Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Manifest Destiny (Middle School)

U.S. Territorial Expansion

Sarah Brewer | Published: May 16th, 2022 by K20 Center

Summary

In this middle school lesson, best facilitated at the beginning of a westward expansion unit, students will analyze John Gast's painting "American Progress," then read and analyze primary source documents to construct their own definition of "Manifest Destiny." To deepen their understanding, students will analyze primary and secondary source documents to determine why some people were opposed to Manifest Destiny. To further consider how Manifest Destiny impacted multiple groups of people differently, students will create a Two-Voice Poem. This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

How was the concept of Manifest Destiny used to motivate and justify U.S. territorial expansion? How did Manifest Destiny impact multiple groups of people differently?

Snapshot

Engage

Using the Quick Draw and Picture Deconstruction strategies, students analyze John Gast's painting "American Progress."

Explore

Students read and analyze primary source documents that include the term "Manifest Destiny" to determine a definition of the concept.

Explain

Students read and analyze primary and secondary source documents to explain why some people opposed Manifest Destiny.

Extend

Students consider the perspectives of several different groups of people to create a two-voice poem that expresses the voices of someone who supported Manifest Destiny as a justification for U.S. expansion, and someone who opposed it.

Evaluate

Written responses from the Explore and Explain section and the Two-Voice Poem from the Extend section serve as evaluations for this lesson.

Materials

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • American Progress Photo Deconstruction handout (attached; one per student)

  • What is Manifest Destiny? handout (attached; one per student)

  • Manifest Destiny Disputed (attached)

  • Two-Voice Poem handout (attached)

Engage

Begin by dividing students into groups of 3 or 4. Students will be working in these groups for most of the lesson. Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the lesson. Start with slide three, showing the image below:

Gast, John. (1872). American Progress. Chromolithograph published by George A, Crofutt. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/American_Progress_%28John_Gast_painting%29.jpg

Distribute a copy of the attached American Progress Photo Deconstruction handout to each student. Using an adaptation of the Quick Draw strategy, ask students to take three minutes to draw the "American Progress" image, to their best ability, on the back of the handout, on a piece of notebook paper, or in their composition book. Please note to students that their drawing does not have to be a beautiful work of art, but they should try to capture as many details of the image as possible. This strategy is meant to help students focus on the details of the image so they can make meaningful observations and inferences.

Once students have finished their drawings, introduce the Picture Deconstruction strategy and give each group of students a number—1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. For larger classes, you may have multiple groups with the same number; for smaller classes, you may have only four groups total. Display slide four that shows the same image divided into quadrants labeled 1–4. The painting's central figure is labeled 5. Groups with 1 will analyze quadrant 1, groups with 2 will analyze quadrant 2, and so on. If your class has five groups, let the fifth group analyze the figure in the middle, along with the date of the image and title of the image. If you only have four groups, invite all groups to also analyze the figure in the middle along with the date and title of the image. Give groups 3–4 minutes to discuss and record what they see in the "Observations" column of the handout. Remind students that observations are simply what they see. They are not interpreting or inferring anything yet.

Next, call on each group to share something they observed for the portion of the painting they were assigned.

Once each group has had a chance to share, ask students to now consider the image as a whole as well as the observations from their classmates. Give students 4–5 minutes to work within their groups to interpret what is going on in the image, what the artist wants us to think and feel, what the figure in the image represents, etc. Students should record these thoughts in the "Inferences" column on the handout.

Next, call on each group to share out their inferences. Keep this conversation going until you feel the major themes of the image have been discussed.

Display slide five, and explain to students that this painting reflects a concept that they will be exploring for the remainder of the lesson called "Manifest Destiny." In addition to defining the concept, students will also explore the following Essential Questions: How was the concept of Manifest Destiny used to motivate and justify U.S. territorial expansion? How did Manifest Destiny impact multiple groups of people, including Americans, Native Americans, and Mexicans, during the mid-1800s?

Explore

Next, display slide six, showing students a map of the United States in 1810. Distribute the "What is Manifest Destiny?" handout to each student. Explain to students that they will use three primary sources to create a definition of Manifest Destiny. Using the map on slide six, review with students what the country looked like in 1810. Keeping the map in mind, bring your students' attention to the first source on the handout, a quote from John Quincy Adams in 1811. Read the quote with the entire class. Then, give students two minutes in their groups to decide what they think Adams is saying.

After two minutes, call on groups to share their thoughts. Once students have had a chance to share, summarize for students that Adams is saying: "The entire North American continent is destined (meaning it is inevitable) to be populated by people of the United States, and that the U.S. should pursue expanding its boundary to the Pacific Ocean." Have students use the Stop and Jot strategy to write a similar summary in the space provided on the handout. Going back to the 1810 map, it is worth noting that this was a somewhat bold claim to make in 1811 given the country's current boundary—especially since most of the Louisiana Purchase had yet to be populated by American settlers.

Next, have students work within their groups, again using Stop and Jot, to summarize the remaining two documents. Then, facilitate a class discussion, calling on groups to share their responses with the whole class. Summarize student responses clarifying any information during the discussion. Students may add to or change their summaries on their handout based on the class discussion.

Finally, display slide seven and ask students to brainstorm with their group how they would now define Manifest Destiny. What characteristics would need to be included in a definition of the concept? Give students four minutes to work on their definition with their groups. Groups should record their ideas in the "My Group's Brainstorms" section of the handout. Then, call on groups to share their responses. You can type their answers into slide eight if you choose.

Summarize the class discussion by displaying slide eight. If students are missing any key pieces of information they should add them at this point and synthesize all information to create a final definition of Manifest Destiny in the "Class Response" section of the chart.

Explain

Now that students have a basic understanding of Manifest Destiny, explain to them that although many people (including those with considerable political power) supported expansion to the Pacific Ocean, there were people that disputed this policy. Ask students to consider who might oppose the idea of Manifest Destiny. To help students answer this question, distribute the Manifest Destiny Disputed handout.

With their groups, ask students to consider Document 1 on the handout, a map showing lands occupied by Native American groups during the 19th century. Considering what students now know about Manifest Destiny and based on their observations of the map ask them to think of a reason some people might have been opposed to the idea of Manifest Destiny. Students should record this reason in the Document 1 column on the Opposition to Manifest Destiny chart. When students are ready, call on a few groups to share their responses. Encourage students to modify their responses based on the whole-class discussion if necessary.

Next, ask students to look at Document 2, the map showing the U.S. in 1840. Ask students to discuss their observations. Given what students know about Manifest Destiny and based on their observations of this map ask them to think of a reason some people might have been opposed to the idea of Manifest Destiny. Students should record this reason in the Document 2 column of the Opposition to Manifest Destiny chart. When students are ready, call on a few groups to share their responses. Again, encourage students to modify their responses based on the whole-class discussion if necessary.

Finally, ask students to look at Document 3, a letter from William E. Channing to US Senator Henry Clay. Given what students know about Manifest Destiny and based on their understanding of the text, ask them to think of a reason some people might have been opposed to the idea of Manifest Destiny. Have students underline text evidence to support their responses. Students should record this reason in the Document 3 column of the Opposition to Manifest Destiny chart. When students are ready, call on a few groups to share their responses. As you discuss as a whole class, ask students to share and explain the words or phrases they underlined as text evidence. Once again, encourage students to modify their responses based on the whole-class discussion if necessary.

During the discussion of these three documents, as you field student responses, make the point that Manifest Destiny was a disputed idea. Tell students that despite the opposition to Manifest Destiny, the United States government would ultimately use this idea to justify multiple policies to further expand the boundaries of the United States. Display slide nine and ask students to think back to the primary and secondary sources they reviewed in the previous sections of this lesson and then discuss the following question with their group: "How did the United States use the idea of Manifest Destiny to motivate and justify their expansion into land that was already occupied?" Give groups 3–4 minutes to come up with a possible answer. Then, call on each group to share their thoughts with the whole class.

Extend

Explain to students that while many Americans, including most of our government officials, supported policies that reflected Manifest Destiny, there were people both within and outside the United States who opposed actions (such as Native American removal and war with Mexico) that were motivated and justified by Manifest Destiny. Introduce the Two-Voice Poem strategy and pass out the Two-Voice Poem handout. Invite students to create, either individually or as a group, a two-voice poem that reflects the voices of someone who supported Manifest Destiny as a justification for U.S. expansion and someone who opposed it. If time allows, have students present their two-voice poems to the class.

Evaluate

The "What is Manifest Destiny?" handout from the Explore section, the Manifest Destiny Disputed handout from the Explain section, and the Two-Voice Poem handout from the Extend section may serve as assessments for this lesson.

Resources