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Simulation Activity—Setting Up the War of 1812


The War of 1812 is often overlooked or only briefly studied in American history curricula, but this war had a lasting impact—it proved America could be a viable and independent world power. The United States at the time was conducting an economy heavily based on imports and exports shipped back and forth across the Atlantic. When America's ability to ship safely and trade freely was threatened, war seemed the only solution. This month's feature article provides background on the lead-up and causes of the war.

In this lesson, students participate in a simulation of the global economy in the years prior to the War of 1812. Students take the roles of ambassadors, naval captains, merchant ship's captains, and merchants and make choices that affect their livelihoods and those of others in the simulation. As students participate in this miniature global economy, they learn how trade restrictions and failed diplomacy impacted America's decision to enter war with Britain in the War of 1812.


In this lesson, students:

  • Participate in a simulation of maritime trade in the years just prior to the War of 1812
  • Identify the economic events of 1805–1812
  • Explain how these events pushed America closer to war



  1. Assign students roles to play in the simulation. You will need at least:
    • 1 French Ambassador
    • 1 British Ambassador
    • 1 American Ambassador
    • 1 French Naval Captain
    • 3 British Naval Captains
    • 5 American Merchants (add more if you have more students)
    • 5 American Ship Captains (add more if you have more students)
  2. Find a large area of blank floor space, such as the cafeteria, gym, or parking lot. Tell students the space represents a map of the world. Choose a direction for North and mark it for students.
  3. Ask students where France, England, the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean would be located on this world map. You may want to use flags or signs to denote where each country is located.
  4. Have each student go to their starting position
    • The French Ambassador in France (give him/her the French Ambassador's Announcement)
    • The British Ambassador in England (give him/her the British Ambassador's Announcement)
    • American Ambassador in America (give him/her the American Ambassador's Announcements)
    • French Naval Captain off the coast of France (give him/her the French Naval Captain's orders and Loss of Goods)
    • British Naval Captains off the coast of America (give them British Naval Captain's Orders 1 and Loss of Goods)
    • American Ship Captains in America (give them Orders for American Ship Captains and Loss of Goods)
    • American Merchants in America (give them Choices for American Merchants, Loss of Goods, and five dollar bills)
  5. Have each merchant decide using Choice 1 where they would like their ships captains to go.
  6. Have American Ship Captains decide on what route they will take: A or B. Have navy captains choose what route they will patrol: A or B. Students should tape or pin their route card to themselves with the chosen route showing. (Students need not actually follow a specific path from one side of the room to the other, although you may wish to mark routes on the floor with masking tape if you would like.)
  7. Have American Ship Captains set sail. The British and French Navy captains are to stop and try to impress sailors and seize cargo from ships ONLY on the route they chose.
  8. Deduct or add money to the merchant's accounts based on the outcome of the voyage.
  9. Have ships return to America.
  10. Have the British and French Ambassadors read their announcements.
  11. Give British navy ships Orders #2. They will now be operating off these orders.
  12. Have each merchant decide using Choice 2 where they would like their ships captains to go. Repeat steps 6-9.
  13. Have the American ambassador read the first American announcement.
  14. Have each merchant decide using Choice 3 where they would like their ships captains to go. Repeat steps 6-9.
  15. Have the American ambassador read the second American announcement.
  16. Have each merchant decide using Choice 4 where they would like their ships captains to go. Repeat steps 6-9.
  17. Have the American Ambassador read the last American announcement. This concludes the simulation.
  18. Describe for the students that Macon's Bill Number Two was the last effort that America made to try and stop a war and it did not work.

Lesson Extensions

Have each student draft a letter of protest to the American government detailing their complaints about the unfair treatment they received from the French and British navies.