• Unit Title
    Unit 1:  Foundations - Beginnings through Reconstruction


    Big Picture Graphic


    Overarching Question:

    How did the political, social, and economic transformations in America influence the evolving meaning of freedom and equality in the United States?



    Previous Unit: 
    8th Grade Integrated United States History
    This Unit:   
    Foundations in American History                                        
    Next Unit:
    Growth of Industrial and Urban America






    Questions to Focus Assessment and Instruction (may include "types of thinking"):


    (insert graphic organizer here if necessary)


    Unit Abstract (may include Historical Overview):

    Unit Historical Overview

    This foundational period in United States History extends from earliest settlement of North America through the unification of thirteen diverse colonies into a growing political and economic giant.  During a relatively brief era in world history, America transformed itself from weak coalition of colonies to the world’s leading example of a democratic republic. The nation was built upon ideals of freedom and equality, yet the meaning of those ideals changed over time. Between the Revolution and Reconstruction, a young developing nation struggled as it attempted to define itself and its ideals.


    During and after the Revolution, the founding generation worked to establish the nation politically, socially, and economically, and to articulate ideals of liberty and equality. What is today the oldest living constitution was written and revised during this period. The Founding Fathers attempted to balance their experimental ideas about republican government, liberty, and equality with the practicalities of building and defending an effective state. While the founding generation regularly expressed the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, they consistently denied a voice in the new government to African Americans, American Indians, and women.  Capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit came to dominate economic life from the 1820s and in some respects even earlier.


    The nation expanded rapidly, extending by the Age of Jackson to the Mississippi River and beyond. Improvements in transportation and communication facilitated the integration of far flung territories and the expansion of regional and national market economies. Citizens who moved westward carried with them the ideals of equality and freedom for all white men. In the midst of dramatic political, social, and economic changes, reformers after 1815 were stimulated by a widespread religious revival and unprecedented demands for labor and capital. As a result, they insisted that the republic live up to its ideals.


    By 1850, the boundaries for the cataclysmic Civil War were being clearly drawn and defended as farmers, politicians, and religious reformers debated popular sovereignty and the expansion of slavery into western territories.  This debate, which reflected conflicting views of freedom, transformed American politics and ultimately led to war in 1861 as the nation was torn asunder.  Issues of slavery, states’ rights and the nature of the Union, the power of the federal government, and racial and gender equality demanded the nation’s full attention throughout the Civil War. Members of families battled one another over these contradictions in freedom. When the war finally ended, it left in its wake an economically and socially crippled south and a redirected and strengthened economy in the north.    


    While Reconstruction engendered great changes to the nation, it did little to heal the emotional, economic, and geographic rifts left by the war. The nation added the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, extending liberty and equality to all male citizens.  Yet the promise of equality was not realized during this era for African-Americans, and segregation was imposed by both law and custom in both the northern and southern regions of the nation.  Moreover, the language of the 15th Amendment expressly eliminated women from the suffrage. In the west, American Indians continued to be denied citizenship and basic freedoms on the grounds that they either had not fully assimilated into white culture, or were still members of alien nations.  In the last quarter of the 19th Century, legislation such as the Dawes Act created an allotment system, dividing Indian reservations into small plots of land as part of the attempt to eradicate Indian culture.


    Overall, this period was dominated by the establishment of half-fulfilled ideals about equality and freedom, the pursuit of those ideals, and the establishment of a national marketplace.  While in the 1780s, Americans saw freedom as a guaranteed right for all landowning white males, they gradually expanded citizenship to include all white men of “good reputation.”  As the country grew and the wage earner became a significant player in the economy, ordinary citizens exerted pressure on public officials; the result was a steady expansion of democratic responsibility. Yet for white women, new privileges included only the most basic economic and political freedoms, and not, for example, the right to vote in national elections.  After the Civil War, America made great strides in closing the gap between its founding ideals and its economic, political, and social practices as freedom attached to all “loyal” men. However, freedom and equality continued to elude other classes of citizens for another century. Thus, as the sun set on this period in history, historians see the nation about to enter its greatest period of industrial growth with an opportunity to redefine the ideals of freedom and equality.



    Unit Abstract

    Students begin their study of United States History and Geography by reviewing how historians learn about the past.  Using a variety of primary sources, students apply sourcing and contextualizing strategies (heuristics) to examine and ask questions about the past. Throughout the course, students investigate and analyze the changing meaning of freedom and equality over the nation’s history. Accordingly, in this unit students discuss the meaning of freedom as initially defined in the Declaration of Independence. They record their thoughts and reflections in a “Freedom Tracking Notebook.”  Students then examine how the nation grappled with issues of governmental power from the Articles of Confederation to the adoption of the United States Constitution. Through analyzing writings of both Federalists and Anti-Federalists, students further refine their understanding of the meaning of freedom at the nation’s inception. They then review the growth of the nation during the first half of the 19th Century and examine the implications of nationalism and Manifest Destiny on the nation, both at home and abroad.  Students next assess foreign policy during the pre-Civil War era through the lens of America’s foundational values and principles.  In studying the geographic, economic, and demographic changes prior to 1877, students explore the impact of growing sectionalism, including the influence of reform movements.  In particular, students compare the meaning of freedom and equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.  In assessing the changing character of American political society, students examine the Gettysburg Address as well as the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments and their impact on the ideals of freedom and equality.  The unit concludes with an introduction to the art of constructing an evidentiary argument.  After analyzing data sets, students learn the difference between a statement of fact and a thesis statement. They then develop a thesis about the geographic, economic, social, or demographic transformations in America and construct an evidentiary-based argument to support the thesis.  Throughout the unit, students consider the recurring question: How did the political, social, and economic transformations in America influence the evolving meaning of freedom and equality in the United States?


    Suggested Organization for Unit:


    Unit Assessment:




    Topic Title


    Topic Abstract:


    Focus Questions:
    1. How did the ideals of freedom and equality influence American political society prior to 1877?
    2. How did America respond to geographic, economic, and demographic changes prior to 1877?
    3. How did America’s foundational values and principles influence United States’ foreign policy prior to 1877?


    Content Expectations:

    USHG F1.1:     Identify the core ideals of American society as reflected in the documents below and analyze the ways that American society moved toward and/or away from its core ideals

    ·        Declaration of Independence

    ·        the U.S. Constitution (including the Preamble)

    ·        Bill of Rights

    ·        the Gettysburg Address

    ·        13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments


    USHG F1.2:     Using the American Revolution, the creation and adoption of the Constitution, and the Civil War as touchstones, develop an argument /narrative about the changing character of American political society and the roles of key individuals across cultures in prompting/ supporting the change by discussing

    ·        the birth of republican government, including the rule of law, inalienable rights, equality, and limited government

    ·        the development of governmental roles in American life

    ·        competing views of the responsibilities of governments (federal, state, and local)

    ·        changes in suffrage qualifications

    ·        the development of political parties

    ·        America’s political and economic role in the world


    USHG F2.1:     Describe the major trends and transformations in American life prior to 1877 including

    ·        changing political boundaries of the United States

    ·        regional economic differences and similarities, including goods produced and the nature of the labor force

    ·        changes in the size, location, and composition of the population

    ·        patterns of immigration and migration

    ·        development of cities

    ·        changes in commerce, transportation, and communication

    ·        major changes in Foreign Affairs marked by such events as the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and foreign relations during the Civil War.


    C2.1.1:           Explain the historical and philosophical origins of American constitutional government and evaluate the influence of ideas found in the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, selected Federalist Papers (such as the 10th, 14th, and 51st), John Locke’s Second Treatise, and Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (portions omitted).


    C2.1.2:           Explain the significance of the major debates and compromises underlying the formation and ratification of American constitutional government including the Virginia and New Jersey plans, the Great Compromise, debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, debates over slavery, and the promise for a bill of rights after ratification.


    C2.1.3:           Explain how the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights reflected political principles of popular sovereignty, rule of law, checks and balances, separation of powers, social compact, natural rights, individual rights, separation of church and state, republicanism, and federalism. See also C3.2.4 and C2.2.1


    C2.1.4:           Explain challenges and modifications to American constitutional government as a result of significant historical events such as the American Revolution, Civil War, expansion of suffrage, the Great Depression, and the civil rights movement.[1]


    C2.2.1:           Identify and explain the fundamental values of America’s constitutional republic (e.g., life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness, the common good, justice, equality, diversity, authority, participation, and patriotism)  and their reflection in the principles of the United States Constitution (e.g., popular sovereignty, republicanism, rule of law, checks and balances, separation of powers, and federalism).


    C2.2.4:           Analyze and explain ideas about fundamental values like liberty, justice, and equality found in a range of documents (e.g., Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Sentiments, the Equal Rights Amendment, and the Patriot Act).[2]


    C3.1.1:           Analyze the purpose, organization, and powers[3] of the legislative branch as enumerated in Article I of the Constitution.


    C3.1.2:           Analyze the purpose, organization, and powers[4] of the executive branch as enumerated in Article II of the Constitution.


    C3.1.3:           Analyze the purpose, organization, and powers[5] of the judicial branch as enumerated in Article III of the Constitution.


    C3.2.4:           Explain the role of the Bill of Rights and each of its amendments in restraining the power of government over individuals.


    C3.2.5:           Analyze the role of subsequent amendments to the Constitution in extending or limiting the power of government, including the Civil War/Reconstruction Amendments and those expanding suffrage.


    C6.1.2:           Analyze and use various forms of evidence, information, and sources, including primary and secondary sources, legal documents (e.g., Constitutions, court decisions, state law), non-text based information (e.g., maps, charts, tables, graphs, and cartoons), and other forms of communication.[6]


    C6.1.3:           Develop and use criteria in analyzing evidence and position statements.[7]


    C6.1.5:           Make a persuasive and reasoned argument on a public issue and support using evidence (e.g., historical and contemporary examples), constitutional principles, and fundamental values of American constitutional democracy; explain the stance or position.



    [1] Although the entire expectation is listed, the Great Depression and civil rights movement are not addressed in this unit.

    [2] This unit only addresses the fundamental values found in the Declaration of Sentiments.

    [3] The original civics expectations refer to functions and processes of each branch of government.  Since the functions and processes are a result of the powers granted the government in the Constitution, this expectation has been revised to reflect this idea.

    [4] See footnote 3 above.

    [5] See footnote 3 above.

    [6] This civics expectation has been modified to reflect its use in this unit of United States History and Geography.

    [7] The examples in the content expectation have been removed for clarity. For specific examples, see the content expectations.


    Key Concepts:


    civil liberties


    evidentiary-based argument


    foreign relations


    inalienable rights


    judicial review



    popular sovereignty

    primary and secondary sources

    republican government




     4 weeks
    Lesson Sequence:

    Lesson 1: What is History?

    Lesson 2: What is Freedom?

    Lesson 3: The Initial Challenge of Independence

    Lesson 4: The Constitution

    Lesson 5:  Ratifying the Constitution

    Lesson 6:  Growing Nationalism, Manifest Destiny, and Foreign Policy

    Lesson 7:  Growing Pains - Sectionalism and the Influence of Reform Movements

    Lesson 8:  The Civil War and the Changing Character of American Politics

    Lesson 9:  Changes in America: Economic, Social, and Demographic




    Selected Response                  Constructed Response                     Extended Response               Performance



    USHG F1.1

    USHG F1.2






    Create a broadside that represents the amendment they feel is the most important, and the specific freedoms it protects. In the broadside include an explanation of why the specific freedom is essential to American constitutional democracy.


    USHG F2.1


    Write a Time magazine article “A Nation in Review” from the year 1877 that addresses the question:  “How did America respond to geographic, economic, and demographic changes prior to 1877?”


    USHG F1.1

    USHG F1.2




    Write an evidentiary-based argument that supports or refutes the following assertion:   It took the Civil War to change ideas of freedom and equality in America.


    USHG F1.2

    USHG F2.1


    Explain how American foundational values and principles influenced United
    ’ foreign relations prior to 1877 as reflected in at least three of the following:  War of 1812, international trade, Manifest Destiny, Mexican War, and the Civil War.

    USHG F1.1

    USHG F1.2








    Create a picture book for elementary school students describing how the Constitution organizes and limits power through three branches of government and the Bill of Rights.  The book should include the following concepts:  separation of powers, checks and balances, individual rights, legislative, executive and judicial branches, and federalism.





    Chart paper or poster board

    Computer lab

    Dry erase markers

    Highlighter (multi-colored)

    6 Boxes of Colored Markers




Last Modified on February 14, 2018