Print ISBN: 978-1-63700-355-8
# of Pages: 600
# of Volumes: 2
Print List Price: $295
e-ISBN: 978-1-63700-356-5
eBook User Price: $295
Free Online Access
Spread the Word

Defining Documents in American History: The Constitution

December 2022

As the supreme law of the country, the Constitution delineates the nation’s frame of government and was originally comprised of seven articles. The first three articles put forth the separation of powers (three branches of government), the next three embody the concepts of federalism (rights and responsibilities of the states in relationship to the federal government), and the last article established the procedure used by the then 13 states to ratify it. It has been amended 27 times to meet the needs of a nation that has undergone profound change.

The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights and were added at the insistence of Anti-Federalists who sought guarantees of personal freedoms and restrictions on government power. Various other amendments likewise relate to federal authority. The Constitution has remained in force for over two centuries due to the way the framers separated and balanced governmental powers. It is interpreted, supplemented, and implemented by a large body of federal constitutional law, and has influenced the constitutions of other nations.

This set, Defining Documents in American History: The Constitution, offers in-depth analysis of ninety-two documents, including documents of the Founding Fathers, letters, essays, constitutional amendments, speeches, inaugural addresses, and court rulings. These selections help define events surrounding the creation of the Constitution of the United States, and the amendments and important constitutional legal battles that followed. The first volume of this set focuses on the Founding Era Constitutional Debates, The Bill of Rights, the Constitutional Questions in the New Nation, and Commerce, Labor, and Government Authority. The second volume is focused on the topics of Federalism and the Separation of Powers, Citizens, Government and Society, as well as Voting, Elections, and Power.

The material is organized into seven sections, each beginning with a brief introduction that examines the importance of the topic through a variety of historical documents.

  • Founding Era Constitutional Debates includes documents such as the Virginia Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, an account of Shay’s Rebellion, the Constitution of the United States, and George Washington’s First Inaugural Address.
  • The Bill of Rights includes the first draft of the First Amendment Rights, an account of the Supreme Court of Judicature in Pennsylvania, the Bill of Rights, and the Second Amendment all the way to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Constitutional Questions in the New Nation begins Alexander Hamilton’s essay “Opinion as to the Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States” regarding the debate over whether a national bank was constitutional, then is followed by Thomas Jefferson’s opposing argument against a national bank with his essay “Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank”, court case Marbury v. Madison which is the first time the Supreme Court declared an act of Congress unconstitutional, and the court opinion McCulloch v. Maryland which addresses whether the United States Congress has the power under the Constitution to establish a federal bank.
  • Commerce, Labor and Government Authority includes documents such as the court case Gibbons v. Ogden which abolished the right of any state to protect transportation monopolies that affected interstate commerce, the court opinion regarding the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases, the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the court opinion National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius which discusses the constitutionality of the 2010 legislation The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) often known as Obamacare.
  • Federalism and the Separation of Powers includes the court case Texas v. White, the court opinion United States v. Nixon which highlighted that even the President wasn’t immune from judicial process, Arizona v. the United States which found Arizona’s immigration provisions conflicted in part with federal immigration laws, and the Presidential Records Act and Trump Warrant Receipt for the relocation of classified documents former president Donald J.Trump took from the White House to his private residence in Mar-a-Lago.
  • Citizens, Government, and Society starts with the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, then is followed by United States v. Cruikshank which decided the right to bear arms exists separately from the Constitution and is not solely based on the Second Amendment, the court case Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, and excerpts from the Obergefell v. Hodges court opinion.
  • Voting, Elections, and Power includes documents such as Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the court decision Reynolds v. Sims regarding the disenfranchisement of black in the South despite the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, and the court case Cooper v. Harris which involved a challenge to the redrawing of voting districts in North Carolina on the basis of a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by reducing the influence of African-American voters in other districts.

Each Historical Document is supported by a critical essay, written by historians and teachers, that includes a Summary Overview, Defining Moment, About the Author, Document Analysis, and Essential Themes. An important feature of each essay is a close reading of the primary source that develops broader themes, such as the author’s rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. Each essay also includes a Bibliography and Additional Reading section that provides suggestions for further readings and research.

Appendixes in this book include:

  • Chronological List which arranges all documents by year;
  • Web Resources, an annotated list of websites that offer valuable supplemental resources;
  • Bibliography lists of helpful articles and books for further study

About the Series

The Defining Documents series provides in-depth commentary and analysis on the most important primary source documents in the United States and the world. The Defining Documents series is perfect for students, those researching a particular era, or anyone interested in world history. Visit for more information about additional titles in this series.

Libraries and schools purchasing the printed version of any Salem Press title get complimentary online access to that title on our new online database, Combining Salem's Literature, History, Health, Science and Careers titles, students and researchers can now access all of their Salem content in one comprehensive site.  Any school or library with print reference content in Salem Press' database is entitled to online access to that content.  This access is an inherent part of our product.