Sixteen Most Significant Events in US History between 1789 to 1975 After a review of United States’ history from 1789 to 1975, I have identified what I believe are the sixteen most significant events of that time period. The attached sheet identifies the events and places them in brackets by time period. The following discussion provides my reasoning for selecting each of the events and my opinion as to their relative importance in contrast to each other. Finally, I have concluded that of the sixteen events, the Civil War had the most significant impact on the history of the time period in which it occurred and remains the most significant event in American history. The discussion begins with bracket I covering the period from 1789-1850, and pairs the number one seed in the bracket “Mexican-American War” against the fourth seed “Louisiana Purchase”. The second seed in the bracket “Marbury v Madison” is paired against the third seed “Monroe Doctrine”.
The purchase of Louisiana from France in 1803 was the most popular and momentous event of the Jefferson presidency. It had several significant economic and political implications on this period in history. From an economic perspective it doubled the size of the United States at a price of only fifteen million dollars. It allowed settlement beyond the Mississippi River in a territory that was rich in minerals and natural resources. It eliminated the United States’ long struggle for control of the Mississippi River and its outlet to the sea, and as Jefferson stated, it freed America from European influence at its borders. In addition to these economic implications, the purchase also had historic political implications.
The acquisition took place at a time when the government was still exploring the powers that the Constitution had granted it. Jefferson, himself, carefully deliberated whether the Constitution granted him the right to acquire territory for the purpose of expandi the Union. He reflected on the possible need for an amendment to the Constitution to justify the action. Finally, under intense pressure, he allowed the purchase and set an important precedent. His action established the power of the president to expand the borders of the United States under the existing powers of the Constitution.
Despite the economic and political implications of the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) had more significant historical implications on this time period. While disagreements between the two countries had been accumulating for two decades, the war was primarily the result of American feelings of “manifest destiny” to expand their borders. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war, granted the United States the regions of California, Nevada and Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. However, the significant result of the war on United States’ history would be the controversy over whether the territories acquired should be slave or free. The country, at this time, was divided between proslave sentiment in the South and antislave sentiment in the North. Various attempts at compromise to settle the controversy, such as “The Compromise of 1850” and the “Kansas Nebraska Act” failed.
Finally, when the issue could not be resol peacefully, the country was drawn into a civil war. It is evident that the outcome of the Mexican-American War became one of the most influential, indirect causes of the Civil War. Both the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican-American War expanded United States borders and had beneficial economic impacts. However, the implications of expansion brought about by the Mexican-American War were more significant. While the Louisiana Purchase helped define the constitutional powers of the president, the Mexican-American War further exacerbated the slave issue which ultimately resulted in civil war. The Monroe Doctrine was the most important assertion to date of United States’ foreign policy in history.
The doctrine was delivered by President James Monroe as part of his annual message to Congress in 1823. This statement of position would dictate the policy of the United States in international affairs for years to come. The doctrine was in reaction to continual interference of European nations in the affairs of Latin America. It provided a framework for how the United States would deal with foreign intervention in the western hemisphere. It stated that Europe was to remain out of the affairs of countries in the western hemisphere and any attempt to intervene would be viewed as a threat to the United States. In return, the United States agreed to stay out of European affairs.
Marbury v Madison is arguably one of the most important decisions by the Supreme Court in United States’ history. The case, which was presided over in 1803 by Chief Justice John Marshall, concerned President Adams’s appointment of William Marbury as Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia. Adams’s term ended before Marbury took office, and James Madison, the new Secretary of State, attempted to withhold the appointment. Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court under Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 to force Madison to grant the appointment. The court refused to rule on the appointment since Section 13 gave the Supreme Court powers not provided by the Constitution.
As a result, the court declared Section 13 unconstitutional. The decision defined the role of the Supreme Court in the government and where the court fit into the system of checks and balances. The case established power of judicial review of Congressional legislation and represented the first judicial sertion of its right to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. While the Constitution did not speak directly to this level of judicial authority, the case created a precedent which is still followed today. When comparing the immediate impact Marbury v Madison and the Monroe Doctrine had on this period in history, Marbury v Madison is victorious. The Marbury v Madison decision had immediate implications.
It clearly established the position and power of the court in government. It required Congress to consider potential constitutional implications of all future legislation. On the other hand, the Monroe Doctrine’s implications would not be realized until beyond the 1850’s when policies such as Secretary of State Seward’s denunciation of French intervention in Mexico and the Roosevelt Corollary would be based on the doctrine. At the time the doctrine was put forth, the United States lacked the military strength to enforce the doctrine. Despite European recognition of the intent of the doctrine, it is doubtful they were intimidated by it until the United States could assert itself as a military power.
The finalists in bracket I are the Mexican-American War and Marbury v Madison. In a comparison of the two, the war emerges as the event that had the most impact on this time period in history. Despite the importance of Marbury v Madison as a landmark decision establishing the role of the Supreme Court to rule on constitutional issues, its impact on the country during this time period was less dramatic than that of the Mexican-American War. Although it caused Congress to be aware that future legislation would be reviewed by court, it would be several years before the court would be required to rule again on the constitutionality of a Congressional Act. Not until the late 1800’s, when the Supreme Court ruled on certain civil rights’ issues, would the full implications of the Marbury decision become evident. Conversely, the Mexican-American War had a direct impact on many people. First, the acquisition of new territory in the west allowed settlers to expand beyond the Mississip opening a vast frontier which was rich with natural resources.
Second, and most important, the war brought the lingering debate over slavery to the forefront. The slavery question would soon become the issue of the decade, directly impacting the entire country. The acquisition of new territory stirred abolitionists in the North who viewed it as an opportunity to weaken the stronghold slavery had on the country. Southerners realized that the territory must be admitted as slave if they were going to maintain their “peculiar institution” and a balance of power. As a result, the war became a much more significant event to the vast majority of Americans than the implications of Marbury v Madison.
It would drive sectionalism to the breaking point and turn Americans against each other. The discussion continues with bracket II which covers the time period from 1850-1900 and pairs the number one seed in the bracket “Civil War” against the fourth seed “Sherman Antitrust Act.” The second seed in the bracket “Plessy v Furgeson” is paired against the third seed “Passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments”. The Sherman Antitrust Act passed in 1890 outlawed any contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade. It also forbid any attempt to create a monopoly. The law was aimed at combating trusts which were being formed in the late 1800’s such as U.S.
Steel and Standard Oil. It was believed that the formation of these trusts was eliminating competition and leaving the consumer at the mercy of the large corporations which controlled the prices of their commodities. While the act was the first significant piece of legislation aimed at regulating the economy and placing controls over big business, its wording was vague, enforcement was not very vigorous, and lawyers for the corporations found loopholes in the law and various ways of avoiding its provisions. However, by the end of the century, the law had been strengthened and it would become an effective tool in “trust busting”, returning competition to the marketplace and gaining advantage for the worker and the consumer. The Civil War fought between the Northern states of the Union and the Southern states of the Confederacy from 1861-1865 turned out to be the most bitter fight in the nation’s history.
The war divided Americans, took more lives than any other war, and was the ugliest event in American history. Slavery was the critical issue behind the war, but the economic rivalry between the industrial North and the agricultural South contributed significantly to the conflict. The results of the war in which the North prevailed were many. About one million men were killed or wounded, destroying almost an entire generation. The Union was saved and slavery was eliminated.
The South was practically destroyed by battles which ravaged farmlands, homes, and entire cities. The impact of the war was so vast that an entire Reconstruction period in American history was devoted to the political and economic rebuilding of the South. Finally, the scars of hatred between the North and South would have a ting effect. Southerners grew bitter in defeat, while Northerners continued their hostility toward the South. In a comparison of these two events, the Civil War clearly had a greater influence on the time period.
This conclusion is based not only on the catastrophic and long term implications of the war, but on the failure of the Sherman Antitrust Act to have any significant impact on the formation of trusts during this period. The act brought no anti-monopoly millennium. The legislation itself left too many unanswered questions, including what in fact constituted a monopoly and how the government was to proceed in breaking up monopolies. In addition, the Cleveland and McKinley administrations in the 1890’s showed little interest in enforcing the legislation. The attack against big business had failed and the opponents of monopolies would have to wait until next century to renew the effort.
Conversely, the war had the immediate impact of preserving the Union and dealing a death blow to slavery. In addition, the aftermath of the war would continue to be felt throughout the remainder the century. The postwar period marked a change from a primarily agrarian society to a mechanized society with rapidly expanding technology. The impetus for the change came primarily from the necessity to meet wartime demand for arms and supplies, which led to new technology. This technology in the postwar period would change society dramatically. In addition, the postwar period would usher in the Reconstruction Era, which became one of the most complex and controversial periods in American history. During this period, the country would have to deal with issues which included whether punishment should be imposed on Southern whites who supported the Confederacy, how to guarantee the freedom of emancipated slaves, and under what conditions should Southern states be readmitted to the Union.
These and other issues led to changes which were little short of revolutionary. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were monumental steps in gaining civil rights for all Americans. The amendments, which were passed between 1865 and 1870, were intended to guarantee social equality for all races. The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment defined American citizenship as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof”.
It prohibited any law which would deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The Fifteenth Amendment forbade states to deny the right to vote on account of race. Although these amendments were momentous events in guaranteeing civil rights, their effect during this time period in history would be short lived. Blacks would only enjoy equality for a few years until a series of Supreme Court decisions interpreting the amendments would weaken them to the point that the civil rights of bla were again denied. It would not be until the 1950’s that blacks would achieve the rights and freedoms guaranteed by these amendments. Despite this, the passage of these amendments was a major step toward recognition of racial equality in America in this time period and beyond. Plessy v Furgeson was the most influential in a series of Supreme Court decisions which led to the rapid spread of segregation laws in the South.
After the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, blacks were granted equal rights. However, Supreme Court decisions interpreting the amendments began to limit the extension of these rights to blacks. In Plessy, which was decided in 1896, the court supported the constitutionality of a Louisiana law requiring separate but equal facilities for blacks in railroad cars. The decision helped strengthen racial segregation in American until the next century. Many states would rely on the “separate but equal” rule to segregate public schools, the use of transportation and recreation, and sleeping and eating facilities.
The comparison of these two events is an interesting one. The passage of the three amendments guaranteed civil rights for blacks, while Plessy v Furgeson was the most influential decision in all but nullifying the impact of the amendments until the 1950’s. As a result, it is evident that the Plessy v Furgeson decision had a greater impact on the civil rights of Americans during this time period that did passage of the amendments. While the amendments guaranteed blacks their most basic civil rights, the court decisions on the heels of these amendments effectively retracted those rights and resulted in much greater social implications for blacks at the time. While eventually the guarantees of the amendments to provide equality and freedom to all Americans would come to fruition, in this time period, they continued to be denied to blacks.
The finalists in bracket II are the Civil War and Plessy v Furgeson. Comparing the impact of the two events, the Civil War emerges victorious. While the Plessy decision adversely impacted the rights that blacks had been guaranteed under the Constitution, its effects were restricted primarily to black Americans. The Constitutional rights of the white majority were not affected by the decision and their way of life was not impacted. On the other hand, the implications of the Civil War and the post war period effected all Americans.
The results of the war were catastrophic to Northerners and Southerners, black or white, whether measured in lives or loss of property. Slavery, which was critical to the economy of the South, was eliminated. The Confederate states were reunited with the North and the Union preserved. The transition from an agrarian, rural society to an urban, mechanized society began. Finally, the postwar Reconstruction period dramatically changed the social and nomic structure of the country. Moving to bracket III, which covers the time period from 1900-1940, the number one seed in the bracket “World War I” is paired against the fourth seed “The Progressive Movement”.
The second seed in the bracket “The Great Depression” is paired against the third seed “The New Deal”. World War I involved the major European nations and the United States from 1914-1918. The primary causes of the war were powerful feelings of nationalism throughout Europe and the formation of protective alliances that divided Europe into two main power groups. The United States remained completely neutral from 1914-1917. However, continued interruption of trade and travel on the seas by both the allies and central powers, especially attacks by German submarines, caused the United States to enter the war in 1917.
The U.S. involvement in the war helped turn the tide and played a major role in the eventual defeat of Germany. Despite the fact the war was fought in Europe and U.S. casualties and property loss were far less than that of the allies, the war had a significant impact economically, politically, and socially on the United States. While the mobilization effort brought great economic prosperity to the country from the production of wartime goods, postwar demobilization ought about widespread unemployment, increased labor strife, racial hatred, and poverty. Propaganda campaigns, designed to create support for the war effort, resulted in strong anti-foreign and anti-Communist feelings, which led to violence and the violation of civil rights for many Americans.
Politically, the postwar period saw a repudiation of Progressivism and a return to the political philosophy of the late nineteenth century. Progressivism was a political movement in the United States form 1900-1917 which attempted to attract support from both political parties for economic, political, and social reform. The movement marked the initial recognition that change was necessary if all Americans were to enjoy the national promise of equality and opportunity. The movement was aimed at allowing all people to enjoy the rewards of industrialism, improving city life, ending political corruption, and strengthening labor laws. It was a rejection of the laissez-faire policy of the government which seemed to support big business at the expense of the worker. Progressivism was one of the most important reform movements in America and had a tremendous impact on this period in history. Economically, the Progressives were successful in gaining regulation of monopolies through stricter enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act, while the imposition of an income tax and an excess profit’s tax helped create a more equal d ribution of wealth.
Politically, Progressives aimed at restoring democracy through the establishment of referendum and recall which gave the voter a more active role in the affairs of government. The establishment of city managers and city councils helped weaken the control of political bosses and curb corruption. Socially, the Progressives were successful in improving the living conditions of the city. They were responsible for legislation governing minimum wages for workers, limiting the hours in the work day, and controlling child labor. However, many of the reforms brought about by the Progressive movement were reversed by the social and economic attitudes that grew out of World War I and the postwar years.
Demobilization and the resulting change in the economy led to a resurgence of laissez-faire policies. Government, which had supported labor during the war, now began to side with big business, and labor strife was again common. Gains attained by the Progressives for workers were reversed by the Supreme Court. Child labor was reinstituted and minimum wages for women were declared unconstitutional. In addition, the reduction of the income tax, elimination of the excess profits’ tax, and an increase in the protective tariff once again created an unequal distribution of wealth. As a result of the impact the war had on the economy, society, and the Progressive Movement, it was the more influential event of the period.
The Great Depression was the American economic crisis of the 1930’s. It was the longest and most severe period of unemployment, low business activity, and poverty in American history. It began in October 1929 when stock values dropped rapidly. This created a string of bank, factory, and store closings leaving millions of Americans jobless. The depression soon spread to other nations. It caused a large decrease in world trade because of increases in tariff rates.
The depression finally ended after the United States increased the production of war materials at the start of World War II. The depression impacted political and social philosophies in the United States dramatically. Policies, such as the New Deal extended the government’s authority to provide for the needy. New American attitudes toward business and government took hold. Before the depression, many regarded business executives and bankers as the nation’s leaders.
However, when these leaders could not relieve th epression, Americans lost faith in them. Many people changed their basic attitude toward life because of the suffering they experienced during the depression. They had believed that if they worked hard, they could provide for their families and have a good life. The depression, however, shattered that belief. The situation was especially hard to understand because there appeared to the average worker to be no reason for the things that happened. The New Deal was the economic policy established by President Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. He believed that the federal government had the primary responsibility to fight the depression by stimulating the economy.
The New Deal had three main purposes. First, it provided relief for the needy. Second, it aided nationwide recovery by establishing jobs and encouraging business, and third, it tried to reform business and government so a severe depression would never happen in the United States again. Some New Deal policies, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Public Works Administration (PWA) provided jobs in the construction of bridges, dams, and parks. To deal with agriculture, Roosevelt set up the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), which helped regulate farm production and drive prices up.
The National Recovery Administration (NRA) set up and enforced rules of fair practice in business an ndustry. The New Deal relieved much economic distress and brought about some recovery. In doing so, it increased the government’s debt dramatically. Some of the results of the New Deal were important and long lasting. Even after the depression, reforms such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Social Security Act continued to exist. After the New Deal, the government’s role in banking and welfare would continue to grow steadily.
Both the Great Depression and programs of the New Deal were unprecedented in United States’ history. The country had never experienced a business downturn that lasted as long as the Great Depression with as many business failures and as much widespread unemployment. Likewise, the New Deal, which was established to relieve the economic impact of the depression was the first time the government asserted itself to provide public welfare during an economic crisis. A comparison of these two events must concentrate on which of these unprecedented occurrences had a greater impact on the American public. Despite the attempts of the New Deal programs to relieve some of the economic pressures, it was not a cure for the depression. The programs of the New Deal were successful in providing jobs for many Americans and providing some economic relief.
However, millions remained unemployed and never reaped the benefits of the New Deal programs. In fact, it would not be until the beginning o orld War II that the United States’ economy would completely recover. On the other hand, there was no segment of the population that escaped the economic crisis brought about by the depression. Fortunes were lost, jobs were eliminated, and survival became an issue for most Americans. The Great Depression clearly had more of an impact on this period than the New Deal.
Of the two finalists, World War I and the Great Depression, the war stands out as the event that had the greatest impact on the nation. The depression had tremendous economic, political, and social implications for the period. Millions lost their jobs and were forced into poverty. The attitudes of people towards political and business leaders was forever changed. Those leaders, who the public had admired were now viewed with skepticism.
Americans, who prior to the depression felt their economy was indestructible, became fearful of their future in an economy that could fluctuate wildly without warning or apparent cause. The depression also led to a dramatic change in government policy. The government became far more involved in public welfare than it had been in the past as demonstrated by the New Deal. Policies, such as Welfare and Social Security, which are still in practice today, grew out of this new political consciousness. However, the political, social, and economic lications World War I would have on the nation were even more far reaching. Politically, the country turned inward, refusing to participate in the League of Nations. This left postwar affairs in Europe unsettled and would ultimately lead the country into another World War.
While the depression had an enormous effect on the attitudes of Americans, World War I had an even greater impact. The entire American culture would experience a revolution in the postwar celebration. Americans were filled with optimism during the postwar years. The growth of advertising and entertainment, combined with technological advances, such as the television and radio, would bring about the emergence of a materialistic society. Economically, the return to a peace time economy and the laissez-faire policies of the late 1800’s, set the stage for economic di …