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The Great American Documents: Volume II: 1831 - 1900    by Ruth Ashby & Ernie Colon order for
Great American Documents
by Ruth Ashby
Order:  USA  Can
Hill & Wang, 2019 (2014)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Volume I of Uncle Sam Presents: The Great American Documents covered 1620 to 1830. Now, Volume II (by teacher and graphic-book author Ruth Ashby and illustrated by Ernie Colon) carries on from 1831 to 1900. If documents sounds boring to you, don't worry. The historical events that led to them are fascinating, and the graphic novel presentation brings it all to vivid life.

What are these great documents? They are the major speeches, laws, proclamations, court decisions, and essays that shaped the United States. Uncle Sam is back, in fine fettle, as he leads readers through the growth and expansion of the United States through the nineteenth century. It opens on Manifest Destiny, the 'guiding idea that God and fate predestined the United States to unlimited growth and greatness', with 19th century America on the move to achieve that.

Immigration and a high birth rate almost doubled the population in two decades and people streamed west, intent on spreading all aspects of freedom, though not so much for Native Americans, whose land was steadily appropriated. Texas and Oregon were annexed, and then New Mexico and California. There's the Gold Rush, women's suffrage, anti-slavery activism, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the escalation of North-South tensions ... and the Civil War with Abraham Lincoln as President.

It's all in the presentation and the details here - colorful graphics, excerpts from speeches (such as the Gettysburg address) and intriguing historical tidbits, like the fact that 'some Union commanders continued to return slaves to their owners' during the Civil War. Treatment of blacks was abysmal then and long afterwards. There was also discrimination against the Chinese immigrants who built the railroads.

The book ends on the transformation of the United States into a world power under Theodore Roosevelt, and the 1886 unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. At the back of this informative volume is a note about its narrator, Uncle Sam (who apparently has his own day, September 13th). This volume and its predecessor make great holiday gifts for young and old alike - they make American history so accessible.

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