Columbus State Community College
U.S. History
Material Type:
Columbus State Community College
  • American History
  • Cscc009
  • Primary Sources
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Media Formats:
    Downloadable docs, Text/HTML

    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 3: Founding a Nation

    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 3: Founding a Nation


    A collection of primary source readings for American History to 1877.

    Cato’s Letter and Petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly (1781)

    The primary source readings in this course align with CSCC's version of The American Yawp, Volume 1, which is derived from the The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

    This collection is a work in progress. As introductions, annotations, and "Questions to Consider" are added, updates will be reflected. Users are also welcome to download the Word version of the reading then add or revise the introductions, annotations, or questions. 

    To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

    This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Christianna Hurford at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

    There are not yet introductions to all the readings in this unit,  though we anticipate adding introductions following Autumn 2019 semester. 

    Cato’s Letter and Petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly (1781)



    Questions to Consider:

    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  What is the author’s concern in this letter?  Why?
    3.  Why does the author say he fears offending the Representatives?  Significance?
    4. What arguments / tactics does the author use to make his appeal?  Do you think this was effective?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]


    Primary Source[1]


    Mr. PRINTER.
    I AM a poor negro, who with myself and children have had the good fortune to get my freedom, by means of an act of assembly passed on the first of March 1780, and should now with my family be as happy a set of people as any on the face of the earth; but I am told the assembly are going to pass a law to fend us all back to our masters. Why dear Mr. Printer, this would be the cruelest act that ever a set of worthy good gentlemen could be guilty of. To make a law to hang us all, would be merciful, when compared with this law; for many of our masters would treat us with unheard of barbarity, for daring to take the advantage (as we have done) of the law made in our favor. --Our lots in slavery were hard enough to bear: but having tasted the sweets of freedom, we should now be miserable indeed. --Surely no Christian gentlemen can be so cruel! I cannot believe they will pass such a law. --I have read the act which made me free, and I always read it with joy--and I always dwell with particular pleasure on the following words, spoken by the assembly in the top of the said law. "We esteem it a particular blessing granted to us, that we are enabled this day to add one more step to universal civilization, by removing as much as possible the sorrows of those, who have lived in undeserved bondage, and from which, by the assumed authority of the kings of Great-Britain, no effectual legal relief could be obtained" See it was the king of Great Britain that kept us in slavery before. --Now surely, after faying so, it cannot be possible for them to make slaves of us again--nobody, but the king of England can do it--and I sincerely pray, that he may never have it in his power --It cannot be, that the assembly will take from us the liberty they have given, because a little further they go on and say, "we conceive ourselves, at this particular period, extraordinarily called upon, by the blessings which we have received, to make manifest the sincerity of our professions and to give a substantial proof of our gratitude." If after all this, we, who by virtue of this very law (which has those very words in it which I have copied,) are now enjoying the sweets of that "substantial proof of gratitude' I fay if we should be plunged back into slavery, what must we think of the meaning of all those words in the beginning of the said law, which seem to be a kind of creed respecting slavery? but what is most serious than all, what will our great father think of such doings? But I pray that he may be pleased to turn the hearts of the honorable assembly from this cruel law; and that he will be pleased to make us poor blacks deserving of his mercies.

    A Correspondent informs us that a petition is about to be presented to the assembly by the negroes who obtained freedom by the late act, praying to be heard by counsel; and as they presented a petition to the house some time ago, on the subject of preserving their liberty, he has requested us to publish it. The following he says is a pretty exact copy:

    To the honourable the Representatives of the Freemen of the State of Pennsylvania,

    We are fully sensible, that an address from persons of our rank is wholly unprecedented, and we are fearful of giving offence in the attempt; but touched in the most sensible manner, by a dread of being deprived of that liberty which we have obtained under the late law, we venture to appear before you. In the act which gave us our freedom, we read with gratitude and joy these admirable sentiments contained in the preamble; a part of which we beg leave to repeat. It begins with these pathetic words: "When we contemplate our abhorrence of that condition, to which the army and tyranny of Great Britain were exerted to reduce us; when we look back on the variety of dangers to which we have been exposed, and how miraculously our wants in many instances have been supplied, and our deliverances wrought, when even hope and human fortitude had become unequal to the conflict, we are unavoidably led to a serious and grateful sense of the manifold blessings which we have undeservedly received from the hand of that being, from whom every good and perfect give cometh Impressed with these ideas, we conceive that it is our duty, and we re[j]oice that is in our power, to extend a portion of that freedom to others, which hath been extended to us, and a release from that state of thralldom, to which we ourselves were tyrannically doomed, and from which we have now every prospect of being speedily relieved," &c. We your petitioners are a few amongst the great number in this state, who have derived freedom from that clause which directs all slaves to be registered by a certain day, of which we have obtained certificates from the clerk of the sessions.

    Just emerging from a slate of hereditary slavery, and enjoying the sweets of that freedom so forcibly described in the preamble, it is with the utmost poignancy of grief, that we are informed your honourable house are about to pass a law to return us to our late masters, and allow them a still further time for registering us as slaves. Whilst it pleased the great author of our beings to continue us in slavery, we submitted to our hard lot, and bore it with habitual patience; but rescued from our misery, and tasting the sweets of that liberty, for the defense of which this whole continent is now involved in war, we shall deem our selves the most wretched of the human race, if the proposed act should take place. Raised to the pinnacle of human happiness by a law unfought and unexpected by us, we find ourselves p[l]unged into all the horrors of hateful slavery; made doubly irksome by the small portion of freedom we have already enjoyed. Not having by any act of ours deprived ourselves of the common rights of mankind, we were happy to find the house sympathy in our distress, and declaring that we had hitherto "lived in unde[r]served bondage" &c. "We cannot therefore persuade ourselves to believe that this honorable house, possessed of such sentiments of humanity and benevolence, will pass an act to make slaves of those whom they they have freed by law; and to whom they have restored" the common blessings "they were by nature entitled to." We fear we are too bold, but our all is a stake. The grand question of slavery or liberty, is too important for us to be silent--It is the momentous person of our lives; if we are silent this day, we may be silent for ever; returned into slavery we are deprived of even the right of petitioning; and this emboldens us to grasp the present moment, and to pray on behalf of ourselves and a number of our unhappy colour, that this house will not pass the bill. And we further pray that you may long possess that heart felt peace and joy, which will ever arise in the humane breast, when successfully employed in the relief of misery and distress.

    Fearful of the danger and delay, we have not allowed ourselves time to collect the names of others within this city, whose cafes are similar to ours: but on the feelings of the honorable house and not on our numbers do we build our hopes.



    [1] "Cato's letter and petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly" by Cato is in the Public Domain.  Credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania


    Image: William Russell Birch, A view of the Capitol of Washington before it was burnt down by the British, c. 1800. Wikimedia.

    Letters from an American Farmer (1782), Hector St. John de Crevecoeur and Ludwig Lewisohn

    Letters from an American Farmer (1782)

    Hector St. John de Crevecoeur and Ludwig Lewisohn


    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

    Born in Normandy, France, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur traveled to England in his late teens and lived there with relatives. From there he went to Canada and served in the Canadian militia and worked as a surveyor and map-maker. In the 1760s, he undertook extensive tours of the American colonies before settling down in 1769, after marriage, as an American farmer in Orange country in the Hudson River Valley of New York.

    Unable to return to France, as he desired to do with the onset of the American Revolution, Crevecoeur was forced to take a detour through England. In 1783 he returned to the newly-established United States, only to find that an Indian raid had destroyed his farm, that his wife was dead and his children scattered in different locations. In two years’ time, despite success as a diplomat from France, Crevecoeur returned to his homeland and remained stationed till his death in 1813.

    Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, was first published in 1782 –– it was immensely popular, its celebratory account of life in the United States earning its author the appreciation of notable first-generation American statesmen such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. An expanded French edition of the book came out in 1784.

    The book is structured into a set of twelve letters, addressed by a simple American farmer (not exactly an alter ego of the sophisticated Crevecouer) to an erudite, cultivated, man–of–the–world English citizen curious to learn about the state of affairs in the American colonies.

    Despite its fictional frame, however, Letters from an American Farmer has almost always been read, and correctly read, as a work of social analysis, a study of the emergence of American society and the consolidation of so–called American character. It can be seen as a precursor of the mammoth two-volume dissertation, Democracy in America, published in Paris over fifty years later (1835, 1840) by another Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville; as well  the twentieth century classic, cast in the same mold, David M. Potter’s People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (1954).

    There is perhaps no doubt that Crevecouer was the first thinker to articulate concisely a question which has since been asked and replied to, in one form or another, through the decades and the centuries, by lay persons and scholars alike. The question, put forth in the all–important Letter III, pertained to the uniqueness of American identity:

    What, then, is the American, this new man?

    The following letters explore, in various ways, different aspects of this identity debate.

    Rather than the enumeration of the traits of American character, Crevecouer’s exploration probes the process of the formation of the character of the nation. An offspring of the European Enlightenment, his outlook was informed by rationalism and materialism, and he thus regarded human beings as products of their social environment.


    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  How does the author suggest the Europeans first perceived the Americas when they arrived?  Why?
    3.  Discuss his perception of American identity when juxtaposed against that of a European.
    4. How does he explain the development of various Christian sects in America?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[2]


    Letters From an American Farmer: Letter III - What Is An American

    I wish I could be acquainted with the feelings and thoughts which must agitate the heart and present themselves to the mind of an enlightened Englishman, when he first lands on this continent. He must greatly rejoice that he lived at a time to see this fair country discovered and settled; he must necessarily feel a share of national pride, when he views the chain of settlements which embellishes these extended shores. When he says to himself, this is the work of my countrymen, who, when convulsed by factions, afflicted by a variety of miseries and wants, restless and impatient, took refuge here. They brought along with them their national genius, to which they principally owe what liberty they enjoy, and what substance they possess. Here he sees the industry of his native country displayed in a new manner, and traces in their works the embryos of all the arts, sciences, and ingenuity which nourish in Europe. Here he beholds fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, an immense country filled with decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges, where an hundred years ago all was wild, woody, and uncultivated! What a train of pleasing ideas this fair spectacle must suggest; it is a prospect which must inspire a good citizen with the most heartfelt pleasure. The difficulty consists in the manner of viewing so extensive a scene. He is arrived on a new continent; a modern society offers itself to his contemplation, different from what he had hitherto seen. It is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess everything, and of a herd of people who have nothing. Here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one; no great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury. The rich and the poor are not so far removed from each other as they are in Europe. Some few towns excepted, we are all tillers of the earth, from Nova Scotia to West Florida. We are a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense territory, communicating with each other by means of good roads and navigable rivers, united by the silken bands of mild government, all respecting the laws, without dreading their power, because they are equitable. We are all animated with the spirit of an industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because each person works for himself. If he travels through our rural districts he views not the hostile castle, and the haughty mansion, contrasted with the clay- built hut and miserable cabin, where cattle and men help to keep each other warm, and dwell in meanness, smoke, and indigence. A pleasing uniformity of decent competence appears throughout our habitations. The meanest of our log-houses is a dry and comfortable habitation. Lawyer or merchant are the fairest titles our towns afford; that of a farmer is the only appellation of the rural inhabitants of our country. It must take some time ere he can reconcile himself to our dictionary, which is but short in words of dignity, and names of honour. There, on a Sunday, he sees a congregation of respectable farmers and their wives, all clad in neat homespun, well mounted, or riding in their own humble waggons. There is not among them an esquire, saving the unlettered magistrate. There he sees a parson as simple as his flock, a farmer who does not riot on the labour of others. We have no princes, for whom we toil, starve, and bleed: we are the most perfect society now existing in the world. Here man is free as he ought to be; nor is this pleasing equality so transitory as many others are. Many ages will not see the shores of our great lakes replenished with inland nations, nor the unknown bounds of North America entirely peopled. Who can tell how far it extends? Who can tell the millions of men whom it will feed and contain? for no European foot has as yet travelled half the extent of this mighty continent!

    The next wish of this traveller will be to know whence came all these people? they are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have arisen. The eastern provinces must indeed be excepted, as being the unmixed descendants of Englishmen. I have heard many wish that they had been more intermixed also: for my part, I am no wisher, and think it much better as it has happened. They exhibit a most conspicuous figure in this great and variegated picture; they too enter for a great share in the pleasing perspective displayed in these thirteen provinces. I know it is fashionable to reflect on them, but I respect them for what they have done; for the accuracy and wisdom with which they have settled their territory; for the decency of their manners; for their early love of letters; their ancient college, the first in this hemisphere; for their industry; which to me who am but a farmer, is the criterion of everything. There never was a people, situated as they are, who with so ungrateful a soil have done more in so short a time. Do you think that the monarchical ingredients which are more prevalent in other governments, have purged them from all foul stains? Their histories assert the contrary.

    In this great American asylum, the poor of Europe have by some means met together, and in consequence of various causes; to what purpose should they ask one another what countrymen they are? Alas, two thirds of them had no country. Can a wretch who wanders about, who works and starves, whose life is a continual scene of sore affliction or pinching penury; can that man call England or any other kingdom his country? A country that had no bread for him, whose fields procured him no harvest, who met with nothing but the frowns of the rich, the severity of the laws, with jails and punishments; who owned not a single foot of the extensive surface of this planet? No! urged by a variety of motives, here they came. Every thing has tended to regenerate them; new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system; here they are become men: in Europe they were as so many useless plants, wanting vegetative mould, and refreshing showers; they withered, and were mowed down by want, hunger, and war; but now by the power of transplantation, like all other plants they have taken root and flourished! Formerly they were not numbered in any civil lists of their country, except in those of the poor; here they rank as citizens. By what invisible power has this surprising metamorphosis been performed? By that of the laws and that of their industry. The laws, the indulgent laws, protect them as they arrive, stamping on them the symbol of adoption; they receive ample rewards for their labours; these accumulated rewards procure them lands; those lands confer on them the title of freemen, and to that title every benefit is affixed which men can possibly require. This is the great operation daily performed by our laws. From whence proceed these laws? From our government. Whence the government? It is derived from the original genius and strong desire of the people ratified and confirmed by the crown. This is the great chain which links us all, this is the picture which every province exhibits, Nova Scotia excepted.

    There the crown has done all; either there were no people who had genius, or it was not much attended to: the consequence is, that the province is very thinly inhabited indeed; the power of the crown in conjunction with the musketos has prevented men from settling there. Yet some parts of it flourished once, and it contained a mild harmless set of people. But for the fault of a few leaders, the whole were banished. The greatest political error the crown ever committed in America, was to cut off men from a country which wanted nothing but men!

    What attachment can a poor European emigrant have for a country where he had nothing? The knowledge of the language, the love of a few kindred as poor as himself, were the only cords that tied him: his country is now that which gives him land, bread, protection, and consequence: Ubi panis ibi patria, is the motto of all emigrants. What then is the American, this new man? He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour, and industry which began long since in the east; they will finish the great circle. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared, and which will hereafter become distinct by the power of the different climates they inhabit. The American ought therefore to love this country much better than that wherein either he or his forefathers were born. Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labour; his labour is founded on the basis of nature, SELF-INTEREST: can it want a stronger allurement? Wives and children, who before in vain demanded of him a morsel of bread, now, fat and frolicsome, gladly help their father to clear those fields whence exuberant crops are to arise to feed and to clothe them all; without any part being claimed, either by a despotic prince, a rich abbot, or a mighty lord. Here religion demands but little of him; a small voluntary salary to the minister, and gratitude to God; can he refuse these? The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labour, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence.--This is an American.

    Exclusive of those general characteristics, each province has its own, founded on the government, climate, mode of husbandry, customs, and peculiarity of circumstances. Europeans submit insensibly to these great powers, and become, in the course of a few generations, not only Americans in general, but either Pennsylvanians, Virginians, or provincials under some other name. Whoever traverses the continent must easily observe those strong differences, which will grow more evident in time. The inhabitants of Canada, Massachusetts, the middle provinces, the southern ones will be as different as their climates; their only points of unity will be those of religion and language.

    As I have endeavoured to show you how Europeans become Americans; it may not be disagreeable to show you likewise how the various Christian sects introduced, wear out, and how religious indifference becomes prevalent. When any considerable number of a particular sect happen to dwell contiguous to each other, they immediately erect a temple, and there worship the Divinity agreeably to their own peculiar ideas. Nobody disturbs them. If any new sect springs up in Europe it may happen that many of its professors will come and settle in American. As they bring their zeal with them, they are at liberty to make proselytes if they can, and to build a meeting and to follow the dictates of their consciences; for neither the government nor any other power interferes. If they are peaceable subjects, and are industrious, what is it to their neighbours how and in what manner they think fit to address their prayers to the Supreme Being? But if the sectaries are not settled close together, if they are mixed with other denominations, their zeal will cool for want of fuel, and will be extinguished in a little time. Then the Americans become as to religion, what they are as to country, allied to all. In them the name of Englishman, Frenchman, and European is lost, and in like manner, the strict modes of Christianity as practised in Europe are lost also. This effect will extend itself still farther hereafter, and though this may appear to you as a strange idea, yet it is a very true one. I shall be able perhaps hereafter to explain myself better; in the meanwhile, let the following example serve as my first justification.

    Let us suppose you and I to be travelling; we observe that in this house, to the right, lives a Catholic, who prays to God as he has been taught, and believes in transubstantiation; he works and raises wheat, he has a large family of children, all hale and robust; his belief, his prayers offend nobody. About one mile farther on the same road, his next neighbour may be a good honest plodding German Lutheran, who addresses himself to the same God, the God of all, agreeably to the modes he has been educated in, and believes in consubstantiation; by so doing he scandalises nobody; he also works in his fields, embellishes the earth, clears swamps, etc. What has the world to do with his Lutheran principles? He persecutes nobody, and nobody persecutes him, he visits his neighbours, and his neighbours visit him. Next to him lives a seceder, the most enthusiastic of all sectaries; his zeal is hot and fiery, but separated as he is from others of the same complexion, he has no congregation of his own to resort to, where he might cabal and mingle religious pride with worldly obstinacy. He likewise raises good crops, his house is handsomely painted, his orchard is one of the fairest in the neighbourhood. How does it concern the welfare of the country, or of the province at large, what this man's religious sentiments are, or really whether he has any at all? He is a good farmer, he is a sober, peaceable, good citizen: William Penn himself would not wish for more. This is the visible character, the invisible one is only guessed at, and is nobody's business. Next again lives a Low Dutchman, who implicitly believes the rules laid down by the synod of Dort. He conceives no other idea of a clergyman than that of an hired man; if he does his work well he will pay him the stipulated sum; if not he will dismiss him, and do without his sermons, and let his church be shut up for years. But notwithstanding this coarse idea, you will find his house and farm to be the neatest in all the country; and you will judge by his waggon and fat horses, that he thinks more of the affairs of this world than of those of the next. He is sober and laborious, therefore he is all he ought to be as to the affairs of this life; as for those of the next, he must trust to the great Creator. Each of these people instruct their children as well as they can, but these instructions are feeble compared to those which are given to the youth of the poorest class in Europe. Their children will therefore grow up less zealous and more indifferent in matters of religion than their parents. The foolish vanity, or rather the fury of making Proselytes, is unknown here; they have no time, the seasons call for all their attention, and thus in a few years, this mixed neighbourhood will exhibit a strange religious medley, that will be neither pure Catholicism nor pure Calvinism. A very perceptible indifference even in the first generation, will become apparent; and it may happen that the daughter of the Catholic will marry the son of the seceder, and settle by themselves at a distance from their parents. What religious education will they give their children? A very imperfect one. If there happens to be in the neighbourhood any place of worship, we will suppose a Quaker's meeting; rather than not show their fine clothes, they will go to it, and some of them may perhaps attach themselves to that society. Others will remain in a perfect state of indifference; the children of these zealous parents will not be able to tell what their religious principles are, and their grandchildren still less. The neighbourhood of a place of worship generally leads them to it, and the action of going thither, is the strongest evidence they can give of their attachment to any sect. The Quakers are the only people who retain a fondness for their own mode of worship; for be they ever so far separated from each other, they hold a sort of communion with the society, and seldom depart from its rules, at least in this country. Thus all sects are mixed as well as all nations; thus religious indifference is imperceptibly disseminated from one end of the continent to the other; which is at present one of the strongest characteristics of the Americans. Where this will reach no one can tell, perhaps it may leave a vacuum fit to receive other systems. Persecution, religious pride, the love of contradiction, are the food of what the world commonly calls religion. These motives have ceased here; zeal in Europe is confined; here it evaporates in the great distance it has to travel; there it is a grain of powder inclosed, here it burns away in the open air, and consumes without effect.


    [2] "Letters from an American Farmer" by Hector St. John de Crevecoeur and Ludwig Lewisohn is in the Public Domain.


    Abagail Bailey Endures the Abuse of her Husband (1790-1791), Abagail Abbot Bailey

    There is not yet an introduction to this reading, though we anticipate adding one following Autumn 2019 semester. 

    Abagail Bailey Endures the Abuse of her Husband (1790-1791)

    Abagail Abbot Bailey


    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  Who cooperates her stories on the wickedness of her husband? Why is this important?
    3.  What is holding her back from leaving her husband?  What does this suggest about her identity?
    4. Does Abagail Bailey seem to conform to or go against the norms for women of her society of that day?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]


    Primary Source[1]

    Abigail Abbott Bailey:

    One result of all my examinations and prayers was, a settled conviction, that I ought to seek a separation from my wicked husband, and never to settle with him any more for his most vile conduct. But as sufficient evidence, for his legal conviction, had not yet offered itself, (though I as much believed his guilt, as I believed my own existence,) I thought God’s time to bring Mr. B.'s conduct to public view had not yet arrived. But I was confident that such a time would arrive; that God would bring his crimes to light; and afford me opportunity to be freed from him.

    Several months had passed, after Mr. B’s last wicked conduct before mentioned, and nothing special took place. The following events then occurred. One of our young daughters, (too young to be a legal witness, but old enough to tell the truth,) informed one of her sisters, older than herself, what she saw and heard, more than a year before, on a certain sabbath. This sister being filled with grief and astonishment at what she had heard, informed her oldest sister. When this oldest sister had heard the account, and was prepared to believe it, (after all the strange things which she herself had seen and heard,) she was so shocked, that she fainted. She was then at our house, I administered camphire, and such things as were suitable in her case. She soon revived. She then informed me of the occasion of her fainting. I had long before had full evidence to my mind of Mr. B’s great wickedness in this matter; and I thought I was prepared to hear the worst. But verily the worst was dreadful! The last great day will unfold it. I truly at this time had a new lesson added, to all that ever I before heard, or conceived, of human depravity.

    I was now determined to go and see the daughter, who had suffered such things. Mr. B. perceiving my design to go where she was, set himself to prevent it. But kind Providence soon afforded me an opportunity to go. She was living at the house of her uncle, a very amiable man, and one whom Mr. B. in his better days, esteemed most highly; but of whom he became very shy, after he abandoned himself to wickedness. Mr. B. now could not endure the thought of my going to his house. No doubt his guilty conscience feared what information I might there obtain, and filled him with terror.

    With much difficulty, and by the help of her aunt, I obtained ample information. I now found that none of my dreadful apprehensions concerning Mr. B’s conduct had been too high. And I thought the case of this daughter was the most to be pitied of any person I ever knew. I wondered how the author of her calamities could tarry in this part of the world. I thought that his guilty conscience must make him flee; and that shame must give him wings, to fly with the utmost speed.

    My query now was, what I ought to do? I had no doubt relative to my living any longer with the author of our family miseries. This point was fully settled. But whether it would be consistent with faithfulness to suffer him to flee, and not be made a monument of civil justice, was my query. The latter looked to me inexpressibly painful. And I persuaded myself, that if he would do what was right, relative to our property, and would go to some distant place, where we should be afflicted with him no more, it might be sufficient; and I might be spared the dreadful scene of prosecuting my husband.

    I returned home, I told Mr. B. I had heard an awful account relative to some man. I mentioned some particulars, without intimating who the man was; or what family was affected by it. I immediately perceived he was deeply troubled! He turned pale, and trembled, as if he had been struck with death. It was with difficulty he could speak. He asked nothing, who the man was, that had done this great wickedness; but after a while said, I know you believe it to be true; and that all our children believe it; but it is not true! Much more he said in way of denying. But he said he did not blame me for thinking as I did.

    He asked me, what I intended to do? I replied, that one thing was settled: I would never live with him any more! He soon appeared in great anguish; and asked what I could advise him to do? Such was his appearance, that the pity of my heart was greatly moved. He had been my dear husband; and had destroyed himself. And now he felt something of his wretchedness. I now felt my need of christian fortitude, to be firm in pursuing my duty. I was determined to put on firmness, and go through with the most interesting and undesirable business, to which God, in his providence, had called me, and which I had undertaken. I told him his case to me looked truly dreadful and desperate. That thought [though] I had long and greatly labored for his reformation and good, yet he had rejected all my advice. He had felt sufficient to be his own counsellor; and now he felt something of the result of his own counsels.

    Relative to his question, what he now should do? I told Mr. B. he knew something of my mind, from an interview upon the subject sometime since, when he proposed retiring to some distant region, and forever leaving me and his family. I informed him, I now could see no better way for him than this; that I had rather see him gone forever, than to see him brought to trial, and have the law executed upon him, to the torture of myself and family; as it would be, unless he prevented it by flight. He was then full of his consultations, relative to the mode of his going;—whether to ride, or go on foot? what property to take? and similar queries. I let him know that I was willing he should ride, and not only take a horse, but take property enough to make him comfortable. I proposed he should turn a one hundred acre lot, which we could well spare, and take the avails of it.

    I earnestly entreated him to break off his sins by unfeigned repentance, and make it his immediate care to become reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, who died for lost man, and even for the greatest of sinners. I suggested to Mr. B. that if he would reform, and would never injure his family relative to the interest, I could truly wish him well, and so much peace as was consistent with the holy and wise purposes of God. But that if he should undertake any farther to afflict our family, or any of his dear children, he might expect punishment in this life, and that the judgments of God would follow him. I begged of him to treat his family well, in relation to our property, and to treat all mankind, henceforth, well.



    [1] Source: Abigail Abbot Bailey, Memoirs of Mrs. Abigail Bailey, Who Had Been the Wife of Major Asa Bailey, Formerly of Landaff, (N.H.) Written by Herself Ed. Ethan Smith. (Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1815), 57–60.

    Primary source is in the public domain.

    Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)

    Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)


    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

    The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the midst of the French Revolution and during the undeclared naval war with France, known as the Quasi-War. They were signed into law by President John Adams and were intended as a direct political attack on the Democratic-Republicans.

    The XYZ Affair and the Quasi-War incited Francophobic sentiment in the majority of the American public; however, Democratic-Republicans remained supportive on the French and outspoken critics of the Federalist administration, which they believed was unconstitutionally developing a tyrannical centralized government. The Federalists, on the other hand, were suspicious of the Democratic-Republican party's affinity for France. This suspicion was heightened when the dispatches of the XYZ Affair were released, and agent "Y" boasted of the existence of a "French" party in American politics. The Federalist-dominated Congress believed that Democratic-Republicans, fueled by the French and French-sympathizing immigrants, posed a subversive threat to the United States. The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed as a codified attempt by the Federalists to protect the United States from the anarchy of the French Revolution and from those seditious elements seeking to undermine the federal government.

    Four separate laws constituted the Alien and Sedition Acts:

    The Naturalization Act repealed and replaced the Naturalization Act of 1795 and extended the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens of the United States from five years to fourteen years.

    The Alien Act authorized the president to deport any resident alien considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States." It was activated June 25, 1798, with a two-year expiration date.

    The Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States. Enacted July 6, 1798, and providing no expiration provision, the act remains intact today as Title 50 of U.S. Code.

    The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or certain officials. It was enacted July 14, 1798, with an expiration date of March 3, 1801

    Republican editors, Representative Matthew Lyon, and private individuals were targets of prosecution under the Sedition Act. Twenty-five people were arrested; of these, eleven were tried, one died awaiting trial, and ten were convicted of sedition, often in trials before openly partisan Federalist judges.

    Many of those convicted under the Sedition Act were pardoned by President Jefferson after the election of 1800. The most controversial arrest made under the Alien and Sedition Acts was of a member of Congress. Matthew Lyon, an Irish-born former indentured servant who had purchased his own freedom and fought in the American Revolution, was a Democratic-Republican congressman from Vermont jailed under the Sedition Act for his anti-Federalist writings. Lyon accused the administration of "ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice," and claimed that Adams had "a continual grasp for power." While in prison, Lyon continued to write against the administration and conducted his successful reelection campaign from jail. Democratic-Republicans across the country united in support of Lyon, paying his legal fees and penal fines. Eventually acquitted, Lyon returned to Congress after his release.

    The Alien and Sedition Acts were never appealed to the Supreme Court, which in the 1790s was composed entirely of Federalists who were openly hostile to their political opponents. However, the Democratic-Republicans mobilized against the Acts as part of their campaign strategy in the 1800 election, and they experienced success as most Federalists were voted out of office. Thomas Jefferson, upon assuming the presidency, pardoned all of those still serving sentences under the Sedition Act, and in 1802, the House Judiciary Committee denounced the Sedition Act as unconstitutional and authorized the refund of penal fines that victims had paid. 

    Jefferson and James Madison also secretly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions denouncing the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Jefferson even advocated nullification and state secession as a legitimate response to this tyrannical imposition by the federal government. Long after the collapse of the Federalist party, the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions remained an inspiration for states' rights advocates and were used as models in drafting the declarations of secession by Southern states on the eve of the Civil War.

    While the Alien and Sedition Acts were left largely unenforced after 1800, the Alien Act was later used to justify the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the Supreme Court was grappling with the constitutionality of the Sedition Acts as late as the 1960s.


    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  Summarize briefly both the Alien Act and the Sedition Act.
    3.  How do these Acts serve to protect the identity of elite whites at the expense of others and why?
    4. What are the punishments for the violation of these Acts?  What does this suggest about the political climate of the times?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]




    Primary Source[2]


    At the Second Session,
    Begun and help at the city of Philadelphia, in the state of Pennsylvania, on Monday, the thirteenth of November, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven.

    An Act Concerning Aliens.

    SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States at any time during the continuance of this act, to order all such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the territory of the United States, within such time as shall be expressed in such order, which order shall be served on such alien by delivering him a copy thereof, or leaving the same at his usual abode, and returned to the office of the Secretary of State, by the marshal or other person to whom the same shall be directed. And in case any alien, so ordered to depart, shall be found at large within the United States after the time limited in such order for his departure, and not having obtained a license from the President to reside therein, or having obtained such license shall not have conformed thereto, every such alien shall, on conviction thereof, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three years, and shall never after be admitted to become a citizen of the United States. Provided always, and be it further enacted, that if any alien so ordered to depart shall prove to the satisfaction of the President, by evidence to be taken before such person or persons as the President shall direct, who are for that purpose hereby authorized to administer oaths, that no injury or danger to the United States will arise from suffering such alien to reside therein, the President may grant a license to such alien to remain within the United States for such time as he shall judge proper, and at such place as he may designate. And the President may also require of such alien to enter into a bond to the United States, in such penal sum as he may direct, with one or more sufficient sureties to the satisfaction of the per- son authorized by the President to take the same, conditioned for the good behavior of such alien during his residence in the United States, and not violating his license, which license the President may revoke, whenever he shall think proper.
    SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, whenever he may deem it necessary (for the public safety, to order to be removed out of the territory thereof, any alien who mayor shall be in prison in pursuance of this act; and to cause to be arrested and sent out of the United States such of those aliens as shall have been ordered to depart therefrom and shall not have obtained a license as aforesaid, in all cases where, in the opinion of the President, the public safety requires a speedy removal. And if any alien so removed or sent out of the United States by the President shall voluntarily return thereto, unless by permission of the President of the United States, such alien on conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned so long as, in the opinion of the President, the public safety may require.

    SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That every master or commander of any ship or vessel which shall come into any port of the United States after the first day of July next, shall immediately on his arrival make report in writing to the collector or other chief officer of the customs of such port, of all aliens, if any, on board his vessel, specifying their names, age, the place of nativity, the country from which they shall have come, the nation to which they belong and owe allegiance, their occupation and a description of their persons, as far as he shall be informed thereof, and on failure, every such master and commander shall forfeit and pay three hundred dollars, for the payment whereof on default of such master or commander, such vessel shall also be holden, and may by such collector or other officer of the customs be detained. And it shall be the duty of such collector or other officer of the customs, forthwith to transmit to the office of the department of state true copies of all such returns.

    SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That the circuit and district courts of the United States, shall respectively have cognizance of all crimes and offences against this act. And all marshals and other officers of the United States are required to execute all precepts and orders of the President of the United States issued in pursuance or by virtue of this act.

    SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for any alien who may be ordered to be removed from the United States, by virtue of this act, to take with him such part of his goods, chattels, or other property, as he may find convenient; and all property left in the United States by any alien, who may be removed, as aforesaid, shall be, and re- main subject to his order and disposal, in the same manner as if this act had not been passed.

    SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force for and during the term of two years from the passing thereof.

    Jonathan Dayton, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
    TH. Jefferson, Vice President of the United States and President of the Sentate.

    I Certify that this Act did originate in the Sentate.
    Attest, Sam. A. Otis, Secretary

    APPROVED, June 25, 1798.
    John Adams
    President of the United States.




    At the Second Session,
    Begun and help at the city of Philadelphia, in the state of Pennsylvania, on Monday, the thirteenth of November, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven.

    An Act in Addition to the Act, Entitled "An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes Against the United States."

    SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be holden to find sureties for his good behaviour in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.

    SEC. 2. And be it farther enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.

    SEC. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in publication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.

    SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided, that the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.

    Jonathan Dayton, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
    Theodore Sedgwick, President of the Sentate pro tempore.

    I Certify that this Act did originate in the Sentate.
    Attest, Sam. A. Otis, Secretary

    APPROVED, July 14, 1798
    John Adams
    President of th


    [2]  Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798; 1798; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789 - 2011; General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version,, May 17, 2019]

    Primary source is in the public domain.


    Tecumseh Calls for Pan-Indian Resistance (1810)

    Tecumseh Calls for Pan-Indian Resistance (1810)



    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

    Tecumseh was born around 1768 in modern-day Ohio to a Shawnee family.[1] He grew up during the French and Indian War, in which his father, a minor war chief, was killed. Outrage at the ever-encroaching settlers and at his father’s death pushed Tecumseh to become a strong and fierce warrior. In his teen years, he joined the American Indian Confederacy and fought with other famous leaders like Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, Blue Jacket and Little Turtle.[2] These groups shaped Tecumseh with pan native ideas, which would become a trademark of his life. He fought with the Confederacy through victory over St. Clair’s army, and defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. He refused to be a part of peace negotiations that followed the loss, and he spoke against chiefs that signed away more land.[3] His outrage at settlers continual pushing led to a new resistance movement, and he began gathering forces. In the early 1800’s Tecumseh joined his brother, who had become a religious leader preaching the rejection of the white colonist’s culture through native unity. Tecumseh latched on to this movement to promote his ideas of pan-native action in a more militant form.[4] In 1809, while Tecumseh was away, their home-base at Prophet’s Town/Tippecanoe was attacked under the direction of Governor William Henry Harrison. Bitter, Tecumseh sided with the British in the War of 1812, and his military tactics helped successfully hold Detroit. In 1813 Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames, also killing his movement.[5] The spirit of native unity that he carried sputtered out. He produced few works, mostly consisting of speeches promoting native unity and the protection of native lands. Tecumseh is often an overlooked figure, though he had a massive impact on the history of the time. Though his work and impact have been explored more today, there is still little scholarship done on Tecumseh.

    [1] “Tecumseh.” Tecumseh – Ohio History Central, Ohio History Connection,

    [2] “Tecumseh”, Ohio Historical Connection

    [3] “Treaty of Greenville (1795).” Treaty of Greenville (1795) – Ohio History Central, Ohio History Connection,

    [4] “Tecumseh’s Confederation.” Tecumseh’s Confederation – Ohio History Central, Ohio History Connection,

    [5] “Battle of the Thames.” Battle of the Thames – Ohio History Central, Ohio History Connection,




    Questions to Consider:

    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  According to this reading, where did the Native Americans come from?  How does this compare from European perceptions?
    3.  What makes the sale of land valid or invalid?  What does this suggest of both Native American and European American cultures?
    4. What kind of identity is this author trying to preserve and why?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American and Native American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.] 


    Primary Source[2]

    It is true I am a Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. From them I take only my existence; from my tribe I take nothing. I am the maker of my own fortune; and oh! that I could make of my own fortune; and oh! that I could make that of my red people, and of my country, as great as the conceptions of my mind, when I think of the Spirit that rules the universe. I would not then come to Governor Harrison to ask him to tear the treaty and to obliterate the landmark; but I would say to him: “Sir, you have liberty to return to your own country.”

    The being within, communing with past ages, tells me that once, nor until lately, there was no white man on this continent; that it then all belonged to red men, children of the same parents, placed on it by the Great Spirit that made them, to keep it, to traverse it, to enjoy its productions, and to fill it with the same race, once a happy race, since made miserable by the white people, who are never contented but always encroaching. The way, and the only way, to check and to stop this evil, is for all the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be yet; for it never was divided, but belongs to all for the use of each. For no part has a right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers — hose who want all, and will not do with less.

    The white people have no right to take the land from the Indians, because they had it first; it is theirs. They may sell, but all must join. Any sale not made by all is not valid. The late sale is bad. It was made by a part only. Part do not know how to sell. All red men have equal rights to the unoccupied land. The right of occupancy is as good in one place as in another. There can not be two occupations in the same place. The first excludes all others. It is not so in hunting or traveling; for there the same ground will serve many, as they may follow each other all day; but the camp is stationary, and that is occupancy. It belongs to the first who sits down on his blanket or skins which he has thrown upon the ground; and till he leaves it no other has a right.



    [1] openamlitGU by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


    [2] Samuel G. Drake, The Book of the Indians; or, the Biography and History of the Indians of North America, from its first discovery to the year 1841 (Boston: 1836), 121-122.

    Primary source is in the public domain.