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Research Guides

Locating & Accessing Primary Documents: U.S. Historical Documents

Find and Access primary resources from U.S. Government websites, Bush Library Databases and HamCAT.

Web Sites for U.S. Historical Documents

Web sites for U.S. Historical Documents

Library of Congress

Primary documents at the Library of Congress includes: American Memory, Prints and photographs, historic newspapers, sound recordings, films, maps and manuscripts.

National Security Archives - archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Historic Documents of the United States - Searches Early Congressional Documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Other Amendments.
Library of Congress

  • American Memory Project - includes over 90 historical digital collections.
  • Century of Lawmaking - records of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the US Congress comprise a rich documentary history of the construction of the nation, the development of the federal government, and its role in the national life.
  • Gettysburg Address - includes drafts, transcriptions in 29 other languages, only photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg and the invitation.

National Archives and Records Administration - find speeches, historic photographs, documents, films, covering such topics as the Great Depression, World War II, Holocaust, JFK Assassination, Nazi war criminals, Watergate and much more.
Prologue Magazine: Official magazine of the National Archives -
mines the millions of resources available in the organization's archives and presents them to readers in a fascinating narrative form. 
Access to Archival Databases - includes approximately 350 datafiles with millions of historical records available, including surveys of Civil War sites; Combat casualties from the Vietnam and Korean Wars; POWs from World War II and Korean War; Japanese-American Internee Files from World War II; passenger lists,1846-1851 (Irish Famine).

Declaration of Independence
Emancipation Proclamation
Fedlink - Full text Historical documents and publications of the federal government.

Bill of Rights -
public laws dating back to 1973.
Constitution of the United States
Constitutional Sources Project -
seeks to revolutionize how people experience history by "democratizing access" to the source materials of the U.S. Constitution, such as related letters, journals, newspapers, articles, and speeches.


General Historical Resources Related to U.S. History

50 Core American History Documents - For educators searching for primary documents related to important moments in American history, this site will be a welcome find. Documents include:  Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and George Washington's Farewell Address are also featured here, as well as more modern texts, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union Address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
C-SPAN American Profiles - explores the lives and careers of lawmakers and journalists since 1982.  An archive of all 279 videos in the series, which may be investigated chronologically, by keyword, or by using the advanced search to filter by Tag, Person, Organization, Location, or Event Type. 
Eleanor Roosevelt Papers - Currently the site is primarily text - transcriptions of Roosevelt's speeches, newspaper columns, and other written work.
Foreign Relations of the United States Series - presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.
Photogrammar - For educators teaching the history of the great depression, photography, or aspects of America's rural and agrarian
past, this site will provide tremendous primary resources.
Presidential Libraries - provides links to the presidential libraries from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush.
Presidential Oral HistoriesTranscripts, audio recordings and sometimes videos of interviews with former presidents, including: 
Presidents Hoover, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush.
Public Presidential Papers - contains material compiled and published by the Federal Register, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Covers the administrations of Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.
Records of Rights - This new permanent collection showcases documents and images related to "the ongoing struggle of Americans to define, attain, and protect their rights."  There are six informative categories: Equal Rights, Rights to Freedom and Justice, Rights to Privacy and Sexuality, Workplace Rights, First Amendment Rights, and Rights of Native Americans. Each category contains plenty of primary sources to enhance lesson plans and classroom activities.
Theodore Roosevelt Center - The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University created this digital library to provide online access to Roosevelt-related photographs, ephemera, and documents. 
United Farm Workers Digital Collection - During the 1960's, Cesar Chavez and other labor leaders garnered national support for working families in California, Texas, and other states.
United States/United Nations Documents - annual titles “US participation in the UN” (back to 1946) and “Voting practices of the UN” (1983 - 1999).
Woman's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment - The lesson draws from nine related primary source documents that date between 1868 and 1920, as well as six teaching activities that run the gamut from document analysis to role play to student research.

American Revolutionary War

Perspectives on the Boston Massacre delves into historical source material, which is divided into four additional sections: Reactions and Responses, The Massacre Illustrated, The Trials, and Anniversaries. The Reactions and Responses section is perhaps offers both original hand written letters and articles, as well as easily readable transcripts. Educators searching for primary materials to liven up lesson plans about the United States’ road to independence will find much of interest on this excellent site.

American Civil War

The Chattanooga Daily RebelPrinted from August 1862 until the Union Army destroyed its printing presses in April 1865, the Chattanooga Daily Rebel covered the American Civil War from a Confederate perspective. Articles include scathing critiques of the efforts of General Braxton Bagg's military operations, praise for the confederate soldiers, tales of small town murder, and a now-famous article defending the rights of a free press during war time. For students of the American Civil War, and readers fascinated by primary historical documents, this site will provide hours of interesting reading.

Civil Rights Movement

1963: The Struggle for Civil Rights
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum brings to life a pivotal year in the struggle for civil rights in the United States: 1963. While the historic events begin in 1939 and span all the way to 1965, the interactive element is limited to this one tumultuous year. Enter the Timeline to access the 230+ primary sources that have been organized into seven event chapters.

African Activist Archive - Readers will find am impressive archive of primary materials drawn from 50 years of U.S. citizens organizing in solidarity with African Activists in their anti-colonialist struggles.
Black Panther Newspaper - Primary sources are the lifeblood of historical teaching and learning. For educators of 20th century American history, or those covering the civil rights movement more specifically, this resource features a collection of The Black Panther published between 1968 and 1973.

Military History

Naval History and Heritage Command: Photography - readers may scout the American Civil War, Spanish American War, the 19th Century, World War I, World War II, and several others.  Selecting Places and Bases opens to possibilities like Washington DC, Guantanamo Bay, and New York Navy. The photographs on the site are as beautiful as they are historically significant.

Military Legal Resources - The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Legal Center & School Library in Charlottesville, VA, holds extensive collections of primary source materials and publications in the field of military law.

WASP-Women Airforce Service Pilots - Virtual Collection of original documents from the WASP collections. Items include regulation
handbooks, training artifacts, and a 1942 endorsement for women fliers by Eleanor Roosevelt. 

World War I

World War I Propaganda Posters - With 23 posters in all, educators will find this collection from the LEARN NC Digital Archive to be fascinating and useful when discussing the history of World War I, advertising, and gender.

World War II

Japanese Relocation During World War II - Resources include nearly two dozen primary documents, photographs, letters, and other
ephemera that may be used to engage students in critical analysis.

Old OSS (Office of Strategic Service) Manuals - Text searchable .pdf's of the old OSS Manuals.

World War II Poster Collection - Northwestern University Library's World War II Poster Collection contains 338 posters issued by the U.S. government in an attempt to garner support for the war effort between 1941 and 1945.