Introduction

This collection of documents presents American history from 1493 to 1865 as a series of fifteen topics. For each of these, a selection of documents recreates a debate over a particular issue critical to understanding the topic and the corresponding period in American history. Taken together, the debates highlight enduring issues and themes in American life, such as the effort to balance freedom and equality as well as liberty and order; the struggle for inclusion and full participation of African-Americans, women, and working people; the conflict over how America should organize its economy and what role government should have in American economic life; and the argument over how America should use its power in the world.

Each chapter has an introduction that provides necessary context and three sets of study questions. The first set (A) cover the documents in the chapter; the second (B), other documents in the volume; and the third (C) documents in the companion volume. Each of the documents is annotated with footnotes that provide biographical information on document authors and identify obscure words, events or individuals.

This volume and its companion, which covers American history after 1865, are part of an ongoing series of document volumes produced by the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. When the series is complete, it will be comprehensive and also authoritative because it will present America’s story in the words of those who wrote it – America’s presidents, labor leaders, farmers, philosophers, industrialists, politicians, workers, explorers, religious leaders, judges, and soldiers; its slaveholders and abolitionists; its expansionists and isolationists; its reformers and stand-patters; its strict and broad constructionists; its hard-eyed realists and visionary utopians – all united in their commitment to equality and liberty, yet all also divided often by their different understandings of these most fundamental American ideas. The documents are about all this – the still unfinished American experiment with self-government.

Help with selecting documents for this volume came from Dennis Boman, Rob McDonald, John Moser, Lucas Morel, Sean Sculley, David Tucker, Jace Weaver, and Scott Yenor. Sarah Morgan Smith excerpted the documents and wrote the introductions with the exceptions of Chapter 1 (prepared by David Tucker) and Chapters 5-6 (prepared by Rob McDonald). David Tucker was the volume’s General Editor. Joan Livingston and Ellen Tucker did the copyediting. Lisa Ormiston oversaw production. Ali Brosky provided all sorts of help, including getting permissions and organizing the work of the interns who supported the project. Ashbrook interns who assisted with transcription and research include: Madeleine Emholtz, Martha Sorah, Dennis Cerney, McKenzie Jones, Caroline Toth, Sabrina Maristela, Brennan Kunkel, Nick Thielman, Kailyn Clarke and Frances Boggs.

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