We the Teachers

Standards-Based Search Tool for Our Documents Library

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is very happy to announce the launch of our Standards Search Tool for our Documents Library. You can now search for standards by type (Social Studies or Common Core ELA for History), state, and grade level and get lists of documents that are relevant to teaching them. You can also select a specific document and see which standards are most appropriate to it. A short how-to page is here, and you’ll see the interface for the tool on any document page – like this one - on both the right side of the screen and on the ‘Academic Standards’ tab right above the text of the document.

The 13th Amendment: The Beginning of a Constitutional Revolution?

Professor Scott Yenor:   

| Open Player in New Window

On the evening of 7 July, 2015, TeachingAmericanHistory.org and the National Council for the Social Studies presented the first of three webinars in a series based around the three Reconstruction Amendments. Professor Scott Yenor, of Boise State University, worked with a group of teachers from across the country to consider the constitutional, legal, and practical issues surrounding the 13th Amendment. Did the amendment represent a departure from constitutional precedent, or a culmination of it? How was the question of slavery dealt with as a constitutional and legal issue through this amendment? Were the Reconstruction amendments truly a coherent ‘package,’ as often portrayed? These questions and others were addressed in detail using this documents packet and this slideshow. Download those files and follow along with the attached podcast.

Presidential Academy: The Declaration of Independence and the American Founding

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is proud to offer the first 11 of 30 sessions of our Presidential Academy documents-based survey course of American history and American political thought through iTunesU, iTunes, and this blog.

Starting on Tuesday, 14 July, we’ll publish one session per week, excluding some weeks due to holidays. This first portion of the course will end on Tuesday, 22 September, and will be followed the week after by Part 2, and then Part 3 in 2016.

Presidential Academy was a grant-funded program that TAH.org presented to groups of teachers who met and studied in three cities over two weeks, with discussions rooted in three separate documents. The first days were in Philadelphia, beginning with the American Founding, through the Declaration of Independence. Additional documents and ideas were addressed and analyzed throughout the several sessions there before the group moved on to Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Finally, the group moved to Washington, D.C., and study of modern America, with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as the focal point.

Each session is made up of a set of readings, all linked from its blog post, and usually one lecture. Guiding questions and focus issues are at the foundation of each week’s study. A list of all session titles in Part 1 of the course is below, along with the dates on which each will be published on this blog, and the audio made available through iTunes. You can subscribe to our iTunes Podcast feed by clicking here. The entire course, divided into the three major sections – Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Washington – is already available on iTunesU.

Session 1: Introduction and the “Apple of Gold”: - The Centrality of the Declaration of Independence in American Political Life, 14 July
Session 2: The American Mind: Part I, 21 July
Session 3: The American Mind: Part II, 28 July
Session 4: The Revolutionary Era, 4 AUG
Session 5: The Constitutional Convention, Part I – The Alternative Plans, 11 AUG
Session 6: The Constitutional Convention, Part II – The Connecticut Compromise, 18 AUG
Session 7: The Constitutional Convention, Part III – The Committee of Detail Report and the Close of the Convention, 25 AUG
Session 8: The Constitution and American Self-Government, 1 SEP
Session 9: The Proposed Constitution of 1787 and Its Defense in The Federalist Papers, 8 SEP
Session 10: The Federalist Papers – The Sum of Power and the Separation of Powers, 15 SEP
Session 11: The Federalist Papers – Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, 22 SEP

We invite you to deepen your knowledge of American history through this series, and use these materials in any way that will benefit you and your students.

Presidential Academy: A full course in American History

Presidential Academy, a program run by the Ashbrook Center for teachers and held in Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Washington, D.C., is now available on iTunes U and will soon be available through this blog.

We’ve taken all 30 sessions of the program and packaged them into three parts, listed below, and we’re making them available in two formats, as indicated. Each session is made up of a lecture, usually 60-90 minutes long, and set of readings, which are linked from our documents library on TAH.org.

We invite you to subscribe to our iTunes podcast – through which all the audio for the Presidential Academy will be made available – and to use all these materials to expand your knowledge and understanding of the American experiment in republican self-government.

Part 1: The Declaration of Independence and the American Founding

Part 2: The Gettysburg Address and the Civil War

Part 3: MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Modern America

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

At a crucial moment in the struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, Franklin Roosevelt dispensed with more conventional wartime rhetorical forms and resorted to a public prayer. “My fellow Americans,” he began, “Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.”

Roosevelt’s prayer movingly evokes the urgency and uncertainty of the moment we remember as D-Day. Of course, his prayer expressed all the themes that he would have put into a rousing wartime speech, but it couched them in a form that implicitly acknowledged the contingent hopes of men amid a large historical struggle. It bespoke a kind of humility in the face of enormous odds, and the insufficiency of mere human effort to achieve success in a struggle against worldly powers threatening decent human life. It prepared Americans to endure the long struggle ahead, as Allied forces would fight to take and hold each square foot of Nazi-occupied Europe. Asking the Creator to guide American soldiers, he said:

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Veto Message of the Bill on the Bank of the United States

Proclamation Regarding Nullification, Andrew Jackson,December 10, 1832


For suggestions on how to guide students in analyzing the document, see the EDSITEment lesson plan, Lesson 1: An Early Threat of Secession: The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis in The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing. The lesson was co-authored with high school teacher Constance Murray by Washington and Lee Professor Lucas Morel, a faculty member in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program. Excerpts from Jackson’s Proclamation and a student worksheet make the document accessible to students.

American Controversies Webinar – “Did Lincoln Violate the Constitution?”

Ashbrook’s latest installment in the ‘American Controversies’ series of webinars took place on Saturday, 13 December 2014, on the topic of whether or not President Lincoln violated the Constitution through his use of executive authority before and during the Civil War. Professor Chris Burkett of Ashland University moderated the discussion between professors Eric Sands and Jonathan White, taking questions from many of the 105 people from across the country who viewed the live webinar.

Of particular interest was the idea that, in light of the Article II’s generally vague explanation of executive authority, the extent to which – if any – Lincoln violated the spirit of the Constitution versus what it actually says. You can view an archived copy here, along with the documents used during the discussion.

Reconstruction One-Day Seminar in Denver, CO

Last weekend ten teachers from around Colorado took part in a discussion about Reconstruction, led by Professor Scott Yenor of Boise State University. The three sessions and documents chosen for each helped participants focus on the justifications used by the South to account for secession fully understand the challenges that Lincoln and the country faced in trying to re-unite the country after the war.

Of particular interest during the discussion was the problem of self-government in the South: as a cornerstone of the American system, how could it be ensured if it meant that it would enable those states to undercut the goals of Reconstruction? Participants also unpacked and discussed in detail, through selected documents, the practical challenge of determining criteria for readmission to the Union for individuals and states, and the conciliatory tone struck by Lincoln’s original plans for Reconstruction.

Overall, we came away with a much greater appreciation for just how difficult was the challenge Lincoln faced in trying to win the war, and win it in a way that would enable him to rebuild the country – politically, economically, and socially.

To view a selection of readings discussed at this one-day seminar, please visit the links below -

Early Reconstruction and Union:

Reconstruction During the War:

Reconstruction at the End of the War:

Register Now for this Saturday’s Webinar!

Don’t forget to register for our next web discussion this Saturday, September 27th at 11:00 AM (EST), Ashbrook is pleased to welcome Prof. Ken Masugi (Johns Hopkins University Krieger School) and Prof. David Foster (Ashland University) to a conversation moderated by Prof. Chris Burkett (Ashland University) on the controversial question, “Did the Founders Misunderstand Democracy?”

Ashbrook’s Saturday Webinars for Social Studies Teachers will focus on American Controversies. Drawing from our list of 50 Core American Documents, and exploring related sources, Ashbrook’s American Controversies webinar series is designed to give teachers deep perspective on the central issues they are expected to teach.

Click here to register today!

There is no cost to participate. Each webinar is scheduled to last one hour and fifteen minutes.

Why Jane Addams Founded Hull House

279-MISS_JANE_ADDAMSOn this day in 1889, Hull House opened in an immigrant neighborhood on Chicago’s near-west side. This first “settlement house” in America was founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, who modeled it after Toynbee Hall, a similar experiment in East London founded four years earlier by Samuel and Henrietta Barnet. Settlement houses were what we might today call grassroots efforts to bring education, cultural opportunities, and social reform to the working poor. While those who volunteered their energies to Toynbee Hall were male university graduates, Hull House attracted educated women activists.

In 1892, Addams wrote an essay,The Subjective Necessity of Social Settlements,” explaining the motives that drew privileged young women to participate in this social experiment. In part, she explains it as an effort to recover an earlier idea of American democracy in which, she says, the poor and the prosperous did not live segregated lives. She suggests that in the massive immigration movement of the latter 19th century, those arriving in America had been separated from the culture of their homelands and yet not integrated into the culture of the new country.

The social organism has broken down through large districts of our great cities. Many of the people living there are very poor, the majority of them without leisure or energy for anything but the gain of subsistence. They move often from one wretched lodging to another. They live for the moment side by side, many of them without knowledge of each other, without fellowship, without local tradition or public spirit, without social organization of any kind. Practically nothing is done to remedy this. The people who might do it, who have the social tact and training, the large houses, and the traditions and custom of hospitality, live in other parts of the city. The clubhouses, libraries, galleries, and semi-public conveniences for social life are also blocks away.

Addams saw the need of these struggling immigrants answering the need of a privileged class of women who had been educated but given no meaningful employment:

I have seen young girls suffer and grow sensibly lowered in vitality in the first years after they leave school. In our attempt then to give a girl pleasure and freedom from care we succeed, for the most part, in making her pitifully miserable. She finds “life” so different from what she expected it to be. She is besotted with innocent little ambitions, and does not understand this apparent waste of herself, this elaborate preparation, if no work is provided for her. There is a heritage of noble obligation which young people accept and long to perpetuate. The desire for action, the wish to right wrong and alleviate suffering, haunts them daily. Society smiles at it indulgently instead of making it of value to itself.

For Constitution Day: Madison’s Notes of a Convention Conducted in Secrecy

When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in the summer of 1787 to deliberate on a new plan of government to supplant the ineffective Articles of Confederation, the first point on which they agreed was that their deliberations remain strictly private. The matters they were to discuss were highly controversial. There would be little possibility of reaching an agreement–a mutually acceptable compromise–if delegates had to argue under the scrutinizing lens of public report and comment. They would not be able to listen to each other’s arguments, giving differing opinions due consideration, if they had to constantly justify every word they spoke and every vote they took to constituents at home.

So it is fortunate that in this atmosphere of strict secrecy James Madison set out from the beginning to keep a record of each day’s proceedings. Largely because of Madison’s Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, we know today what issues the delegates discussed, what concerns they raised, and through what process they reached the joint agreement that became our Constitution. Madison respected the rule of secrecy during his life, not allowing the publication of his notes before his death. (For more on this and numerous other aspects of the Convention, See Professor Gordon Lloyd’s interactive website.)

This excerpt from Madison’s Notes, part of our collection on 50 Core Documents, includes summaries of major points made in the critical debate on representation in the legislative branch: whether the members of Congress would be elected directly by the people or rather elected as delegates to Congress by the state legislatures. It reveals interesting insights into the positions taken on this question by such key delegates to the convention as Elbridge Gerry (MA), Roger Sherman (CT), James Wilson (PA), George Mason (VA), and Madison (VA) himself. At the bottom of the excerpt from the Notes, you can find a drop-down list of documents related to this debate.

William Penn’s Idea of Liberty of Conscience

Penn_LoC_3a14591rIn an earlier blog (September 4, 2014) we noted that William Penn, while acceding to Pennsylvania colonists’ demand for power over changes to their governing charter, insisted that allowances for liberty of conscience never be removed from the charter. Penn’s commitment to religious toleration was central to his vision for the colony he founded, as can already be seen in an “Act for Freedom of Conscience” passed by the first Pennsylvania Assembly, shortly after the colony’s founding. This act stipulated that all monotheists would be allowed to worship in their own ways. It did not provide for full religious liberty, since it stipulated that office holders be Christian and limited the franchise to Christians. It also specified fines for profanity and other speech offensive to Christians, “to the end that looseness, irreligion, and atheism may not creep in under pretense of conscience in this province.”

That Penn saw religious toleration as a means of reinforcing theistic belief, rather than diluting it, can be seen in the opening of the act, which states his own intent in designing Pennsylvania’s government as to “make and establish such laws as shall best preserve true christian and civil liberty in opposition to all unchristian, licentious, and unjust practices, whereby God may have his due, Caesar his due, and the people their due, from tyranny and oppression on the one side and insolence and licentiousness on the other.”

In the revised design of government, the 1701 “Charter of Liberties,” the very first article reiterates the philosophical basis for religious toleration:

. . . No people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyment of civil liberties, if abridged of the freedom of their consciences as to their religious profession and worship. And Almighty God being the only lord of conscience, father of light and spirits, and the author as well as object of all divine knowledge, faith, and worship, who only does enlighten the minds and persuade and convince the understandings of people, I do hereby grant and declare that no person or persons inhabiting in this province or territories, who shall confess and acknowledge one almighty God, the creator, upholder and ruler of the world; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the civil government, shall be in any case molested or prejudiced in his or their person or estate because of his or their conscientious persuasion or practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place, or ministry contrary to his or their mind, or to do or suffer any other act or thing contrary to their religious persuasion.

Running for Reelection, Lincoln Drafts Explanation of his War Policy

LincolnFeb64_LoC_19305rTwo months before the presidential election in 1864, the reelection of President Lincoln still seemed uncertain. What soldiers and commanders sensed in the field —the inevitable defeat of the South—was not so evident to civilians, and Lincoln’s advisors feared that the Democratic Party platform, which called for peace negotiations, might sway war-weary voters. Fighting in 1864 had already cost over 100,000 Union casualties, and in July Lincoln had had to impose a draft to reinforce the Union army. Also, many Northern voters were ambivalent about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

On the other end of the spectrum, Radical Republicans, who feared Lincoln would allow Southern states to reenter the Union without insuring that they respected the rights of former slaves, had not hidden their dissatisfaction with Lincoln as their candidate. They had met in late May to form a splinter party, nominating John C. Fremont to run against him. In June they had passed the Wade-Davis bill, which attempted to dictate sterner terms for reconstruction, in effect publicly rebuking the President. Lincoln had pocket-vetoed the bill, issuing a mildly worded explanation for this action (see our earlier blog post for July 19).

Still, by early September, the had suffered severe defeats:  the surrender of Fort Morgan on August 23rd closed the Confederate port of Mobile Bay, and Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2. Lincoln strove to impress the importance of these victories on the civilian public by calling on September 3 for a national day of thanksgiving and prayer. By September 12 Lincoln was trying to formulate a public explanation of his policy on peace negotiations, taking the occasion of a request for a letter to be read to a “union mass meeting” to be held in New York. A New York politician, Oscar Shermerhorn, had telegrammed Lincoln twice, asking the President to send the meeting an encouraging message. Lincoln began drafting such a letter, but decided not to send it. His draft reveals principled calculations about the importance of his reelection. McClellan claimed to be committed to preserving the Union, but if he won on his party’s platform, the peace he would negotiate would likely come at the cost of consenting to the permanent secession of the Southern states. Lincoln argues that his current policy of continuing the war, and doing so with the help of emancipated former slaves, is the only policy that can save the Union:

Any substantial departure from it insures the success of the rebellion. An armistice — a cessation of hostilities — is the end of the struggle, and the insurgents would be in peaceable possession of all that has been struggled for. Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, sea-men, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you can save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it. Nor is it possible for any Administration to retain the service of these people with the express or implied understanding that upon the first convenient occasion, they are to be re-inslaved. It can not be; and it ought not to be.

Lincoln’s decision to put the letter aside and instead send a polite explanation that he lacked time to reply suggests his political concerns lest he too explicitly explain his policy.

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)