For Students & Educators

Flags of Manifest Destiny

Content Materials In Support of a Curriculum Unit For 5th Through 8th Grade Students

Aligned with the California State History-Social Studies Framework

Flags, with their changing designs and rich histories, reflect the struggles and achievements of the United States as it grew from sea to shining sea. Flags provide an unusual and exceptionally interesting means of teaching and learning about the concept of Manifest Destiny and the importance of westward expansion in U.S. History.

The materials that follow provide content in support of a curriculum unit on Manifest Destiny. They were developed exclusively for The Flag Center by James Ferrigan, a history teacher and well known expert on flags. The materials are intended to support instructional strategies targeted to 5th through 8th grade students and have been aligned with the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools. The materials may be used independently or in conjunction with textbooks. Permission is granted to individual teachers to use and reproduce parts of the curriculum in their own classrooms only.

Unit & Lessons

The term Manifest Destiny was coined in 1845 by a New York magazine editor and advocate of Texas annexation, John Louis O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan, who was also a lawyer, argued that Manifest Destiny was "the inevitable fulfillment of the general law which is rolling our [U.S.] population westward."

We can better understand the concept of Manifest Destiny by studying the flags used in the United States during that era. U.S. Flags, in many forms and varieties, replaced many foreign national flags as America expanded west. They can help us to better understand the motivations, events and consequences of Manifest Destiny.

The U.S. flag changed as the territories became new states. They "got their star", symbolizing their joining the Union on equal footing with their predecessors. Even a casual look at the growing number of stars and the banners they replaced, offers a direct lesson in America's expansion across North America.

Time Allotment

One Week Unit

Time Estimates Per Lesson (Based of a period lasting approximately one hour)
Introduction: 5:00 minutes
Presentation: 30:00 minutes
Activity: 15:00 minutes
Culmination: 5:00 minutes


In studying of the concept of Manifest Destiny it is necessary to consider multiple points of view, i.e., Native American Indian, European and American.

Manifest Destiny was the beginning of a clash of cultures that continues to the present. Native Americans viewed the land as essentially the provider of a succession of endless seasons to sustain them. This is the way it had always been and always would be. Europeans and Americans viewed the area as essentially endless territory, full of resources that could sustain them, perhaps endlessly.

These two views, one temporal the other territorial, could not be reconciled and eventually lead to a period of conflict known as the Indian Wars.

The prudent educator will bear this in mind when using flags, as they are an overt manifestation of the European and American view of western North America. With that in mind however, flags are one of the most useful classroom tools for demonstrating and explaining the motivations, events and consequences of Manifest Destiny.

Many Native American Indian tribal groups have evolved flags, but all of them post date Manifest Destiny.

For the complete curriculum, please download the PDF file by clicking on the cover page below.

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