An American List

by Derrick G. Jeter

Recently, a friend asked me if I had ever created a list of the top one hundred essential documents in American history. He wanted to fill in the gaps of his historical knowledge. I told him I hadn’t, but thought such a list was intriguing and would put something together. This is it.

I limited the list to state papers, court cases, and speeches. The documents represent significant historic events or people in the United States. Taken together, this American list is a comprehensive portrayal of American history.

  1. The Mayflower Compact, November 21, 1620
  2. Mourt’s Relation, Edward Winslow, 1622
  3. A Model of Christian Charity, John Winthrop, 1630
  4. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–1647, William Bradford, c. 1650
  5. The Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company & Conversation, George Washington, c. 1746
  6. Statement Against the Writs of Assistance, James Otis, 1761
  7. Speech After Defeat by the Virginia Militia, Chief Logan, 1774
  8. Remarks on the Fourth Anniversary of the Boston Massacre, John Hancock, March 5, 1774
  9. Speech to the Second Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry, March 21, 1775
  10. A Sermon on the Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, John Witherspoon, 1776
  11. Common Sense, Thomas Paine, February 14, 1776
  12. Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason, June 12, 1776
  13. The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1776
  14. The American Crisis, no. 1, Thomas Paine, December 19, 1776
  15. A Sermon on the Right to Rebel, Samuel West, 1776
  16. The New England Primer, 1777
  17. The Articles of Confederation, March 1, 1781
  18. The Treaty of Paris, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, September 3, 1783
  19. Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, Thomas Jefferson, 1786
  20. The Northwest Ordinance, July 13, 1787
  21. The Constitution of the United States (and Amendments), September 17, 1787
  22. Concluding Speech at the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin, September 17, 1787
  23. The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, 1787–1788
  24. The Anti-Federalist Papers, various, 1787–1788
  25. A Speech In Favor of the Federal Constitution, James Madison, June 6, 1788
  26. The Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791
  27. First Inaugural Address, George Washington, April 30, 1789
  28. Farewell Address, George Washington, September 19, 1796
  29. Eulogy for George Washington, Henry Lee, December 26, 1799
  30. Speech on the Floor of the Senate on National Greatness, Gouvernuer Morris, 1800
  31. First Inaugural Address, Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1801
  32. The Louisiana Purchase, May 2, 1803
  33. Speech at the Six Nations Council, Chief Red Jacket, 1805
  34. Rights of Indian Ownership, Tecumseh, August 12, 1810
  35. The Missouri Compromise, Henry Clay, March 6, 1820
  36. Speech Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Pilgrim’s Landing, Daniel Webster, December 22, 1820
  37. The Monroe Doctrine, James Monroe, December 2, 1823
  38. Dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument, Daniel Webster, June 17, 1825
  39. Veto of the Second National Bank of the United States, Andrew Jackson, July 10, 1832
  40. Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835
  41. If I Had a Country, I Should be a Patriot, Frederick Douglass, September 24, 1847
  42. Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, July 19–20, 1848
  43. Speech on the Floor of the Senate on the Question of Slavery, John C. Calhoun, March 4, 1850
  44. Ain’t I a Woman?, Sojourner Truth, May 1851
  45. What to the Slave is the Fourth of July, Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852
  46. Dred Scott v. Sanford, Roger B. Taney, March 6, 1857
  47. Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, 1858
  48. First Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861
  49. Inaugural Address, Jefferson Davis, February 22, 1862
  50. The Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, January 1, 1863
  51. The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
  52. Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865
  53. Surrender to the U.S. Army, Chief Joseph, 1877
  54. Address to the Atlanta Exposition, Booker T. Washington, September 18, 1895
  55. Speech to the Democratic National Convention on the Cross of Gold, William Jennings Bryan, July 9, 1896
  56. The Strenuous Life, Theodore Roosevelt, April 10, 1899
  57. The Man with the Muck-Rake Speech, Theodore Roosevelt, April 14, 1906
  58. Have Faith in Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge, January 7, 1914
  59. War Message to Congress, Woodrow Wilson, April 2, 1917
  60. Address to a Join Session of Congress on the Fourteen Point, Woodrow Wilson, January 8, 1918
  61. Speech on the Floor of the Senate against the League of Nations, Henry Cabot Lodge, August 12, 1919
  62. On Being an American, H. L. Mencken, 1922
  63. First Inaugural Address, Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933
  64. The Social Security Act, August 14, 1935
  65. Freedom, E. B. White, 1940
  66. State of the Union Address, Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941
  67. What Constitutes an America, Harold L. Ickes, May 18, 1941
  68. War Message to Congress, Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941
  69. Address at “I Am an American” Day, Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944
  70. The Great Crusade, Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944
  71. D-Day Prayer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 6, 1944
  72. The Surrender of Germany, May 7, 1945
  73. The Announcement of the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb, Harry S. Truman, August 6, 1945
  74. The Surrender of Japan, September 2, 1945
  75. Address to a Join Session of Congress, Harry S. Truman, March 12, 1947
  76. Commencement Address Outlining the Marshall Plan, George C. Marshall, June 5, 1947
  77. Address to the Democratic Convention on the United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt, July 23, 1952
  78. The Announcement of the Korean Armistice, Dwight D. Eisenhower, July 26, 1953
  79. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Earl Warren, May 17, 1954
  80. The Nixon-Kennedy Debate, Richard N. Nixon and John F. Kennedy, September 26, 1960
  81. Farewell Address, Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961
  82. Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961
  83. Address to the Cadets at West Point, Douglas MacArthur, May 12, 1962
  84. Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort, John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962
  85. A Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr., April 16, 1963
  86. Address at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., August 28, 1963
  87. Farewell Address, Lyndon B. Johnson, March 31, 1968
  88. Remarks on the Death of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968
  89. Eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, June 8, 1968
  90. Roe v. Wade, Harry A. Blackmun, January 22, 1973
  91. Opening Statement to the House Judiciary Committee, Proceedings on Impeachment of Richard Nixon, Barbara Jordan, July 25, 1974
  92. Speech Announcing His Resignation from the Presidency, Richard M. Nixon, August 8, 1974
  93. First Address to the Nation as President, Gerald Ford, August 9, 1974
  94. First Inaugural Address, Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981
  95. Speech at Pointe du Hoc, Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984
  96. Address on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, Ronald Reagan, January 28, 1986
  97. Farewell Address, Ronald Reagan, January 11, 1989
  98. Address on Terrorism Before a Joint Meeting of Congress, George W. Bush, September 20, 2001
  99. Speech to the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama, July 27, 2004
  100. Inaugural Address, Barack Obama, January 20, 2009
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