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Putting It All Together

Between 1820 and 1865, the routes followed by American traders and armies through the mountains pulled New Mexico and the Southwest away from their 200-year-old Spanish traditions and towards a new kind of society coming not from Mexico City but from the United States. This change had profound effects not only on New Mexico, but also on the United States. The following exercises will help students demonstrate their understanding of these changes.

Activity 1: Geography and Manifest Destiny
Explain to students that the expression, "geography is destiny," is sometimes used by historians. In a class discussion, ask students what the expression means? Continue the discussion by asking the following questions: What is the relationship between geography and the idea that the "manifest destiny" of the United States was to expand to the Pacific Ocean? What effect did geography have on American plans to take over New Mexico and the Southwest? Do you think it was inevitable that the United States take over the Southwest? Why or why not? What do you think might have been different if New Mexico had continued to be part of Mexico? If it had become part of the Confederacy?

Activity 2: "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way..."1
Explain to students that some historians have maintained that the United States became an empire in the course of the territorial expansions and military campaigns of the 1840s and 50s, extending its domination over captive peoples by force. As early as 1886, Josiah Royce, speaking of the conquest of California, wrote: "The American wants to persuade not only the world but himself that he is doing God service in a peaceable spirit, even when he violently takes what he has determined to get."2 Other historians have claimed that the annexation of New Mexico was a "conquest of merchants."3 Hold a class discussion to determine which of these statements best reflects what students have learned in this lesson.

Activity 3: Close to Home
Working in small groups, have students prepare a written or oral report on their community's role in the westward movement. Questions to consider should include: Did people from their community move west? Was their community settled by people from the eastern states? Did anyone from their community participate in the war for Texas independence, the Mexican War, or the Civil War? Was their community pro-Union or pro-Confederate? Finally, have groups investigate if there are any places in their community that relate to this period, such as roadways, farms, buildings, or memorials.

¹George Berkeley, On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America (1752); cited in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern literature (1855; 15th ed., Boston: Little Brown, 1980), 330.
2Josiah Royce, California (1886; reprint, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), 119; cited in D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America, vol. 2, Continental America 1800-1867 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 192.
3David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico (Albuquerque, NM: The University of New Mexico Press, 1982), 276.

 

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