Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Manifest Destiny and the Transcendentalists: A Crossover Lesson

Manifest Destiny and the Transcendentalists: A Crossover Lesson


Students will demonstrate their understanding of the terms, people, and themes associated with “Manifest Destiny” and the “Transcendentalists”. Students will be able to objectively point to the values of the Transcendentalists and their objections to Manifest Destiny through their aversion to the Mexican War.

Anticipatory Set-Students will view the painting “American Progress” by John Gast and recall the symbols of westward expansion that were introduced with the painting through their American History classes. Students should understand that although the painting does not convey a realistic representation of actual events, it is a powerful historical idea about the meaning of America’s westward expansion.

Direct Instruction- Read Emerson-Self Reliance, Thoreau-Civil Disobedience, and Whitman-Pioneers! Oh Pioneers!. Discuss the Transcendentalist movement in literature and the fact that most of these writers were not in favor of the Mexican-American War.

Guided Practice-Using Civil Disobedience as a model, students will write a paragraph about a time in which they followed their own conscience or broke an “unjust” law.

Check for Understanding-Think/Pair/Share activity-”Give examples of the “Rhetorical Mysticism” of the Transcendentalists.

Closing-Exit ticket to show understanding. Ask student to restate the definition of “Renaissance” and how that vocab word relates to the movement in literature.

For struggling readers: Emerson, and Thoreau write in long, complicated sentences often containing a series of phrases and clauses. Model how to fluently read these sentences by selecting a passage and reading it aloud to the students. Have students practice fluency in pairs.

For Advanced Learners: Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman use figures of speech to create vivid images and express complex ideas. Have students analyze in “Self-Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience”. They should pay close attention to implied metaphors-have students present their analyses to the class.

Instructional Materials: Gast Painting: ;
Resources: Holt McDougal Literature Book, American Literature

  • Jessica Piper
  • Maryville R-II, Maryville MO
Related History Institute
Grade Level
  • High School: 9, 10, 11, 12
Time Frame
  • 4-5 Days

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