U.S. Mexico War: “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God”

Teaching Activity. Lesson by Bill Bigelow and student reading by Howard Zinn. 21 pages.
Interactive activity introduces students to the history and often untold story of the U.S.-Mexico War. Roles available in Spanish.

  • Time Periods: Early 19th Century: 1800 - 1849, 19th Century | Themes: Imperialism, Latino, Slavery, US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements | Reading Levels: Grades 6-8, High School | Resource Types: Spanish/Bilingual, Teaching Activities (Free)

usmexicowarteapartyspanish_download_buttonToday’s border with Mexico is the product of invasion and war. Grasping some of the motives for that war and some of its immediate effects begins to provide students the kind of historical context that is crucial for thinking intelligently about the line that separates the United States and Mexico. It also gives students insights into the justifications for and costs of war today.

This activity introduces students to a number of the individuals and themes they will encounter in the chapter from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God.” The individual roles include: Cochise, Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Congressman Abraham Lincoln, Doña Francesca Vallejo, Francisco Márquez, Frederick Douglass, General Mariano Vallejo, General Stephen Kearny, Henry David Thoreau, Jefferson Davis, María Josefa Martínez, Padre Antonio José Martínez, President James K. Polk, Reverend Theodore Parker, Sgt. John Riley, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wotoki.



This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration. For more teaching activities like “U.S. Mexico War: “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God,” order The Line Between Us  with role plays, stories, poetry, improvisations, simulations and video edited by Bill Bigelow. See Table of Contents.

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There are 12 comments by other visitors:

  • We learn that by stealing, killing, and destroying cultures we make and build on top of the old. This teaches children that killing, robbing and destroying is ok, a way of life.

    Response shared by cralvar2006 — July 12, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  • I agree. We need to dispel the myths and lies of American history. We need to find an alternative heroes in history and not glamorize supposed legends.

    Response shared by rsgill2012 — April 22, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  • You need to list THE IRISH SOLDIERS OF MEXICO as a source. It is the only history that uses both Mexican and Irish documents to relate the story of the San Patricios Battalion. The San Patricio CD that you list above was inspired by this history.

    Response shared by michael hogan — September 10, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

  • I highly recommend the book : “The Irish soldiers of Mexico by Michael Hogan. The book

    is the most definitive work on the Irish involvement in the US war against Mexico, well-

    documented with sources from the Mexican Army archives as well as the U.S. Army


    More information about the book is available on

    FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/IrishMex

    The book is available on Amazon on Kindle and in paperback in both English and Spanish

    and provides maps, photos and over 400 bibliographical sources.

    Response shared by Miles Beacom — September 30, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

  • Great Resource! It gave my kids a good insight into the war and they used their Spanish speaking skills very well.

    Response shared by meza — April 17, 2015 @ 10:40 am

  • true…sorta kinda but did you also teach that virtually every country on earth was established by conquest…most several times over.

    Response shared by Guy — February 2, 2016 @ 12:11 pm

  • Ulysses S. Grant said the Mexican War was an unjust war. He fought there.

    Response shared by Maureen de Vries — April 25, 2016 @ 2:57 pm

  • The lesson on the Mexican American War and the role play I believe was incredibly effective in helping students understand the role of racial bias in the history of US Foreign Policy. Students really appreciated the opportunity to read and reflect on Zinn’s chapter and then to also appreciate different points of view about the war during the role play. My Latino students appreciated the approach which all too often in their education has not received the treatment it deserves. —Edward Zupcic, high school social studies teacher, Portland, OR

    Response shared by Edward Zupcic — May 23, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

  • This lesson was a valuable, eye-opening experience for me and my students. Our textbook actually dedicates 2-3 pages to the Mexican-American War, but really just focuses on the causes of the war being a misunderstanding. I really liked how this activity provides many different perspectives on this war that the textbook does not.

    I’ve typically used this activity near the beginning of the year and I’ve found that since I’ve been using it my students will start to question other stories of events that we study throughout the year. It is a great activity to set the tone for the students to think beyond our regular textbooks and opens their eyes to multiple perspectives, not only for the U.S-Mexican War and “Manifest Destiny,” but for all of our units of study during the year. —Charlie Carr, middle school social studies teacher, Plymouth, MN

    Response shared by Charlie Carr — May 23, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

  • The impact of the lesson is extraordinary because it helps students begin to see how complicated one event can be and how multiple perspectives serve to help us see the truth behind a seemingly simple series of events.

    this serves to get them talking about the value of opinions different from their own and open a dialogue about respect and conflict. This lesson becomes directly relevant to their lives and we can apply the lessons of the Mexican American War to our community and use it to repair our modern world. —Kara Redding, high school social studies teacher

    Response shared by Kara Redding — May 23, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

  • This lesson was able to take what could have been boring and dry material and made it personal for the students. They were able to have a human connection that they would not have felt otherwise. —Daniel Morgan, high school social studies teacher, Louisville, KY

    Response shared by Daniel Morgan — May 23, 2016 @ 1:42 pm

  • Andrew Jackson’s “Children of the Forest” The “tea party” went well. The follow up, “We Take Nothing by Conquest,” was the source of a class discussion. Students were animated, opinionated and active in ways they have not been before. —Tyler Tomashek, high school social studies teacher, Westmont, NJ

    Response shared by Tyler Tomashek — May 23, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

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