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[Detail] Millions of acres, Iowa and Nebraska, 1872

Collection Overview

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera provides a unique view of American History using items such as posters, business cards, flyers, catalogs, advertisements and leaflets. These items capture experiences from important turning points such as the American Revolution, Civil War, Western Land Rush, Women's Suffrage Movement and Industrial Revolution.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Colonial Settlement, 1492-1763
  • The New Nation, 1780-1815
  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
  • The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
  • Postwar United States, 1945-early 1970s
  • Contemporary United States, 1968-Present

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection.

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Contributor, Title , Location or Genre. For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.


U.S. History

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera presents a unique opportunity for students to examine American political and social history through analysis of a wide range of documents including broadsides, song sheets, notices, advertisements, proclamations, petitions, manifestos, ballots, and tickets to special events. The collection provides both digital images and searchable electronic text. The items shed light on innumerable topics from the seventeenth century to the present: the Revolutionary War, slavery, the Civil War, women's suffrage, and the emergence of the United States as a world power, to name a few. The printed material was produced as the events unfolded and offers unique snapshots of our past.

As the name would suggest, the collection comprises primarily documents created for a specific purpose and intended to be discarded. The primary purpose of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century printed ephemera was the distribution of information and opinion in the days before radio and television. The Special Presentation, Introduction to Printed Ephemera Collection, provides an excellent overview of the collection's contents.

The richness of An American Time Capsule can be illustrated with a few examples of documents found there: the classic illustration of the monster "Gerry-mander" an 1838 broadside calling for a meeting at Faneuil Hall in Boston to oppose the annexation of Texas; an 1851 advertisement for the return of "a lost lap dog with long white curling hair, — feet trimmed close, — answers to the name of 'Fancy'"; an 1863 advertisement using the name of Confederate General Beauregard to promote "wonderful cures of bronchitis, asthma, sore throat, consumption, &c. &c."; an 1876 broadside presenting a "declaration and protest of the women of the United States"; a menu from a gala dinner held in 1930; and Gwendolyn Brooks's poem "We Real Cool," written in the 1960s.

It should be noted that printed ephemera express the language, experience, and viewpoints of the era in which they were published. Therefore, before exploring the contents of the collection, students should be aware that they often will encounter attitudes and language that are jarring to contemporary sensibilities.

The American Revolution

When British troops were sent to Boston in October 1768 to enforce imperial policies, the action caused deep resentment among the citizens of the city. The arrival of troops stimulated protests and minor clashes rather than the full-scaled armed resistance that had been threatened by the Sons of Liberty. On the afternoon of March 5, 1770, a fistfight between a worker and soldier developed into a riot. That evening, during a confrontation on King Street, shots were fired and five civilians were killed. A broadside described "The Late Military Massacre at Boston." Read the broadside, as well as your textbook's account of this event:

  • According to the broadside, what happened in Boston on March 5, 1770? What does the broadside cite as the cause of this event?
  • Is the broadside's description of the incident accurate? What is your evidence?
  • What evidence, if any, do you find of bias in the relation of the series of events?
  • What averted a major confrontation following the massacre?
  • What action was taken to bring the matter before Parliament when news of the incident reached Britain?

Another event that provoked tension in colonial America was passage of the Tea Act of 1773, which gave the nearly bankrupt British East India Company a monopoly on tea exports to America. When news of the arrival of ships carrying tea reached Boston and other port cities, from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, crowds gathered in protest. Conducting a Keyword Search using the term tea will produce a preponderance of documents relating to agitation over tea shipments, including a song entitled "Tea Destroyed by Indians" celebrating the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. Read the resolutions agreed upon in Philadelphia on December 17, 1773, condemning the shipment of tea to America and the October 20, 1774, broadside concerning the arrival of the brig Peggy Stewart in Annapolis, Maryland.

  • Why did the authors of the Philadelphia resolutions argue that the British Parliament was introducing ""arbitrary government and slavery" in her American colonies?
  • According to these resolutions, what was the duty of Americans regarding the payment of the duty on tea?
  • What happened to the cargo on board the tea ships Polly and the Peggy Stewart?
  • How did the citizens of Philadelphia and Annapolis respond to the arrival of the tea ships? How did their actions differ from those taken by the Sons of Liberty in Boston?
  • What were the consequences of the Boston Tea Party? How did other colonies respond to the Coercive or "Intolerable" Acts imposed on the Massachusetts colony?

Committees of Correspondence were first established in the 1760s as a means for the various colonies to communicate with each other (and the world) about important issues. In 1773, the Virginia House of Burgesses called on all the colonies to establish permanent Committees of Correspondence to communicate about the increasing conflict with Great Britain. Nearly all the colonies did so, as did many towns and counties. The network of Committees of Correspondence allowed the colonies to communicate about their common grievances and possible responses and was an important precursor to the First Continental Congress. Read the resolutions issued by the New York Committee of Correspondence on July 19, 1774, and the response published under the pen name Democritus.

  • What issues were raised by the Committee of Correspondence?
  • How did Democritus respond to these issues? How effective was his use of satire?
  • Why do you think the author used a pen name? What is the significance of the pen name chosen?
  • What can you discern from these two documents regarding the political differences between Patriots and Loyalists on the eve of the American Revolution?

Once war began, the American forces faced many problems. For example, the Continental Army's dire need for supplies is demonstrated in a broadside posted at Cambridge in August 1775. Thomas Paine in "The American Crisis (No. 1)" described the hardships on the battlefield during the retreat through New Jersey in November and December 1776, starting with the well-known words excerpted below.

"THESE are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain, too cheap, we esteem too lightly: — 'Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value."

From "The American Crisis (No. 1)"

Read the entire document by Paine and answer the following questions:

  • What did Paine mean by the phrase "the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot"?
  • According to Paine, how difficult is the struggle for independence?
  • What specific problems facing the American troops did Paine describe?
  • Search An American Time Capsule for other documents relating to hardships faced by the Continental Army. Make a list of the hardships you identify. For each, try to find at least one way in which American leaders sought to address the hardship.

A topic rarely dealt with in textbooks is the existence of conscientious objectors who sought exemption from military service on religious grounds. The Pennsylvania Assembly initially agreed to recognize the rights of conscientious objectors. A community of Pennsylvania Mennonites sent a declaration to the Assembly expressing gratitude for recognizing their religious beliefs and agreeing to serve in other ways.

". . . [W]e find ourselves indebted to be thankfull to our late worthy Assembly, for their giving so good an Advice in these troublesome Times to all Ranks of People in Pennsylvania, particularly in allowing those, who, by the Doctrine of our Saviour Jesus Christ, are persuaded in their Conscience to love their Enemies, and not to resist Evil, to enjoy the Liberty of their Conscience, for which, as also for all the good Things we enjoyed under their Care, we heartily thank that worthy Body of Assembly, and all high and low in Office, who have advised to such a peaceful Measure, hoping and confiding that they, and all others entrusted with Power in this hitherto blessed Province, may be moved by the same Spirit of Grace, which animated the first Founder of this Province, our late worthy Proprietor William Penn, to grant Liberty of Conscience to all its Inhabitants, that they may in the great and memorable Day of Judgment be put on the right Hand of the just Judge."

From "A Short and Sincere Declaration, to Our Honorable Assembly"

Read the entire declaration and answer the following questions:

  • What was the tone of the Mennonite declaration?
  • Why did the declaration invoke the name of William Penn?
  • What services were Mennonites willing to perform?

The role of American women during the Revolution, another topic not extensively covered in texts, can be examined using documents from An American Time Capsule. The author of "The Sentiments of an American Woman" expressed frustration that women could not do more for the cause:

"ON the commencement of actual war, the Women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country. Animated by the purest patriotism, they are sensible of sorrow at this day, in not offering more than barren wishes for the success of so glorious a Revolution. They aspire to render themselves more really useful; and this sentiment is universal from the north to the south of the Thirteen United States. Our ambition is kindled by the same of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good."

From ""The Sentiments of an American Woman"

Read the entire document and consider the following:

  • What actions did the author of this document urge women and girls to take to contribute to the war effort?
  • When was this document written? What events might have prompted the writing of the document?
  • How do you think Thomas Paine would have responded to the ideas expressed by this American woman?


Making the Constitution

One of the collection's most interesting documents from the post-Revolutionary era is the first draft of the Constitution reviewed by delegates at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia, August 1787. The Preamble to the first draft reads:

"WE the People of the States of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity."

From "We the People of the States"

  • Compare this draft of the Preamble with the Preamble in the final version of the Constitution ratified the following year. According to the two versions of the Preamble, who was entering into an agreement to establish the Constitution? Why is this difference significant?
  • What is another important difference between the first and final drafts of the Preamble? Explain why the difference you have identified is important.
  • Read the first draft of the Constitution and compare it with the final version ratified by state conventions the following year. Make a list of at least five significant differences between the two versions. For each difference you have listed, try to develop an explanation of how the final version represents a compromise between competing interests in the states.

One of the most controversial aspects of the new Constitution submitted to the states for approval was its failure to include a bill of rights. A group of people who opposed the Constitution, called the Anti-Federalists, had varying reasons for not liking the proposed blueprint for U.S. government; they were agreed on the need for a Bill of Rights, an argument they hoped to use to defeat the new Constitution. When ratification appeared to be in danger, the Constitution's supporters agreed to propose a Bill of Rights in the first Congress convened once the Constitution was ratified. During the ratification debates, several states proposed amendments to the Constitution, many of which dealt specifically with the issue of civil liberties. The Virginia ratifying convention agreed that amendments should be adopted by the method prescribed in the Constitution and recommended 20 amendments for consideration that would establish "... a Declaration or Bill of Rights asserting and securing from encroachment the essential and unalienable rights of the people..." The Virginia also recommended 20 additional amendments related to other issues. Read the report from the Virginia convention and consider the following:

  • Which rights proposed by Virginia were included in the Bill of Rights that was eventually adopted? How might you explain the omission of some of the items?
  • What other amendments were proposed by Virginia? What experiences as colonies or under the Articles of Confederation might help explain why the Virginia convention felt some of these amendments were necessary? Have any of these issues been addressed in amendments to the Constitution?


Growing Pains of the New Nation

The new nation's early years were not without controversy. Foreign policy issues aroused some bitterness. The negotiation of the Jay Treaty with Britain in 1794 was bitterly opposed by Democratic Republicans who denounced the Federalists for making concessions to Britain. When the House of Representatives sought presidential papers regarding the negotiation of the treaty, George Washington refused and sent a message to the House rejecting their demands.

During the John Adams administration, Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts over protests from Democratic Republicans. These four acts included "An Act Concerning Aliens," which authorized the president to imprison or deport citizens of other nations who were deemed dangerous. The Sedition Act provided penalties for resisting federal laws or criticizing the government. In opposition to these acts, James Madison penned the Virginia Resolutions; Thomas Jefferson is believed to have written the Kentucky Resolutions expressing opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Some residents of New England, referred to as the "High Federalists," opposed the War of 1812. At a convention in Hartford in 1815, several constitutional amendments were proposed and submitted to states for review. An American Time Capsule includes the rejection of the amendments by the states of North Carolina and Louisiana. Read the proposed amendments and choose one that is especially interesting to you. Find out more about why the amendment's backers thought it was needed. Write a broadside in which you explain the arguments for and against the amendment.

As the population of white Americans grew, there was increasing pressure to take the lands of Native Americans. In 1790, the population of Georgia was 82,500; by 1830, it had grown to 516,800. The legislature of Georgia passed a number of laws designed to gain the lands of Native Americans; the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. In 1832 a New York Committee seeking aid for the Cherokee nation issued a circular expressing support for the Cherokee nation and criticizing the efforts taken by Georgia in violation of treaties signed between the Cherokee and the United States government. Read this circular and consider the following:

  • What arguments did the New York Committee make in the petition to the Senate and House of Representatives?
  • Why, according to the committee, was the Federal government obligated to provide for the defense of the Cherokee nation?
  • What course of action did the New York Committee wish to see the government take in response to Georgia's opposition to the Cherokee?

After a long legal struggle, the Cherokee were eventually removed from their lands in Georgia in the winter of 1838-1839. Their journey to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) has become known as the Trail of Tears.


Slavery and the Civil War

Slavery had long been a divisive issue. While abolitionism gained momentum in the 1830s, support for slavery was still strong. In 1835, Angelina Grimké wrote to William Lloyd Garrison to express her deep concern over opposition to the abolitionist cause in Boston, where there had recently been a pro-slavery riot. In her letter, Grimké urged Garrison to continue his struggle to abolish slavery despite the hostility directed towards him in Massachusetts.

"...I thanked God, and took courage, earnestly desiring that thousands may adopt thy language, and be prepared to meet the Martyr's doom, rather than give up the principles you (i.e. Abolitionists) have adopted. The ground upon which you stand is holy ground: never — never surrender it. If you surrender it, the hope of the slave is extinguished, and the chains of his servitude will be strengthened a hundred fold."

From "Slavery and the Boston Riot"

Stories of daring escapes from slavery were circulated as a means of winning support for the abolitionist crusade. The story of "Box Brown," who shipped himself from Virginia to Philadelphia in a box, was but one of many tales of heroic efforts to achieve freedom. The collection includes a song Brown is reported to have sung as he stepped from his confinement upon arrival at Philadelphia

In 1856, controversy over the admission of Kansas to the union divided the nation and led to what was commonly known as "Bleeding Kansas." Read "Who Are the Ruffians, Murderers, and Robbers in Kansas?" for information on rival factions in the territory. A Keyword Search using the term free Kansas will produce a number of documents relating to the issue of Kansas's admission to the union.

The sectional crisis erupted in another episode of violence at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. John Brown, intending to promote a slave uprising, was captured and tried for treason. When sentenced to death, Brown addressed the court:

"...I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done, in behalf of his despised poor, I have done no wrong, but RIGHT.

Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life, for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and MINGLE MY BLOOD FURTHER WITH THE BLOOD OF MY CHILDREN, and with the blood of millions in this Slave country, whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, — I say, LET IT BE DONE.... (32)"

From "Address of John Brown to the Virginia Court"

The American Anti-Slavery Society, under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, passed a resolution calling upon abolitionists to show support for Brown and conduct a "moral demonstration" against slavery on the day set aside for his execution.

As the nation appeared on the verge of a war, senator John Crittenden of Kentucky proposed what came to be known as the Crittenden Compromise. The proposal called for a series of amendments to the Constitution that would have reinstated the Missouri Compromise line, prohibited the abolition of slavery on federal land, insured the interstate transportation of slaves, and secured the right of the government to acquire territory in Africa or South America for the colonization of free Blacks. The collection also presents a letter critical of a compromise to insure the continuation of slavery. Conducting a Keyword Search using secession will produce documents both for and against secession from the Union.

  • Based on the documents you have read, what were the arguments for abolition of slavery? What seemed to be the primary motives of the abolitionists?
  • What evidence does the collection provide that opposition to abolition remained high?
  • Do you think the Crittenden Compromise was a good option for avoiding war? Why or why not?
  • Given the events that had occurred between 1830 and 1860 and the divisions that existed in the nation, do you think civil war was inevitable? Explain your answer.

The collection also includes a number of documents on the Civil War. Conduct a Keyword Search using Civil War as your search term; such a search will identify a variety of broadsides, songs, and pamphlets on the war including announcements for a bounty paid for enlistment, recruitment posters, and a call for patriotic women to meet to devise a plan to give comfort to soldiers.

The headline of an extra edition of the Newburyport (Massachusetts) Herald on April 15, 1865, announced, "Appalling Circumstance! The President Dead! Escape of the Murderer! Attempt on the life of Secretary Seward. J. Wilkes Booth, the Actor, the Assassin." At left is a poster circulated by the War Department. The department offered a $100,000 reward for the capture of the Lincoln conspirators, John Surratt, John Wilkes Booth, and David Herold, whose photographs were shown on the poster.

New President Andrew Johnson, following Lincoln's lead, called for the readmission of the former Confederate states to the Union. The provisional governor of North Carolina issued a proclamation calling for a state convention, one of the prerequisites for readmission. Read the proclamation and pay particular attention to the part of the proclamation he addresses "To the colored people of the State," which is excerpted below.

"To the colored people of the State I would say, you are now free. Providence has willed that the very means adopted to render your servitude perpetual, should be His instruments for releasing you from bondage. It now remains for you, aided as you will be by the superior intelligence of the white race, and cheered by the sympathies of all good people, to decide whether the freedom thus suddenly bestowed upon you, will be a blessing to you or a source of injury....I have no prejudice against you. On the contrary, while I am a white man, and while my lot is with my own color, yet I sympathize with you as the weaker race. . ."

From "Proclamation of William W. Holden, Provisional Governor, to the People of North Carolina"

  • What tone did the governor take in addressing the African Americans of North Carolina?
  • According to the provisional governor, who was responsible for ending slavery?
  • What can you infer from this proclamation regarding how former slaves were likely to be treated in the reconstructed state of North Carolina?


Women and Reform

Women were a major part of several reform movements of the 1800s and early 1900s. These reform movements sought to promote basic changes in American society, including the abolition of slavery, education reform, prison reform, women's rights, and temperance (opposition to alcohol). A National Temperance Circular (ca. 1850) outlined the problems of drunkenness:

"...Our country is now harboring a fatal enemy; cherishing a plague of dreadful malignity; submitting to a tax which brings no increase to our treasury, while it perpetuates poverty, misery and crime. To prove this, let us state a few facts which may be relied on. Whatever may be said in favor of the temperate use of ardent spirits, (if that indefinite line could ever be drawn,) facts will show incontestibly, that the excessive use of them is the severest scourge with which our nation is visited: and you know that all drunkenness commences in the moderate use of them. Ardent spirit destroys health: ardent spirit creates idleness: ardent spirit ruins character: ardent spirit makes paupers: ardent spirit makes criminals: ardent spirit brutalizes men: ardent spirit destroys domestic happiness: ardent spirit ensures premature death: ardent spirit makes three-fourths of the business and expense of our criminal courts, jails and alms-houses: ardent spirit throws an immense tax on a christian community to support vice: ardent spirit unfits thousands and tens of thousands for the duties of this life and exposes them to the lawful retribution of the next...."

From "National Circular of the Several State Temperance Societies"

Read the circular and then find other documents on the topic of temperance:

  • According to the temperance movement, what problems did alcohol cause for individuals? For society?
  • What actions did the advocates of temperance urge to solve the problems caused by alcohol?
  • What strategies did the advocates of temperance use to advance their ideas? What evidence can you find that they achieved any success?

As the Grimke letter quoted earlier suggested, women were active in the abolitionist movement. Some cite the fact that women were not allowed to participate in the debates at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention as the event that launched the women's rights movement. In 1848, the first American convention focused on women's rights was held in Seneca Falls, New York. Approximately 200 women and 40 men met and adopted the "Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments" (modeled on the Declaration of Independence), which called for political and economic rights for women. The effort to gain the vote for women took 70 years and engaged thousands of women. An American Time Capsule contains a number of documents on the question of women's suffrage; the following are a few examples from people on both sides of the issue:

Read several of the documents listed above or others that you locate using a Keyword Search.

  • Identify several arguments for and against suffrage for women. Write a sentence that summarizes how the opponents of suffrage viewed the ideal relationship between women and the larger society. Write a sentence that summarizes how the advocates of suffrage viewed the ideal relationship between women and the larger society.
  • Choose the three strongest arguments on each side. Which side is most persuasive? Why? Is it possible for you to evaluate the arguments objectively given that you live in a society in which women have voted for more than 80 years? Why or why not?
  • Prepare a broadside featuring the strongest arguments either for or against women's suffrage. Write the broadside as it might have been written in 1900.

Learn about another reform movement in the late 1800s or early 1900s by searching the collection. What problem was the reform movement trying to solve? To what extent was the reform movement successful? From the documents in the collection, can you discern whether women were active participants in the reform movement?


American Involvement in World Affairs

In the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States became increasingly involved in world affairs. For years, the United States had observed with alarm Spain's repression of insurgents in Cuba. In a Fourth of July speech in 1873, Congressman Gerrit Smith outlined the history of Spanish domination of the island and called for U.S. action to support Cuban patriots seeking independence from Spain.

"...From year to year, Spain has, under the terrors and tortures of the lash and under other terrors and tortures, drawn from poor Cuba all that she could possibly be made to yield. Spanish hunger has never ceased to feed on Cuban fatness. But it is only in the last five years that the sufferings and sorrows of Cuba have reached their climax....

Now, why is it that our Government has not lived up to the requirements of its own law? Why is it that it has suffered vessels of war to go from our shipyard against the Cubans, and, this too, whilst sparing no pains to shut out all pity and all succor from these oppressed and outraged brethren? I hope it is for some worthier reason than to propitiate a nation by helping her to sacrifice her colony. Nevertheless, what good reason can we plead for helping Spain to prolong slavery in Cuba and to carry on wholesale murder there?"

From "Let Crushed Cuba Arise!"

When the Cubans rebelled in the 1890s and the Spanish reacted with brutal force, Americans were again angered. The explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in the port of Havana in early 1898 provided the impetus for war, which was supported by some leaders motivated by the ideology of imperialism and by Americans looking for a cause that would unite the nation. U. S. expansion following the Spanish-American War of 1898 aroused concern among anti-imperialists. Read the 1900 broadside entitled "The Monroe Doctrine" circulated by the National Association of Anti-Imperialists Clubs.

  • Why did the author refer to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823?
  • What was the Anti-Imperialist league's position on the annexation of Puerto Rico and the Philippines following the Spanish-American War?

Through the early years of the twentieth century, the United States became increasing involved in world affairs. However, as war threatened to erupt in Europe, Americans sought refuge in a policy of isolation. Even before the United States entered World War I, there was a call for a "Moral Substitute for War" through an International Federation of Nations or United Nations of the World. The proposal pre-dated President Woodrow Wilson's 1918 call for a League of Nations to prevent future wars as part of his "Fourteen Points."

As President Wilson faced the growing possibility of U.S. entry into the war, the nation had to be convinced to abandon an isolationist policy. Numerous pamphlets and flyers were circulated to enlist popular support for World War I. Richard H. Edmonds, editor of the Manufacturers Record in Baltimore, produced a series of handbills in 1918 supporting the war effort including "From Vantage Points in America Pro-Germanian Shoots in the Back with Poisoned Bullets Our Boys 'Over There'" and "This 'Made in Germany' War." Compare the message in the Edmonds handbills to former president Theodore Roosevelt's 1915 pamphlet on the sinking of the Lusitania, "Murder on the High Seas," and the lyrics to the 1917 song "Death to the Hun."

  • What do all of these documents have in common?
  • How effective do you think the documents were in marshalling support for U.S. entry into the war or for the war effort after 1917?
  • What arguments might those opposed to war have used to counter the points made in these documents?

Anti-German war propaganda encouraged support for U.S. entry into war but also fueled demonstrations against German-Americans, ranging from verbal harassment to tarring and feathering and, in one case, lynching. President Woodrow Wilson gave an address on July 26, 1918, in which he denounced mob violence.

"...Germany has outlawed herself among the nations because she has disregarded the sacred obligations of law and has made lynchers of her armies. Lynchers emulate her disgraceful example. I, for my part, am anxious to see every community in America rise above that level with pride and a fixed resolution which no man or set of men can afford to despise.

We proudly claim to be the champions of democracy. If we really are, in deed and in truth, let us see to it that we do not discredit our own. I say plainly that every American who takes part in the action of a mob or gives it any sort of countenance is no true son of this great democracy, but its betrayer, and does more to discredit her by that single disloyalty to her standards of law and of right than the words of her statesmen or the sacrifices of her heroic boys in the trenches can do to make suffering peoples believe her to be their savior. How shall we commend democracy to the acceptance of other peoples, if we disgrace our own by proving that it is, after all, no protection to the weak?"

From "July 26, 1918, My Fellow Countrymen"

In 1922, shortly after the end of World War I, the District of Columbia Anti-Lynching Committee circulated a broadside calling attention to the 3,424 lynchings in the United States since the end of Reconstruction. Read the handbill "A Terrible Blot on American Civilization" on the lynching of African Americans and compare it with Wilson's address:

  • What was the tone of President Wilson's message?
  • Why did he call for an end to mob violence and lynching?
  • Why do you think he made no specific reference to the lynching of African Americans?
  • Did Wilson support anti-lynching legislation? Why or why not?
  • What was Wilson's position on race relations?
  • What does the handbill mean by "Two victims always of a lynching — a human being and civilization"? Could this statement apply to other crimes as well? Why or why not?

The tension between involvement in world affairs, particularly global conflicts, and isolationism persisted when war again broke out in Europe. President Franklin Roosevelt's State of the Union address to Congress, January 3, 1940, called attention to the administration's domestic and foreign policy achievements and warned of the growing turmoil in Europe.

"I can understand the feelings of those who warn the nation that they will never again consent to the sending of American youth to fight on the soil of Europe....

I can also understand the wishfulness of those who oversimplify the whole situation by repeating that all we have to do is to mind our own business and keep the nation out of war. But there is a vast difference between keeping out of war and pretending that this war is none of our business....

I ask that all of us everywhere think things through with the single aim of how best to serve the future of our own nation. I do not mean merely its future relationship with the outside world. I mean its domestic future as well — the work, the security, the prosperity, the happiness, the life of all the boys and girls of the United States, as they are inevitably affected by such world relationships. For it becomes clearer and clearer that the future world will be a shabby and dangerous place to live in — even for Americans to live in — if it is ruled by force in the hands of a few...."

From "January 3, 1940. [Message] to the Congress of the United States"

Read Roosevelt's entire speech and consider the following questions:

  • What reference did Roosevelt make to the framers of the Constitution? Why do you think he included such a reference?
  • What techniques did Roosevelt use to downplay the views of those who want to "mind our own business and keep the nation out of war"? Do you think these techniques were effective?
  • What evidence did the speech provide that the United States was preparing for war?
  • What argument did President Roosevelt make about national unity? How might someone who disagreed with the president have countered this argument?


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking: Interpreting Timelines

An American Time Capsule contains 265 advertisements, most from the second half of the nineteenth century. The advertisements are designed to sell an array of products, from the Philosophic Hat (1843) to Dr. J. Bovee Dods' Imperial Wine Bitter for the cure of weak lungs and weak stomachs (1859), nutritive coffee, a product made from vegetables (1862), and Gale's Horse Hay Rake (1875).

Browse the collection by Genre, clicking on Advertisements. Browse through a number of the advertisements, choosing one from each decade from the 1830s through the 1890s. You may want to choose advertisements for similar kinds of products or simply choose ads that you like. Print out the ads and make an illustrated timeline of advertising in the nineteenth century. Examine the ads in chronological order:

  • What techniques were used to arouse interest in the products?
  • To what extent did the nineteenth-century advertisements "stretch the truth"?
  • How did advertisements change over the decades you examined? How did they remain the same?
  • How have advertisements changed since the 1890s? How have they remained the same?

Construct a similar illustrated timeline of campaign literature, searching the collection for documents on political campaigns. Analyze your campaign timeline as you analyzed the advertising timeline, looking for continuity and change in campaign literature.


Historical Comprehension

Unlike the An American Time Capsule collection, most time capsules contain a limited number of items selected to show, through artifacts and documents, what life was like at the time the time capsule was created. For example, people often create time capsules and put them into the cornerstones of buildings to show something important about the year in which the building was built.

Choose a decade in U.S. history. Do some reading about the decade to identify important events, people, and trends of the period. Then search An American Time Capsule for up to ten documents that could be included in a time capsule for the decade you have chosen. The documents should reveal something important about the decade through the words of those who lived then. You can conduct a Keyword Search using the events or people you have identified as important or using the dates of the decade (for example, for the 1850s, enter 185* as your search term). Create a plan for your time capsule, explaining why you have chosen each of the items.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

One of the earliest documents in the collection is "The Capitall Lawes of New-England" published in 1643 and including such laws as the following:

"1. If any man after legall conviction, shall have or worship any other God, but the Lord God, he shall be put to death. Deut. 13. 6, &c. and 17. 2 &c. Exodus 22. 20.

2. If any man or woman be a Witch, that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death. Exod. 22. 18, Lev. 20.27. Deut. 18.10, 11. ... (1)"

Read the listing of laws and identify the most important influence on the laws of New-England in the seventeenth century. What is the evidence of this influence? Can you find any evidence in other sources that this factor still influences laws today?

Historical Research

Eugenics was a pseudo-scientific movement based on racism that gained popularity in the United States in the early twentieth century. According to the Dolan DNA Research Center, "Eugenics was, quite literally, an effort to breed better human beings – by encouraging the reproduction of people with 'good' genes and discouraging those with 'bad' genes. Eugenicists effectively lobbied for social legislation to keep racial and ethnic groups separate, to restrict immigration from southern and eastern Europe, and to sterilize people considered 'genetically unfit'" ( An American Time Capsule includes two documents about the latter effort of the eugenics advocates.

Examine the 12 points in the flyer "Effects of Eugenic Sterilization as Practiced in California" circulated by the Human Betterment Foundation of Pasadena, California (ca.1937), and the more detailed pamphlet "Human Sterilization Today" printed by the Foundation in 1938. As you read, make notes about things you would like to know more about. For example, you might want to know how popular the concept of eugenics was in the 1930s. Formulate at least three inquiry questions about the eugenics movement and develop a strategy for finding the answers. The Dolan DNA Research Center's site may be a good place to start your research.


Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making: Slavery

Slavery was obviously a controversial issue from the founding of the republic. Examine the issue of slavery using documents in the collection. For example, read the Virginia statute of 1821 on the emancipation of slaves and the restrictions placed on free Blacks living in the commonwealth. Locate some of the numerous broadsides offering rewards for the return of runaway slaves. Examine the text of the Fugitive Slave Act signed by President Millard Fillmore, September 18, 1850, and printed in a Hartford, Connecticut newspaper along with a negative appraisal of the legislation. Find other documents in the collection about the Fugitive Slave Act.

  • In 1821, what course of action did Virginia take regarding the emancipation of slaves?
  • What major slave revolt took place in Virginia after 1821? How did this uprising against slavery change policies regulating the emancipation of slaves?
  • Why was there such intense opposition in the North to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?
  • What course of action did abolitionists take in opposing the Fugitive Slave Act?
  • To what extent did the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act fuel sectionalism?

Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making: Chinese and Japanese Exclusion Acts

U.S. immigration policy has, over time, reflected changing social and political attitudes. In the late nineteenth century, anti-Chinese sentiments, especially in the western states, led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the renewal of the act until exclusion became permanent.

Restrictions placed on the immigration of Chinese labor did not, however, quell anti-Chinese feelings. In 1885 Chinese laborers were massacred at Rock Springs, Wyoming. The Chinese ambassador to the United States directed a letter to the President, the Senate, and the House of Representatives deploring the government's failure to protect Chinese immigrants. Based on declarations from different regions in Idaho the following year, the territorial governor issued a proclamation forbidding municipalities from enforcing their decrees to expel Chinese from their localities on May 1.

Negative attitudes were not confined to the Chinese. In 1905 the mayor of San Francisco called for the exclusion of Japanese. Mayor Eugene Schmitz considered the Japanese threat more serious than Chinese laborers who had been excluded by the Exclusion Act of 1882.

"I would sooner see the bars of civilization let down on this western borderland to the heathen Chinese, and meet all of the grave dangers incidental to their coming, than to witness an unrestricted Japanese immigration, fraught with the many great evils that would at once beset our industrial welfare if the brown toilers of the mikado's realm were permitted to swarm through our gates unhindered."

From "San Francisco Mayor Wants Exclusion Act to Bar the Japs"

  • What reason did Mayor Schmitz give for total exclusion of Japanese immigration?
  • What can you infer from the interview regarding the mayor's attitude towards Chinese laborers?
  • How did California's opposition to the entry of Japanese immigrants in 1905 (and subsequent years, notably following the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906) affect U.S. diplomatic relations with Japan?
  • What other examples can you give of how U.S. immigration policy has historically been influenced by negative attitudes toward particular groups? Do you think prejudice still plays a role in immigration policy? Explain your answer.


Arts & Humanities


Satire is the use of irony, wit, or derision to attack human weakness or foolishness. For centuries, social and political critics have used satire to make their points. American satire dates from at least the 1700s (Benjamin Franklin used satire in his Poor Richard's Almanack) and continues to be popular today.

American Time Capsule contains a number of examples of satire's use as a tool for social and political criticism. In 1774, a satirist writing under the pseudonym Ebenezer Snuffle lampooned the Sons of Liberty's fervor in a set of 15 resolutions that contained the following items:

"12. RESOLVED, That because Boston is undeservedly chastised, all the other Colonies ought to be chastised deservedly.

13. RESOLVED, That it is a General Mark of Patriotism, to eat the King's Bread, and abuse him for giving it.

14. RESOLVED, That the best Way of approving our Loyalty, is to spit in the said King's Face; as that may be the Means of opening his Eyes.

15. RESOLVED, lastly, That every Man, Woman, or Child, who doth not agree with our Sentiments, whether he, she, or they, understand them or not, is an Enemy to his Country, wherefoever he was born, and a Jacobite in Principle, whatever he may think of it; and that he ought at least to be tarred and feathered, if not hanged, drawn and quartered; all Statutes, Laws and Ordinances whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding."

From "At a Meeting of the True Sons of Liberty"

Read the entire list of resolutions and answer the following questions:

  • What is the point of this parody on the resolves of patriot committees?
  • How does "Ebenezer Snuffle" use the parody to ridicule the resolutions of the New York Sons of Liberty?
  • Why do you think the writer used satire as a means of answering resolutions directed at British colonial policy?

Nearly 200 years later, in 1968, opponents of Rev. Ralph Abernathy's Poor People's March on Washington circulated the broadside "A Deal You Can't Afford to Miss!" Read the broadside and identify how those who opposed the march used satire to ridicule the movement.

  • How does the author of the broadside use irony, wit, or derision to attack the Poor People's March?
  • Why do you think the writer used satire as a means of showing his or her views on the Poor People's March?
  • Do you think this approach is more effective than, say, an essay? Why or why not?

In your textbook or another resource, find an example of satirical writing by a historical American satirist, such as Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, or Will Rogers. Also find an example of contemporary satire; this example might be written, a cartoon, or performed live (e.g., stand-up comedy, a mock news program).

  • Based on your analysis, what are the essentials in writing a good satirical tract?
  • How effective is satire in calling attention to an issue?
  • Use what you have learned about satire to write a broadside highlighting a current or historic example of human weakness or foolishness.


Poetry: The Elegy

Phillis Wheatley was a young slave who, while educated only by her master's wife, was a prolific poet. During her teenage years, several of her poems were published in newspapers or on broadsides. In 1773, she and the couple who owned her traveled to England, where she published a book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book published by an African-American author. Wheatley was freed upon her return to America later that year. Her poetry brought her to the attention of prominent Revolutionary leaders, including General George Washington.

Many of Wheatley's poems were elegies, poems written to mourn a death. One such poem, "To the Rev. Mr. Pitkin, on the Death of His Lady," expressed grief at the loss of a loved one while recognizing the joy of celestial reward for a noble life. The following is an excerpt from that poem.

"WHERE Contemplation finds her sacred Spring;
Where heav'nly Music makes the Centre ring;
Where Virtue reigns unsulled, and divine;
Where Wisdom thron'd, and all the Graces shine;
There sits thy Spouse, amid the glitt'ring, Throng;
There central Beauty feasts the ravish'd Tongue;
With recent Powers, with recent glories crown'd,
The Choirs angelic shout her Welcome round."

From "To the Rev. Mr. Pitkin, on the Death of His Lady"

Read the entire poem "To the Rev. Mr. Pitkin, on the Death of His Lady." Find at least two additional elegies in the American Time Capsule collection. Keyword Searches using the terms poem and elegy will produce numerous possibilities, including the following:

Read several of the elegiac poems, comparing the various poets' works:

  • What do you notice about the language used in the poems? For example, how do the poets describe the people who have died? What metaphors do they use? Can you see similarities among the poems? Are there obvious differences?
  • What kinds of references do the poets use? Why do you think they used these kinds of references?
  • What do you notice about the use of rhyme in the poems? Do the poets use rhyme similarly? What do you notice about meter (rhythm)? Do the poets use meter similarly?
  • When were most of these poems written? Think of at least two possible explanations for this. (For example, one possibility is that elegiac poems are no longer published in a broadside form and thus do not appear in this collection.) How might you determine which explanation is correct?
  • Which poem do you like best? Why?


Poetry: Lyric Poems

A lyric poem expresses the emotions or feelings of a speaker, who may or may not be the poet. Lyric poems are generally short and can be written in many forms; an ode or sonnet can, for example, be a lyric poem.

Poet Louise Bogan said the following about writing lyric poetry:

"The lyric gift — the talent for writing lyric poetry — has been recognized, since antiquity, as chancy and unreliable. The symbol of the Muse once represented the unknowable process by which emotion is translated into a pattern of words. The emotion must be strong enough not only to produce the initial creative impulse, but to prefigure, in part, the structure of the poem as a whole. Not everything is "given," but enough of the design should come through to determine the poem's shape, direction and speed. The rest must be filled in by the conscious mind, which, ideally, knows all the artful devices of language."

From July Dawn

Read the poem "July Dawn," which accompanied the explanation above, and answer the following questions:

  • Does this poem fit the definition of a lyric poem given above? Explain your answer.
  • What emotion is expressed in the poem? How did the speaker's emotions change as he or she viewed the sickle moon?
  • In the excerpt above, Bogan speaks of a poem having shape, direction, and speed. What can you detect about this poem's shape, direction, or speed? How are the poet's choices about these characteristics well-suited to the emotion conveyed in the poem?

Locate other poems in the collection, using a Keyword Search on the term poem or looking in the Contributors for such poets as Robert Frost, Denise Levertov, Mark Van Doren, Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder, Archibald Macleish, Josephine Miles, Thomas Merton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Allan Poe, Boris Pasternak, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Greenleaf Whittier, John Galsworthy, and Walt Whitman. Choose two poems to analyze. Write a paragraph about each poem, answering the following questions:

  • Is this a lyric poem? Explain your answer.
  • If it is a lyric poem, what emotion is expressed? How did the poet use language to convey that emotion?
  • If it is not a lyric poem, how would you describe the poem (for example, is it a narrative, dramatic, or satiric poem)?
  • What do you notice about the poem's shape, direction, and speed? Are these characteristics important to poems that are not lyric?

Note that several of the items referred to in this section — poems printed on hand-made paper and signed by the poet — are quite unlike other items in An American Time Capsule, in that they were meant to be saved.



Another form of poetry is the song lyric. Throughout American history, songs have been used to call attention to reforms aimed at addressing social issues, such as the abolition of slavery ("Hymns and Songs of the Anti-slavery Celebration of the Declaration of Independence") or temperance ("The Law of Maine [A Song Against Rum]"). A Keyword Search using the term song will produce a list of more than 50 songs, from comic ditties to the anti-Catholic The Convent CellTo the Arm and Hammer, a Communist song celebrating May Day; "A New National Song Under an Old Title (We're Coming Father Abraham)," a campaign song of 1864; and the popular "Battle Hymn of the Republic," written by Julia Ward Howe and published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Soldiers in 1863. Analyze several of the songs listed above to answer these questions:

  • When were these songs written? How did these popular songs reflect contemporary events?
  • Which of the songs promoted a particular point of view about the events? How did the lyricists make their points of view known?
  • What popular songs today use similar techniques to express a perspective on current events? Do you think music is an effective way to express a perspective on issues? Why or why not?


Like music, art has long been used as a means of communicating the artist's view on current issues. For example, the "Illustrations of the American Anti-slavery Almanac for 1840" portrayed slavery in a way designed to enlist support for the abolitionist movement. Study these drawings carefully and answer the following questions:

  • List examples of cruel treatment of slaves shown in the illustrations.
  • The caption of one of the illustrations reads "Showing how slavery improves the condition of the female sex." Paired with the picture, what does this caption mean?
  • In general, how do the captions expand your understanding of the artist's view of slavery?
  • How effective do you think these sketches were in enlisting support for the abolitionist movement?
  • Is art an effective propaganda tool? Use historic and contemporary examples to support your answer.

Political cartoons are another form of art used to convey ideas and opinions. Consider the cartoon "Our Destiny Is in His Hands" from the Detroit Free Press, May 29, 1941. The cartoon appeared a few days after an unarmed U.S. merchant ship, the Robin Moor, was torpedoed by a German submarine.

  • Why does the cartoonist show Roosevelt at the wheel of a ship?
  • What is the cartoonist's view of the Roosevelt administration's ability to handle this crisis?
  • Is a political cartoon an effective way to show support for a political action or point of view? Is it an effective way to question a political action or point of view? In your opinion, which use is more common? Why do you think that might be true?