The Pig War DBQ: So, How’d It Go?

Pig War Political Cartoon
Pig War political cartoon created by Team 5

I was impressed with the products students created when I ran the Pig War DBQ with my sophomore U.S. history and government class. I incorporated it into the last lesson of my work sample as a performance assessment because it touched on three of my learning targets: increased knowledge of the U.S.’s occupation of Pacific Northwest, improved historical reading skills, and a more-developed ability to work collaboratively. In teams of five, students tackled the documents and re-created narratives of the event, all within 90 minutes. Products that they created included straight narratives, a poem told from the pig’s perspective, and the political cartoon pictured in this post.

Some narratives were more complete than others, but for the most part, each team was able to extract the important historical markers of the Pig War. The teams that were most successful were those in which one or two of the students took up an executive or administrative function. My goal was to have the students work as a group; 22 documents would be difficult for a single person to analyze in 90 minutes. Instead, the executor would outsource the documents to the rest of the team and have individual team members summarize those documents. Those summaries were eventually incorporated into a common template, which was fleshed-out into a unified narrative.

As an experiment, I tried to create an atmosphere in which the success or failure of a team to create a product would not affect their grades. Rather, the goal was to create the possible narrative purely for the sake of creating it, for the glory of being the best. This saw mixed success on a student-per-student basis, but overall the teams were able to work effectively to create quality products.

As it was, students assessed as team “most knowledgeable others” (MKOs) were the most contributive to the assignment. Students with lower skill abilities were at first disruptive to team progress. As the exercise progressed, competitive pressure required each team to “step up their game,” and non-contributive members were essentially ostracized or forced to actually contribute to their teams. I observed less-proficient students alternatively find a role in their groups, or simply tune out of the exercise. In the future, I think I would be more explicit in my expectations for team members to actively contribute to the process of creating a product, in terms of quantifying individual contribution for the use of grading.

I was not sure how adept my students would be at accomplishing my goal, of their creating discrete narratives of the historical event that created the documents. Frankly, I was dubious of the lesson’s success. On the first day of class, I administered a team-building exercise, a tower-building activity, and not every group was able to create a free-standing tower. I was worried that this assignment would show a similar success rate, and that not every team would be able to create a product.

To my surprise and delight, however, every team was able to create a narrative that included that major markers of the historical event in question. This shows that every team was able to utilize their historical reading skills to pull relevant information from the documents, and synthesize an historically accurate interpretation of the event in question.

My approach to presenting the lesson, emphasizing that it was supposed to be fun and “for the glory” of creating the most quality norm-referenced product, met with mixed success on a per-student basis. I would be curious to see if with a consistently implemented “for fun” approach, coupled with the peer-pressure effect, would create a classroom climate in which every team member would give his or her best effort.

The Pig War: How America Killed a Pig and Won Some Islands

The Pig War, you forgotten piece of American History.

Competing claims in Oregon Country, 1846

How can you even go wrong designing a DBQ based off of the Pig War?  It was an armed conflict between the United Kingdom and the United States in which the only casualty was a British pig — no figurative language here: the only living thing that got shot was a pig who was eating some American’s root vegetables.  Nonetheless, the death of this Suidae would trigger a decade-long joint occupation of San Juan Island and would nearly lead to a shooting war between British and American forces.

The amazing thing about this conflict is that it was bloodless.  Cooler heads prevailed.  Despite having orders to engage the enemy, the British commander refused to go to war over a pig.  Neither side was willing to fire the first shot.

Another intriguing thing about the Pig War is the personalities involved.  George E. Pickett may be best remembered for his blunders in the Battle of Gettysburg, but he honed his military command skills as a leader of the American forces on San Juan Island.  Henry Martyn Robert had plenty of time to think up his “Rules of Order” while stationed at American Camp.  Geoffrey Honby may never have made Admiral of the Fleet if he’d obeyed his orders to rout the Americans.

As a DBQ, there should be be sufficient primary source documents on the Pig War to make for a rich and generative topic.

Implications of the First Amendment: “To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance”


This pre-assessment will ask 10th grade United States history and government students to corroborate details across three documents: the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786), George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island (1790), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791). The documents will be called Documents a, b, and c, and no background information will be provided. Question 1 will ask students to determine points of agreement in the messages of the three documents. Question 2 will ask students to evaluate what rationale the authors give for their positions. Question 3 will ask students to source the documents.  They will chronologically order the documents and match them to their authors.

Having learned about the historical figures who authored the documents, as well as having some context on the evolution of the bill of rights, students should be able to correctly identify the author, voice, message, and significance of the documents.


a.  Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)

“…Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.”

b.  George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island (1790)

“…If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…”

c.  First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Questions

  1. On what topics do the authors of these documents agree?
  1. What reasoning provided in documents a. and b. support the conclusions of document c.?
  1. Match the documents with their author and date of composition/enactment:

Thomas Jefferson; George Washington; The Constitutional Convention

1786; 1790; 1791

Document a.  Author______________________________________ Date___________________

Document b.  Author______________________________________ Date___________________

Document c.  Author______________________________________ Date___________________


When I use this lesson in the classroom, I will use it as a pre-assessment before I begin a unit on the Constitutional Convention.  One of the major hurdles that the Federalists had to clear in order to sell the model of a constitutional republic was to ensure the preservation of civil rights.  An examination of the evolution of church/state separation is germane to the topic.  An assessment that will ask my students to give a close reading to these primary sources should “hook” them into listening to a lecture that will use the sources as a jumping-off point for examining the Anti-Federalist concerns that prompted the writing of the Bill of Rights.

Analyzing Current Events as an Adversarial Process


Assignment – Every day, the class will examine a current event. Students will sign up for presentation dates upon which they will present their current event articles in a PowerPoint presentation. Every three consecutive presentations will fall under the auspices of the following categories: Civil rights; immigration; government regulation of personal behavior; energy security and climate change; the economy, stupid; electoral races and ballot measures; national security; foreign policy. Additionally, each student will be assigned a presentation for which they will play the devil’s advocate, playing counterpoint to the class discussion following the PowerPoint.

Content – Students will have an opportunity to examine and reconstruct their opinions on American political, economic, social, cultural, industrial, etc. opinions, and configure contemporary world events within their pre-existing schemata. They will also have the opportunity to practice sharing their thoughts on emotionally charged issues in a public forum. To effectively play the devil’s advocate, they will have to objectively examine arguments from multiple angles.

Process – Students will begin by taking a survey, in which they will be asked to “Briefly discuss your positions on the following world issues. Indicate how you arrived at your position on each issue.” They will write short responses on the following:

  • American politics, including issues related to immigration, civil rights, economic policy, national security, gun control, etc.
  • Social issues, including issues related to privacy, human rights and humanitarian issues, climate change, governmental regulation of personal behavior, etc.
  • Foreign policy issues, including foreign aid, energy security, nonproliferation, conflict and stabilization operations, counterterrorism, etc.

Their answers will be used to determine for which topic and for whom they will play the devil’s advocate. Students may have to argue opinions that are contrary to what they actually believe.

Students will also answer: “What do you hope or expect to gain from the current events exercises? Do you think your opinion will change on any of your positions? On what issues do you hope or expect to gain a more-developed understanding?” At the end of the unit, when everyone has presented, they will answer appropriately reflective questions.

During each presentation, students will complete their daily analysis worksheets, upon which they will take notes of the presentation and class discussion.

Product – Students will create PowerPoint presentations to summarize their current event, providing background information and their analyses of the topics. At the conclusion of the presentations, students will provide three questions to guide a classroom discussion following their explanation and background of the topics.  The questions should be open-ended and should ask for students to provide thoughtful responses related directly to the current event.


Grading Components

Intro sheet:                                                    10 pts

Current event presentation:                          30 pts

Devil’s advocate performance:                    12 pts

Current event analyses:                               48 pts

Current Events:

Daily Analysis

Take notes as the presenter presents his/her article. Then participate in the discussion using your notes to guide you, and reflect on the class discussion.

  1. How would you classify this article? Political Economic Social Cultural Combination _____________/_____________ Other __________________
  1. Write a list of things that you learned from this presentation.
  2. Write down a list of things that you are confused about or questions you have?
  3. In the best words you can possibly choose, what is the article’s point? What is the article about?
  4. Provide a summary of the class discussion. What points did you find the most thought-provoking? Did your opinion or position change as a result of the discussion?

Devil’s Advocate Self-Reflection

  1. Which arguments or points you made were the most effective at eliciting responses from the class?
  2. Did any of the arguments or points you made raise awareness of your classmates?
  3. Did your opinion or position on the subject at issue in the article change? What new things did you learn in researching the devil’s advocate position?

PowerPoint Grading Rubric

Summary of article is written in the student’s words, and is not simply copy and pasted from the article.             1   2   3   4   5

At least one other source of information was used to further explicate the article’s topic, with appropriate APA citations.           1   2   3   4   5

Background provided is accurate and thorough   1   2   3   4   5

Student actively and confidently leads discussion, asks follow up questions if necessary to individual students, and included as many students as possible in the discussion.    1   2   3   4   5

The three questions were open ended and led to a good discussion about the topic.             1   2   3   4   5

The PowerPoint presentation slides used an appropriate amount of text, were easy to read, and well designed.              1   2   3   4   5

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