Edward Channing

A Short History of the United States

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A Short History of the United States Summary

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A Short History of the United States by Edward Channing is a middle and elementary school textbook written in 1908 meant to give a brief overview of the major events that played a role in the making of modern America. The book takes place over forty-five chapters, and goes over basic facts, events, and statistics rather than diving deep into the biographies of the major historical figures that were at work during prominent moments in American history.

The book begins with the arrival of European settlers to America in the 1500s. Channing goes into detail about the various settlements and explorations that each country undertook as the new continent was uncovered by European travelers. He includes brief descriptions of some of the confrontations between these settlers and explorers and the Native Americans already living on the continent. In these sections, Channing theorizes on which group of colonizers actually “discovered” the Americas.

Later, Channing describes the various conflicts that took place between settled groups such as the British, French, and the Spanish, and how those conflicts changed the map of the early United States. He talks about the settlements of various religious groups in the original thirteen colonies, including Puritans, Quakers, Protestants, and others, and then discusses the expansion of those settlers outward into territories farther west and south.

Many chapters are dedicated to the subject of the American Revolution, the involvement of the French in the revolution, and the political fallout in America, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence and other significant founding documents. Channing also talks a bit about some of the political trends that occurred during this period – for instance, presidents followed in the steps of George Washington and respected the decision to limit their power to two terms, despite the fact that this rule wasn’t actually included in the United States Constitution until well after A Short History of the United States was published.

Channing also goes into some detail about the slave trade, which began in the United States in the 1600s and continued until after the Civil War. His focus, as was common for his era, was more on the economic reasons that slavery came to the U.S., and how the practice led to the dissonance between the North and South that led to the Civil War.

Much of Channing’s book is dedicated to the specifics of battles in the major wars in the United States before 1908 – most notably the American Revolution and the Civil War. Channing also discusses each president and his major contribution during his term or terms, as well as other notable political figures such as prominent generals, vice presidents, and other (predominantly male) historical figures.

Channing’s account of the history of the United States ends in 1900. Though the book is incredibly brief for an overview of 125 years of history, Channing does include sections for further reading in each brief paragraph on a major event or figure, and he ends each chapter with questions to reflect on the events learned in each section. The major complaint with this book today is not only that it is obviously dated and ends back in 1900, but also that, unlike today, the focus is predominantly white and male. Rather than looking at American history based on holistic, social, political, and economic factors, it mostly takes a war or conflict-driven view of how history was made in America. The book notably ignores many women and minorities, as was common in older history texts, and the lack of nuance in terms of the lives of significant historical figures in the U.S. makes it dated in its usefulness in the modern classroom. That being said, many people find it a useful book for looking at how history was written in the early 1900s.

Edward Channing was an American historian and the author of the six-volume History of the United States, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1926. He taught at Harvard from 1883 to 1929 and trained a number of PhD candidates who would go on to become prominent historians in their field in the early- to mid-1900s. His six-volume history of the United States is separated into eras in American history as Channing saw them – a history of the New World, Colonial history, the American Revolution, the Federalists and Republicans, the transitory period in the mid-1800s, and finally the American Civil War. His history ends in 1865.