Documents & Texts

It is an ancient and sound principle of learning that one must begin with what is familiar. In the case of America, what is familiar turns out, surprisingly, to be an ideal starting point. From the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, there are three documents in American history with which almost all American students and teachers are already familiar: The Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The knowledge of these three documents is serendipitous because what these documents have in common is the most important and distinctively American idea, the “proposition,” as Lincoln called it — the “creed” as King called it — to which America is dedicated. Thomas Jefferson expressed this proposition as a self-evident truth in the most famous American words ever written: “All men are created equal.” The political idea expressed in these words is at the heart of each of these historic documents. These documents are also historically and rhetorically linked to each other as the deservedly most well-known memorials of three great epochs in the American story: The birth and definition of American freedom in the 18th century; the great crisis of the American experiment and the “new birth of freedom” in the 19th century; and the fulfillment of the American promise of freedom a century later in the 20th century. While these documents were the alpha and the omega of the Presidential Academy, we had very good reasons to consider other documents, deeds, and significant issues in American history.

  • Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States of America (or
    “Ashbrook Center booklet”)
  • Alexander Hamilton, et al., The Federalist Papers, Clinton Rossiter, ed., and Charles R. Kesler, intro. (Signet, 2003) ISBN: 0451528816
  • Gordon Lloyd and Margie Lloyd, eds., The Essential Bill of Rights: Original Arguments and Fundamental Documents (University Press of America, 1998) ISBN: 0761810765
  • James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (W.W. Norton and Co., 1987) ISBN 0393304051
  • Photocopied Reading Packet (PRP) of additional primary source materials.
  • Roy P. Basler, Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings (Da Capo, 2001)
  • James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford, 2003) ISBN: 019516895X
  • Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (Simon & Schuster, 2005) ISBN: 0743262972
  • Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (University of Chicago, 1999) ISBN: 0226391132
  • James M. McPherson, Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg (Crown, 2003), ISBN: 0609610236
  • Robert Walter Johannsen, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (Oxford, 1965)
  • Lucas E. Morel, Lincoln and Liberty: Wisdom for the Ages (University Press of Kentucky, 2014)
  • Gary W. Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War (The University of North Carolina Press, 2008), ISBN: 0807832065
  • John David Smith, ed., A Just and Lasting Peace: A Documentary History of Reconstruction (Signet Classics, 2013) ISBN: 978-0451532268
  • Photocopied Reading Packet (PRP) of additional primary source materials
Washington, DC
  • Howard Brotz, ed., African-American Social and Political Thought, 1850-1920 (Transaction, 1991) ISBN: 1560005637
  • Ronald J. Pestritto, Woodrow Wilson: The Essential Political Writings (Lexington, 2005) ISBN: 0739109510
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Dover Publications, 1994) ISBN: 0486280411
  • Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (Penguin, 2002) ISBN: 0142001295
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World (Harper San Francisco, 1992) ISBN: 0062505521
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait (Signet, 2000) ISBN: 0451527534
  • Malcolm X, George Breitman, ed., Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements (Grove/Atlantic, 1990) ISBN: 0802132138
  • Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
    (Vintage, 2008) ISBN: 0307455874
  • Photocopied Reading Packet (PRP) of additional primary source materials