War part deux? The War of 1812, the second war for American independence

The War of 1812 is the final topic taught before the Semester 1 exam. Even though it is addressed so close to the exam, there are several selected responses and a BCR devoted to the War, its causes and consequences, and especially how it promoted a sense of American nationalism. Students need to master the assessed content about the War of 1812, but they also need to continue developing their historical thinking skills, including sourcing, analysis of perspective, context, and author’s purpose. This DBQ will serve several functions- it will re-familiarize students with the thesis organizer that they will use on the semester exam, as well as introduce them to the expectations in terms of marking up sources and the steps they need to complete when analyzing them.

Historical Background

The War of 1812 had its roots in the Federalist and Democrat debates of the time. Federalists rallied behind the Alien and Sedition Act as a means of suppressing American support of the French Revolution. This Act targeted not only “radical immigrants” who were pro-revolutionary, but also the Democrats who supported them and the ongoing revolution in France. At the same time, American shipping was attacked because France and Britain were at war and America was supplying both countries with goods. While the East Coast struggled to deal with British blockades, Indian anger over white encroachment in the Ohio River Valley grew and Americans began to fear that disgruntled Indians would team up with the British against them.

The failure of the US policy of neutrality and the Embargo of 1807, as well as the continued impressment of American sailors led the US to declare War on Britain in June of 1812. They faced a large disadvantage especially in terms of naval power: the British Navy had about 1400 ships and the US only had 10-17 ships (depending on the source). Strategically, the British tried to distract the US from the raging wars on the Canadian border by attacking key US cities and ports (Baltimore, DC, and the recently acquired port of New Orleans). Thanks to key victories at sea and on land at Fort McHenry and New Orleans (even though this battle occurred after the peace treaty had been signed!); the Americans again won independence from the British, though this time from their continued interference than direct rule.

Lesson Objective

Students will be able to:

  • Explain the DBQ task in their own words by highlighting key words and phrases in the prompt (Day One).
  • Brainstorm key details about the causes, conflicts and consequences of the War of 1812 by completing a graphic organizer (Day One).
  • Analyze images of the War of 1812 by completing a primary source analysis chart (Day Two).
  • Analyze why the War of 1812 was the second war for American independence by creating a thesis statement and supporting it with relevant evidence (Day Three).



  1. Day One
  2. Direct Instruction: Distribute both packets to the students. Step one – Breaking down a DBQ prompt. Guide students through the underlining and circling of key terms in the prompt (especially “Second” war for “American Independence”- refer back to the American Revolution and the fact that it also was fought against Britain and also for independence, though this time it is to be independent from European interference with trade, etc.).
  3. Define Key Vocabulary: impressment, embargo, neutrality
  4. Small Group Reading: Background and timeline of the War. Have students use the “Say Something” strategy and stop after each paragraph and “say something” to a partner to ensure comprehension. To process the timeline, have students star the events that they think were most important in causing the war, in the Americans winning the war, and in the lasting effects of the war.
  5. Brainstorm Context on DBQ Organizer Packet. Have students work in partners to record details they know already about the War of 1812 and encourage them to look back at their marked-up secondary sources (background reading and timeline) and add details from those.
  6. Summarizer: The Most Important Thing about the War of 1812 was…
  7. Day Two
  8. Activate Prior Knowledge- analyze a contemporary visual source or a familiar one (the Boston Massacre) in order to recall key skills needed in analysis of primary sources, especially visual ones (which will be the focus on this lesson sequence)
  9. Model how to breakdown a source about the War of 1812: Model how to mark up the image (circle key objects, people, the date, author and title in the sourcing info) and what information to include on a Primary Source Analysis chart. Students will be responsible for sourcing and summarizing each image and the teacher will provide key information in terms of analysis and specific details.
  10. Stations: Students will break into 3 (teacher-led) stations, one focused on causes of the war, one on the war itself and one on consequences of the war. Each station will consist of guided practice where the teacher will help the students to analyze 2-3 sources in the source packet and complete document analysis charts.
  11. Day Three
  12. Activator: Students will work in trios to categorize small color copies of the primary source images into 3 piles/categories and to justify how they organized them (most likely in causes, consequences, and events during the war, though other categorizations will be welcome and discussed).
  13. Exemplar Thesis Statement: work together to identify characteristics of an effective thesis statement and analyze a few samples.
  14. Work individually to draft a thesis statement: The statement must answer the DBQ prompt and meet all the criteria. The criteria are outlined on page 13 of the student packet and explain that the thesis statement must 1) answer the question, 2) be complex and analytical (include “because”), and include reference to all 3 DBQ categories that will be addressed in the DBQ answer that follows.
  15. Divide into small groups: teacher will model how to choose details from the sources that support a thesis and how to explain how the chosen detail supports the thesis. Students will work to choose details that support their individual thesis statements and explain how they provide this support.


Students should look back at the primary source analysis sheets and complete the bottom portion/summary statement for each source.


Source Analysis sheets will be assessed formatively, as will the thesis supports and explanations.

Thesis Statement will be assessed summatively.

Students’ knowledge of key causes, events and consequences of the War of 1812 will be assessed informally as students complete basic review questions about them on their semester exam review guide.


This lesson will be taught in all US History classes, both advanced and on-level. In order to scaffold supports for the inclusion classes (students with IEPs and English Language Learning Needs), the teacher may:

Pre-mark key details on the sources to speed up the analysis process (students will be expected to mark up sources and complete primary source analysis sheets on each source.

Have students work through the sources in small group stations, each led by a teacher or para-educator. Each station will focus on sources that fall into one DBQ category- so that students can begin to see connections among sources within each category.

Using ActivInspire, pre-record screen capture videos of teacher analyzing the images, so that students can access these electronically at their own speed either in or outside of class.

Students will be provided with exemplar thesis statements.


The Star-Spangled Banner Project, Smithsonian, National Museum of American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/

Walker. London, October 15, 1808. British Cartoon Prints Collection, Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c21460

William Charles, Philadelphia: 1812.

Impressment of American Soldiers by the British. Pratt, Marla L., American History Stories, 1890. Boston: Educational Publishing Co. From the University of South Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse http://etc.usf.edu/clipart.

G. Thompson The Taking of the City of Washington in America London: 1814, Wood engraving.http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/images/at0007.9s.jpg

The Battle of Baltimore, http://www.nps.gov/stsp/historyculture/battlebaltimore.htm

A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry. Print by J. Bower, Philadelphia, 1816. One of the soldiers who was in the fort during the 25-hour bombardment wrote, “We were like pigeons tied by the legs to be shot at.” (from The Star-Spangled Banner Project, Smithsonian, National Museum of American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/)

“The Battle of New Orleans,” on January 9, 1815, the climactic battle in the War of 1812 and the early career of General Andrew Jackson. Painting by E. Percy Moran, © 1910. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC2-3796. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/nation/jb_nation_jackson_1.html

U.S. Capitol after burning by the British. Munger, George, 1814. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

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