Educator Resources

The Homestead Act of 1862

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 7 The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
    • Standard 2 - The changing role of the United States in world affairs through World War I

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this exercise with your history and government colleagues.


  1. Project an overlay of the featured document on a screen and ask the students to examine it and answer the following questions:
    A. What type of document is it?
    B. Who wrote the document?
    C. To whom was it written?
    D. What is the date of the document?
    E. What was the purpose of the document?
    F. Why do you suppose it was written in two languages?
    G. What are the constitutional provisions for petitioning Congress?
    H. What do you suppose are the effects of petitions such as this one?

  2. Tell the students, or have them read, the story of the petition as described in this article. Compile on the chalkboard a list of the main characters who played a role in the annexation of Hawaii. Ask students to choose an individual or group to research and report on in a short essay. Possibilities include: King Kalakaua, Lorrin Thurston, Queen Lili'uokalani, John Stevens, President Grover Cleveland, James Blount, Sanford Dole, Hui Hawaii Aloha Aina, Hui Hawaii Aloha Aina o Na Wahine, President James McKinley, James Kaulia, Senator George Hoar, or Secretary of State John Sherman.

  3. Direct the students to use the petition and their knowledge of the historical debate to formulate their own positions for or against annexation of Hawaii to the United States. Give the students the following arguments, taken from the May 17, 1898, Report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Report on H.Res. 259 (House Report 1355, 55th Congress, 2d session), and ask them to hold a committee hearing on annexation using characters researched in activity 2 as members of or witnesses to the committee:

    Arguments For :
    • Hawaii too small and weak to maintain independence
    • No protest by any other government
    • "Cordial consent" of both governments
    • Strategic location to secure U.S. fleet and coastline
    • Commercial interests
    • "Outpost of Americanism against increasing Asiatic invasion"
    Arguments Against:
    • Hawaiian people not consulted
    • American people not consulted
    • Unconstitutional method of increasing domain
    • Too remote; too costly to defend
    • Non-homogeneous population
    • Not commercially necessary
    • Not militarily necessary
    • Secure independence of Hawaiian people with policy rather than takeover

  4. For a closer look at the history and importance of the featured document, have students view the PBS documentary Nation Within: The Story of America's Annexation of the Nation of Hawaii, produced by Tom Coffman. To obtain a copy of this video, call 1-800-804-1711.

  5. Ask students who are interested in dance, music, and religion to research the historic hula and accompanying chants, the songs of Queen Lili'uokalani and the historic song titled "Kaulana Na Pau," and traditional Hawaiian beliefs including the Kapu system. Allow time for these volunteers to share what they learn about these cultural topics with the whole class.

  6. Divide the class into groups of three and ask them to compile the names and dates of the land acquisitions of the United States and the methods by which they were added. Assign each group an acquisition to research and report the following to the class: What peoples were native to each acquisition? How and from whom were the lands obtained? What conflicts arose over the acquisition? Why did the United States want to add the lands? What states were created from each acquisition? Point out on a map lands that are under the protection of the United States but not states. Lead a discussion of the benefits of becoming a state versus remaining a territory or protectorate. Include American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia (although this land was already part of the United States) in the discussion.

  7. Display a map of the United States to the class and ask students which state was the last one to be admitted to the union. Follow with these questions: When was Hawaii admitted? What are the constitutional provisions for admitting states to the union? What are the benefits of statehood? What does a territory lose when it becomes a state? Why do you suppose the United States wanted to admit Hawaii as a state? What do you suppose were some of the objections to admitting Hawaii? By what methods might citizens of Hawaii have protested or supported statehood?

  8. Discuss with the students the importance of the document featured in this articles as a piece of predominately unknown history. Ask them to consider why the 1897 Petition Against Annexation is important to Hawaiians and all Americans. Brainstorm with them cases of other ethnic, gender, religious, or social groups whose history has been neglected by recorded history. Identify with your students factors that have contributed to exposing these incidents of concealed history.

  9. Ask students why they think it is important to keep records of the past. Follow up with a discussion about why the National Archives preserves and maintains for research the records of the U.S. government. (For information about the mission and functions of the National Archives, check the agency's web site at Assign students to write a reflective thought paper on what would be lost if we did not keep records of the past. Allow time for some of the students to read their papers aloud in class. You might conclude with a discussion about the historic, cultural, and political significance of the recent opening of the Russian National Archives.

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