Teaching the Era of Manifest Destiny - Progress is not always Progressive

Map showing land we took over during era of Manifest Destiny

Introduction: For the next several weeks, we are going to examine the content of an important period in U.S. history - the Era of Manifest Destiny. At the same time we will be learning content related to the era of Manifest Destiny, we will incorporate some of the methods about which we have already learned, as well as learn some new ways to help students have a deeper, more analytical, understanding of this important period in our history. Throughout this unit, we will focus on understanding the concept and the consequences of Manifest Destiny, especially for four groups of people - American Indians, Mexicans, Hawaiians, and American Samoans.

Discussion Goals:

  1. To get a strong understanding of Manifest Destiny - the term and the concept.
  2. To gain an understanding of the westward expansion process that took place in North America between 1800 and 1853
  3. To examine the consequences of Manifest Destiny on Mexico and the Mexicans
  4. To examine the consequences of Manifest Destiny on American Indians

But first, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! As history teachers, we have an obligation to help our students understand the holidays that we celebrate each year - and Halloween is no exception. The History Channel has done a really good job of providing a short, accessible, and interesting history of Halloween at http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween. There are many videos, but these two documentaries are the best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amPLNo7SOwg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgraSB-eui0.


Goal #1: To get a strong understanding of Manifest Destiny - the term and the concept

1861 painting Manifest Destiny

Methods Discussion: Using the Historical Literacy model we discussed earlier this semester, let's see if we can actually define the term Manifest Destiny. You may remember that we learned earlier that this is a great method to use when you are about to introduce a new topical unit of study. We are going to first try to define the two words in the term and then we are going to try to come up with a definition of Manifest Destiny within the historical context.

Now that we have a clear definitional understanding of Manifest Destiny, let's look at the chronological confines of the era. Manifest Destiny

However, we will take a broader look at Manifest Destiny by examining how it will influence and shape the events of the period at the turn of the 20th Century which is often known as the Age of Imperialism. In so doing, I will argue that Manifest Destiny was in fact an earlier version of American imperialism. What differentiated the two eras of foreign policy was a simple matter of geography:

During the 20th Century, we generally did not politically colonize the people or lands we occupied as the European nations had in the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead, we brought "civilization," Christianity, democracy, and Western economic beliefs and practices to our "little brown brothers" in the Caribbean and the Pacific whom we believed would welcome us and our western principals with open arms.

Throughout this month-long discussion, we will discuss Manifest Destiny within the context of one overall theme: Progress is not always progressive.

Methods Discussion: Again using the Historical Literacy model, beginning with a vocabulary word - progress - and then continuing with an idea - that progress is not always progressive.

While it appears that we have a clear understanding of Manifest Destiny and the theme we will be discussing, one of the major strategies behind Common Core is read, read, read - and in so doing, we must repeat, repeat, repeat. What this means is that we often have to use different types of strategies and learning methods to make sure all our students understand before moving on to the next topic. The Historical Literacy models used above largely focused on vocabulary words and phrases. The next method focuses on visual cues to help students understand Manifest Destiny.

Methods Discussion: Let's get a clear understanding of the concept of Manifest Destiny through a SIGHT method. To download a PowerPoint version of this SIGHT that includes teacher notes, Click Here

The famous 1872 painting by Jonathon Gast, American Progress, introduces the major ideas of Manifest Destiny:

All of these ideas were the essence of progress - American Progress. But was this progress? And if it was - for whom? One of things teachers often fail to bring up during discussions of Manifest Destiny is this discussion of progress - and discussions of Manifest Destiny are always told as an examnple progressive political, social, economic, and religious values.

Thus, when teaching the topic of Manifest Destiny, teachers need to get their students to think clearly about the following:Photograph of buffalo skulls

So we have examined some written and visual ways to get a better understanding of the term Manifest Destiny. Now let's look at another methodological approach - using a primary document to help us get a better understanding of how Americans in general felt about the concept and consequences of Manifest Destiny.

On May 28, 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton gave a speech in front of the United States Senate that explained how the vast majority of Americans felt about westward expansion and their devotion to the ideas of progress embedded in the belief in Manifest Destiny. The speech was widely printed in the growing United States and generally praised by Americans.

Methods Discussion: Close Reading Strategy is another way to really examine a primary document - checking especially for a more detailed analytical understanding. This method is different from the DBQ. In a DBQ, you are using quotes and other types of EVIDENCE to address any questions being asked. In a close reading, you are first looking at the vocabulary and trying to understand it in the context of the reading, and then you are offering an educated opinion about the reading. Using a quote from Senator Benton not only illustrates the method, but it should give you a better understanding of how many Americans thought about Manifest Destiny. Using the handout, please do the following:

With this solid understanding of the idea of Manifest Destiny and the American belief in Manifest Destiny, we can now begin to look at how Americans were able to conquer the entire continent in just 53 years.

End of first discussion


Goal #2: To gain an understanding of the expansion process that took place in North America between 1800 and 1853

Map of U.S. in 1853

Last time we met we had a strong introduction to the definition and concept of Manifest Destiny. So today we are going to begin with an assessment method that will give me some useful information to determine just how well you all understood that discussion.

Methods Discussion: A great way to determine how well your student understood yesterday's content or last night's homework as well as get a good idea of any questions they may have from yesterday's lesson is the Entry Slip. Possible questions for an Entry activity include:

These are just suggestions. For today, we are going to start with the Entry Slip. Please spend 5 minutes doing the following:

After students are done with their Entry Slips, they turn them in and you would read them that night to ascertain how well students understood the material. If a substantial number of your students did not understand it, then you have to revise your next day's lesson to present another method designed to help your students better understand Manifest Destiny.

Today we are going to take the idea of Manifest Destiny into the real world of geographical expansion. Since this discussion is key to understanding Manifest Destiny, we are going to take notes using the Squeeze Method.

Methods Discussion: The Squeeze Notetaking method was introduced in our discussion about teaching good history - in Goal #6 at http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist420/TeachingHistory2017.html. At that time, you all went through the first few steps of Squeeze Notetaking - ending with an exercise of taking notes for a 15-minute lecture and then squeezing your ideas according to the directions. Today, we are going to continue with Step 4 in the process - take squeeze notes for a longer lecture/discussion - 45 minutes. So, each of you, please do the following:

At the end of class, you will collect their one page on which they have written their summaries and squeeze, as well as any questions. You will read them that evening, make appropriate comments, and return to your students on the next class meeting. You will also have to revise your next day's lesson if it is clear that students are not either understanding the content or understanding the squeeze notetaking method. 

Now, let's get going with our lesson today as we witness the march across the North American Continent. As teachers, we are going to see this point as the beginning of the geographical unit on Manifest Destiny. So, we might use an interesting HOOK here - a discussion on what America and the Americans looked like at the turn of the 19th Century - as the march west begins with earnest.

So with this understanding in mind, let's begin to move westward and as we do so, begin to think about the enormous obstacles these western migrants faced: Map of North America in 1800

Despite these formidable obstacles, in just 53 years - from 1800 to 1853 - Euro-Americans moved confidently across the continent, conquering the natural barriers, Indian Nations, and the foreign nations. And they accomplished that task without any reliable transportation - no roads or trains - and without any type of communication - no telegraphs lines or phones.

So, just how did these newly-independent people come into geographical and political control of an entire continent in just 53 years? How did they go from controlling just under 1/3 of the continent in 1800 to gaining another 1/3 from the French, half of Mexico, and the remainder of the continental U.S. from Spain, Britain, and Russia?

Let's get an animated idea of this geographical process over an even greater time period, from 1750-2008 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_North_America_since_1763#/media/File:Non-Native-American-Nations-Territorial-Claims-over-NAFTA-countries-1750-2008.gif. But to really understand the largest westward, northern, and southern movements to dominate much of North America, we need to look at the years 1800-1853 and the four avenue Americans used to obtain the lands: Purchase, Diplomacy, Appropriation, and War.

Methods Discussion - Squeeze Notetaking