Living the Revolution: America, 1789–1820 | National Humanities Center

Primary Source Guides

Living the Revolution: America, 1789–1820

Colored lithograph of George Washington on a horse with women surrounding him from 1789
“Washington’s Reception by the Ladies,” 1789

Living the Revolution: America, 1789–1820” is an open educational resource that delves into the complexities of early American history during the period from 1789 to 1820. This primary source guide is organized into five sub-topics and each section contains a vast collection of primary source materials including historical documents, literary texts, and works of art which have been contextualized with annotations and notes, and feature a set of discussion questions for classroom use.

Predicaments of Early Republican Life

  • Explores the nature of society in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution.
  • Examines the hopes, fears, and the delicate balance between freedom and order cherished by citizens of the early republic.


  • Investigates how religious freedom was defined in the new republic.
  • Contrasts the perspectives of rationalists and evangelicals on the role of religion in a republic, highlighting both differences and commonalities.
  • Explores the contributions of diverse religious communities to the formation of a shared national identity.
  • Discusses the coexistence of church-state separation with the belief that religion played a critical role in a nation's strength.


  • Defines the core political issues that shaped the new republic.
  • Explores the sources of optimism and anxiety among American leaders during this period.
  • Examines the religious undertones present in political texts and expressions.
  • Traces the evolution of a national identity in the three decades from 1789 to 1820.


  • Considers the implications of westward migration for national unity.
  • Investigates the perceptions of early republic citizens regarding Native Americans and their place in the developing nation.
  • Explores the responses of Native Americans to westward expansion.
  • Examines how the United States reacted to the presence of Native Americans on the western frontier.


  • Explores the various notions of equality held by early republican leaders, free black men, and white women.
  • Examines the correspondence between ideas of equality and rights within these groups.
  • Discusses how each group shaped its public voice and utilized its power.
  • Assesses the extent to which America succeeded in “living the revolution” by achieving the ideals of equality and rights by 1820.

This educational resource provides an in-depth exploration of the social, political, religious, and cultural dynamics that characterized the early years of the United States, shedding light on the challenges and aspirations of the nation during this transformative period.

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History / American History / American Revolution / Federalist Era / United States of America /


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