The War of 1812:
Is Every War Important?

The Situation

    You are an editor for Houghton-Mifflin, a publisher of Social Studies books for middle school students.  The costs of paper, ink, and printing have sky-rocketed, and the publishers are looking for ways to cut expenses.  One of the ways suggested was to eliminate information about U.S. history that is "not as important."
    One of the publishers wants to eliminate the War of 1812, thereby reducing the textbook by 5 pages.  He says, "Daniel Boorstin, a famous editor and author of history books, said that 'Despite the fact that (The War of 1812) events cast up one of the most popular leaders of the century, and that the National Anthem was composed during one of its battles, it has not attained romance in our history books or become a fertile source of folklore.'"1  But another alert publisher disagrees, noting some recent historians  "have dignified it as 'The Second War for American Independence'."2

 Constitution and Guerriere, 1812

Investigation/Presentation Task

    The publishers have asked you and your team to investigate to decide if the three-year period of the Napoleonic War, known in America as the War of 1812, is important enough in the development of America to include in their U.S. History text.  You will present your team conclusion to the Publishing Board, who will vote whether to a) follow your recommendations because of their accuracy and thoroughness, or b) fire you because of whimsical or ill-prepared arguments.

Teacher Notes

Outcomes and Indicators
Rubric for evaluation of final product
Multiple Intelligences
G/T Extensions

Steps in the Decision Process

1. Background Reflection
    Before your team can make decisions about "important" and "not important", you must come to agreement about what these terms mean in the context of history. Reflect on events in your own lives that have led to qualities you have today.

2.  Setting the Stage
   a.  Examine a map of the U.S. and the world in the 1800's to identify sites of discord and disagreement about borders.
   b. Make a preliminary list of trouble spots in the world in 1810, according to what your team knows.
   c. Make a list of questions you need to answer, to better understand the situation.

3.  Defining the Issues
    The team will now investigate key causes leading to the War, key events during the War, and consequences of the War.

a.  Use a template (or develop one of your own) to evaluate the importance of each cause, event, or consequence.  Remember to look for point of view, especially when dealing with controversial topics.


b.  Have each team member choose a topic from this list.  Some topics will take less time than others; then you can choose another for further support in your final argument.

  Impressment of American Sailors:   design a poster to stop this practice

Declaration of War:  Create the conversation that the President must have had with his advisors before signing the document
Tecumseh's speech to the Osages:  Decide if Tecumseh's speech is propaganda.  Write a critique of his speech for the newspaper.

Tippecanoe:  Recreate the battle scene, either with maps and figures, or a diorama.  Who won?  Why?  Was it fair?  What could have made a different result?

The Flag: Recreate the flag, using an old sheet or blanket, to actual size, including the damage done at Fort McHenry; you can get additional information in the next link.

Star-Spangled Banner:  Write two additional stanzas, one that would reflect events before the song began, and one that would reflect events following the battle

Fort McHenry: Recreate archaeological replicas of the items being unearthed at Fort McHenry.  Explain their importance.
"Old Ironsides":  Write another stanza to the poem about "Old Ironsides'" life since Holmes wrote the poem.

Battles of the War:  Add another part to the game as it exists, or improve it in some way, or create your own battle game version.
Letters from a Thomas Warner en route to Sacket's Harbor:  Identify the changes this man went through, and how it is expressed in his letters.  Compare his account of the battle at Sackett's Harbor, and a historic account.
The Treaty of Ghent:  What are the terms and dates of the treaty?  Was anything gained as a result of the war that is reflected here?
Andrew Jackson's Letter of Report on the Battle of New Orleans:  What kind of a man is revealed in this report?  How did he feel at the time?  Find out more about Jackson's life after this battle to see if your impressions are right.

The Unusual Circumstance of the Battle of New Orleans:  Write a letter from Jackson to his wife once he discovers this circumstance.


c. Develop a product to teach the other members of your team what you have learned.  Keep in mind you are investigating to determine the consequences of the War of 1812 on American social, economic, political, and territorial development, so your product should include information that reflects development, if possible.  A suggestion for a product is given after each topic, but you are free to create a report, or a product of your own choice, as long as it provides the information your team needs to make an informed decision.

4. Taking a Stance
    a.  Read the summative results of these events;  what were the results to the development of the United States based on these events?   Therefore, what is the significance of the war?

    b.  As a team, using your completed template, make a decision:  The War of 1812 is/is not important enough to include in a middle school U.S. History text.

5. Preparing the Presentation
    Now you know what you want to advise the editor.  Prepare a persuasive presentation to support your opinion.  You must be careful to be accurate and not blatantly biased.  In other words, you must include factual information so the audience does not accuse you of holding back information or twisting the facts.

    a. Choose at least 5 of the listed topics that best support your opinion to include in the final presentation.    You may have to add to or adapt the products your team members presented to clarify the big picture.


    b.  Look at the rubric so you know what they will be looking for.

    c.  Role-play the office presentation of evidence to the panel of editors (your classmates and teacher) using visual and media materials when appropriate.  Their vote on your presentation will be decisive in your future!


    Reflect in a journal:

    Were some of the sites you encountered targeted towards a specific audience or point of view? How did you know?  Why do you think this occurs?
    What are some of the artifacts from the past that helped you determine your point of view?  Which was your favorite--and why?  Did any of them give you a point of view you hadn't had with a regular text?
    Did your point of view about the importance of this event change from the beginning of the task to the end?  If so, why?  How?

1 Coles, Harry L., The War of 1812.  University of Chicago Press, 1968.

2 Coles, Harry L., The War of 1812.  University of Chicago Press, 1968.

  Created by Jan Hayes (February 2000)
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