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United States Historical Documents

In April of 1775, Paul Revere made his famous ride to warn that King George had sent troops to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Armed colonists met the British soldiers, and the American Revolution began.

A committee of five men were appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston of New York. Thomas Jefferson did most of the actual writing. He worked on the declaration during the last two weeks of June in 1776. Benjamin Franklin made a few minor changes to the document.

On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress took a vote and accepted the resolution that the "United Colonies are, and right ought to be, free and independent States." Two days later, the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted. The next year, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. This document called for a loose group of separate states without any central government. The Articles of Con worked fine during the war with England. But when the war came to an end, the various states began to fight among themselves. The founding fathers--George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and others--decided to draw up a new document that would be stronger and more effective than the Articles of Confederation. This new document was the Constitution of the United States--a big collection of rules. It was written during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 but it didn't go into effect until 1789. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, was added in 1791.  

The wonder of the internet provides us with quick easy access to many primary source historical documents. Not only can we read the full text, but we can also see images of the original documents.

Sample some of the following activities to learn more about historical documents.

 

Places To Go    People To See    Things To Do    Teacher Resources    Bibliography

Places To Go

The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about architecture.

America's Historical Documents
This website takes the reader through a walk of history. Readers can view copies of major speeches as well as background information about what made them so famous. Then you can read about world reactions and their effect on history.
Charters of Freedom: National Archives Online Exhibit
What documents help create the United States? Who wrote them? Who signed them? Take a look at these important documents in the National Archives.
Constitution Center 
Visit the Constitution Center and learn about the Constitution's history and the Constitution's relevance to our daily lives.
Declaration of Independence
What day was the Declaration of Independence really written? Why is the original so hard to read. The answers are only a few clicks away as you look at the United States' most famous document in history.
Library of Congress: American Memory
The Library of Congress was created around 1800. In 1814, when much of the collection was destroyed by fire, Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library to the Library of Congress. As of 1999, the Library of Congress contained approximately 115 million items, including about 17 million books, 4 million maps, and 50 million manuscripts.
The National Archives
The National Archives have a huge collection of documents, pictures, and other historical documents. They have arranged them into several interesting exhibits, some listed above. Take a few minutes to look through the many exhibits and other collections available.
The National Archives - Experience
This online exhibit takes the time to make connections between several thousand key documents that effected U.S. History.
Thomas Jefferson: Library of Congress Exhibition
The Library of Congress has copies of many of Jefferson's writings including drafts for the Declaration of Independence and the documents that helped prepare him to write that document.

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People To See

Common Sense
Thomas Paine was an American political theorist and writer. He quickly became involved with the conflict between the American colonies and England and published the pamphlet, Common Sense, in January of 1776.
George Washington
Spend time with George Washington. Read his Farewell Address of 1796.
James Madison
Meet James Madison. He's the Father of the Constitution. 
Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Learn more about all the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

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Things To Do

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History
Check out this large index of links to sites featuring important historical documents in American History from the 15th Century to the present.
American Originals
From this site, see the original Louisiana Purchase, an 1868 treaty with the Sioux Indians that recognizes the Black Hills of Dakota as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, the official statement of the U.S. government where it announces recognition of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, and many more.
Articles of Confederation
Read the Articles of Confederation from 1781. They were the precurser to the Constitution which was ratified in 1789.
The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy
Read the constitutions of the original thirteen colonies, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 which was one of five peace treaties and ended WWI, the text of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, and many other historical documents.
The Bill of Rights
Review the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments to the Constitution. They were added about two years after the signing of the Constitution to ensure sufficient guarantees of individual liberties. Here is an image of the original document. Since the Bill of Rights, there have been 17 additional amendments to the Constitution.
The Constitution of the United States of America
The work of many minds, the U. S. Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise. Memorize the preamble to the Constitution. It is only one sentence long.
The Declaration of Independence
Read the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. It's the famous one. What are the three unalienable rights that are mentioned? Take a look at the original document.
Explore The Amazing World of Early America Through the Media of the Day
Peruse newspapers from the 1700s, read original papers that were part of the Whiskey Rebellion, and more. It has a useful section, How To Read A 200-Year-Old Document and Other FAQ's, which gives tips on reading old papers.
The Federalists Papers
Learn about the Federalists Papers. They were first published on October 27, 1787 in the New York newspapers to defend and promote the ratification of the new Constitution. The Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison under the pen name "Publius." A total of 85 papers were published between 1787 and 1788. These papers are still considered a classic work of political theory.
Founding.Com: A User's Guide to the Declaration of Independence
Find teachers's guides and classroom activities to use with this historical document.The Declaration of Independence is divided into the preamble and the second and third sections. The second section lists the 28 grievances against King George III. The third section is the resolution for independence proposed by delegate Richard Henry Lee.
Louisiana Purchase
In 1803, the United States bought about 800,000 square miles of land from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the border of what is now Canada in the north. Find out more about the sale of the land.
National Archives and Records Administration
The purpose of this agency is to ensure ready access to essential evidence that documents the rights of American citizens, the actions of federal officials, and the national experience.
Presidents
Read the inaugural speeches of the Presidents of the United States.
The University of Oklahoma Law Center: A Chronology of US Historical Documents
Access many historical documents from this great site. You can see a letter from Christopher Columbus to the King and Queen of Spain, read the Mayflower Compact, browse through the Monroe Doctrine, and more.

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Teacher Resources

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Bibliography

  • Bradbury, Pamela. Men of the Constitution. New York: Julian Messner, c1987.
  • Brenner, Barbara. If You Were There in 1776. New York: Bradbury Press ; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, c1994.
  • Cobblestone Magazine. Celebrating Our Constitution. Peterborough, N.H.: Cobblestone Pub., 1985.
  • Jenkins, Stephen. The Bill of Rights and You. St. Paul: West Pub. Co., c1990.
  • Nardo, Don. The Declaration of Independence: A Model for Individual Rights. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c1999.
  • Stein, R. Conrad. The Declaration of Independence. Chicago: Children Press, 1995.
  • Wilson, Jon. The Declaration of Independence: Foundation for America. Chanhassen, MN: Child's World, c1999. 
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