Teaching Guide: Primary Source Analysis on Texas Annexation

The Correspondence of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore is a project of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. It aims to render primary sources in antebellum US history accessible to students, teachers, scholars, and the general public. To that end, the project’s editors are locating all extant letters written by or to the twelfth and thirteenth presidents from 1844 to 1853, the decade preceding and including their administrations. In the coming years the editors will publish approximately 1,100 letters, with explanatory annotations, in three print and digital volumes. Volume 1 is due out in 2025 or 2026. This work is made possible by generous support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, The Summerlee Foundation, the Watson-Brown Foundation, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Delaplaine Foundation, Inc., and the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. For more information, see www.taylorandfillmore.org or follow the project on Twitter at @ZTandMF.

As the Taylor-Fillmore project continues work on its first volume, it is releasing this teaching guide containing four letters for use in eleventh or twelfth grade courses in US history. One of the key topics of US history in the 1840s is the annexation of Texas, which became a US state in 1845. Millard Fillmore, a lawyer and teacher from the Buffalo, NY, area, had served in Congress in 1833–35 and 1837–43; he would become vice president in 1849 and, upon the death of President Zachary Taylor, would become president in 1850. Though a private citizen in the mid-1840s, Fillmore corresponded with politicians and others about Texas. His letters reveal the issues dividing Americans over annexation and the larger question of slavery.

Teachers can use these letters, with the accompanying introductions and assignments, to lead students in a primary source analysis. By reading the original words of Americans engaged in the debate over Texas annexation, students will learn both about the questions that divided Americans before the Civil War and about the value of primary sources for understanding the past. The analysis, as indicated in the guidance at the beginning of each of the three assignments, can be conducted over either two or three classroom sessions. Teachers who have feedback on this guide are welcome to contact Michael David Cohen, editor of the Taylor-Fillmore project, at mdcohen@american.edu.


Reading Assignment 1: As homework, students will read the following two letters from 1844, before the US annexation of Texas, including the introductions. Then, in class, the teacher will help them to analyze the sources through a discussion guided by the accompanying questions.

Millard Fillmore to Abraham J. Lyon et al., June 22, 1844

George Watterston to Millard Fillmore, October 19, 1844

Questions for Classroom Discussion


Reading Assignment 2: As homework, students will read the following letter from 1845, after Congress had approved annexation. This time they will begin the source analysis themselves. As part of their homework, they will answer the accompanying questions with several sentences each. The writing assignment need not be graded, but will form the basis of a discussion led by the teacher.

Stephen C. Phillips et al. to Millard Fillmore, June 25, 1845

Questions for Analysis


Reading Assignment 3. This short assignment can be completed either immediately after the discussion of the previous assignment or on the next day. Students, in class, will read this letter from 1848, after annexation had been completed and Fillmore had been nominated for national office. In discussion, they will consider how this letter impacts their understanding of the earlier ones.

Millard Fillmore to Nathan K. Hall, June 15, 1848

Questions for Classroom Discussion


This complete teaching guide is also available as a downloadable and printable pdf file.

Click Here to Download