Primary source readings - free downloads
Fasttrack to America's Past

Give students a personal sense of history as they
experience the hopes and struggles of America's past!

   Powerful words directly from people who lived and shaped America's past can still inspire minds and fill hearts today.  That's why we believe a collection of engaging and historically important reading selections from primary sources should be a vital part of every teacher's playbook. 

   To help teachers with this, we are posting online (see below) the 35 reading selections that are part of Fasttrack to America's Past.  Teachers and students are welcome to download them, free of charge, for noncommercial, educational use.  Teachers are welcome to
make photocopies of these reading selection pages as needed for students in their own classes.  We ask that:
  • You make no changes or additions of any kind to the pages.
  • You leave the copyright information visible on all pages and copies.
   Most of these primary source readings are condensed from the original texts to make them more easily accessible to students.  They were chosen for the ideas, values, and insights they offer to young people seeking to understand America's past, the world they live in, and themselves.  The selections use the original author's words except where condensation or modern usage requires very slight editing.  The source information can be seen with the link at the bottom of the listing. 

Section in
Fasttrack to
America's Past
Title of reading selection and description

Directions: Right click on the PDF file link and save it to your desktop.  Open the saved file, and then select print at "actual size" (100%).  See the PDF printing tips below.
Discovery and
1400 - 1600

The English Meet the Native Americans  (2 pages, from the 1585 account by the English scientist Thomas Harriot)
  PDF file
The Mystery of the Lost Colony  (2 pages, from John White's account of his return to Roanoke Island in 1590)   PDF file

1600 - 1775
Capt. John Smith's Tale  (2 pages, describing the founding of the 1607 English colony at Jamestown in Virginia.    PDF file
Planting a Sense of Community  (2 pages, including William Bradford's account of the Pilgrim settlement in Massachusetts and John Winthrop's famous sermon to the Puritans)    PDF file
A Visit to the Middle Colonies  (2 pages, from the interesting account by Peter Kalm of his 1748 travels in the colonies)    PDF file
1775 - 1800
Patrick Henry Calls for a Fight  (1 page, from his "Give me liberty or give me death!" speech)
   PDF file
Thomas Paine's Common Sense  (1 page, from the 1776 booklet that pushed colonists toward a break with England)
   PDF file
Abigail Adams Calls for Women's Rights  (1 page, from her famous 1776 letter to her husband John)    PDF file
First Impressions of a New Nation  (2 pages, from Johann Schoepf's account of his visit to Philadelphia in 1783)    PDF file
The Growing
1800 - 1860
Red Jacket's Response  (1 page, from a thought-provoking statement by the famous Seneca Indian leader in 1805)    PDF file  
An Immigrant's Letter  (1 page, from a Norwegian immigrant's interesting 1845 letter about opportunity in America)    PDF file  
A Growing City and Its People  (2 pages, from an insightful description of Chicago and its people by Gustaf Unonius)    PDF file  
A Call for Factory Reform  (1 page, from a report about harsh conditions in textile mills in Massachusetts)    PDF file 
Dorothea Dix Pleads for the Mentally Ill  (1 page, from her report to the Massachusetts legislature in 1843)
   PDF file 
Frederick Douglass Speaks for the Slaves  (1 page, from his famous speech in 1852 on the meaning of the Fourth of July)    PDF file  
Abraham Lincoln Against Slavery  (1 page, with excerpts from three of his famous speeches in the 1850s)    PDF file  
Civil War and Reconstruction:
1860 - 1877
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address  (1 page)    PDF file
The Freed Slaves Tell Their Stories  (1 page, from interviews with former slaves recalling what happened to them the year the Civil War ended)    PDF file
Voices of Reconstruction  (2 pages, with selections from a variety of people including Booker T. Washington)    PDF file
The Gilded Age:
1865 - 1900
Big Industry and Labor Unions  (2 pages, with selections from Andrew Carnegie, Ida Tarbell, and Samuel Gompers)    PDF file
Jane Addams Works for Better Cities  (2 pages, with her observations about life in America's big cities and her hope that young people would create something better)    PDF file
Jacob Riis Exposes Child Labor  (1 page, from the reporter whose photographs and articles drew attention to the hard life of the poor in New York City)    PDF file
Why Women Should Vote  (1 page, with selections from Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer about women's rights)    PDF file
Becoming a 
World Leader:
1900 - 1950
Mother Jones for the Miners  (1 page, with selections from the autobiography of this famous labor union organizer)    PDF file
The Progressive Party Calls for Changes  (1 page, from the official statement of views by the Progressive Party in 1912)    PDF file
Ford's Progressive Wage Plan  (1 page, describing Henry Ford and James Couzens' plan to raise the pay at Ford factories)    PDF file
FDR Attacks the Great Depression  (2 pages, from President Franklin Roosevelt's inaugural speeches in 1933 and 1937)    PDF file
FDR and World War Two  (2 pages, from two of FDR's famous speeches in 1940 and 1942)    PDF file
The Struggle of the Cold War Begins  (2 pages, from speeches by Winston Churchill and President Harry S. Truman)    PDF file
The Wonder Years:
1950 - 2000
Eisenhower on the Issues of the 1950s  (2 pages, with selections about the Cold War and school integration in Little Rock)
   PDF file
John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address  (1 page)    PDF file
LBJ Calls for Racial Justice  (1 page, from President Lyndon Johnson's famous 1965 speech) 
   PDF file
Ronald Reagan Speaks for Freedom  (2 pages, from President Reagan's speech at the Berlin Wall, and his farewell address)
   PDF file
Hillary Clinton on Child Care  (1 page, from a speech in which the then First Lady highlighted an issue of growing concern across the country)
   PDF file
The New Millennium:
2000 - Present
George W. Bush and the War on Terrorism  (2 pages, from the president's State of the Union address in January, 2002)    PDF file
The full listing of sources for these pages from Fasttrack to America's Past can be found here.
Please note: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is not included because of copyright restrictions on reproducing it.  Click here for a multi-media presentation of the famous speech prepared by the Freedom's Ring project at The King Center, Stanford University.

Abigail Adams reminds you: Pass it on!

   Thanks for keeping me and my ideas about women's rights alive for young people in your time!  All of us on this list are grateful for the chance to enlighten, inspire, and inform the students who will carry on our legacy. 
   If you use and appreciate these reading selections, please tell your colleagues about this site.  If you have purchased Fasttrack to America's Past, thank you!  Your support helps keep these resources on the Internet for teachers and students everywhere.

PDF files - downloading & printing tips

  Internet browsers can print an open PDF file page directly, but the layout and spacing are not always exactly correct.  For best results, right click on a "PDF file" link that you want.  Choose "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" to download the PDF file to your desktop or to a folder.  Double click on that downloaded file, so it will open in the regular PDF reader on your computer.  Print it "actual size" (100%) from the PDF reader and it should look exactly right!

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2015 by David Burns.  You may download and print the selected primary source readings pages from Fasttrack to America's Past linked above for noncommercial educational use only.  If you are a teacher, you may make as many photocopies of the pages as needed for students in your own classes, provided:

  • You make no changes or additions of any kind to the pages.
  • You leave the copyright information visible on all pages and copies.
   You may not post these materials in any form on any other web site or server, or copy their content for use in any other form or publication, whether print or electronic, without written permission from Fasttrack Teaching Materials.  For questions about copyright and permissions, please email: