When you are writing about the past, use the past tense consistently.
Use the past tense to write about the past. You should only use the present tense in a historical essay when you are writing about the present. Note that your historical interpretation itself is taking place in the present; so it may be appropriate to write that evidence “suggests” a particular conclusion.
Wrong: The coming of World War II finally ends the Great Depression.
Right: The coming of World War II finally ended the Great Depression.
Wrong: Thomas Jefferson says that “all men are created equal,” and this principle helped inspire the American Revolution.
Right: Thomas Jefferson said that “all men are created equal,” and this principle helped inspire the American Revolution.
Comment: Although it is technically acceptable to write “Thomas Jefferson says,” because you are writing about a text that exists in the present, this use of the “historical present” does not work well in historical writing–it will lead to unnecessary and confusing tense switching.
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