Publisher’s Note

The Defining Documents in American History series, produced by Salem Press, consists of a collection of essays on important historical documents by a diverse range of writers on a broad range of subjects in American history. Defining Documents in American History: Reconstruction Era (1865–1877) surveys key documents produced during the Reconstruction era, organized under the following broad themes:

Debating Reconstruction

Communities in Need

Acts of State

Black Codes & White Lives

Extreme Reactions

Reconstruction Moves Ahead

An Ambiguous Legacy

Historical documents provide a compelling view of this unique period of American history. Designed for high school and college students, the aim of the series is to advance historical document studies as an important activity in learning about history.

Essay Format

Reconstruction Era contains 40 primary source documents – many in their entirety. Each document is supported by a critical essay, written by historians and teachers, that includes a Summary Overview, Defining Moment, Author Biography, Document Analysis, and Essential Themes. Readers will appreciate the diversity of the collected texts, including journals, letters, speeches, political sermons, laws, government reports, and court cases, among other genres. An important feature of each essays is a close reading of the primary source that develops evidence of broader themes, such as author's rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. In addition, the chapter themes highlight major issues in the period, many of which extend across eras and continue to shape American life. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction that explains the questions and problems underlying the subjects in the historical documents. A brief glossary, included at the end of each document, highlights keywords important in the study of the primary source. Each essay also includes a Bibliography and Additional Reading section for further research.

Special Features/Appendixes

Chronological List of all documents by year.

Web Resources is an annotated list of web sites that offer valuable supplemental resources.

Bibliography lists helpful articles and books for further study.


Salem Press would like to extend its appreciation to all involved in the development and production of this work. The essays have been written and signed by scholars of history, humanities, and other disciplines related to the essay's topics. Without these expert contributions, a project of this nature would not be possible. A full list of contributor's names and affiliations appears in the front matter of this volume.