CareerStart lessons: Grade eight

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Essential question: What impact do trade restrictions have on businesses and employees?

Lesson overview

Students will analyze the effects of the Embargo Act of 1807 and future embargoes on economic, social, and political conditions.

Teacher planning

Materials needed

  • paper
  • pencil
  • student computers with internet access
  • computer with projector to project the “O grab me” political cartoon (Alternatively, paper copies may be handed out.)

Student handouts

War of 1812 reading selection
Provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian.
Open as PDF (65 KB, 1 page)
Embargo causes and effects graphic organizer
Open as PDF (47 KB, 1 page)
Embargo causes and effects graphic organizer teacher notes
Open as PDF (69 KB, 1 page)

Time required for lesson

Approximately 70 minutes


Opening activity

(10 minutes)

  1. Share the “O grab me” political cartoon by projecting it or handing out paper copies. Analyze the cartoon with the class:
    • What objects or people do you see in the cartoon?
    • Who/what do you think the objects and characters represent?
    • Describe the action taking place in the cartoon.
    • Does the action convey a positive or a negative account of the Embargo of 1807?
    • What adjectives describe the emotions portrayed in the cartoon?
    • Share with students (if they have not already pointed it out) that the name of the turtle is the word EMBARGO spelled backward. Review the definition and purpose of embargoes.
  2. Explain to students that this lesson will help them gain a better understanding of the events and characters as they relate to the War of 1812.

Main activity

  1. Distribute the embargo causes and effects graphic organizer and War of 1812 reading selection. Have students read the article to gather information needed to complete the graphic organizer. Students will learn about the military strategies and trade sanctions that contributed to the conflict between America and Great Britain that escalated during the early years of the 1800s. Students will then use this information to infer the effects of the embargo on Britain and America and the American political mood. (15 minutes)
  2. Review the organizer with students to ensure accurate understanding. (5 minutes)
  3. Guide students in brainstorming a list of 19th-century professions that might have been affected by the embargo. Examples:
    • merchants
    • skilled craftsmen (silversmith, tailor, gunsmith, wheelwright, blacksmith, milliner)
    • shipping workers (ship captains, sailors, dock workers)
    • fishermen (cod fishermen, whalers)
    • farmers (cotton, wheat, tobacco)
    • trappers (furriers)
    • northern textile manufacturers

    Discuss the impact of trade restrictions on these workers. Responses may include loss of income, less money to purchase goods and services, failed businesses, increased dependence on American businesses, increased illegal smuggling from other countries, etc. (10 minutes)

  4. Allow the students to select one of the careers (or draw one randomly from a hat) and take on the perspective of this worker in the 1800s. Students should write a letter to President Jefferson responding to the Embargo Act. (20 minutes.) Letters should include:
    • A description of the worker’s job
    • How the Embargo affected the worker’s livelihood (What changed as a result?)
    • What is the worker doing to try to ease the economic strain?
    • How the worker thinks Jefferson should resolve the economic and social tensions
  5. Conduct a class discussion (10 minutes):
    • Why do historians believe that the Embargo of 1807 is one of the worst political decisions ever made?
    • How did British trade restrictions, the embargo and impressment lead to the War of 1812?
    • How did economic, social, and political conditions contribute to the likelihood of war with Britain?
    • Do you think the war could have been avoided? Explain.
    • What might be the possible results of a total embargo today?
    • How would your parents’ jobs be affected?
    • How would you be affected as a consumer?
    • How would this affect our relationship with other countries?
    • When do you think trade sanctions are a necessary tool/strategy?
  6. Students interested in trade embargoes may be interested in careers in international relations. They may read about such careers from the sources listed under career information below.


Assess students’ letters using the following rubric.

1234Your score
Historical accuracyHistorically inaccuratePartly accurateMostly accurate but some minor errorsHistorically accurate description of worker’s job and the Embargo of 1807
PerspectiveUnclear understanding of work during the early 1800sSome misunderstandings of work in the early 1800sMinor misunderstandings of work in the early 1800sConveys a clear understanding of the responsibilities and challenges of work during the early 1800s
Logic and supportDetails and reasoning do not support the worker’s point of view. No credible solution to the economic problem provided.Few details and little reasoning to support the worker’s point of view and solution to economic problemAlmost enough details and reasoning to support the worker’s point of view and solution to the economic problemDetails and reasoning support the worker’s reaction. Letter includes a plausible solution to the economic problem.
Communication skillsNumerous spelling and grammar mistakes distract from the purpose of the letterSeveral spelling and grammar mistakesMinimal spelling and grammar mistakesNo distracting spelling and/or grammar mistakes

Modifications and alternative assessments

  • Explain the information about the conflicts of the day in lecture format as students complete the graphic organizer.
  • Pre-record one of the articles about the conflict and one of the articles about jobs. Students with reading difficulties can listen to the article and fill in the graphic organizer.
  • Have students use the original cartoon and create new dialogue for the characters to say.
  • Students can work with a partner or in small groups instead of individually.

Optional extensions

  • Have students list ways embargoes have been used in recent history and in today’s world. Students could do library or internet research on more current embargoes. Once several recent embargoes have been discussed, have each student select one to write about. Have students write an essay comparing and contrasting Jefferson’s embargo with the more recent one they have chosen. Students should include the reasons for each embargo, the people and products involved, and the embargoes’ duration.
  • Essay topic: Did Jefferson help or hurt the development of the U.S. government’s foreign policy relations with the Embargo of 1807?
  • Essay topic: Why is the War of 1812 sometimes called the “Second War of Independence”?
  • Assign peer tutors to critique essays and allow for rewrites.
  • Instruct students to draw an original political cartoon about one or more of the issues that existed between the United States, England, and France between 1803 and 1812. They should depict the effects of trade restrictions on the economy. It can be from the viewpoint of an individual who holds a specific occupation of the day, a merchant, a ship’s captain, Jefferson and his supporters, or Jefferson’s political opponents. Students can use the characters from the “O Grab Me” cartoon if they choose to do so. You may choose to have students work independently or in pairs.

Career information

Students interested in trade embargoes may be interested in careers in international relations. They may read about such careers from the following sources: