Student Activities

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Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Subject:
Social Studies

Background

At the start of the U.S.-Mexican War, both Mexican and U.S. citizens mistrusted a standing army. In this activity, students discuss reasons for joining an army. Next, they discuss the differences between a regular army and a militia of volunteers. Then they review and discuss U.S. and Mexican perspectives on regular and volunteer soldiers. 

Objective(s)

Guiding questions:

  • Why do people join the army?
  • What is the difference between a regular army and a militia of volunteers?
  • What were the U.S. and Mexican perspectives on regular and volunteer soldiers?

Procedure

  • Ask students if they have ever done volunteer work and, if so, why they volunteered. Discuss the reasons why people volunteer. Be sure to mention not having a choice as a reason.
  • Tell students they will discuss the difference between a volunteer militia (group of citizens who are not part of the regular army who are called to active duty in an emergency) and a regular or permanent army (professionally trained and employed soldiers who are always ready to deploy to active duty). Discuss reasons why people join the army. Write the reasons on the board. Be sure to mention the following:
    • No choice
    • Need a job
    • Escape debt
    • Escape domestic problems
    • Free transportation to frontier
    • Adventure
    • Personal glory
    • Patriotism
    • Be a local hero
    • Impress women
  • Ask students/have students look up the definition of a draft. The formal word for a draft is conscription. People who are conscripted for the army are known as conscripts.
  • Tell students that some people think a volunteer militia can protect the country better than a regular army. Take a vote on which students think is better. Record results on the board.

Extensions

  1. At the time of the U.S.-Mexican War, many citizens mistrusted a standing army. President Polk stated that "standing armies . . . are contrary to the genius of our free institutions, impose heavy burdens on the people and are dangerous to public liberty." Have students write essays about or discuss this statement.
  2. Use the worksheet with the political cartoon "Volunteers for Texas" from the Materials section.
  3. Have students pretend to volunteer for the U.S.-Mexican War and write a letter explaining their reasons for volunteering.

Vocabulary

draft: requiring people to do military service. The formal word for a draft is conscription.
citizen army: an army made up of citizens who volunteer in times of war.
conscription: law that orders men into military service.
conscript: person who is forced to join an army.
regular army: permanent army of a country with professionally trained soldiers.
militia: group of citizens who are not part of the regular army with some military training who are called to active duty only in an emergency.
fatigue: manual work performed by military personnel.

Materials

Download Regulars and Volunteers: Dividing the Class worksheet

Download U.S. Viewpoints on a Standing Army

Download Mexican Viewpoints on a Standing Army

Download Volunteers for Texas Political Cartoon

Last updated: August 25, 2015