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Primary Sources:  US History

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 1 week, 4 days ago

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the Cabinet 


The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation




100 Milestone Documents in American History from the National Archives.


History in the Raw from the National Archives.


Primary Documents in American HistoryLibrary of Congress.


National History Day Partner Resources




National History Day Digital Classroom Materials



Famous Speeches from History & Politics Out Loud by influential 20th and 21st century political leaders.


Voice of Democracy:  The U.S. Oratory Project


Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th Century 


Talking History, a website from SUNY Albany that is a weekly internet radio program focusing on all aspects of history.


  Analysis worksheets for students to use with primary sources


 What Social Justice and Diverse History Documents Should Every Student Know?



Magna Carta

Declared that the King is not above the law; It led to the establishment of constitutional law and legal rights by stating that no freeman could be punished except through the law of the land.


CROSS-LINK: British Influences on American Government

The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution (The Great Binding Laws)



Agreement among Native people for collaboration and cooperation; considered by historians as an influence on the U.S. Constitution.


CROSS-LINK: English Settlers and Native Peoples


eBook Link: Native American Influences on American Government


Mayflower Compact

First governing document by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, signed November 11, 1620. It is the first agreement for self-government created and enforced in America.  The accepted translation was found in the journal of William Bradford.


CROSS-LINK: The Pilgrims, the Plymouth Colony, and When Was the First Thanksgiving

Massachusetts Body of Liberties
First legal code by colonists in New England; earliest source of individual rights in the colonies.  Complied by Nathaniel Ward.
English Bill of Rights
Limits on the power of the king; right of freedom of speech in Parliament; basis for American Bill of Rights

Second Treatise of Government

John Locke outlines a vision of society based on natural rights; sets the foundation for American political principles including sovereignty of the people, limitations on the power of the executive or legislature, and the idea that people can revoke the social contract if government does not meet their needs.


eBook Link: Enlightenment Thinkers and Democratic Governance

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death Speech

Patrick Henry urged raising a militia in every Virginia county in this speech that set a tone of defiance of British rule.

CROSS-LINK: Colonists' Responses to British Colonial Policies

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
Statement of religious freedom and separation of church and state by Thomas Jefferson; Virginia became the first state to separate church and state.

Suffolk Resolves
Precursor to the Declaration of Independence; endorsed by the Continental Congress after being delivered to Philadelphia by Paul Revere

Massachusetts State Constitution

Model for the federal Constitution and Bill of Rights; John Adams, the future President, was a primary writer. Oldest functioning written constitution.


CROSS-LINK: Massachusetts State Constitution

Northwest Ordinance

Established that the nation would expand westward by admitting new states, banned slavery in new states entering the Union north of the Ohio River, creating a boundary between free and slave states. Written by Nathan Dane and Rufus King.


Link to an activity on the Northwest Ordinance


Federalist No. 10
James Madison's argument for Constitution and against political factions.


Call for Pan-Indian Resistance



Shawnee leader Tecumseh calls for unity among native peoples and resistance to White take over of their lands.


Cross-Link: The War of 1812 and Tecumseh


Appeal to the Coloured

Citizens of the World


1829 David Walker's call for abolition of slavery. 

  Full title:  Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, 
to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, 
and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, 
Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829


William Apess Eulogy on King Philip


1836 A famous speech honoring the Indian chief King Philip by Pequot activist and writer, William Apess. 

Memorial to the Massachusetts Legislature



Dorothea Dix's call for an end to the confinement of persons with mental disabilities in prisons.


CROSS-LINK: Dorothea Dix, 19th Century Mental Health Reformer


Lowell Women Workers Campaign for a Ten-Hour Workday



Excerpts from Factory Tracts; this publication was part of the efforts of women mill workers to expose conditions in the mills and advocate a ten hour day.


CROSS-LINK: Lowell Mill Girls


Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments
Women's declaration of independence written by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and issued July 19, 1848.  Modeled in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, it declared that Enlightenment and Revolutionary ideals applied to women too.

Civil Disobedience



Essay by Henry David Thoreau that justifies resistance to laws on the basis of personal conscience and belief; influenced Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.


CROSS-LINK: Walden by Henry David Thoreau


"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"



Frederick Douglass Independence Day Speech, Rochester, New York


CROSS-LINK: The Abolitionist Movement


Petition to California Governor John Bigler


1852 San Francisco Chinese American community leader Norman Asing call for an end to restrictions against Chinese immigration.
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
Approach to Reconstruction that featured mutual forgiveness; Condemned slavery

Lincoln's House Divided Speech
Lincoln's speech against Dred Scott Decision


Gettysburg Address



Lincoln's speech at the Gettysburg Battlefield that recalled the Declaration of Independence as a founding vision for society and government.


CROSS-LINK: Abraham Lincoln's Presidency


War Department General Order 143

This document ordered the creation of African American troops during the Civil War under the designation "United States Colored Troops."


CROSS-LINK: African Americans and the Civil War


Women's Journal and Suffrage News


1870 Women's newspaper co-founded by Lucy Stone
The New Colossus

Poet Emma Lazarus's sonnet about immigrants coming to America through New York City.  Written to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statute of Liberty.


Atlanta Exposition Address


1895 Booker T. Washington addressing racial progress through accommodation. 

The Niagara Movement Declaration of Principles



Written by W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter, this document stressed the need for African Americans to protest segregation and discrimination and to have free compulsory education.


CROSS-LINK: W.E.B. Du Bois, the Niagara Movement, and the History of the NAACP


Indian Citizenship Act


1924 Act granting U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans, signed by President Calvin Coolidge on June 2, 1924.
East Goes West

Younghill Kang's novel of immigrant experience

CROSS-LINK: Late 19th Century Immigration to the United States


Roosevelt Corollary
Roosevelt's addition to the Monroe Doctrine stated that Western Hemisphere countries are not only closed for colonization, but it was up to the US to protect them.

The New Nationalism Speech

Theodore Roosevelt statement that the most important function of the federal government is to protect the human welfare of its citizens.

CROSS-LINK: Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President


Peace Without Victory Speech

Wilson Wilson's terms for ending the war without a traditional victory

CROSS-LINK: American Isolationism after World War I


Four Freedoms Speech

Franklin Roosevelt's statement of the freedoms of people everywhere in the world; Freedom of speech; Freedom of religion; Freedom from war; Freedom from fear.  Concluded that the U.S. should end its foreign policy of neutrality.


Link here for a youtube clip of the Four Freedoms Speech


Gordon Parks Photographs of Ella Watson


1942 Famous photograph of a Black cleaning woman by the first African American photographer at Life Magazine. 
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

Supreme Court Justice Robert M. Jackson's defense of freedom of speech in which he wrote:

"[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."


eBook Link: Landmark First Amendment Rights Cases

The Spirit of Liberty
Judge Learned Hand defined liberty as the types of attitudes people have toward one another; urging that Americans must be open-minded and reject dogmatism

Servicemen's Readjustment Act


1944 The G.I. Bill
The Truman Doctrine
President Truman announced that it was U.S. policy to assist any country threatened by Communism, expressing a global role for the nation and essentially ending isolationism as a foreign policy approach.

The Sources of Soviet Conduct
George Kennan's (writing under the pseudonym Mr. X) statement of containment as American policy in the Cold War.  Highly critical of the Soviet system.
Shaped US foreign policy throughout the Cold War and is  even relevant today in US Russian relations

Declaration of Conscience Speech



Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith condemned McCarthyism.


CROSS-LINK: Anticommunism and McCarthyism in the 1950s


John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

Expressed the role of the United States in combating communism around the world; considered one of the finest inaugural speeches ever delivered


 Video of Kennedy's Address

CROSS-LINK: Presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Carter


Letter from Birmingham City Jail
Reverend Martin Luther King's statement that civil disobedience is necessary when opposing unjust laws

I Have a Dream Speech

Reverend Martin Luther King's call for racial justice at the March on Washington.


 Click here for MLK's I Have a Dream Speech

CROSS-LINK: Accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement


Johnson's Speech to Congress on Voting Rights
Lyndon Johnson declares that every men should have the right to vote and that civil rights problems are a national issue. He used the phrase "we shall overcome" near the end of the speech

Carter's Crisis of Confidence Speech

Jimmy Carter addresses public doubt and the lack of confidence of the people toward their government and their own identities as Americans.

Youtube video here


Cesar Chavez Address to the Commonwealth Club of California



Speech from Chavez as President of the United Farm Workers of America about unsafe conditions for farm workers. Includes the audio file.


CROSS-LINK: Latinx Civil Rights Movement


Reagan's Speech at Moscow State University

Reagan discussed American freedoms he hoped Russian people will enjoy and proposed greater exchanges between the two nations


Click here for a clip of the speech. It also has a link to the full version.




Add Discussion



Connecting Primary Sources


HOOKE.PETER Apr 27, 2011

The analysis worksheets may be good for the primary sources. http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/ 

& this is a website with primary sources. 





Younghill Kang, East Goes West

worldhistoryteacher Apr 12, 2011

Excerpt found here:
pages 6-7



West Virginia State Board of Ed. v. Barnette

worldhistoryteacher Apr 12, 2011

The case can be found here:

One popular reader for US has a nice summary of the opinion: A History of Us: Sourcebook and Index (rev. 3rd edition) (Oxford 2005), pp. 233-235


Thanks for doing this.


maloyr Apr 12, 2011

Thank you for the link. I added it to the government standard UGS.2.5 where Justice Robert Jackson's dissent is cited as a core document in U. S. History.

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