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Programming with Library of Congress Digital Collections : Civics

This guide is designed to help all types of libraries explore primary sources available from the Library of Congress online collection, and to connect with their communities through programming and educational opportunities.

Primary Sources for Civics

Civics is the study or science of the privileges and obligations of citizens.

It is the study of the theoretical, political and practical aspects of citizenship, as well as its rights and duties. It includes the study of civil law and civil code, and the study of government with attention to the role of citizens―as opposed to external factors―in the operation and oversight of government.

Being the repository for a vast amount of information on Early America, the Library of Congress Digital Collections are a great way to explore our civic history though primary sources. 

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774 to 1875

Beginning with the Continental Congress in 1774, the documents contained in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774 to 1875 make up a rich documentary history of the construction of a new nation and the development of the federal government. These documents record American history in the words of those who built our government. 

Information adapted from Library of Congress A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774 to 1875 - About this Collection.

The front page of a report from the Bureau of American Ethnology. Part of the Indian Land Cessions Collection

Indian Land Cessions in the United States. (1899) by Charles C. Royce and Cyrus Thomas. 

Collection Highlights

Pictured is the Indian Land Cessions Map of Ohio. These maps identify, through assigned Royce Area Numbers, the treaty or the other legislative mechanism that created that cession.

Map of Ohio

"Map of Ohio." (1899) in Indian Land Cessions in the United States by Charles C. Royce and Cyrus Thomas.

Constitutional Convention Debates

The debates in the several state conventions on the adoption of the federal Constitution, as recommended by the general convention at Philadelphia, in . Together with the journal of the Federal convention, Luther Martin's letter, Yate's minutes, Congressional opinions, Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of '98-'99, and other illustrations of the Constitution, (1836) by James Madison and United States Constitutional Convention.

1787 Federal Convention

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, (1911) by United States Constitutional Convention and Max Farrand, New Haven, Yale University Press. 

Programming Ideas

Having a knowledge of civics is not just about knowing how, when, and where to vote. Understanding how laws are made and the role of representatives being voted into office is key to informed civic participation. Using volume 5 of “The debates in the several state conventions on the adoption of the federal Constitution”, choose from a series of exchanges on the same topic and investigate how different states, and how different representatives within the same state, felt about the topic. What where the issues being debated? Was/how was it resolved? Do these issues still plague the current government? If it was being argued today, how would the issue be different? 

If you are wanting to use this program for something involving the Civil War and its legislative matters - there are debates of both the U.S. government and the Provisional Government of the Confederate States that can be used to explore the legislative differences as well as differences in policy and law.  You can use the same compare and contrast method to highlight the major disputes happening between Northern and Southern states.

Please note that these are governmental and legal documents – so some of the language used will be of a legal nature and not all participants may know what it means. Having a  glossary of terms that will be unfamiliar to a majority of participants will be helpful.

"Provisional Congress of The Confederate States, First Session, February 4, 1861 to March 16, 1861," (1904-1905) in Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, Government Printing Office.

Many of the treaties with tribal nations orchestrated in the Early Republic are not merely historical documents but have been upheld by the Supreme Court as still legally binding today. Thus, understanding these treaties and the treatment of sovereign native nations by the new American government is essential in understanding current native relations. This sort of civic education is invaluable in recognizing the government-to-government relationship between the United States and sovereign tribal nations that took place before, during and after the Revolutionary war and in helping the tribal nations of today hold the federal government accountable.

Using the “Indian land cessions in the United States” participants should find their home state (or any state) and investigate the treaties agreed upon with the native nations of that land – asking the questions of what was the original treaty and how has that the treaty been upheld over time?

"Map of Illinois" (1899) in Indian Land Cessions in the United States by Charles C. Royce and Cyrus Thomas.

Using the Maps: 

This collection provides maps of the land cessions made by American Native Nations during the interval between the formal establishment of the United States and 1894.

These maps identify, through assigned Royce Area Numbers, the treaty or other legislative mechanism that created that cession.  You should consult the Royce volume to identify the specific legal instrument and the parameters.

Part of being an informed citizen is being able to critically read political media for misinformation and bias. Using a combination of the documents from A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774 to 1875 and Chronicling America, participants will choose a political debate and search for it in the mainstream newspapers of the day via Chronicling America. Ask them to investigate the way the popular media represented the debates taking place in congress. How were the debates characterized? Was the reporting accurate or was it sensationalized? Did the media have an agenda that could be seen in the way the debates where being reported?

Cover page of the Massachusetts Spy dates Tuesday August 5, 1773

The Massachusetts Spy, Or, Thomas's Boston Journal(August 5, 1773).

Related Collections

A key player in the creation of many of our founding policies and institutions, the Alexander Hamilton papers offers insight into the conversations taking place behind the scenes.  Juxtaposing the official records of debate with the more informal conversations illustrated by the Hamilton papers gives participants a more holistic understanding of how governments of the work of the people.

Like the Hamilton Papers, the Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton papers offers a glimpse behind the current of political machinations. Brodeau’s papers looks at how society at-large saw and talked about what was happening in the new American government. Part of the Washington social scene, Brodeau’s diaries and letters gives insight into public understanding of government and their view of civic participation.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789 can be used to add more context and difference perspectives to the debates and journals housed in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.

Statement on Potentially Harmful Content and Fair Use

Statement on Potentially Harmful Content
Some of the materials presented in this guide may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions. In addition, some of the materials may relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved by the Library of Congress and presented here for their historical significance. 

Fair Use

Digitized primary sources in the Library's collection each include a "Rights and Access" or "Rights Advisory" statement within the catalog information.  These can help users determine whether the item is in the public domain or whether there are copyright restrictions.  For more information about the Library of Congress' policy on Copyrights and Primary Sources visit the website.