Notes: Welcome, students! Here are thirty-eight short essays from History Now, an online publication from Gilder Lehrman. Each piece is written by a prominent historian and addresses a key topic in US history. The readings are designed to provide you with more information on subjects you are likely to see on the AP US History Exam in the DBQ and/or FRQ sections.

Detail from a 1682 map of North America, Novi Belgi Novaeque Angliae, by Nichola

The Columbian Exchange

Millions of years ago, continental drift carried the Old World and New Worlds apart, splitting North and South America from Eurasia and Africa. That...


Change and Crisis: North America on the Eve of the European Invasion

It was around the year 1450. A young man was living alone in the dense forest somewhere southeast of Lake Ontario because there was not enough...


Jamestown and the Founding of English America

Shortly before Christmas 1606, three small ships left London’s Blackwall docks to establish a settlement on Chesapeake Bay, in North America. The largest of the ships, the heavily armed, 120-ton merchantman Susan Constant, carried...


The Colonial Virginia Frontier and International Native American Diplomacy

Telling the story of Native Americans and colonial Virginians is a complex challenge clouded by centuries of mythology. The history of early settlement is dominated by the story of a preteen Pocahontas saving the life of a courageous John Smith....


Indian Slavery in the Americas

The story of European colonialism in the Americas and its victimization of Africans and Indians follows a central paradigm in most textbooks. The African...

“Bostonian’s Paying the Excise-man” (London: Philip Dawe, 1774). (GLC04961.01)

Unruly Americans in the Revolution

Nearly all of the blockbuster biographies of the Founding Fathers—whether the subject is George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or John Adams—portray the...

General Burgoyne Addressing the Indians (GLC04761)

The Indians’ War of Independence

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson clearly described the role of American Indians in the American Revolution. In...

Mercy Otis Warren, by John Singleton Copley, ca. 1763 (Museum of Fine Arts, Bost

The Righteous Revolution of Mercy Otis Warren

Seven months after British Regulars marched on Lexington and Concord, three months after King George III declared the colonies in a state of rebellion, and a month after British artillery leveled the town of Falmouth (now Portland, Maine), even...

“The Looking Glass for 1787,” a political cartoon. (LC-DIG-ppmsca-17522)

The Antifederalists: The Other Founders of the American Constitutional Tradition?

The Great Debate

The publication of the Constitution in September 1787 inaugurated one of the most vigorous political campaigns in American history. In the process of arguing over the merits of the new plan of government, Americans not only...


The Supreme Court Then and Now

The framers of the United States Constitution made clear that the document was to be regarded as fundamental law. Article VI states that the Constitution and those laws “which shall be made in pursuance thereof” (as well as treaties) shall be “...

“The Life and Age of Woman,” by A. Alden, Barre, MA, ca. 1835. (LC-DIG-pga-0350)

The Legal Status of Women, 1776–1830

State law rather than federal law governed women’s rights in the early republic. The authority of state law meant that much depended upon where a woman lived and the particular social circumstances in her region of the country. The disparity in...

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

The Presidential Election of 1800: A Story of Crisis, Controversy, and Change

Nasty political mud-slinging. Campaign attacks and counterattacks. Personal insults. Outrageous newspaper invective. Dire predictions of...


Andrew Jackson and the Constitution

In 1860, biographer James Parton concluded that Andrew Jackson was “a most law-defying, law obeying citizen.” Such a statement is obviously contradictory...


Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy

Of all presidential reputations, Andrew Jackson’s is perhaps the most difficult to summarize or explain. Most Americans recognize his name...


Indian Removal

In 1828 pressure was building among white Americans for the relocation of American Indians from...

Abolitionist flag, ca. 1859. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Abolition and Antebellum Reform

When the Boston abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson looked back on the years before the Civil...

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1880s. (GLC07926.02)

Allies for Emancipation? Black Abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was not an original advocate of abolition. In fact we know that his journey to what he called “the central act of my administration, and...

The County Election, based on a painting by George C. Bingham, 1854. (Gilder Leh

Winning the Vote: A History of Voting Rights

Voting Rights on the Eve of the Revolution

The basic principle that governed voting in colonial America was that voters should have a “stake in society.” Leading colonists associated democracy with disorder and mob rule, and believed that the vote...


Women and the Early Industrial Revolution in the United States

The industrial revolution that transformed western Europe and the United States during the course of the nineteenth century had its origins in the introduction of power-driven machinery in the English and Scottish textile industries in the second...


A New Look at the Great Plains

To most Americans the Great Plains are the Great Flyover, or maybe the Great Drivethrough. Viewed from a window seat the plains seem nearly devoid of interest, something to get across enroute to someplace far worthier to explore or live in. Yet...

Horace Greeley to R. L. Sanderson, November 15, 1871. (GLC00608)

Born Modern: An Overview of the West

The present American West is a creation of history rather than geography. There has never been a single West; American Wests come and go....


The Underground Railroad and the Coming of War

The Underground Railroad was a metaphor. Yet many textbooks treat it as an official name for a secret network that once helped...

John Marshall and Roger B. Taney (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs)

The Marshall and Taney Courts: Continuities and Changes

Though the first holders of the job thought it more a burden than a position of honor or power, the office of chief justice of the United States has a pivotal role in the American constitutional system, thanks mainly to John Marshall (1755–1835...

“Stump Speaking,” by George C. Bingham, 1856. (GLC04075)

Abraham Lincoln and Jacksonian Democracy

Abraham Lincoln was, for most of his political career, a highly partisan Whig. As long as the Whig Party existed, he never supported the...


Lincoln’s Interpretation of the Civil War

On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office for the second time. The setting itself...


Reconstruction and the Battle for Woman Suffrage

The origins of the American women’s suffrage movement are commonly dated from the public protest meeting held in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848. At...

Joining of the rails, May 10, 1869, by Andrew Russell (GLC04481.04)

Transcontinental Railroads: Compressing Time and Space

Many of our modern clichés about the impact of technology, particularly about the consequences of the Internet and telecommunications, first appeared as...

Letterhead from Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, 1910, detail. (GLC)

The Myth of the Frontier: Progress or Lost Freedom

For two centuries the frontier West was the setting for America’s most enduring form of popular...

Theodore Roosevelt giving a speech in Waterville, Maine, 1902. (GLC06449.22)

The Square Deal: Theodore Roosevelt and the Themes of Progressive Reform

Progressivism arrived at a moment of crisis for the United States. As the nineteenth century came to a close, just decades after the Civil...

Teddy Roosevelt in the Rough Riders, ca. 1898. (GLC07002.39)

Theodore Roosevelt: The Making of a Progressive Reformer

Theodore Roosevelt’s interesting life often tempts biographers to write about him with the history left out. His story offers plenty of...

Franklin D. Roosevelt to Henry T. Rainey, June 10, 1933. (GLC)

The Hundred Days and Beyond: What Did the New Deal Accomplish?

There wasn’t anybody in that entire Brains Trust apparently that had given any thought—they had absolutely no plans—or any real...

Soldiers without Guns poster, Office of War Information, ca. 1944. (NARA)

The World War II Home Front

World War II had a profound impact on the United States. Although no battles occurred on the American mainland, the war affected all phases of American life. It required unprecedented efforts to coordinate strategy and tactics with other members...

Battery B, 338th Antiaircraft Artillery, ca. 1943. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Patriotism Crosses the Color Line: African Americans in World War II

Although African Americans have been the victims of racial oppression throughout the...


The Civil Rights Movement: Major Events and Legacies

From the earliest years of European settlement in North America, whites enslaved and oppressed black people. Although the Civil War finally brought about the abolition of slavery, a harsh system of white supremacy persisted thereafter. In the...


Different Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

In 1984 Jimmy Carter reflected on growing up in the segregated South. He recalled that as a young child, he, like many white children, had had an African American child as his closest friend. The two children spent all their play time together....

President Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam, 1966. (NARA)

The Consequences of Defeat in Vietnam

As historians of the Vietnam War know all too well, the amount of documentation about the conflict available in US archives—to say nothing of foreign repositories—can be overwhelming. To master even a small slice of this material is a herculean...

Family fallout shelter, ca. 1957. (National Archives)

Cold War, Warm Hearth

In the summer of 1959, a young couple married and spent their honeymoon in a fallout shelter. Life magazine featured the “sheltered honeymoon” with a photograph of the duo smiling on their lawn, surrounded by dozens of canned goods and...

Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Ronald Reagan and the End of the Cold War: The Debate Continues

For a British professor with more than a passing interest in US foreign policy and the role of the United States in ending the Cold War, it is indeed fascinating to observe how deeply divided opinion still remains over the part played in the...

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