Documents and Discussion Questions

We have gathered copies of the document packets and discussion questions for several of our most popular seminar topics related to American history and government below. Each one consists of three sets of primary source readings related to a different theme, event, or idea in American history, along with discussion questions created by our scholars.

We hope these resources help you and your students deeply explore American history.

The American Founding

This reader helps to explore the ideas that fueled the American Founding; the systems created in pursuit of those goals; and how the contradiction of slavery was taken alongside those efforts.

Alexander Hamilton

A gifted, strident, courageous, and recently quite famous Founder, Alexander Hamilton was an officer in Washington’s army, a some-time delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, signer of the Constitution, and first Secretary of the Treasury.

Slavery and the Constitution

Study in depth the contradiction of limited government, participatory democracy, and slavery. Picking up where the American Founding left off, and learn about complex issue.

Freedom of Speech

The first right protected in the First Amendment, learn about this most fundamental liberty, essential to a free society and government of, by, and for the people.

Women in American History and Politics

Our first thematic reader, this looks into the pivotal role of women in American politics throughout our history, from the era of the Founding through the 1970s, spotlighting ideas and their impact over time.

The American Presidency

A topical study of the office and powers of the President, from the constitutional foundations, to the democratization of the office during the 19th Century, and ending with the early 20th Century Progressive re-envisioning of the office and officeholder.

Social Reform, 1790-1850: Temperance, Abolition, and the End of the World

On the heels of the American Founding came successive waves of social activism with significant political and legal impacts. Explore three reform movements that helped shape the politics and culture of the first decades of the American Republic.

Executive Power and the Constitution

Unlike legislative powers, which are largely enumerated, the “executive power” of the president is ill-defined in the Constitution, and is something that’s been worked out and understood – and challenged and perhaps abused – over time. Explore this concept through three lenses: administrative responsibility, debates over executive power, and powers over war and diplomacy.

Jacksonian America

The man and the era – which defined which? This reader focuses on three ideas and turning points in his presidency, within the context of the rapid growth of the country to the west, and significant demographic and political changes shaping policy.

Causes of the Civil War

Beginning in the 1820s, this reader explores the long-term and immediate causes of the Civil War, helping to make sense of the ideas and actions of major leaders and groups in the North, South, and West during the first half of the 19th Century.

The Civil War and Reconstruction

Picking up where the previous reader left off, this three-part collection explores the war as a means to restore the Union, to a war meant to emancipate the slaves and end slavery, to attempts to reconstruct the shattered political and social order in the wake of war.

Presidents and Political Parties

Study the ever-evolving relationship between the President and political parties through the lenses of three eras: the president above parties; the parties above presidents; and finally presidents instead of parties.

Political Parties

Not part of the original plan of government, nor mentioned in the Constitution, and in fact distrusted by Washington and some other Founders, political parties nonetheless sprung up and organized during America’s first presidential administration. This two-section reader looks into the origins and evolution of parties, and the transformation during the Progressive Era.

Jim Crow Laws and their Impact

Despite the Reconstruction Amendments, resistance to emancipation and black equality continued, and in fact deepened, in the decades after the Civil War. Study the evolution of these laws and their impact on freedmen, and American life.

TR, Wilson, and the Progressive Reformers

What did it mean, in the early 20th Century, to be a Progressive? How did Progressives view the role, powers, and responsibilities of the United States government? How was it that Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and William Taft were all self-proclaimed Progressives, and yet ran against one another in the presidential election of 1912?

FDR, World War 2, and the Holocaust

Study FDR as a wartime president, and explore his understanding of and reaction to the genocide that would become known as the Holocaust.

Origins of the Cold War

From wartime allies to adversaries, the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union immediately after World War 2 seemed like an unlikely change for the worse for the casual observer. Study the prewar, wartime, and immediate post-war foundations of this split – or, perhaps this return to normalcy between two powers.

The Cold War at Home, 1945-55

The Cold War is, rightly, depicted as an international event, unfolding over decades. It had, however, significant economic, social, political and legal effects on American life at home, especially during the first decade after the war’s end.

Civil Disobedience

Something of an American tradition, organized resistance to groups and laws seen as unjust is older than the republic. Look at this constant partner in American social and political life from the Founding into the 20th Century.

Civil Rights: Speeches and Leaders

America’s Civil Rights Movement has a longer history than presented in many popular textbooks. Look into the 19th Century origins and orators that formed the basis for a century-long struggle for “liberty for all.”

Supreme Court Cases That Changed America

Although this is only a selection of Landmark Cases, they are grouped into three categories for consideration and comparison: constitutional interpretation and judicial review; federalism and the commerce power; and civil rights.

Modern Social Movements

Picking up from and building off the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, other social reform groups and movements coalesced and worked to affect the change they sought in government, law, and society. This collection of documents helps to make sense of the impact of the 60s, the politicization of personal behaviors, and the dawning of the ‘culture wars.’