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Teaching Guide

Teaching Manifest Destiny & Mexican-American War

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If it’s your destiny to teach Manifest Destiny (and the Mexican-American War), make sure you bring our teaching guide with you to explore this complex conflict.

In this guide you will find

  • lessons examining the American response to war with Mexico. 
  • an activity analyzing an image of “American Progress.” 
  • discussion questions exploring ideologies, politics, and war.

And much more.

We’ve manifested your destiny, and things are looking good.

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Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students.
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.

Instructions for You

Objective: One big question with regard to manifest destiny is, of course, did that destiny ever manifest? But before your students can weigh in on that, they'll need to know where the phrase came from to begin with.

Back in 1839, John O'Sullivan wrote an editorial stating that America was "destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles." In 1845, writing about the annexation of Texas he was the first to use the phrase "manifest destiny." 

In this document-based debate activity, your students will read and analyze O'Sullivan's famous 1839 editorial on manifest destiny as well as his 1845 follow-up article on the annexation of Texas. Then they'll divide into two teams and debate whether or not the United States has fulfilled this "destiny."

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods (one class should be ample if you have students complete the readings in Step One as homework in advance; you'll likely need two class periods if they do the reading in class)

Materials Needed:

Step One: Begin by helping your students understand where the phrase "manifest destiny" came from. Have them read the following two pieces by John O'Sullivan: 

  1. John O'Sullivan's editorial on Manifest Destiny, 1839 
  2. John O'Sullivan's article, "Annexation," 1845

NOTE: If you prefer to limit the reading, have them read only the first article, the editorial on Manifest Destiny from 1839. 

Step Two: Work with your students to identify the national obligations implicit in O'Sullivan's understanding of America's future. What, according to O'Sullivan, does the U.S. need to do to fulfill its destiny? 

Step Three: Divide students into two teams and organize a debate over the following resolution:

  • The United States has utterly failed to fulfill its manifest destiny.

Step Four: Prior to the debate, take a class poll to see how many students believe America has failed to fulfill its manifest destiny as defined by O'Sullivan. 

Step Five: Conduct the debate. You can create your own format, or use something similar to this sample debate format.

Step Six: After the debate, poll the class again to see if any opinions have shifted or changed. If any have, talk about why. Even if no one's opinion has changed, discuss the debate: which points were most influential and why?

Instructions for Your Students

One big question with regard to manifest destiny is, of course, did that destiny ever manifest? 

Before you can weigh in on that, you'll need to know where the phrase came from to begin with. 

Today, you'll read the editorials that coined the phrase and examine exactly what was meant by it back in 1839. Then you'll debate with your classmates to determine whether or not the destiny predicted for the U.S. ever did become manifest. 

Step One: Begin by reading the following two pieces by John O'Sullivan: 

  1. John O'Sullivan's editorial on Manifest Destiny, 1839 
  2. John O'Sullivan's article, "Annexation," 1845

O'Sullivan, a well-known American editor and journalist, first alluded to the concept of manifest destiny in the 1839 editorial, above. The second article, on the annexation of Texas, uses the phrase in full.

Step Two: Talk with your teacher and classmates to identify the national obligations implicit in O'Sullivan's understanding of America's future. In other words, what, according to O'Sullivan, does the U.S. need to do to fulfill its destiny? 

Step Three: Divide into two teams and organize a debate over the following resolution:

  • The United States has utterly failed to fulfill its manifest destiny.

Your teacher will let you know if you're arguing the pro (yep, the U.S. utterly failed) or the con (manifest destiny achieved). 

Step Four: Prior to the debate, take a class poll to see how many of your classmates believe America has failed to fulfill its manifest destiny as defined by O'Sullivan. Keep track of the numbers so you can compare after the debate.

Step Five: Conduct the debate. You may create your own format with your teacher and classmates, or use something similar to this sample debate format.

Step Six: After the debate, poll the class again to see if any opinions have shifted or changed. If any have, talk about why. Even if no one's opinion has changed, discuss the debate: which points were most influential and why? 

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING MANIFEST DESTINY & MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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