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US History I Primary Source Paper Assignment

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Earlier in the semester, we held a debate between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.  We then discussed what precedents George Washington set as president that were not specifically outlined in the Constitution.  We learned about different interpretations of the Constitution (such as strict vs. loose construction).  We then traced Thomas Jefferson’s decision to go against his strict interpretation to buy the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803.  This week (the week of November 17th) we will learn that President William Henry Harrison died in office, paving the way for John Tyler to become president.  Johnson’s succession is referred to as the “Tyler precedent.”  The conclusion of this course covers Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and Andrew Johnson’s succession to the presidency.  Last year was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.  Ford’s Theatre (where Lincoln was shot) has put together an online primary source document collection in commemoration. (Note: this coming year, February 2017, will be the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.)


Read the short primary source “Glorious News.  Lincoln and Seward Assassinated!” available at http://rememberinglincoln.fords.org/node/192 .  Focus on the transfer of presidential power and how the Tyler precedent fits in.  Is this Alabama Beacon article entirely factual?  Was William Seward in the line of succession?  Draw parallels between the two transfers of power (Harrison-Tyler and Lincoln-Johnson).  How was the political and cultural climate similar?  Different?  Why was it important to have a president in office rather than wait for the 1868 presidential election?  What did this suggest for future sudden transitions of presidential power?


A well-written and well-argued essay will make specific reference to the source and use outside sources to explain how that passage reflects broader trends in US History.  In your answer, you should synthesize material you have learned in the classroom and readings.  Please remember to have a thesis.  A thesis is the argument that you will prove in your essay using evidence (specific citations from the documents).



Your essay should be 2-3 pages long, double-spaced, in 12 pt. font.  2-3 pages will be about 650-800 words. Any shorter and you will not have enough space to do the assignment well. If you use a huge font or start halfway down the first page or do something else with the formatting, obviously you will have to use more pages to do the assignment.

This paper is due at the beginning of class on November 17th.  See submission policy, as per the syllabus (reprinted below).








What do you need to cite?


Any phrase, sentence or paragraph that you have taken from another source, even if it’s a sentence fragment. For example, if you use the phrase “to be or not to be: that is the question,” you must provide a citation to the relevant page in a published edition of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. As a general rule, if you are using words that someone else wrote, you must cite. Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism.


Any information that you found in another source (and isn’t common knowledge), even if you paraphrase. For example, if you write something like “almost ten per cent of the adult males in the United States in 1924 were members of the Ku Klux Klan,” you have to say where you got that information. If you don’t, how do I know that you’re not making it up?


As a general rule, you don’t have to provide citations for information that we covered in class.


What happens if you don’t cite?


It depends. The highest grade that a term paper without citations will receive is C+. If you quote substantially from another source and do not (a) indicate that it is a quote and (b) indicate where the quote came from, I will consider this plagiarism. You will receive a zero (0) on the paper and I will submit it to the Dean’s office for review.


If you don’t know whether you should cite a passage, quote or information, err on the side of caution and cite it.


What do you need?


As a general rule, you will need a bibliography page, and footnotes or parenthetical notes in text for all of your references. Please use either the University of Chicago/Turabian citation style or follow the basic citation guide on the next page.




All assignments must be submitted in hard copy by the beginning of class, and the paper must also be submitted to turnitin.com on Blackboard. No assignments will be accepted after the deadline, except with prior arrangement. If you miss a class – and a deadline – due to illness or other excused absence, you must inform me, and submit the assignment to turnitin.com (to be followed with hard copy at the earliest opportunity). You will not receive credit for assignments unless they are submitted to Turnitin.


Assignments must be typed double-spaced in 12-point Times on white paper, stapled or bound in a cover. Handwritten submissions will not be accepted.


All students are required to sign the Rutgers Honor Code Pledge. To receive credit, every assignment must have your signature under the following phrase: “On my honor, I have neither received nor given any unauthorized assistance on this examination / assignment.”





Historians refer to primary and secondary sources. A primary source is a document, speech, or other sort of evidence written, created or otherwise produced during the time under study, or by a participant. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event. Secondary sources provide interpretation and analysis of primary sources. Secondary sources are usually (though not always) written by professional historians and are one step removed from the original event.


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