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Supplemental Materials

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War of 1812

Challenge to the New Republic: The War of 1812

Fourth edition. September 2009.


Between 1787 and 1812 the United States faced a series of foreign policy challenges that threatened its survival as a constitutional republic. The nearly continuous series of wars pitting the French against the British engulfed the European continent, disrupted ocean-going trade, and caused conflict on the U.S. frontiers. Students immerse themselves in the struggle to establish the new federal government's role in foreign policy by recreating the debate in Congress over President Madison's war message.


The readings place students in the context of the early 1800s as they prepare to consider the debate about whether to declare war on Great Britain. The unit relies heavily on primary sources, such as speeches, letters, newspaper articles and editorials, and political cartoons.

The Choices Role Play

The four distinct policy directions, or options, at the core of the unit reconstruct the debate that took place in the U.S. Congress concerning whether to declare war after James Madison's war message of June 1, 1812. Each option is grounded in a clearly defined viewpoint about the United States's role in the world. By exploring the spectrum of alternatives, students gain a deeper understanding of the competing values and assumptions that framed the debate. Ultimately, the intent is to help students clarify and articulate their own views on U.S. policy, both past and present, and apply the lessons of history to the challenges facing the United States today.


Setting Precedents in a Dangerous World
Examining key documents from the Washington and Adams administrations, students identify important foreign policy precedents set during this time.

Interpreting Political Cartoons
By interpreting political cartoons and placing them in historical context, students compare different U.S. perspectives.

Role-Playing the Four Options
Working cooperatively to advocate for one of four options, students recreate congressional debate that considers whether the United States should declare war on Great Britain.

The War and its Consequences
Students develop graphic organizers to assess the historical consequences of the War of 1812.