Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

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"Troubles in the South-West": Ideology and the U.S.-Mexican War

In this lesson students read a series of documents about the American and Mexican reasons for and against the 1846 U.S.-Mexico War. As they read the documents students identify when the authors employ various foreign policy ideologies such as Manifest Destiny, Racial and Cultural Superiority, and Self Defense. This lesson was designed to be implemented with a Smartboard, but it can be completed without this technology.


  • Students will describe different arguments for and against the U.S.-Mexican War.  

  • Student will identify how Americans and Mexicans employed various foreign policy ideologies in their arguments for and against war.  

  • Students will analyze the print "American Progress Goes West" and identify evidence of manifest destiny ideology in the image.  


Step 1: Display and review the following list of foreign policy ideologies (project on Smartboard, if available).

  • Manifest Destiny/Expansionism/National Greatness

  • The spread of democracy/Human Rights

  • Racial/Cultural/Religious Superiority

  • Capitalism

  • Respect for National Sovereignty of Others

  • Self Defense/National Security

Step 2:  Model what students will be doing in their groups with the document "A Brooklyn Newspaper Warns of 'Trouble in the South-West'." If available, project the document on Smartboard. Hand out hard copies to students. Ask a volunteer to read the document aloud. Ask students to mark their copies of the document where they see evidence of one (or more) of the above ideologies. Ask for a volunteer to come forward to the Smartboard and label the places where they see ideology in the document directly on it. Discuss.  

Step 3: Hand out the other documents about why the U.S. should and should not go to war with Mexico and assign each group a different document they will be presenting. In their groups students should read all of the documents and highlight/identify any ideas from the ideology list that they reviewed earlier. If the group identifies an idea that isn't already on the list, they can mark that too and be prepared to discuss with the whole group. Each group should choose a representative who will present their group's document to the whole group.  

Step 4: Each group sends a representative to the Smartboard to label the ideas in their main document and explain the group's choices. If no Smarboard, this part of the activity can be done in discussion or using the document projected on an overhead.  

Step 5: Project (and hand out) the print "American Progress Goes West." Explain that a generation after the Mexican war, the idea of "manifest destiny" was still circulating in American culture. In this case, the post-Civil War vision of Manifest Destiny saw it as a unifying force that bring North and South together in the march westward. As a whole group, examine "American Progress" and identify the evidence of ideology of manifest destiny in the image.  Label on the Smartboard. Possible questions:

  • What "benefits" will "American Progress" bring?

  • Who will be affected by "American Progress" (positively and negatively)?  

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2008.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “"Troubles in the South-West": Ideology and the U.S.-Mexican War,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2023,

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