THE GREAT AMERICAN DOCUMENTS by Ruth Ashby

THE GREAT AMERICAN DOCUMENTS

Volume 1: 1620-1830
by , illustrated by

KIRKUS REVIEW

An illustrated history of the early United States, narrated by Uncle Sam.

As the straightforward title suggests, there is nothing artistically radical or subversive here, just a straightforward account of the development of the United States, from the landing of the Pilgrims through the establishment of the colonies and to the issues of states’ rights and slavery that would split the nation in the Civil War (where Volume 2 will resume the narrative). The decision by children’s and young-adult book author Ashby (Young Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle, 2009) to focus on 20 documents might make the material seem dry, but the panels from Colón (Inner Sanctum: Tales of Horror, Mystery and Suspense, 2011, etc.) highlight how much discussion, debate, argument and even warfare went into each. Ashby also doesn’t limit the focus to the greatest hits—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution—but shows the importance of less-familiar writings such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, “perhaps the most influential publication in American history.” Paine’s more obscure The American Crisis also receives its due. What the narrative makes plain is how much of what citizens take for granted was initially the source of so much controversy. Early on, “most Americans—even the Founding Fathers—still thought of themselves first and foremost as citizens of their home states, not the United States.” Among the colonists, religious freedom and even free speech were contentious issues rather than essential liberties; the decision to declare independence from England was by no means unanimous; and the balance between the state and federal governments remained precarious. The narrative doesn’t sugarcoat history, as it shows how the capitulation on the slavery issue, deemed necessary for these states to be united, made civil war inevitable and how the Indian Removal Act also betrayed the equality that was a founding principle.

The cartoon approach helps refresh history and make it come alive. A good primer for students and a refresher course for their parents.

Pub Date: April 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8090-9460-8
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2014




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