Teachers Page

Grade Level(s): High School

Age Levels(s): 15-18

Subject Area: U.S. History I


  1. To attempt to understand why the Know-Nothing Party would be able to attract so many members and become a viable political party in Massachusetts during the mid- 1850s.
  2. To understand the term xenophobia in the context of the Know-Nothings and also why these fears seemed real at the time.
  3. To become familiar with the anti-immigration legislation that the Massachusetts Legislature passed during the 1850s and the impact it had on the lives of immigrants in Massachusetts.

Curriculum Standards:

Materials/Resources: Provide a listing of primary sources, instructional materials, references, and technologies needed to support the lesson and/or unit. These may include web sites, experts, equipment, and software. Any additional equipment or supplies that are not normally found in the classroom should be listed. Enough information needs to be provided on each item to enable the reader to locate, acquire, or create the materials.

Timeframe: Two to three 55-minute class periods

Student Foundational Skills: Provide a list of the skills and knowledge that students are expected to have as they begin the instructional activities. This includes content knowledge and technology competencies.

Learning Activities and Organizational Notes:

Before starting this lesson,
review the following web sites to find out more about teaching the topic of propoganda.

  • Propaganda Techniques: http://www.sourcewatch.org
  • Propaganda Critic: http://www.propagandacritic.com

  • (1) Pre-Assessment - Day 1

    In this lesson students are introduced to the principles and beliefs of the Native American Party through propaganda. This political party was also called the Know Nothing party because of it's members replies of "I know nothing" when asked of their activities.

    The teacher will break-up the class into groups of four or five students. Each group will then analyze and discuss the questions below creating a list for class discussion.

    • Take 2 minutes and define Nativism in your own words. Be prepared to share answers in "rapid fire succession."
    • Please list 3 reasons why you think immigrants might be feared and resented by Nativists. These reasons can be from modern day thought to make an easier connection. We will put one answer from each student on the board and then analyze the top three choices.
    • How would you define "we the people?" What does that phrase mean for you today in the United States?

    Organizational Notes: none

    (2) Activity 1: Making Connections

    (Alternate Assignment used for helping students understand the concept of propaganda)

    1. For homework the night before this activity, ask students to gather 3 different advertisements about specific products from fliers, newspapers, magazines, or other sources. Alternatively, have magazines, fliers, etc. available for students to do this in class.
    2. Break the class into groups of four students
    3. Have the groups examine each other's advertisements. Ask them to keep the following question in mind as they look at the advertisements:
      What is the purpose of this advertisement and does it achieve the intended affect?
    4. Have the groups pick one advertisement that stands out from all the other ads in their group
    5. Each group should explain the intent and purpose of their chosen advertisement to the rest of the class.
    6. Ask the students "What is the purpose of propaganda?" and place their responses on the board for peer discussion.
    7. Have the students look at their individual advertisements again and have them answer the question, "Does your group believe yours ads are propaganda? Why or Why not?"

    Organizational Notes:
    see web sites about propoganda listed above.

    (3) Activity 2:

    1. Hand out the handout titled "Identifying Different Types of Propaganda."
    2. Instruct the class to go to the specified web sites on the sheet and define the terms listed. This may be done individually or in groups depending upon the number of computers available.
    3. Go over the questions on the sheet with the class. The questions are:
      • Which technique did your advertisers use to entice you to purchase the product?
      • Why do you feel that the advertiser chose that technique to sell the product?
      • Do you feel it is an effective means to sell products? Why or why not?
      • During the 19th century Handbills were an effective means to spread propaganda. What is a handbill and why might they be used in secret?

    Organizational Notes: none

    (4) Activity 3: Knowing the Know Nothings
    1. Introduction to the Know-Nothing Party.
      PowerPoint presentation containing information from the book "Portrait of a Know Nothing Legislature" by Purdy (Power Point) - forthcoming
    2. In teams of two, analyze the Constitution of the State Council of the American Party of Massachusetts 1855.
    3. Split the class into two groups.
      • Group 1 will analyze the document from the viewpoint of a nativist.
      • Group 2 will analyze the document from point of view of a newly arrived immigrant.
    4. Instruct the class to answer the questions:
      • What is your immediate reaction to the primary source?
      • What are your initial perceptions about Governor Henry Bradford of Massachusetts?
      • Do you think that Governor Bradford's platform meets the ideals of democracy, opportunity, equality, liberty and human rights?
      • How would you react to a similar law or statement by your government today?
    5. As a class, use the S.I.G.H.T. method with the students to analyze a photograph depicting Irish Immigration in the mid-1800's.

    6. S.I.G.H.T.

      S can for important details:
      I dentify the conflict or tension:
      G uess the creator's intent or message:
      H ear the voices:
      T alk or write about your observations:

    7. Provide the class with addtional images and have them analyze these images using the site method and then complete the S.I.G.H.T. Anaylsis Worksheet.

    8. In the teams formed earlier, instruct your students to discuss the following using their understanding of propaganda:
      • the modes of communication a political party or candidate might use to meet his constituents in the 1850's.
      • whether or not a handbill might be an effective mode of spreading a political message and if it could influence an electorate or draw people to a political party in this era.

    9. Have the students use the S.I.G.H.T. method to analyze the political cartoon of the Pope and Public schools and have them Complete the S.I.G.H.T. Anaylsis Worksheet.

    10. In the groups from part 2, ask students to examine two forms of Massachusetts legislation that was passed during Governor's Bradford's tenure.
      1. 1855 Acts of Resolves Chapter 43 Fifth Article of Amendment:
        No public money to Catholic schools.

      2. 1855 Acts of Resolves Chapter 410:
        Only English version of Bible may be read in public schools.

      • Group 1: Analyzes the laws from the viewpoint of a nativist
      • Group 2: Analyzes the laws from the view of a newly arrived immigrant

    11. Instruct the students to answer the questions below about the laws. Reminding the class to answer these questions as a nativist or immigrant.

      • What is your immediate reaction to this legislation?
      • How do these laws relate to your understanding of democracy, opportunity, equality, liberty and human rights?
      • Do these laws adhere to or violate the principles our American Ideals? Why or Why not?
      • Do you believe that these laws and political cartoons are targeting an alien group? Why or why not?
      • Why do you believe that the environment of the 1850's in Boston was ready for these laws?

    Organizational Notes:

    • S.I.G.H.T. Analysis by Edward O'Donnell 2009, www.EdwardTOdonnell.com

    • Purdy, V. C. (1989). Portrait of a Know-Nothing legislature: the Massachusetts General Court of 1855. New York: Garden Publishers.
      Book is available at the Boston Public Library.
      Call number: "JK3166.P87 1989" Volume: C1.
      For in library use only.


  • Pre and Post Survey

  • Students will create a political handbill which will be displayed within the class as part of a "Gallery of Handbills." The handbill will take one of the following forms:
    • advertises a meeting, event, or shows support for the Know Nothing Party or their agenda
    • advertises a meeting, event, or shows the opposing view to the Know Nothing Party or their agenda
    • shows your view of the political landscape from the perspective of a newly arrived immigrant.
  • Teacher Notes: none