Why was the United States threatened by war between Britain and France?
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.


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.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support in teaching the teaching the curriculum.


Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. The War of 1812 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002) 217 pages.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989) 457 pages.

White, Patrick C.T. A Nation on Trial: America and the War of 1812 (New York: Wiley, 1965) 177 pages.

Lesson plans, timelines, multimedia presentations, and documents
Short biography on the White House site.
Thomas Jefferson’s home. Includes biography, timeline, and artifacts.
James Madison’s correspondence, a timeline, essays, and a short biography.
Back to top