US History to 1877

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Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Description:

A study of the history of colonial North America and the United States from the period of European contact through Reconstruction. Emphasis is placed on political, social and economic developments.


Required Materials:

  1. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman and Jon Gjerde, Major Problems in American History, vol. 1: to 1877. 2nd edition, 2007.
  2. Thomas Kidd, ed., The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007)
  3. Jack Rakove, ed., The Federalist (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003)
  4. Michael Johnson, ed., Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War: Selected Writings and Speeches (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001)
  5. All the above are available for purchase at the bookstore, and some are on library reserve.


Not required:
  1. Tindall and Shi, America: A Narrative History. Vol. 1.
  2. If you prefer a textbook to follow along, or if you would like one to use for review, feel free to buy this US History survey text. However, reading the text will not adequately make up for classes missed. Lecture content and assigned readings are the basis for tests and essays.


Course Objectives:

As a result of this course, the student should be able to:

  1. Recognize and understand the significance of the major events, people, and developments;
  2. Explain how these events, people and developments have contributed to the molding of this country’s history;
  3. Enhance their vocabulary, communication, and research skills through discussion and writing;
  4. Participate more critically and intelligently in American civic society.


Course Grade:

The course grade will be based on the following:

  1. Class Participation 10%
  2. Quizzes 10%
  3. Reviews of Reading Essays 40%
  4. Exams 40%

Grading scale (no rounding):

A 90-100
B+ 87.5-90
B 80-87.5
C+ 77.5-80
C 70-77.5
D 60-70
F 0-60


Attendance and Discussions:

  • Students are expected to be present for all classes, and all absences “count” against your total, no matter what the reason. Since class participation will constitute 10% of the students’ grade, and because class participation always improves other aspects of a student’s course grade, absences for any reason are strongly discouraged. Beyond four absences, ten points per absence will be deducted from the student’s final participation grade. According to University regulations, any student who misses eight classes or more will fail the class regardless of class grades.
  • Only students who demonstrate regular, thoughtful, verbal interaction will receive ‘A’ grades for class participation. Students who attend faithfully but contribute infrequently can expect no higher than a ‘B-/C+’, and negligence in attendance, whispering to a neighbor, regular tardiness, sleeping, etc. will be grounds for grades of ‘C’ or lower on class participation.


Use of personal technology:

  • Students may take notes on a laptop after getting approval from the professor, but students are not allowed to surf the internet, send or receive text messages, make or receive cell phone calls, or otherwise use devices in ways unrelated to class. Misuse of personal technology will result in major reductions of overall class participation grade and/or dismissal from that day’s class meeting.


Academic Honesty:

  • Cheating on tests and/or plagiarizing papers will result in a “zero” for that assignment with the possibility of further disciplinary action at the discretion of the Honor Council and Dean’s office. Students may not use the same paper to satisfy requirements in more than one class. Students may not copy material and present it as their own, and this includes material or papers from Internet sites. Suspicious papers will be checked with web or other relevant searches. On any assignment for this class or any other, if the words or interpretations you use are not your own, you must give credit to the original author. If you are not sure about something, please ask.


Extensions and Late Assignments:

  • Students are expected to complete all tests and assignments on time. If a student is going to be absent from class, she should arrange to complete and turn in any assignment due before the absence occurs.
  • QUIZZES: If a student misses a pop quiz, she cannot make it up for any reason. Students who arrive late for class and miss the quiz cannot make it up: I will not interrupt the rest of the class so you can take the quiz late. Students missing class for a university-sponsored absence should check with the professor beforehand to see if there will be a quiz.
  • TESTS: Except in extreme cases, students not present for tests who do not arrange to take the test early will fail the test. If a student is terribly sick at exam time, she must present a note from student health services or another clinic that shows an illness that makes it impossible to take a test. If you miss an exam for a legitimate reason (hospitalization, death of immediate relative, etc.), you must take the initiative to explain why and reschedule as soon as possible- in all but extreme cases if you do not contact the professor the day of the exam to arrange a make-up, you will receive a “zero.”
  • EXTENSIONS: The professor strongly discourages extensions, and will in most cases not allow them. The primary reason for this is because the whole class should be allowed the same amount of time to complete an assignment, and extensions therefore will only be allowed in extreme cases such as documented debilitating illness or a death in the family. Assignments not turned in at the class period due will receive a lowered grade, and assignments not turned in within 48 hours of the original time due will receive no higher than a C. Assignments turned in later than a week after the due date will receive an F. If a student fails to turn in an assignment in class, then he must e-mail an attachment of the paper to the professor within the time limit to receive credit- students may not turn it into the professor’s box and assume that the professor will know that it is there. STUDENTS SHOULD PLAN AHEAD SO THEY COMPLETE ASSIGNMENTS ON TIME.
  • One caveat is in order to this rather unbending policy: if a student chooses to do so, she may turn in a very late assignment despite knowing that it will receive an F. This in cases of borderline final grades may help the professor see that this was not a case of utter negligence, but instead that the assignment was completed, just not in time to pass. An ‘F’ with no assignment turned in is counted as 0 points.


  • I commonly use e-mail to communicate with the class and individual students. Because of this, I require that all students regularly check their University e-mail accounts. I define “regularly” as about once per day, except on weekends and holidays. I will not make critical course changes by e-mail alone, but I do regularly communicate schedule changes or course announcements by e-mail and each student is responsible for these. I also use e-mail to notify students of problems or questions concerning their work, and students are advised to respond to these as promptly as possible. “I didn’t get the e-mail” is not a legitimate excuse in this class.

Final Word:

  • This course intentionally introduces you to a wide range of perspectives and information. You may not--indeed, probably will not--agree with everything you see, hear, or read. The intent is to help you develop a critical attitude toward learning, history, and reading. If you come out of this class better prepared to make clear, critical, and sophisticated arguments based on the available evidence, then you should consider the class a success.


Course Schedule:

  • WEEK 1-Native Americans and European Contact
    • Read Major Problems (MP), “Introduction” pp. xix-xxii; MP, pp. 5-7, 15-23 (document 2 [C. Columbus], Merrell article).
  • WEEK 2- Colonial South
    • Read MP, pp. 34-35, 37-39 (docs. 2 [R. Frethorne],4 [N. Bacon])
    • Read MP, pp. 41-42, 46-55 (doc. 5 [W. Byrd] and Brown article)
  • WEEK 3- Colonial North
    • Read MP, pp. 67-68 (docs. 1 [J. Winthrop], 2 [W. Bradford])
    • Read MP, pp. 76-78 (doc. 8 [A. Hamilton]), 88-95 (Breen article)
  • WEEK 4- Eighteenth Century: religion and empires
    • Read MP, pp. 72-74 (doc. 5 [Salem witchcraft])
    • Read Kidd, The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents
    • ESSAY 1 DUE. See assignment below.
  • WEEK 5- Eighteenth Century: Empires at war, Empire dissolves
    • Work on essay #2 The Federalist
    • Read MP, pp. 98-99 (doc. 1 [Stamp Act])
  • WEEK 6- American Revolution
    • Read Bernard Bailyn article-available on Blackboard under Course Documents
    • Read MP, pp. 99-102 (docs. 2 [P. Henry], 3 [T. Paine])
  • WEEK 7- Confederation and Constitution
    • Read MP, pp. 102-03, 107-08 (docs. 4 [A. Adams], 7 [Slaves’ petition]), 110-117 (G. Wood article)
  • WEEK 8- Jefferson vs. Hamilton
    • Read MP, pp. 137-38 (doc. 8 [P. Henry]); Rakove, ed., The Federalist, ESSAY #2 DUE
    • Read MP, pp. 156-158, (docs. 1 [T. Jefferson] and 2 [A. Hamilton])
  • WEEK 9 - Midterm exam
    • The Era of Andrew Jackson
    • Read MP, pp. 275-276, 296-303 (doc. 1 [P. Cartwright], N. Hatch article)
  • WEEK 10
    • Read MP, pp. 195-197 (doc. 7 [JQ Adams], doc. 8 [J. Monroe])
    • Read MP, pp. 245-46, 249-250 (doc. 1 [JC Calhoun], doc. 3 [A. Jackson])
  • WEEK 11- Reform in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
    • Read MP, pp. 279-280 (doc. 4 [WL Garrison]), 283-284 (doc. 7 [Seneca Falls])
    • Westward expansion
    • Read MP, pp. 255-256 (doc. 8 [Manifest Destiny]), 363-364 (doc. 1 [JC Calhoun])
  • WEEK 12
    • Read Crisis of the 1850s
    • Read MP, pp. 368-370 (doc. 5 [C. Sumner]), 384-390 (Holt article)
    • Read MP, 371-73 (doc. 7, [Lincoln-Douglas debates]), 375-76 (doc. 9 [John Brown])
  • WEEK 13
    • Read Johnson, ed., Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War; MP pp. 406-13 (McPherson article)
    • Essay 3 due
    • Read MP, pp. pp. 393-94 (doc. 1 [R. Toombs])
  • WEEK 14
    • Read MP, 399-400 (docs. 5 [T. Simpson])
  • WEEK 15 - Reconstruction
    • Read MP, pp. 426-27, 428-29 (docs. 2 [black codes],4 [T. Stevens])
    • Read MP, pp. 432-35 (doc. 7 [14th and 15th amendments], 8 [Ku Klux Klan]), 437-46 (Hahn article); final exam review handed out



Review Essays:
  • Each student will write three “reviews of reading” essays during the semester, due dates are listed on the syllabus. The basis for each will be a book; however, these essays will not be book reports, but instead will make an historical argument based on class materials. Each review will be 3-4 pages.

A) Thomas Kidd, ed., The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents

1. Read the book (pp. 1-140) and write on one of the following topics, or one of your own choosing.

  • Why did the Great Awakening happen? What did it offer participants that was so attractive?
  • Was the Great Awakening basically a radical or a conservative event? In other words, did it tend to create major social, political and religious changes in colonial society, or not?

2. Outside research is not necessary for this assignment, though you should include evidence already read or heard in class. If you do use other sources, footnoting (as always) is required. Citations of the book need only be page numbers in parenthesis, with quotations when appropriate.

3. The essay should be 3 to 4 pages in length, with normal margins, double-spaced and a 12 point font. Papers shorter than the required length will almost certainly receive a lower grade, and I will stop reading at the end of 4 pages.

4. See policies on late papers and extensions- please plan to turn the paper in on time.

5. The best essays will accomplish the following:

  • It will make a strong, clear, and thoughtful argument. It will not be a book report, but instead will express the student’s own thoughts on the book’s argument, style, and evidence, as well as the essay question above.
  • It will demonstrate that the student has not only read but also thoughtfully engaged with the book and other class materials.
  • It will be clearly written with no spelling or grammar errors.

B) Rakove, ed., The Federalist, pp. 1-32 (Introduction), Federalist #1 (35-39), #9, 10, 14 (46-64), #37, 39 (90-104), #47-51 (116-141), #70 (172-179), #78 (195-203), #84 (213-222)

The assignment’s parameters are the same as above (3 to 4 pages, etc.). Write on the following topic, or one of your choosing:

  • Critics of the proposed constitution saw it as creating a monster that would abuse the people’s and states’ rights. How did Madison and Hamilton counter this charge? What, to them, was the proper balance between “energetic” government and protecting the people’s liberties?

C) Johnson, ed., Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War, 1-12, 42-91, 108-115, 205-222, 263, 268-270, 320-321, 329-333

The assignment’s parameters are the same as above (3 to 4 pages, etc.). Write on one of the following topics, or one of your choosing:

  • Did Abraham Lincoln believe in human equality? If so, in what sense? Did his view of African Americans change over time?
  • What role did the emancipation of America’s slaves play in Lincoln’s goals for the Civil War and Reconstruction?



We will have eight unannounced quizzes during the semester over the readings. I will drop the lowest one for each student and average the other seven. Students are advised that these quizzes should give you additional reason to come to class and keep up with readings. Students who are so late to class that they miss the quiz CANNOT take or make up the quiz, because we will cover the quiz reading material during the class. It is your responsibility to get to class on time to take any quizzes.



Both the midterm and the final will consist of identification terms and essays. A study guide will be handed out prior to each.



Thomas S. Kidd, Baylor University

The two most important aspects of an history essay are its thesis (also known as a main point or argument) and evidence (engagement with and use of the relevant texts). The two most common problems in history essays are when they have no point to make, and when they have little evidence to back up their point.

There is a big difference in history essays between your topic and your thesis. To understand the difference in any given essay, fill in these blanks: “My essay is about _________________, and I am going to argue ________________ about it.” The first blank is your topic, the second is your thesis.

For instance, a good topic and thesis is “My essay is about why the South lost the Civil War, and I am going to argue that they lost because of inferior political leadership.” The topic here is good because it is fruitful; in other words, it can produce multiple interpretations. Some people might say you are wrong about southern political leadership, that it was not so bad. Great! That is what makes the thesis interesting. The thesis is good because it offers a clear, debatable point of view on the topic at hand.

A poor thesis might be “Abraham Lincoln’s leadership was important in the Civil War.” This is a poor thesis because it lends itself to reporting on Lincoln’s leadership but not to making a point about it. No one would deny that Lincoln was important in the Civil War, so you want to be more provocative. Instead, try “If not for Abraham Lincoln, the North would have certainly lost the Civil War.” This is much more interesting because some might disagree with you and say that no matter who was President, the North was going to win the Civil War.

Once you have determined a clear, interesting, and even provocative thesis, work on organizing your essay around that thesis. The introduction should state your thesis, and then supporting paragraphs should make your case through sub-points about the thesis. Each paragraph should serve the larger point of the essay. The conclusion will wrap up your argument and explain why your interpretation is the right one. Think of yourself as a lawyer making a case to a jury: everything depends on making a clear and supportable argument to convince them you are right. Your body of evidence is the text(s) at hand.

Good essays will use specific examples and evidence to back up your thesis. This does not mean listing everything you can think of, but instead it means selecting the most effective cases or examples to make your point. In some cases it will mean using brief quotes. Cite evidence from a wide range of pages, not just the early part of the book or article.

Common technical problems in undergraduate papers- these should be eliminated before turning in to Dr. Kidd:

1) Use of apostrophes

Correct usage: the sailors’ lives show [possessive requires apostrophe]
Incorrect usage: the lives of sailors’ show [not possessive, no apostrophe needed]
Incorrect usage: the sailor’s lives show [apostrophe comes after s in plural nouns]
Correct usage: Jonathan Edwards was the greatest American theologian.
Incorrect usage: Jonathan Edwards’ was the greatest American theologian.

2) Incorrect use of the word “novel”

If a book is fictional, then it is appropriate to call it a novel. Books written by historians are NOT novels- they are just books. “Novel” implies fiction. If you call a history book a novel, this implies that you think its events never really happened.

3) Spelling errors

Any spelling errors subject to correction by a word processor’s spell check MUST be eliminated before turning in your paper- not doing so is very sloppy.

4) Underlining/italicizing book titles, article titles put in quotes

Book titles should be italicized (underlining also acceptable), while articles should be put in quotes- thus, Kidd, ed., The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents is correct, and James Merrell, “The Indians’ New World” is correct.