Telling America’s Story

Academy Description

Serious education is about pursuing great questions, and the goal of this Academy is to pursue the most important question for us as citizens: namely, “What does it mean to be an American?” To do that, the seminar will immerse you in the study of the ideas and institutions that make Americans who we are.

It is a sound principle of learning that one must begin with what is familiar.  We know that there are three documents in American history that most of us are familiar with: the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The Ashbrook Academy is built around these three documents, which illuminate three great epochs in the American story: the birth and definition of American freedom in the 18th century; the great crisis of the American experiment and the “new birth of freedom” in the 19th century; and the fulfillment of the American promise of freedom a century later in the 20th century. While these documents are historically and rhetorically linked with each other by the themes of equality, liberty, and self-government and will be the alpha and the omega of the Ashbrook Academy, we will consider many other documents, deeds, and significant issues in American history. While we will be concerned with understanding the history of our country and with applying its principles to contemporary issues, we will keep our focus on the central question of what it means to be an American.

“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” — Thomas Jefferson

Schedule and Syllabus of Readings

The Declaration of Independence: The Birth of American Self-Government

Sunday, June 16

“An expression of the American mind”: The Declaration and Its Foundations

3:00 – 6:00 pm: Arrive at the Ashbrook Academy
6:15 – 6:45 pm: Welcome and Academy Overview
6:45 – 7:30 pm: Dinner

7:30 – 9:00 pm: Evening Common Session

Topic: “The American Mind”

Seminar Questions: In what way is the American regime unique, according to The Federalist? According to Jefferson, what is the relation between the Declaration of Independence and our regime? What is the question that Hamilton says the American people have been called upon to answer?


  • The Federalist #1 (paragraph 1)
  • Jefferson, Letter to Henry Lee (May 8, 1825)
  • Jefferson, Letter to Roger Weightman (June 24, 1826)

9:00 – 10:00 pm: Free time
10:00 – 11:00 pm: Study time

Monday, June 17

“We hold these truths”: The American Ideas

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: “When in the course of human events…”

Seminar Question: What reasons does the Declaration of Independence give for the separation from Great Britain?


  • The Declaration of Independence (first sentence)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #1

Topic: The Foundations of American Political Principles

Seminar Questions: What are the fundamental natural laws of politics, according to Locke and Hamilton? Why is civil society preferable to the state of nature? What is the primary purpose of government, in his view? When is revolution justifiable, according to Locke?


  • Locke, Second Treatise of Government
    • Section 4-8
    • Section 54
    • Sections 123-124
  • Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted (1775)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #2

Topic: “To secure these rights…”

Seminar Questions: According to Jefferson, how has Great Britain violated the fundamental principles of government? How does Jefferson justify resistance to the actions of the British?


  • Declaration of Independence (1776)
  • Jefferson, Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Campus Tour by AU Admissions
2:30 – 3:30 pm: Study time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #3

Topic: “To secure these rights”: Writing a New Constitution

Seminar Questions: Why did the Founders reject ancient democracy yet embrace a republic? Why is a written constitution central to the American idea of a republic?


  • The Federalist #9
  • The Federalist #39 (paragraph 1)
  • The Federalist #53 (paras. 1-3)

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free time

7:00 – 8:30 pm: Evening Common Session: “The Art and Architecture of Liberty”

8:30 – 11:00 pm: Free Time/Study Time

Tuesday, June 18

“Consent of the Governed”: Forming a Constitutional Government

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: “All men are created equal”

Seminar Questions: In what way, according to the Declaration’s principles, are all human beings equal? What is an “unalienable” natural right? How is it different, for example, from a privilege or an entitlement?


  • Declaration of Independence (second paragraph)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #4

Topic: Defending the Constitution: The Federalist/Anti-Federalist Debate Over Virtue, Liberty, and the Size of a Good Republic

Seminar Questions: Why must a free republic be small, according to the Anti-Federalists? Why must it be large, in Madison’s view? Who makes the better argument?


  • Centinel, “The Small Republic Argument”
  • The Federalist #10

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #5

Topic: Defending the Constitution: The Federalist/Anti-Federalist Debate over a Bill of Rights

Seminar Questions: How does the structure of the federal government address the need for a bill of rights? According to Hamilton, why are bills of rights both unnecessary and dangerous? In endorsing the Bill of Rights, how does Madison respond to those charges?


  • The Federalist #51
  • The Federalist #84 (paragraphs 8-12)
  • Madison, Letter to Thomas Jefferson (October 17, 1788)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 3:30 pm: Free time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #6

Topic: The Founders’ Hopes for Slavery

Seminar Questions: According to Lincoln, what were the Founders’ hopes for slavery? According to Calhoun and Stephens, how did they break with the position of Jefferson and the other Founders on the issue of slavery?


  • Jefferson, Rough Draft of the Declaration (June 1776)
  • Lincoln, Speech on the Dred Scott Decision (1857)
  • Calhoun, Speech on the Oregon Bill (1848)
  • Stephens, The “Corner Stone” Speech (1861)

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free Time

7:00 – 8:30 pm: Common Evening Session: Academic Jeopardy

8:30 – 11:00 pm: Free Time/Study Time

The Gettysburg Address: The Crisis of American Self-Government

Wednesday, June 19

“Conceived in Liberty”: Slavery, Constitutional Government, and the Civil War

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: Statesmanship

Seminar Question: What is statesmanship, and how is it different than ordinary leadership?


  • Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln (April 14, 1876)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #7

Topic: Politicians, Leaders, or Statesmen?

Seminar Questions: Frederick Douglass describes Lincoln as a “statesman.” What is a statesman? What makes a statesman distinct from a politician or even a leader? How was Lincoln a statesman, according to Douglass?


  • Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln (1876)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #8

Topic: The Emancipation Proclamation

Seminar Question: How was the Emancipation Proclamation an act of statesmanship?


  • U.S. Constitution, Article I & II
  • Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
  • Lincoln, Letter to Albert Hodges (1864)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 3:30 pm: Free time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #9

Topic: Lincoln’s Understanding of the Civil War

Seminar Questions: What is Lincoln’s view of the ultimate meaning of the Civil War? How does he communicate his view in the Gettysburg Address?


  • Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)

5:00 – 6:00pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00pm: Free Time

7:00 – 9:00pm: Common Evening Session: Thinking About College

9:00 – 11:00pm: Free Time/Study Time

Thursday, June 20

“Dedicated to the Proposition”: The Problem of Equality after the Civil War

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 am: Morning Common Session

Topic: Lincoln’s Democratic Faith

Seminar Question: What is significant about the election of 1864, according to Lincoln?


  • Lincoln, Response to a Serenade (November 10, 1864)

9:30 – 10:30 am: Class Session #10

Topic: Lincoln’s Vision for America

Seminar Question: How does Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address reveal his political principles and his statesmanship?


  • Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #11

Topic: Moral Reconstruction after the Civil War

Seminar Questions: How does America need to be reformed because of slavery, according to Douglass? What are the possible paths for freed slaves? Which should America choose, according to Douglass?


  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (selections)
  • Douglass, What the Black Man Wants (1865)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 3:30 pm: Free time

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Class Session #12

Topic: The Debate Over Attaining Equality after Douglass: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois

Seminar Questions: What is Booker T. Washington’s strategy for achieving racial equality? What is DuBois’s criticism of Washington’s approach?


  • Washington, Atlanta Exposition Address (1895)
  • Washington, Letter to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention (1898)
  • DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (selections)

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free Time

7:00 – 9:30 pm: Common Evening Session: Watch “Lincoln”

9:30 – 11:00 pm: Free Time/Study Time

“I Have a Dream”: The Fulfillment of American Self-Government

Friday, June 21

“The content of their character”: The Debate over Equality and Civil Rights in the 20th Century

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast

9:00  – 10:30 am: Class Session #13

Topic: MLK on the Goals and Methods of the Civil Rights Movement

Seminar Questions: According to King, what are the goals of the civil rights movement? How does he respond to the charge that non-violent civil disobedience is “unwise and untimely”?


  • King, The Ethical Demands of Integration (1962)
  • King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)

10:30 – 10:45 am: Break

10:45 am – 12:00 pm: Class Session #14

Topic: MLK’s Vision for America

Seminar Questions: What is King’s vision for America? How does the speech illustrate King’s statesmanship?


  • King, “I Have a Dream” Speech (1963)

12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Study time

2:30 – 5:00 pm: Final Exam

5:00 – 6:00 pm: Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Free Time

7:00 – 9:30 pm: Common Evening Session: “Reacting to the Past” Game

9:30 – 11:00 pm: Free time/Pack

Saturday, June 22

“Free at Last”? Liberty, Equality, and Education Today

8:00 – 9:00 am: Breakfast
9:00 – 9:30 am: Finish Packing

9:00 – 10:45 am: Common Session

Topic: Citizenship and the Need for Liberal Education

Seminar Questions: What kind of education must a republic have? What is liberal education? Why are students not encountering it as they should in university?


  • Jefferson, Rockfish Gap Report (1818)
  • Bloom, Our Listless Universities (Parts I-II)
  • Foster, On Liberal Education

10:45 – 11:00 am: Evaluations
11:00 – 11:45 am: Lunch

11:45 am – 12:00 pm: Common Session

Topic: “A republic, if you can keep it”

12:00 pm: Depart Ashbrook Academy

About the Ashbrook Academy in American History

Ashbrook for…

The Ashbrook Academy in American History is a summer program designed for rising high school juniors and seniors who share a deep interest in American history and politics. Unlike other courses or programs that tend to erode young Americans’ proper pride in their country by emphasizing its historical failures, the Academy invites students to consider the American experiment as a historical triumph, a victory for reason and the human spirit that warrants grateful celebration but also demands serious study. We welcome your participation.

The Academy meets for seven days (June 16-22, 2019) at the Ashbrook Center on the campus of Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio immersing participants in a deep study of the biggest challenges that have faced our Republic. We hold two separate academies simultaneously – one that surveys the most important questions that have faced our nation from its founding to the civil rights era and a second that provides a more focused study on the Civil War era for more advanced students.

The Ashbrook Academy takes history out of textbooks and into your life. By the end of the program, students will have acquired a deep understanding of the fundamental principles that define and unite us as Americans.