Resolved: The early foundations of the American tradition of civil disobedience have their roots in the war with Mexico.
Resolved: Without the “penny press,” the fires of American nationalism would not have spread.
Resolved: Indians were more helpful than dangerous to whites as they moved westward.
Resolved: Political compromise about the issue of slavery in the territories was dead by 1850.
Resolved: If Lincoln had not won the Election of 1860, there would have been no Civil War.
4. Have students write a letter to someone living during this period
A teenager traveling to Oregon on the Oregon Trail.
An American citizen who in 1846 believed that the war with Mexico was immoral.
A Chinese laborer working in California during the Gold Rush.
Stephen Douglas as he was crafting the Compromise of 1850.
A member of the Know Nothing Party.
Chief Justice Taney after delivering his decision on the Dred Scott case.
Dred Scott after he received the Supreme Court’s decision.
President Lincoln after winning the Election of 1860.
5. Have students research the artistic efforts to romanticize the West and encourage westward expansion. They might begin with the poster by the McCormick Reaper Company (p. 344). Each student should bring to class copies of at least two artistic expressions of Manifest Destiny. Have the students tape all of these to one wall of the classroom. Then, have them browse through the art, deciding which were most realistic, least realistic, and most likely to get a person living in the mid-19th century to move westward. Bring them together for a classroom discussion. Was this art or propaganda? How and why?
Require the class to read the full text of the Fugitive Slave Act. Then, divide the class into five different groups, each of which will conduct research about and discuss the impact of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Each group will have the following six members who will research and then discuss the ramifications of the Act on their lives, and then explain whether or not they support the Act’s provisions: a wealthy white plantation owner living in the south, a middle class northern white abolitionist, an enslaved African-American male, a free northern African-American woman, a northern worker who wants to move to the West, and a poor white southern farmer.
7. Give a homework assignment in which students have at least two days to find out as much as possible about the birth of the Republican Party in the 1850s. Why did it emerge when it did? How did it contribute to the rift between North and South? To whom did it appeal and why? Then, have students research the evolution of the Republican Party over the past 150 years. On the day the assignment is due, stimulate a class discussion about the following question: Is the Republican Party of Lincoln the same Republican Party of the 20th Century?
8. Assign the following for homework. In 1855, a young relative from Philadelphia writes that he or she is tired of the crowded city and wants to join you out West. From the perspective of a miner, a farmer, or a rancher, write a letter back to your relative with a fair appraisal of the opportunities, challenges, and conditions of life in your specific region. Describe your precise location, your living quarters, surrounding countryside, climate, and social conditions. What should your relative bring? Comment on his or her prospects for marriage and family life. When you are finished, explain how your advice would change if your correspondent were Mexican, Indian, Chinese, African-American, European, male, or female. (Pick two of these scenarios.)
9. Stimulate a class discussion on the Election of 1860. Ask students to explain Brinkley’s statement that “The presidential election of 1860 had the most momentous consequences of any in American history. It was also among the most complex.” (p. 363) Refer them to the map of the Election provided in the text (p. 363) or the interactive map available in the Online Learning Center for Chapter 13. Ask them to share their observations of the election based upon the maps. Then, project two maps one of the “Pre-Civil War Free vs. Slave States” and the other from the “2004 Presidential Election Results” available online at