Explain how a shared American civic identity is embodied in founding-era documents and in core documents of subsequent periods of United States history.

View of the crowd at the March on Washington, August 1963
View of the crowd at the March on Washington, August 1963

Focus Question: How do core documents from different periods in U.S. history reflect America's shared civic identity?


Essential Documents (for more see, Primary Sources in United States history)


  • The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions (1848). For more information on women's suffrage movement before the Civil War, see USI.33.


Multimedia.pngGettysburg Address recited by Jeff Daniel's video on youtube




external image Martin_Luther_King_Jr_with_medallion_NYWTS.jpg

Multimedia.png"I Have a Dream" speech on youtube


Ronald Reagan First Inaugural Speech
  • Reagan's Inaugural speech was extremely influential to American society. It came at a time where Americans were suffering from what now is called "Vietnam Syndrome".
    • In this era of American history, Americans still had 52 hostages in Iran and the United States was just finally able to get them back after over a year and many failed attempts such as "eagle claw" Americans started to loose their ideas about American strength and exceptionalism, Furthermore, they rapidly lost faith in the American government.
      • Reagan's speech was not only an Inaugural speech but a speech to try to change and boost American moral.


Multimedia.png9/11 speech from youtube

Multimedia.pngObama Victory Speech (2008)
The ideals of a unified American people coming together to perform their civic duties to vote is apparent.


Robert H. Jackson, 1945
Robert H. Jackson, 1945

Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s opinion for the Court in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
  • In this case, the Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to compel schoolchildren to salute the American flag, declaring that although the flag was symbol, the school district's effort at the "compulsory unification of opinion" went against the intent of the First Amendment.
    • Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Jackson declared "[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

Click here for more on the case from the Cornell University Law School.

rotating gif.gifFor background, see also Grade 1.4 on Student Rights and the Pledge of Allegiance

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1924
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1924

The Court upheld the conviction of two defendants under the Espionage Act for distributing political leaflets denouncing America' s decision to send troops to Russia. The leaflets, the majority opinion concluded, were an appeal to violent revolution and encouraged resistance to America's war effort.

In his dissenting opinion, Oliver Wendell Holmes declared "it is only the present danger of immediate evil or an intent to bring it about that warrants Congress in setting a limit to the expression of opinion where private rights are not concerned." Holmes further stated "that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out."

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline for important women in U.S. government