U.S. History to 1877

  • 3/5 Stars
Course Length:


Origins matter. In this class, we will consider the origins of the United States and trace its early history. These events helped set parameters which later generations of Americans have affirmed, contested, and even restructured. Knowledge of such origins will enable students to consider the character of the American republic and their place within it.

This class will examine the major events in American history to 1877, including discovery, settlement, Revolution, early republic, and Civil War. Students will meet a variety of individuals who contributed to the events and movements which shaped the United States. They will also wrestle with the ideas of these individuals, in an attempt to understand the perspectives and experiences which helped make America.

Several themes unify the course. Most significant is the political culture of the American experience, the political development of the American nation, from scattered English colonies to energetic young republic to Civil War to the endeavor at Reconstruction. The institutions of America will also receive special attention, as we consider what forms Americans have established to practice and insure self-government. Understanding American political development, however, is impossible without considering the ideas, habits, attitudes, and beliefs which shaped and acted on the political realm (and which were, in turn, affected by the politics). High on the list of such ideas would be concerns for freedom, liberty, virtue, and order. The salience of religious beliefs and practice will also be considered. Finally, the course will pay attention to the ways such ideas were lived out by individual Americans. Through this study, students will be better able to participate in the conversation which is the American experiment.

Course Objectives

This class has several purposes:

  • To ensure that students have a basic understanding of the narrative of early American history, from discovery through Reconstruction, including important individuals, ideas, and events.
  • To introduce students to significant primary source documents from American history and to encourage them to understand and interpret them.
  • To acquaint students with many of the ideas which have influenced American life and to help them understand the political implication of those ideas.
  • To challenge students to consider the nature and extent of religious influence in American history.
  • To hone students' analysis, discussion, and writing skills.

Required and optional texts

Students should purchase these texts for the class:

David Harrell, Jr., et. al, Unto a Good Land, Vol. I, To 1900 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere's Ride (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994).

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (NY: The Modern Library, 2004).

Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, and Mark Noll. The Search for Christian America (Colorado Springs: Helmers and Howard, 1989).

An course packet containing the primary source documents, available from the bookstore.


Geography Quiz: Geographical knowledge (where things happened) is essential for a proper understanding of historical events. To encourage such learning, the professor will allow students to demonstrate their grasp of United States geography in an early-semester quiz.

Papers: Students will write 3 short papers of 2-3 pages. Students will be asked to respond to a question posed by the professor.

Exams: Students will sit for 2 midterms and a final exam. Exams will evaluate both the student's grasp of factual material and ability to use the readings to craft an interpretation.

Quizzes: The professor reserves the right to give either announced or unannounced quizzes over the readings for any given class. Quiz grades will factor into the class participation grade.

Class Participation: Discussion will be encouraged throughout the class. Students should be ready both to ask, and to answer, questions, as well as engage with their fellow students. Please bring all readings to class with you.

Course Schedule

Week 1


Native Americans

  • UAGL, xxxi-xlii
  • Documents on early contact [Hand-out]

Week 2

New France and New Spain

  • UAGL, 1-22, 30-31
  • Spanish Documents [Hand-out]
  • Champlain, Foundation of Quebec

Virginia and the Chesapeake

  • UAGL, 22-30, 33-50
  • Richard Hakluyt, Selection [Hand-out]
  • Thomas Gates, "Articles, Lawes, and Orders Divine, Politique, and Martiall"
  • William Byrd, "Secret Diary"
  • Hatch et al., 13-27
  • Geography Quiz

Week 3

New England: A Puritan Commonwealth

  • UAGL, 50-64
  • Mayflower Compact
  • John Winthrop, "Modell of Christian Charity"
  • John Winthrop, "Speech to the General Court"
  • General Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts
  • Hatch et al., 28-47

The Middle and Southern Colonies

  • UAGL, 65-82
  • William Penn, "The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience"
  • William Penn, "Frame of Government"
  • James Oglethorpe Letter

Week 4

The Glorious Revolution and Imperial Wars

  • UAGL, 82-94
  • English Bill of Rights
  • Paper 1 Due

The Great Awakening

  • UAGL, 119-126
  • George Whitefield, "The Conversion of Zaccheus"
  • Jonathan Edwards, "A Faithful Narrative of the Surprizing Work of God"
  • Jonathan Edwards, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

Week 5

The American Enlightenment and Colonial Politics

  • UAGL, 95-119
  • Benjamin Franklin, "Advice to a Young Tradesman"
  • Benjamin Franklin, "The Autobiography" (excerpts)
  • Begin Fischer, Paul Revere's Ride, xiii-29

Mid-term 1

Week 6

The French and Indian War and Aftermath

  • UAGL, 127-151
  • Benjamin Franklin, "Albany Plan of Union"
  • Fischer, 30-184

The Path to War

  • Discussion of Paul Revere's Ride
  • Fischer, 185-295
  • Paper 2 Due

Week 7

The Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War

  • UAGL, 162-188, A4-A6
  • Optional: UAGL, 153-162
  • Thomas Paine, "The Present Crisis, #1"

The Revolutionary War II: Reflections

  • Hatch et al., 48-124

Week 8

The Confederation Period and the Constitution

  • UAGL, 189-220, A7-A11
  • Northwest Ordinance
  • Constitution
  • Bill of Rights
  • Federalist #1


Week 9

The Early Republic

  • UAGL, 221-258
  • George Washington, "Farewell Address"
  • Thomas Jefferson, "First Inaugural"
  • Thomas Jefferson, "Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association"

The War of 1812 and the Era of Good Feelings

  • UAGL, 259-288
  • Monroe Doctrine

Week 10

Mid-term 2

2nd Great Awakening, North and South

  • UAGL, 288-294, 310-320
  • Peter Cartwright on Cane Ridge Revival
  • Charles Finney, "Revivals of Religion," Lecture 1

Week 11

Northern Industry and Thought

  • UAGL, 295-310, 320-336
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Celestial Railroad"
  • Begin Douglass and Jacobs

The Old South

  • Discussion of Douglass and Jacobs
  • Finish Douglass and Jacobs
  • UAGL, 337-372 (optional)
  • Paper 3 Due

Week 12

Jacksonian Democracy and the Second Party System

  • UAGL, 373-408
  • Henry Clay, "Address on Internal Improvements"
  • Andrew Jackson, "The Majority is to Govern"

Tocqueville and Democracy

  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Selections

Week 14

Westward Expansion and the Mexican War

  • UAGL, 409-440
  • Texas Declaration of Independence
  • John L. Sullivan on "Manifest Destiny"
  • Abraham Lincoln on the Mexican War

Sectionalism: the 1850s

  • UAGL, 441-476
  • Charles Sumner, "The Crime against Kansas"
  • John Brown, "Address to the Court"
  • Abraham Lincoln, "House Divided" Speech

Week 15

The Civil War

  • UAGL, 477-510
  • Alexander Stephens, "Cornerstone Speech"
  • Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation
  • Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
  • Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address


  • UAGL, 511-538
  • Frederick Douglass, "Speech to the Anti-Slavery Society"
  • Atlanta News Editorial

Week 16


  • Hatch et al., 125-161