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Main Ideas
Explore the theme of conflict and compromise in a historical problem-solving activity. Students will re-enact the political drama of the creation of the Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan state borders in the Great Lakes region. They will specifically focus on the northern border of Illinois—a source of contention between Illinois' and Wisconsin's political leaders over the years. This drama will be analyzed as an example of political conflict eased by compromise and the resulting new conflicts and new compromises.

Connection with the Curriculum
This material could be used to teach Illinois history, U. S. history, or writing skills.

Teaching Level
Grades 7-12

Materials for Each Student

• Copies of maps 1, 2, 3, and 4

• Copies of the options scenarios

• Chart paper

• Paper, pens, colored pencils

Objectives for Each Student
• Understand the events that led to the establishment of state boundaries in the Great Lakes region.

• Analyze political activity as it moves from conflict to compromise to new conflicts and new compromises.

• Defend/dispute the wisdom and integrity of Nathaniel Pope's actions.


Opening the Lesson
Students can begin learning about border disputes by writing about a turf conflict in their own lives, anything from fighting for room space with a sibling to gang wars for neighborhood territories. Included in their entry should be a discussion of compromises made to resolve the conflict and some judgment about how those compromises can produce later conflicts. Students may be encouraged to share their reflections with a peer or small group.

Developing the Lesson
Explain to students that they will be reenacting a historical conflict that continues to have consequences today. Invite students to assume the roles of politicians in 1818 grappling with establishing the northern border of Illinois. They have three options to analyze. Distribute copies of Map 1 and present Option 1. Students should divide into groups to read the option and examine the map. Groups should analyze the handouts and the advantages/disadvantages of the state boundaries in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. As analysis of Option 1 is completed, repeat the procedure with Map 2 and Options 2 and 3.

After evaluating all three options, each group should agree on the location of the northern Illinois border and present and defend their decision to the class.



Concluding the Lesson
Students should trace the events that eventually established the state boundaries beginning with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and continuing until 1858. Distribute copies of Map 3 and Map 4. Discuss the evolution of state boundaries, paying particular attention to the geographic misunderstandings, local politics, and national concerns that influenced the course of events.

Extending the Lesson
Depending on one's view, the same event can be cause for celebration, indignation, or despair. The following activity provides students with opportunities to evaluate, from different perspectives, the wisdom and virtue of decisions that established state boundaries in the Great Lakes region.

Students will discuss political cartoons as the teacher or student leader records the cartoon's characteristics as they are identified. The teacher should ask students to discuss the different perspectives of Illinois and Wisconsin citizens in 1876 or today concerning the boundary separating the two states. Nathaniel Pope's earlier role as hero or villain might also be included in the discussion. Students should draw two political cartoons, one from an Illinois and one from a Wisconsin newspaper. The cartoons should reflect awareness of the characteristics of political cartoons, comprehension of the conflict, and understanding of the different viewpoints.

Assessing the Lesson
Remind students that this lesson is an example of ongoing political conflict and compromise. Each group should analyze the conflicts and compromises that established the political boundaries of the Great Lakes states. The conclusions of the group might be represented on a flow chart. The flow chart should demonstrate that students are able to identify the events and can represent them graphically as conflicts leading to compromises leading to new conflicts and new compromises.

Northwest Territory


Handout 1 - Option 1


Option 1 proposes that the northern boundary of Illinois be established in accordance with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, an east-west line touching the southern tip of Lake Michigan. As a delegate, you believe this makes the decision easy and you will leave for home by early afternoon.

The advantages of this option are:

The disadvantages of this option are:


Handout 2 - Option 2


You are not particularly satisfied with Option 1. The country is increasingly concerned with the balance between slave and free states. Nathaniel Pope, a delegate to Congress from Illinois, has suggested that the northern boundary of Illinois be pushed to the parallel of 42°30', approximately 31 miles north of the boundary suggested in the Ordinance of 1787 and farther north than the boundaries of Ohio or Indiana. Why is Pope so audacious?

The advantages of this option are:

The disadvantages of this option are:


Handout 3 - Option 3


Option 3 establishes the Illinois northern boundary even with Indiana's or Ohio's northern border. This option confuses your Congressional group. It seems that in 1803 a mistake was made, and the northern boundary of Ohio was set approximately six miles too far north. What was the mistake? You know the Michigan politicians are angry and will probably demand action or compensation.

In 1816 your group had another headache. The northern Indiana boundary could remain as determined by the Ordinance of 1787 or it could be set even with Ohio's northern border. The Indiana group did not like either choice and eventually got the boundary pushed ten miles north. Why was this ten miles important to the Indiana group?

The date is now 1818, and your group should consider the advantages/disadvantages of using this option for Illinois. Why did you bring up old history? You will not be leaving here for a week and the southern delegates are getting suspicious. They see a plot to make Illinois a strong northern state by pushing its boundary further north.

The advantages of this option are:

The disadvantages of this option are:


Map 1

Map 2


Map 3
The Evolution of State Boundaries in the Northwest Territory

Map 3 - Northwest Territory


Map 4
Illinois: Original Suggested Boundary and Final Result
with 1990 Population of Each Area

Map 4 - Illinois Boundary

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