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Key Documents in American History

School is where most Americans first encounter the basic documents of the nation’s history. Many of us can quote from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and from the speeches of national figures. Often, however, the quotations are only approximate and our knowledge, gained in childhood, may be incomplete or only half remembered. The books in this minibibliography can help refresh our knowledge with the full text of many core documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the contemporary commentary of the Federalist Papers, and the essays of Thomas Paine among them. This minibibliography also offers collections of significant speeches by well-known later leaders.

Digital braille and talking book titles can be downloaded from the NLS BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) service. Contact your local cooperating library to register for BARD. Registered users may also download audio titles on iOS and Android devices using the BARD Mobile app. Braille titles may be downloaded using the app on a device linked by Bluetooth to a refreshable braille display. To find your local cooperating library, go to or call toll-free 888-NLS-READ (888-657-7323).

Core Documents

The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence
by Jack N. Rakove

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and author of Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (BR11184) analyzes the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Interprets language usage of the past and offers historical and political background information. 2009.
Download BR19233

“Common Sense” and Related Writings
by Thomas Paine

Eight essays written between 1774 and 1776 by American political philosopher and patriot Paine (1737–1809). Includes “Thoughts on Defensive War,” “The American Crisis,” “Number 1,” and “Common Sense,” a treatise advocating America’s moral obligation for independence. Contains an introduction, biographical information, and detailed analysis of selected writings. 2001.
Download BR16753

“Common Sense” and “The Crisis”
by Thomas Paine

In “Common Sense,” which first appeared in 1776, the American patriot sees the Declaration of Independence as America’s moral obligation to the world. In the thirteen “Crisis” papers, written during the Revolutionary War, he supports and encourages the patriotic struggle against Britain. 1973.
Download DB19603

“Common Sense,” “Rights of Man,” and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine
by Thomas Paine

Essays by the American philosopher and patriot, including “Common Sense,” which advocates America’s moral obligation for independence; “Rights of Man,” which condemns hereditary monarchy; and selections from “The Age of Reason,” “Agrarian Justice,” and “The Crisis,” published to boost morale among George Washington’s troops during the American Revolution. 2003.
Download DB66685

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States

Contains the full text of the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, and the Constitution of the United States, written in 1787, as well as the twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution. Includes an introduction by Pauline Maier that provides historical information on both documents. Bestseller. 1998.
Download BR13599
Download DB52778

Documentos políticos fundamentales de Estados Unidos: Declaración de independencia : Constitución : Declaración de Derechos : Alocución de Gettysburg
translated by Carlos B. Vega

Una edición bilingüe de cuatros textos claves de la historia de los Estados Unidos de America y que forman la base del sistema de gobierno democrático en nuestro país. (Four texts [the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Gettysburg Address] that played a crucial role in the history of the United States of America and that form the basis of the democratic system of government in our country.) Bilingual edition in Spanish and English.
Download BR20165 (Uncontracted braille)
Download DB68979

The Federalist Papers: A Collection of Essays Written in Support of the Constitution of the United States; from the Original Text of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay

Written to urge the voters of New York to ratify the Constitution, the Federalist Papers were the first important commentary on that document and continue to provide a basis for its interpretation. Fifty-one of the landmark essays are presented here, along with extensive notes and a guide to writings about the Federalist Papers. 1981.
Download DB26691

Our Nation’s Documents: The Written Words That Shaped our Country
by the editors of Time For Kids Magazine with Melanie Kletter

Introduces seven of the nation’s most important documents, provides the historical context, and breaks down the significant details of each document. Includes the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and others. For grades 4–7 and older readers. 2018.
Download DB91388


American Heritage Book of Great American Speeches for Young People
edited by Suzanne McIntire

Over one hundred speeches, spanning almost four centuries of American history—from Powhatan’s warning to Captain John Smith in 1609 through Susan B. Anthony’s “Are Women Persons?” in 1873. Includes twentieth-century speeches by Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Martin Luther King Jr. For grades 6–9 and older readers. 2001.
Download DB54016

American Speeches: Political Oratory from the Revolution to the Civil War

Collects the unabridged texts of forty-five important speeches by American public figures who spoke during times of change. Includes a women’s rights speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg. 2006.
Download DB91386

Historic Speeches of African Americans
edited by Warren J. Halliburton

Excerpts from noted speeches focus on slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, renewed racial strategies, the civil rights revolution, and assessment after the revolution. Speakers include Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, and Jesse Jackson. For junior and senior high and older readers. 1993.
Download BR10539

In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century
edited by Robert Torricelli and Andrew Carroll

Chronicles more than 150 speeches, sermons, radio broadcasts, eulogies, and public tributes from the twentieth century to illustrate the soul of America. Includes statements by Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Lou Gehrig, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, and others. 1999.

We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama
by Barack Obama

A curated collection of twenty-six of Obama’s addresses, including his 2002 speech as an Illinois state senator opposing the Iraq War and his final speech before the United Nations as president in 2016. The topics include—among other things—war, inequality, race relations, gun violence, and human rights. 2017.
Download BR21975
Download DB88718

Martin Luther King Jr.

A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Martin Luther King

Collection of eleven speeches made by King includes “The Birth of a New Nation,” which helped galvanize the civil rights movement; the famous “I Have a Dream”; and his final oration, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The speeches are read by King and are introduced by well-known leaders, activists, and theologians. Commercial audiobook. 2001.
Download DB62330

I Have a Dream
by Martin Luther King

Presents the complete text of King’s historic speech on August 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C. In it, he expresses hope for social justice and equality in the future. Includes a short biography of the civil rights leader and a foreword by his wife, Coretta Scott King. PRINT/BRAILLE. For grades 4-7. 1997.

Inaugural Addresses

Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America
by Thurston Clarke

Chronicles the creation of Kennedy’s inaugural address during the ten days in January 1961 just before he was sworn in as president. Discusses the political context and people and perspectives that influenced the speech. Contributes to the debate over which parts of the speech were written by Kennedy himself. 2004.
Download BR15797

The Inaugural Address, 2009: Together with Abraham Lincoln’s First and Second Inaugural Addresses and the Gettysburg Address and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
by Barack Obama

Obama’s 2009 inaugural speech, three addresses by Lincoln, and Emerson’s classic 1841 philosophical thesis. Bestseller. 2009.
Download BR18103

Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States

Inaugural speeches reveal American presidents’ visions and policies. Features George Washington’s address to the first US Congress, Abraham Lincoln’s two Civil War-era appeals to citizens, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth address during World War II. 2009.
Download DB75274

My Fellow Americans: Presidential Inaugural Addresses, from George Washington to Barack Obama

A collection of American presidential inaugural addresses, from Washington’s in 1789 to Obama’s in 2009. Each entry presents the the full text of the address. 2009.
Download BR21958
Download DB87887

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