The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas

Essential Documents in American History

These letters, speeches, bills, sermons, and essays have been selected not chiefly for the historical importance of the events they document but for their intrinsic merit as sources of reflection on issues of abiding importance to us as human beings and American citizens. Please help us refine our selections by reviewing or downloading our working list and adding your comments on those that you think should be included or removed. Recommendations should be directed to lorrainepangle@austin.utexas.edu.

Documents, Discussions, and Classroom Activities

Magna Carta (1215)


Letter from Christopher Columbus (1493)


Mayflower Compact (1620)


John Winthrop, Model of Christian Charity (1630)


A Slave Song (1700)

  • Full Text: docx - pdf

William Penn, Charter of Privileges (1701)


Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741)


Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Young Tradesman (1748)


Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth (1758)


Patrick Henry, Stamp Act Resolutions (1765)


Patrick Henry, Liberty or Death (1775)


Declaration of Independence (1776)


Brutus No. 1 (1787)


Centinel No. 1 (1787)


Constitution of the United States (1787)


Federalist No. 10 (1787)


Northwest Ordinance (1787)


Essay by a Maryland Farmer No. 5 (1788)


Federalist No. 51 (1788)


Proposed Bill of Rights (1789)


Adopted Bill of Rights (1791)


George Washington, Farewell Address (1796)


Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801)


Marbury v. Madison (1803)


Memorial of the Cherokee Nation (1830)


Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address (1837)


Seneca Falls Declaration (1848)


Soujourner Truth, Ain't I a Woman? (1851)


Frederick Douglass, What to the Slave is the 4th of July? (1852)


Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)


Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Freeport (1858)


Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address (1861)


Gettysburg Address (1863)


Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865)


Samuel Gompers, What does the Working Man Want? (1890)


Susan B. Anthony, The Moral Leadership of the Religious Press (1893)


Booker T. Washington, Atlanta Exposition Address (1895)


Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)


Woodrow Wilson, Fourteen Points for Peace (1918)


19th Amendment (1919/20)


FDR, First Inaugural Address (1933)


Social Security Act (1935)


FDR, Madison Square Garden Speech (1936)


Smith Act (1940)


FDR, Four Freedoms (1941)


FDR, Joint Address to Congress (1941)


Japanese Internment (1942-46)

  • Executive Order 9066 (1942), Full Text: docx - pdf
  • Korematsu v. United States (1944), Full Text: docx - pdf

Marshall Plan (1947)


Truman Doctrine (1947)


Joseph McCarthy, Enemies from Within (1950)


Brown v. Board of Education (1954)


JFK, Inaugural Address (1961)


Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963)


Civil Rights Act (1964)


LBJ, The Great Society (1964)


Moynihan Report (1965)


George W. Bush, Post-9/11 Address to Congress (2001)


Barack Obama, Call to Renewal (2006)


Document Analysis Worksheets