American History Writing Prompts Worksheet
New England writer Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was a strong supporter of individual freedom. He was arrested and spent a day in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax. He could not pay the tax, he argued, because then he would be supporting the crimes of the government, especially the war with Mexico. He later wrote in his essay “Civil Disobedience” (1849),“The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.”
Do you agree with Thoreau that the only obligation any of us has is to do what we think is right? Tell why or why not. What kind of society do you think we would have if we all held firmly to this belief?
WORKSHEET & Sample PDF Activity
Sample PDF Activity
The Pony Express
William H. Russell founded the Pony Express in 1858 as a faster way to deliver mail. He planned to have a relay of horses and riders stretching across the continent. Russell found his riders by advertising for “daring young men, preferably orphans.”
Why do you think Russell asked for “daring young men, preferably orphans”? What other kinds of jobs might this advertisement apply to?
The Transcontinental Railroad
The final section of the transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869, ran from Nebraska to California, and thus connected the entire United States through steel tracks.
One historian has said that the transcontinental railroad did more than politics to bind East and West into a single nation. How do you think the railroad accomplished that?
Jesse James (1847–1882) was one of many western outlaws who was hailed as a hero as much as he was condemned as a criminal. He robbed big banks and railroads, but many common people saw justice in his actions. After all, they asked, don’t big banks and railroads rob us on a daily basis?
Do you think Jesse James and other western outlaws were heroes or criminals for robbing big banks and railroads? Is robbery the best way to get back at organizations you feel are taking advantage of you? What other actions could you take?