Featured Primary Sources

The Failure of Compromise

Nothing can enrich and enliven our understanding of the nation’s past, or dispel apathy about it, more powerfully than primary sources. The primary sources below open up a variety of viewpoints and have been chosen by master teachers specifically for use in the classroom. Affiliate School members can print a packet that includes an image of the document, photograph, or other resource, a transcript where applicable, text to place the document in historical context, and document-based questions. In addition, you may want to search the Gilder Lehrman Collection itself for other resources to enrich your lessons.

 John Brown, “Address of John Brown to the Virginia Court..." December 1859

John Brown’s final speech, 1859

Creator: John Brown Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861

Creator: Abraham Lincoln Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Charleston Mercury, The Union Is Dissolved, December 20, 1860. (Gilder Lehrman C

The Union Is Dissolved!, 1860

Creator: The Charleston Mercury Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
 Braxton Bragg to Henry J. Hunt, April 21, 1861. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

“Almost brothers” divided by the Civil War, 1861

Creator: Braxton Bragg and Henry Hunt Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Mahala Doyle to John Brown, November 20, 1859. (GLC07590)

“Bleeding Kansas” and the Pottawatomie Massacre, 1856

Creator: Mahala Doyle Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:

Primary Sources from Other Sub-Eras

Letter from John S. Mosby to Sam Chapman, June 4, 1907. (GLC03921.21p1)

A former Confederate officer on slavery and the Civil War, 1907

Creator: John S. Mosby Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+

Patriotic Postal Covers: “Lincoln & Davis in 5 Rounds,” 1861

Creator: J. H. Tingley Curriculum Subjects: Art Grade Levels:
Enoch M. Duley, “Two Hundred Dollars Reward!” broadside, KY (GLC06377.01)

Runaway slave ad, 1860

Creator: Enoch M. Duley Curriculum Subjects: Economics, Geography, Government and Civics Grade Levels:
Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant, April 9, 1865. (GLC07967)

The surrender of Robert E. Lee, 1865

Creator: Robert E. Lee Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:

The “House Divided” Speech, ca. 1857–1858

Creator: Abraham Lincoln Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
J.W.C. Pennington to unknown, April 29, 1851 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

“The whole land is full of blood,” 1851

Creator: James W. C. Pennington Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: