Page:American History Told by Contemporaries, v2.djvu/30

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How to find Sources

(No. 170) and Heath's Memoirs (No. 218) are examples of such books.

Much more important are the records and memoranda made at or very near the time of the event. Sometimes silent monuments may be all that is left: the British earthworks at Saratoga are still a memorial of Burgoyne's campaign; and the house of General Gage at Danvers, Massachusetts, still stands to tell us that its occupant was a man of taste and substance.

Laws, proclamations, and other public documents are sources of great value, because they not only describe, but constitute the event: they bear the signatures, the affixing of which gives them validity; they are drawn up even before the event takes place. Examples are the royal order creating the Board of Trade (No. 46), and the veto message of Governor Morris (No. 65).

Of greater literary interest are the narratives of explorers, travellers, and visitors, in which American history is rich: an instance is Peter Kalm's travels (No. 112). As travellers have, however, often too lively a sense of the importance of their own impressions, a more valuable kind of source is the contemporary journal, written from day to day during the events described. When made by men who were the helmsmen of a commonwealth, like John Adams (Nos. 24, 79, 153, 189), they have the highest historical credit; for they are forged fresh from the mint, and reveal what even the official records may conceal. Even when written without any expectation of publication, they furnish valuable evidence : no better example can be found than the diary of Stephen Williams (No. 160) or that of William Pynchon (No. 208).

The letters of public men, or even of private men, have the same double value of a tale unvarnished and written at the moment ; and they also reveal the writer s character. Such are the familiar letters of King George III (Nos. 158, 215). More elaborate are the arguments or controversial pamphlets intended for circulation at the time, such as John Dickinson's Farmer's Letters (No. 149) and Tom Paine's Common Sense (No. 186); but such sources are often warped by party feeling. Narratives composed immediately after events have passed, like Madison s review of the southern campaign (No. 211), have the value of careful, considerate composition while the facts are fresh.

Historical sources, then, are nothing less or more than records made at or near the time of the events, by men who took part in them, and who are therefore qualified to speak.