ultimately demanded the inclusion of the federal bill of rights as a requirement for ratification of the new Constitution, as the ultimate protection against a much more powerful central government. Students can study the Bill of Rights by working in small groups to create posters focusing on each right. The posters might then be displayed around the school campus. This study lays the foundation for the continued examination of the Constitution in later grade levels. Learning songs that express American ideals, such as “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner,” can guide students to understand the meaning of the American creed and the spirit of the era.
Life in the Young Republic

  • Who came to the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century? Where did they settle? How did they change the country?

  • How did westward migration change the country and the experience of being an American?

In this unit students examine the daily lives of those who built the young republic under the new Constitution. The following questions should frame students’ studies of the era: Who came to the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century? Where did they tend to settle? How did they change the country? Between 1789 and 1850, new waves of immigrants arrived from Europe, especially English, Scots-Irish, Irish, and Germans. The Great Irish Famine (1840s) helped to push immigrants to come to the United States during this period. Traveling by overland wagons, canals, flatboats, and steamboats, these newcomers advanced into the fertile Ohio and Mississippi valleys and through the Cumberland Gap to the south. Students may want to listen to or sing the songs of the boatmen and pioneers and read the tall tales of figures such as Mike Fink and Paul Bunyan, read Enid Meadowcroft’s By Wagon or historical fiction such as Dandelions by Eve Bunting. Students also learn about the Louisiana Purchase and the expeditions of Lewis and Clark, guided by Sacagawea, and of John C. Fremont. The themes of exploration, emigration, and immigration help students examine the significance of mobility and geography during this period in American history. Stressing the roles played by transportation technologies in this historical drama can make the processes and people under study far more accessible to students learning about a variety of cultures, communities, and environments. The introduction of the horse on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountains may be compared with the inventions of the steamboat and the railroads and how these machines influenced the development and settlement of the American interior. How did these new methods of transportation transform people’s lives? How did it reshape their relationships with distance, time, and other communities?

Interest in promoting civic virtue among citizens increased with the establishment of a republic. Mothers had the important role of raising their sons to become virtuous and active citizens. To ensure that women could fulfill this new role, the doors of education began to open more widely to women. For example, Benjamin Rush, who signed the Declaration of Independence, co-founded the Young Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia in 1787, said to be the first all-female academy in the United States.

The New Nation’s Westward Expansion

  • What did the West mean for the nation’s politics, economy, social organization, and identity?

  • How did westward movement transform indigenous environments and communities?

The American West should be presented as a borderlands region inhabited by diverse and competing populations. Students should investigate the following question as they proceed with their studies of the American West: What did the West mean for the nation’s politics, economy, social organization, and identity? A teacher-guided analysis of John Gast’s painting “American Progress” (1872) can introduce students to allegory in art and the concept of Manifest Destiny, despite the fact that the painting was rendered more than twenty years after the initial concept and application of Manifest Destiny. In this unit, students examine the movement of Natives on the Plains; some moved west while others moved south and east. The flow of white migration westward began with fur traders and mountain men who made the first westward forays. Many fur traders and mountain men married Native American women who served as liaisons between the two cultures. Westward migration continued with settlers heading for Texas, Mormon families on their way to the new Zion in Utah, Midwestern farmers moving to western Oregon’s fertile valleys, and forty-niners bound for the Mother Lode region of California. These migrants were joined by whalers, New England sailors engaged in the hide and tallow trade in California, and sea traders of sea otter and seal furs, who sailed their clipper ships around Cape Horn and westward to the Pacific. Migrants from the United States arrived in areas already inhabited and claimed by diverse populations of American Indians, Mexicans, British, and small numbers of Russians and Chileans. They also encountered immigrants from Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and India, in search of labor in gold mines and farming.

Folklore, photos (daguerreotypes) of pioneer families, and the journals and diaries of historical actors can help bring this period to life. Reading primary sources and using maps to locate overland trails, mountains, and rivers, students gain insight into how natural systems (terrain, rivers, vegetation, and climate) affected the travelers’ experiences as they migrated across the country. Identifying the natural regions in the overland trails and analyzing the effects of weather, seasons, and climate, students understand the decisions settlers had to make when choosing which trail to follow and when to depart on their journey. They learn about how life at the end of the overland trails differed from conditions in the eastern states. Students focus on the factors that led people to establish settlements in particular locations, primary among them the availability of natural resources. (California Environmental Principle V; EEI Curriculum Unit Nature and Newcomers 5.8.4.)

Students might dramatize the experience of emigrants moving west to Oregon by wagon train. Excerpts from children’s literature helps students understand the organization of expeditions, the scouting of a trail, and the dangers faced by pioneers, which included raging rivers, parched deserts, sandstorms and snowstorms, and lack of water or medicine. Students can write a journal or create a scrapbook as though they were traveling the Oregon Trail. Conversely, teachers may divide the students into distinct groups. Several groups may represent emigrant wagon trains headed for Oregon and/or California, while other groups of students are given the task of imagining the experiences of American Indian communities who live in the regions through which these migrants pass. Students can consider where the trail ran; the influence of geographic terrain, rivers, vegetation, and climate; and life in the territories at the end of these trails. This exercise should introduce new perspectives on westward migration and reframe how students understand these unfolding relationships. Students can address questions like: How does the increased traffic of tens of thousands of emigrants transform indigenous environments and resources? What are the benefits and the costs of these migrations for indigenous communities whose territories intersect with these trails and transportation corridors? Students study the resistance of American Indians to encroachments as well as internecine Indian conflicts, including the competing claims for control of lands and the government’s policy of Indian removal. High-quality informational books for children such as Trail of Tears by Joseph Bruchac may be compared to other texts and primary sources.

Settlement touched diverse groups of people across lines of ethnicity, nationality, race, and gender. Pioneer women played varied roles in coping with the rigors of daily life on the frontier. Biographies, journals, and diaries disclose the strength and resourcefulness of pioneer women who helped to farm the land and worked as missionaries, teachers, and entrepreneurs. The autobiographical works of Laura Ingalls Wilder provide a unique perspective on these topics. Some slave women gained their freedom in the West. Once established by Anglo–American settlers, many western communities and territories proved to be less beholden to eastern traditions, as evidenced by the territory of Wyoming granting women the right to vote in 1869, followed by Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. Mexican settlers also migrated into New Mexico, Texas, and California.

Studying maps and geographic landmarks explains how and when California, Texas, and other western lands became part of the United States. Battles for independence followed Anglo–American settlement in modern-day Texas. The war with Mexico (1846-1848) led to annexation of this territory by the United States. These events provide important opportunities to focus on the Hispanic people of California and the Southwest, on the effects of these events on their lives, and on their distinctive contributions to American culture. Students should come away from their fifth-grade study of US history with an understanding of how the United States emerged, expanded, and transformed into a nation that touched both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; they must also be able to explain the diverse groups of people that had their lives transformed due to the nation’s growth.

California Department of Education

December 2015

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