I was pretty sure this would be a low tide section of US History. I had only a vague idea that Some Stuff Happened between the writing of the Constitution and the Civil War. I figured the War of 1812 must have happened in there somewhere (maybe around 1812?), but I never got why that was important other than getting the Star Spangled Banner.
My education started at the library! I found two great books:
A New Nation and USKids History: Book of the New American Nation.
I read A New Nation on my own and it gave me a much clearer picture of what was going on then and why it mattered. I would sum it up in this way: we are living with the repercussions (good and bad) of decisions made in this time period.
Thanks to this book, I finally GET the whole thing with the Federalists and Anti-Federalists and why they matter. I also understand why I never got it before. Basically, our country, from the time the ink was dry on the constitution continuing through today, has been having a long discussion (to put it politely) about who has power in the government. A great deal of US history is this discussion. The Civil War, for example, was about slavery, but the actual argument was that the Southern states had the right to make their own laws about slavery. That was why the South formed a loose confederacy of it's member states. It seems to me that the argument has slightly shifted in recent years from a Federal vs. State question to a Federal vs. Individual question, although that too was there from the beginning.
The Federalists, of course, thought the Federal government needed to have more power than the states (Alexander Hamilton, please call your office!). The Anti-Federalists (Thomas Jefferson) believed the States were nearly sovereign and only wanted to give the Federal government enough power to do the things the States couldn't do on their own.
Why couldn't I get such a simple concept before? Because... The Federalists became Whigs became the current Republicans who are now against "big government" and the Anti-Federalists became Republicans became Democratic Republicans became current Democrats who are for "big government" (sorta). Any questions?
I will have Mxyl and Klenda read A New Nation, but it's probably too wordy to hold the attention of Zorg and Leena.
USKids History: Book of the New American Nation is worth it's weight in gold. When I realized it was a series, I wanted to kick myself for not starting it sooner! All of these books are the ideal combination of stories, primary sources and fun, meaningful, immersive activities.
Once I realized we would be using it longer than the library would like us to have it, I looked on Amazon and scooped one up for $3 plus shipping. I also grabbed the one on the Civil War, but if you are starting a US History unit, they have one on Native Americans, the Colonial era, and the Revolutionary War.