Front Page Titles (by Subject) Introduction - The American Nation: Primary Sources
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Introduction - Bruce Frohnen, The American Nation: Primary Sources 
The American Nation: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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This volume continues the work begun with The American Republic: Primary Sources. Like that work, this one seeks to make available within the covers of one volume the most crucial documents necessary for understanding the variety of policies and viewpoints driving American public life during an important, substantive part of its history. Picking up with the onset of the Civil War, documents in this volume will take students and other readers through the onset of World War II and America’s entrance into yet another major new phase in its existence.
For decades now, a host of debates have continued concerning the purpose, nature, and impact of the major popular, legal, and ideological movements shaping the United States during the period from approximately the onset of the Civil War through World War II. Was Reconstruction a noble, failed attempt to protect and empower African Americans in the South by reforming Southern institutions, a self-interested attempt to gain power and wealth for one political party and region through cynical appeals to abstract ideals, or a Utopian experiment in radical politics? Were national markets in goods and services the natural outgrowth of individual initiative and the American spirit of enterprise, or the creation of powerful interests? Is American culture intrinsically racist, ideologically intolerant of racial and cultural connections that might dilute a common emphasis on individual choice, or racially and culturally ambivalent? Were American reform movements homegrown or spawned by immigrants who brought with them European political habits and notions of class? Did the Great Depression necessitate establishment of the national welfare and administrative state, or was this a matter of ideological choice? Was America’s entry onto the world stage an inevitable consequence of its growing power, or a conscious choice, spawned by commitment to, and dreams of, universal peace and justice?
Such questions abound in discussions of these critical periods, but too rarely are informed by close reading of the public documents and pronouncements through which American thought has been expressed and policy made. In particular, the recent turn to social history has uncovered a great deal of information regarding the daily lives of Americans during the Civil War and through World War II. Unfortunately, this information often has come at the expense of in-depth study of crucial, relevant documents. The massive evidence marshaled by Raoul Berger in his landmark volume Government by Judiciary concerning the intentions of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, for example, has been all but ignored in the legal literature.1 Indeed, the history of the Fourteenth Amendment, which promised all Americans due process of law, equal protection of the laws, and the privileges and immunities of American citizenship, has become part of the ideological debate it was intended to illuminate.
The debate continues over whether public figures and policy makers after the Civil War sought to treat race as a set of intractable differences government should treat as guides to public policy, conventional differences public institutions should eliminate, or cultural differences government and society should respect. Almost unnoticed has been the specifically constitutional debate over which branch of government—Congress, the president, or the courts—should have primary responsibility for defining and enforcing the rights set forth in the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus re-presentation of key speeches and statutes relevant to that amendment’s passage remains imperative.
If students are to understand how and why the Supreme Court has gained increased power in the American system, they must be able to consult, directly, the relevant documents. The same may be said for the late-nineteenth-century growth of national markets, aided by Supreme Court decisions as it was opposed by an organized set of political actors (the Populists in particular) whose political program too often is reduced by commentators to issues of class struggle. Again, there has not been sufficient attention paid to actual party platforms and reforms.
In addition, while the work of the so-called Progressive historians has changed opinions greatly among academics concerning the nature and intent of the American founding, most students gain little exposure to the actual political program put forward by the Progressives themselves during the height of their influence.2 Direct documentary knowledge of Progressive legislative and constitutional enactments such as the direct election of senators would increase students’ understanding of the entire history of American public life. Likewise, the relationship between various political ideologies and the debate between so-called isolationists and internationalists—a relationship which changed radically at least once during the era represented in this volume—would be shown to be more complex, and more worthy of serious thought and investigation, by examination of relevant pronouncements and enactments.
A few words are required regarding editorial interpretation. As with the first work, this volume eschews editorial commentary on the contents of the documents presented. It presents only brief, historically oriented headnotes, intended to provide readers with the most basic information needed to understand the documents themselves. Given the breadth of material covered, it was necessary to organize the volume around themes. But those themes were chosen with the intention of providing a framework for the documents that does not necessitate or even push the reader toward any particular ideological conclusions. Whether one sees consolidation as a good or a bad thing, it can be agreed among students of all stripes that the era covered in this volume was one in which the power of the federal government increased and gained greater clarity, in which industrialization and the construction of national markets took place, in which regional movements opposed to consolidation, as well as truly national reform movements, were formed, in which a conflict of visions produced genuine conflict regarding race, ethnicity, and culture in America, and in which the United States came to play a far greater role in international affairs. The goal is simply to show the variety of positions and policies that shaped American public life during the era between the Civil War and World War II.
[1. ] Berger, Raoul, Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1997).
[2. ] See especially James Allen Smith, The Spirit of American Government (New York: Macmillan, 1907).