This Independence Day, remember the events that have most shaped the evolution of the United States of America. Like most things, the list includes some memories that are fonder than others, but all reveal key moments in our nation’s colorful history – and hopefully, clues to a brighter future.
Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. During a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater, President Lincoln was shot in the back of the head with a pistol by John Wilkes Booth, a Southerner who believed the Civil War was not yet over and the murder would help the Confederate’s cause. The first successful assassination of a U.S. President, Lincoln’s tragic death reminded humanity that even the greatest of heroes can be lost to human hatred.
Louisiana Purchase. In one swift business deal, President Thomas Jefferson more than doubled the nation’s size. He immediately ordered the territory be explored, commissioning the infamous Lewis and Clark. The Purchase left only a third of the modern United States to be explored, acquired, and founded.
Vietnam War. A Cold War proxy that was highly controversial in the eyes of Americans – a third of which publicly showed they were strongly against the war. With 58,000 American lives lost with even more deeply wounded by the war, it did birth Peace Rallies, which some credit as spawning a cultural revolution and ultimately shortening U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Controversy still abounds surrounding the harrowing death of President Kennedy. Its importance is largely what the event did to American morale – it devastated it. Except for our avowed Cold War enemies, most of the world sent its condolences, not in the least because, if the most powerful and protected man in the world could be killed, couldn’t anyone?
The New Deal. Devised to provide desperately needed relief from the Great Depression, the New Deal enacted reforms that guarded against economic catastrophe. While it didn’t end the depression (massive military spending in WWII would do that), the New Deal greatly shaped the nation as it fundamentally changed the way it was run. It changed the federal government’s role in the economy, the power of the presidency, and ultimately, the relationship of the American people to their government
American Revolution. Fed up with the British treating the 13 Colonies as just another exclave of their global Empire, America’s Founding Fathers took a stand. When Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence, he warned that, as “traitors to the crown,” their only hope was to stick together. They won in large part thanks to George Washington, who wisely combined his forces with the French until the British surrendered, and The United States of America became a nation all its own.
Civil War. A dark conundrum remained after the drafting of the Constitution: if all men are created equal, why are blacks bought and sold, unable to vote, treated inhumanely; and at long last, are they even men? Ignored in censuses until 1787, and even then, only 3/5 “counted,” it’s easy to question slavery supporters’ humanity. The causes of the Civil War included much more than slavery, but its abolition was the result everyone watched for, and fought for – or against. At no other time in American history was the nation more polarized over any issue, and war seemed the only way forward. It cost us 600,000 Americans lives, including Lincoln’s, but its ending did grant his wish to permanently outlaw slavery of any kind. The Constitution was amended to this effect, and the nation finally resembled the “Land of the Free.”
Readers, share the events you believe shaped America; email Editor@lifestylesafter50.com