American Historical Documents {Free eBook}

One of the ways to make history real is to include primary source documents.  American Historical Documents is an inexpensive {free} way to easily do that!

There is no substitute for hearing from those who:

  • Lived at the time.
  • Had a hand in forming the laws and customs of our nation.
  • Were eyewitnesses to events.

More importantly, it is often more enlightening than you might think to read those writers, in the midst of animated debate over consequential issues, who are responding to an opposite point of view.

For example, students are frequently asked to read several of the Federalist Papers.  But how many spend time reading the Anti-Federalists papers?  The Constitution is given life when you understand the various points of view that were debated in its creation.

American Historical Documents edited by Charles W. Eliot was published as part of the Harvard Classics series.  Included are 47 original documents dating from 1000 (The Voyage to Vinland) to 1904 (Convention between the U.S. and Panama — regarding the Panama Canal).

Documents include:

  • First Charter of Virginia.
  • Mayflower Compact.
  • Declaration of Independence.
  • Articles of Confederation.
  • Constitution of the United States.
  • Federalist No. 1 and No. 2.
  • Washington’s First Inaugural Address.
  • Treaty With the Six Nations.
  • Treaty With France (Louisiana Purchase).
  • Treaty With Great Britain (End of War of 1812).
  • Treat With Spain (Acquisition of Florida).
  • The Monroe Doctrine.
  • Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address.
  • Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
  • Treaty With Russia (Alaska Purchase).
  • Letters and accounts from Columbus, Cabot, and John Eliot.

American Historical Documents makes it easy to include primary source documents in our courses of study.  The work’s already done for us!

Yes, this book does end at 1904.  Remember that the further we are from events, the easier time we have deciding — with the advantage of years of hindsight and retrospective — what the important events and documents were.  There will be some obvious additions you’ll want to make, but we’ll leave those to you!

Free eBook:


  • If you are studying history chronologically (or reading through history) include each document where it falls in chronological order.
  • Read American Historical Documents as part of a civics course — one document per week (several documents are quite short and can be combined to make the assignment fit within a standard school year).
  • Keep a primary source document notebook.  Include a written narration for each reading.
  • Think along broader lines.  An example of questions that can be answered:
    • What is unique about this document?
    • What does it add to American history?
    • What was the basis for the document being written?
    • How does it compare or contrast to a similar document?


Additional Resources

The Patriot’s Handbook edited by George GrantThe Patriot's Handbook
Serves a different purpose, but includes more recent primary source documents along with poems, speeches, and historical documents from Christopher Columbus to President George W. Bush’s September 11 speech. Read our full review with suggestions.

Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students
Step-by-step guide with things to look for and questions to ask.

Document Analysis Worksheet
Rather than filling out this worksheet, use the document as a template for creating your notebook page.

10 Elements of Engaging History Studies
Other things to add to make history real!