Print ISBN: 978-1-68217-698-6
# of Pages: 582
# of Volumes: 2
Print List Price: $295
e-ISBN: 978-1-68217-699-3
eBook User Price: $295
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Defining Documents in American History: Secrets, Leaks & Scandals (1797-2017)

Editor: Michael Shally-Jensen, PhD
November 2018

The tension between openness and transparency with the need to keep information secure and out of the hands of an enemy has been at the heart of some of the most riveting episodes in American history. This title provides primary documentation on the secrets, leaks, and scandals throughout all of America's history.

A Library Journal Best Reference Title for 2018

Defining Documents in American History: Secrets, Leaks & Scandals offers in-depth analysis of seventy-five speeches, memos, letters, reports, transcripts, minutes, and testimony related to some of the nation's most notorious scandals. The set begins with the letters of the nation's most infamous traitor, and continues through the 2018 executive order that resulted in the separation of families at the U.S./Mexico border.

The material is organized under six groups:

  • Secrets, Conspiracies, and Scandals through the 19th Century begins with Benedict Arnold's letters offering to sell vital information about West Point to the British during the American Revolution and concludes with an editorial that demonstrates the role of "yellow journalism" in the conflict between Cuba and Spain;
  • Controversies, Conflicts, and Communism through the mid-20th Century, the longest section of the book, begins with an excerpt from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which exposed the horrors of Chicago's meat-packing industry, includes a memo decrying FDR's "court packing plan," the infamous Executive Order 9066 that established internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II, and excerpts from the Rosenberg’s, and concludes with the report from the Warren Commission and a report related Lee Harvey Oswald's suspected Russian connections;
  • Government in Hiding, from Vietnam to Watergate and After tells the story of range of American conflicts, both internal and external, from the Watergate scandal to the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the Church Commission reports on foreign assassinations and domestic surveillance;
  • Scandals, Scares, and Intelligence Failures in Recent Decades details the Able Archer episode, testimony by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, and the reports of weapons of mass destruction that led to U.S. engagement in Iraq;
  • Lies, Leaks, and Hacks in the Contemporary Period continues to unfold, even as this book goes to press, and covers such events as "fake news," birtherism, and the Access Hollywood tape; and
  • Selected Environmental Debacles starting with Rachel Carson's clarion call in her book Silent Spring and including such disasters as the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, botched responses to Hurricane Katrina, and the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.

These documents provide a full and engaging review of some of the more painful moments in American history to come to a better understanding of how these situations came about and how the nation grappled with the issues at the heart of these secrets, leaks, and scandals. The documents prove that while that state of the union is not always squeaky clean, casting light on the darker corners of history can be illuminating and instructive to a society that values personal freedoms and liberties, free enterprise and personal initiative, and strongly held convictions.

Designed for high school and college students, the aim of the series is to advance the study of primary source historical documents as an important avenue to understanding the past and its relationship to the challenges we face today.

Essay Format:

Secrets, Leaks, & Scandals features seventy-five documents that span the country's history. The set begins with the letters of the nation's most infamous traitor, and continues through the 2018 executive order that resulted in the separation of families at the U.S./Mexico border.

Each document is supported by a critical essay, written by historians and teachers, that includes a Summary, Overview, Defining Moment, Author Biography, Document Themes and Analysis. An important feature of each essay is a close reading and analysis of the primary source that develops broader themes, such as the author's rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. In addition, essays are organized by sections, listed above, for a greater sense of context.

Each section begins with a brief introduction that defines the questions and problems underlying the subjects addressed in the historical documents. Each essay also includes a Bibliography and Additional Reading section for further research.


  • Chronological List
  • Web Resources
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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