Thinking About Patriotism - DBQ

"This lesson, including a student survey, a reading using original documents, and suggestions for discussion, invites students to consider what it means to be a patriot in the United States. - DBQ. Original documents, questions, and a Document-Based Question, plus suggestions for follow up."


Read each paragraph, and then answer the question following it. After you have read all of the paragraphs, write an essay in response to item F.



Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

—Emma Lazarus, Inscription on the Statue of Liberty

Question: What does the Statue have to offer the people it welcomes?



Each man must himself decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you what they may.

—Mark Twain (

Question: Why must each man decide "which course is patriotic and which isn't"?



Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong!

—Stephen Decatur, toast, April 1816

"Our country, right or wrong." When right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.

—Carl Schurz (

Question: How would Decatur disagree with Schurz?



Let our object be our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country. And, by the blessing of God, may that country itself become a vast and splendid monument, not of oppression and terror, but of wisdom, of peace, and of liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration forever.

—Daniel Webster, The Pocket Book of America

Question: What qualities does Webster want our country to have?



It is hard to defy the wisdom of the tribe: the wisdom that values the lives of members of the tribe above all others. It will always be unpopular it will always be deemed unpatriotic to say that the lives of the other tribe are as valuable as one's own.

—Susan Sontag, Keynote Speech, 3/30/03

Question: Why will it always be unpatriotic to value the lives of another tribe as much as one's own?



Americans have differed, at times strongly, about the meaning of patriotism. A major reason is that the subject evokes strong emotions.

Using information from the documents and your knowledge and feelings about patriotism, write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs, and a conclusion in which you:

  • compare and contrast viewpoints about patriotism
  • discuss your own point of view and the reasons for it


G. For Discussion

Have students read the DBQ and answer in writing items A-E. Then divide them into groups of four to six 1) to discuss their answers and 2) to chart a response to the first item in F, which calls for comparing and contrasting viewpoints.

The class might then consider the major points of comparison and contrast in reports from each group. Follow this with a class discussion of personal viewpoints and the reasons for them.


For further inquiry

  • Americans who opposed the American Revolution
  • Reactions of Americans to the abolitionists
  • The work of Sojourner Truth
  • John Brown: Patriot or Traitor?
  • The Seneca Falls meeting of 1848
  • Henry Thoreau's opposition to the Mexican War and his essay"On Civil Disobedience"
  • The Pullman Strike of 1894
  • The UAW Sit-down Strike of 1936-1937
  • The World War I trial of Eugene V. Debs
  • A. Philip Randolph's proposed march on Washington and Executive Order 8802 during World War II

For citizenship

Have students prepare a magazine on patriotism for distribution to other students and to parents. Have a brainstorming session with students to decide on the magazine's content. It might include essays written in response to the DBQ, the results of historical inquiries, and other related subjects of interest to students.

A concluding activity

Have students return to the questionnaire with which their study began and reconsider their responses. In the light of reading and discussions, have they changed their minds about any items? Why or why not?


This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: