Manifest Destiny Project Ideas

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Manifest Destiny is an ideology with very real implications in American history. These projects can help your students gain a greater appreciation of what this meant and how it impacted different people.

Manifest Destiny

Of all the cultural trends in American history, few have been as influential as the devotion to Manifest Destiny. In their belief that they were a uniquely moral population who were destined to inherit the continent, Americans quickly colonized the western half of North America. Manifest Destiny justified land grabs from Britain, Mexico, and Native American nations, promoted the spread of American culture, and helped increase tensions that would lead to the Civil War. These projects are designed to be easily adaptable to most grade levels and can fit into lessons in several subjects.

Manifest Destiny Project Ideas

Debate

Teach students about Manifest Destiny and the annexation of Texas. Provide students with a packet of primary sources related to the annexation of Texas and American expansion in the 1830s and 1840s. At this point, you will divide the class into two groups (if you have a large class, consider dividing them into smaller groups). Tell students that you are going to have a class debate over the issue of whether or not the USA should annex Texas. Students will debate from the perspective of people in this time, as indicated by the primary sources. Give groups time to look through their primary sources and prepare their arguments, then host the debate. A basic Lincoln-Douglas format works well for this project. Afterwards, students will write up a brief paper summarizing the arguments made by both side.

  • Materials: Primary source packet

American Progress Project

Start class by teaching students about the basic tenets of Manifest Destiny and what it meant to 19th-century Americans. At this point, provide students will copies of the painting American Progress by John Gast. Explain to them that this painting is often seen as the definitive embodiment of the ideals of Manifest Destiny. Students will examine the painting and study the time period, and then compose a museum guide-style pamphlet that explains the history and symbolism of the painting. In this pamphlet, students should point out several details of the painting and explain their significance in regards to the concept of Manifest Destiny.

If you wish to take this project further, or add a more creative edge, students can create their own creative work to accompany John Gast's American Progress. This could include a poem or song by the same title, or a painting/drawing of their own in which they try to capture the spirit of Manifest Destiny.

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