The political cartoon: Exploring national unity

Students will use techniques such as close reading, contextualizing, and sourcing to examine and compare two political cartoons about national unity from pre-Revolutionary time to the ratification of the Constitution. Students will explore how cartoonists use symbols to make a political point.

Lesson Objective

Students will be able to analyze and compare two political cartoons about national unity to determine how the creators made their viewpoint known through the use of symbols, drawings, and labels by completing an analysis sheet and sharing their work.



  1. Activating background knowledge: Show students a contemporary political cartoon. (slide # 2 of Power Point presentation) Briefly discuss the format and purpose of political cartoons. Discuss how they are different from written opinions. Explain the use of symbols in political cartoons.
  2. Primary Source Analysis: Hand out the capture sheet (I See . . . I Think) for students to make observations.
  3. Present the first cartoon: Join or Die, giving the students time to write their observations and thoughts about it.
  4. Briefly discuss their observations and thoughts. (Students will have seen this cartoon before so this should make the process easier.)
  5. Repeat the procedures with the second cartoon.
  6. After discussing the message of both cartoons, ask students to work in small groups to use the guiding questions on “Put It All Together” to compare the two cartoons.
  7. Students discuss the symbols each author used to make his political viewpoint known. Have groups share their ideas. (Both cartoons favor stronger unity between colonies/states. Students should recognize that the first cartoon shows a fragmented society in which the states/colonies resist working together to their own detriment. The second cartoon shows that national unity is in process and is a positive step toward creating a stronger whole.)
  8. Have students choose one of the cartoons and explain why it is or is not effective at making a point.


The “Put it all Together” handout will be used to assess the lesson.


“Primary Source of the Month: ‘Join or Die’, by Benjamin Franklin.” E-newsletter, volume 5. Colonial Williamsburg.

Federal Superstructure. Cartoon in the Massachusetts Centinel, January 30, 1788.

“Federalists and anti-federalists.” Thinkquest.

National Archives and Records Administration. “A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution.” Charters of Freedom.

Independence Hall Association. “Ratifying the Constitution.” U.S. History.

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