February 2020: Syllabus of America’s Founding Documents and their Life in American Literature

Below is a syllabus draft for an imagined course about how America’s founding documents and ideals were praised, interepreted, answered, and contested during the first ninety years of the country’s existence. Note that nearly every text is available for free without any sign-in credentials: I post it as an open access resource for anybody interested in teaching or learning about these topics. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or suggestions!

* * *

This course tracks the lives of America’s founding documents and ideals in American literature of the era stretching from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. It takes a unique approach by analyzing not just the most famous and widely studied works of the period, but the popular poetry and fiction of newspapers of the time as well.  Students will read authors from various races, ethnicities, social strata, and geographic regions, providing a penetrating look at how differing Americans viewed themselves and their connection to their communities in distinct ways— and how the authors and their texts often challenged the pre-existing notions of the individual and community.

Some important questions that we’ll explore throughout the semester are:

  • How did different media (books, newspapers, speeches) affect the reception of the text they carried?
  • How did the Revolution and the radical ideas of liberty evident in its foundational literature shape America’s way of thinking about itself?
  • How did women’s roles as individuals and community members change (or not change) through the first half of the nineteenth century?
  • How did African American men and women see their own identities as individuals and members of a nation, and how did various other parties in the country see them?
  • How did Euro-Americans and Native Americans conceive of the Native American’s role in American history and destiny?
  • How did the literature of this period influence the way that numerous groups interacted with one another (for better or worse), and what were the lasting impacts of such relations?
Week 1——————–Day 1——————–

Introduction, Class Constitution

Due in Class:

Thomas Paine, “Common Sense,” (Selections) (1776)

Thomas Jefferson, “Declaration of Independence” (1776)

———- “Laws,” from Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIV (1783)

———- “Manners,” from Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII (1783)

Lucretia Mott, “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848)

——————–Day 2——————–

Thomas Paine, “The Rights of Man” (Selections) (1791)Mary Wollstonecraft, “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792) (Selections)

Class Constitution

Week 2
——————–Day 1——————–Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (1793)

———- “Plain Truth” (1747) (Selections)

Class Constitution

——————–Day 2——————–

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (1793)Class Constitution
Week 3: “Frontiers,” “Americans,” & “Native Americans”
——————–Day 1——————–Pontiac- Speech at Detroit (1763)

Benjamin Franklin, “Narrative of the Late Massacres” (1764) (Selections)

Samson Occom- “Sermon Preached at Execution of Moses Paul” (1772) (Selections)

Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer (1782) (Selections)

——————–Day 2——————–

Philip Freneau- “Indian Burying Ground” (1788)———-“On the Emigration to America and Peopling the Western Country” (1785)

William Cullen Bryant- “The Prairies” (1834)

[Anon.], “The Cherokee Phoenix” (Freedom’s Journal, 04 Apr 1828)

Week 4
——————–Day 1——————–Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok (1824)

William Apess, “Indian’s Looking-Glass” (1833)

——————–Day 2——————–

Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok (1824)———- “Appeal for the Indians” (1868)

[Anon.], “Varieties” [about Creek Indians & General Lincoln] (Freedom’s Journal, 23 Nov 1827)

Week 5: Women, Rights, & Republican Virtue
——————–Day 1——————–Judith Sargent Murray, “On the Equality of the Sexes” (1790)

Margaret Fuller, “The Great Lawsuit” (The Dial, 1843)

———- “Fourth of July” (New York Tribune, 1845)

——————–Day 2——————–

Ruth Bloch, “The Gendered Meanings of Virtue in Revolutionary America” (Or find through JSTOR)Catherine Beecher- Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841) (Selections)

[“A Phoenix-Hunter], “The Choice of a Wife” (NJ Journal, 12 Apr 1792)

[Lavinia], “The Lady’s Choice of a Husband” (NJ Journal, 19 Apr 1792)

Week 6
——————–Day 1——————–Hannah Webster Foster, The Coquette (1797)

[Anon.], “Adventures of a Bashful Man,” (NJ Journal, 1806; Freedom’s Journal, 1828)

——————–Day 2——————–

Hannah Webster Foster, The Coquette (1797)[Anon.], “Trust not man, for he’ll deceive you” (Genius of Liberty, 7 Jun 1798)

[Anon.], “Trust not woman, for she’ll beguile you” (Genius of Liberty, 7 Jun 1798)

Week 7: The American Gothic
——————–Day 1——————–Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (1798)

———- “The Rights of Women” (Weekly Magazine, Mar-Apr 1798)

——————–Day 2——————–

Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (1798)[Anon.], “Curiosities of Sleep” (The Spiritual Telegraph, NY, 1854)
Week 8
——————–Day 1——————–Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Minister’s Black Veil” (1836)

——————–Day 2——————–

MIDTERM PAPER DUE via BlackboardEdgar Allan Poe- “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841)

Dr. Abel, “Account of an Ourang Outang of Borneo” (Freedom’s Journal, 12 Oct 1827)

Week 9: Race, Slavery, and the Gothic
——————–Day 1——————–Teresa Goddu- Gothic America (Introduction)

L.E. Lorimer, “The Haunted House” (Freedom’s Journal, 21 Sep 1827)

[Anon.], “The Buried Alive” (Freedom’s Journal, 17 Aug 1827)

——————–Day 2——————–

Phillis Wheatley, “On Being Brought from Africa to America”———-“Hymn to Humanity” (Freedom’s Journal, 09 Nov 1827)

[Anon.], “Negro’s Prayer,” (New-Jersey Journal, 23 Dec 1789)

[“A Former Slave”], “The Black Beauty” (Freedom’s Journal, 08 Jun 1827)

Week 10
——————–Day 1——————–[Anon.], “A New Song, Circulated to be Sung the Fourth of July” (Centinel of Freedom, 02 July 1799)

William Pitt Palmer, “The Slave Ship” (Freedom’s Journal, 04 July 1828)

William Lloyd Garrison, “Universal Emancipation” (The Liberator, 01 Jan 1831)

——————–Day 2——————–

Frederick Douglass- “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (5 Jul 1852)“The Case of Dred Scott in the US Supreme Court” (1860)

[“A Former Slave”], “The Sorrows of Angola” (Freedom’s Journal, 08 Jun 1827, originally published on 04 July 1826)

Week 11
——————–Day 1——————–Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

The African Chieftain” (African Repository, May 1825)

——————–Day 2——————–

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)Angelina Grimke, “Appeal to the Women of the South” (1836) (Selections)
Week 12: Philosophies of America1844-1865
——————–Day 1——————–Henry David Thoreau, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” (1849)

——————–Day 2——————–

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Poet” (1844)———- “Letter to Walt Whitman
Week 13
——————–Day 1——————–Walt Whitman, Jack Engle

H.A.E., “An Hour in Trinity Church Yard” (New-York Spectator, 07 Nov 1839)

[Whitman?], “A Brooklynite in N.Y. Church-Yards” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 07 Jul 1846)

——————–Day 2——————–

Week 14
——————–Day 1——————–Walt Whitman, “Poem of Walt Whitman, An American

——————–Day 2——————–

Walt Whitman, “Poem of Women”———-“A Woman Waits for Me

———-“Poem of Procreation

———-“Native Moments

Week 15
——————–Day 1——————–Annotation & Transcription

Emily Dickinson, “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?

———-“The Soul selects her own Society” (303)

———- “Wild nights – Wild nights!” (269)

——————–Day 2——————–

Horace Greeley, “The Prayer of the Twenty Millions” (NY Tribune, 19 Aug 1862)Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Horace Greeley

———-“Gettysburg Address

———-“A House Divided

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