Sixteen Most Significant Events In Us History

Between 1789 To 1975 Essay, Research Paper

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


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


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 disaster. The reversal of many of

the gains achieved by workers combined with the reduction of taxes on the

rich, created a problem in the economy that would go unnoticed. In

addition, the availability of credit led to reckless spending which would

further endanger the economy. This unequal distribution of wealth combined

with a free spending attitude weakened the economy and led to the Great


The discussion continues with bracket IV, which covers the time period

1940-1975 and pairs the number one seed in the bracket “The Vietnam War”

against fourth seed “World War II”. The second seed in the bracket “The

Cuban Missile Crisis” is paired against the third seed “The Civil Rights

Act of 1964″.

The Vietnam War, which began in 1957 and lasted until 1975, was the

longest war in which the United States took part. Vietnam was divided into

Communist ruled North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam. North

Vietnam and Communist trained South Vietnamese rebels attempted to take

over South Vietnam. The United States and the South Vietnamese army tried

to stop the takeover but failed. U.S. aid to Vietnam was based on the

policy of President Truman that the United States must help any nation

threatened by Communists. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy adopted the

policy fearing a “domino effect” if even one southeast Asian country fell

to the Communists. After Kennedy’s death, Johnson came to office in 1963

with a long standing, firm commitment to containment and increased

America’s involvement into a major war. The Vietnam War had several

periods. From 1857- 1965, it was mainly a struggle between the South

Vietnamese army and the Communist trained South Vietnamese rebels. rom

1965-1969, North Vietnam and the United States did most of the fighting. By

1969, the United States had 540,000 troops in Vietnam. The United States’

plan, as outlined by President Johnson, was to increase the punishment

until the price of continuing the war became too high and the enemy would

quit. The Vietnamese did not respond according to plan. The war appeared

endless, and finally a frustrated Johnson announced an end to escalation of

the war and a willingness to negotiate. In January of 1973, a cease fire

was arranged and American ground troops left Vietnam two months later. The

war soon started again without the United States’ involvement and on April

30,1975 South Vietnam surrendered.

The war had far-reaching effects on the United States. About 58,000

Americans died in the war and 365,000 were wounded. The United States

spent over $150 billion on the war. Of the 2,700,000 men and women who

fought in the war, many returned with deep psychological problems and

suffered form a high rate of divorce, drug abuse, suicide, and joblessness.

Many Americans opposed the U.S. role in Vietnam and criticized returning

veterans, leaving them with a feeling that the nation did not appreciate

their sacrifices. Also as a result of the war, Congress and the pubic

became more willing to challenge the president on subsequent U.S. military

and foreign policy issues. The war also became a standard for comparison

in future situations that might involve U.S. troops abroad. On the home

front, the war began a social revolution. New clothing, music, and gender

roles cast off the social structure of the 1950’s.

World War II resulted in more deaths, cost more money, damaged more

property, effected more people, and globally had the most far-reaching

effects of any war in history. The three main causes of the war were the

problems left unsolved by World War I, the rise of dictators in Europe, and

the desire of Italy, Germany, and Japan for territory. The policy of

isolationism was broken in the United States when the Japanese bombed Pearl

Harbor, dragging America into the war. The war was fought on two fronts,

Europe and the Pacific. The allies, which included the United States,

England, France, and Russia were successful in defeating the axis powers

which included Italy, Germany, and Japan. World War II played a major role

in United States’ history. From an economic perspective, it brought the

United States out of the depression of the 1930’s. The government

converted industries from civilian to war production to produce strategic

war materials and instituted rationing and price cont s to support the war

effort. Socially, the war played a major part in changing the role of

women in America. As men went off to fight, the women assumed many of the

roles previously filled by men in the war plants. Politically, the war led

to the United States’ participation in the newly formed United Nations,

organized to oversee international affairs. The major impact of the war,

however, resulted from the United States’ decision to utilize the atomic

bomb. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 were the major factors

contributing to Japan’s surrender. The bomb represented a huge scientific

advance in modern warfare. It opened up the possibility for vast

destruction of human life. The United States’ decision to use the bomb

precipitated a postwar race to produce nuclear weapons in many countries,

especially the Soviet Union and eliminated the opportunity of reaching an

international agreement to control production and testing of such weapons

for many years.

The significance of World War II in United States’ history cannot be

overstated. World War II had a greater economic impact on the United

States than any other war of the twentieth century. Despite Roosevelt’s

efforts to end the depression with the New Deal policies, it was not until

World War II and conversion to a wartime economy that the United States

emerged form its long economic downturn. World War II was also responsible

for the emergence of nuclear weapons which forever changed the concept of

conventional warfare, led to an arms race, and indirectly contributed to

the Cold War. It was the first demonstration of the capability for

destruction that nuclear weapons possessed. Internationally, the Soviet

Union emerged with one of the mightiest armies in the world, replacing the

axis forces as the future threat to world peace. Tensions between the

United States and Russia, sparked by Russia’s attempt to control eastern

European nations after the war, led to the Cold War. postwar period also

saw the formation of the United Nations. Contrary to the position taken

after World War I, the United States joined with the allies to create the

United Nations, an international organization created to maintain peace and

deal with agricultural, monetary, health, and other matters. However, in

many respects World War II was not a unique war from the United States’

perspective. In fact, the causes of the war were to a large extent a

result of the unfinished business of World War I. Further, as was the case

with World War I, the United States was victorious in a relatively short

war and the postwar mood of Americans was upbeat and optimistic.

The Vietnam War, on the other hand, was the most unique war in American

history and had more of an impact on U.S. history of the period than did

World War II. Vietnam was the only unsuccessful war in United States’

history. The geography and the style of war put the United States at a

disadvantage and made it an impossible war to win. As a result, unlike

previous wars, it seemed to drag on with no apparent progress. The lack of

success, combined with a general feeling that the U.S. security was not at

risk, divided the country into those who supported the fight against

Communism and those who opposed the war. This was contrary to the attitude

toward previous wars, which were strongly supported by Americans. The

division over the war initiated a political and social revolution.

Americans became willing to openly criticize the government and elected

officials. Public protests were staged, calling for an end to U. S.

involvement. This public outcry against the government’s po ion ultimately

led to President Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection. The cultural

changes which took place as a result of the Vietnam War were unprecedented.

The pride of many Americans who supported the war was hurt by the defeat,

and they were left bitter and with painful memories. Other Americans would

adopt new styles of dress and music as a demonstration of their opposition

to the war and the government. The changes in the United States brought

about by the war ended the social and cultural traditions of the pre-

Vietnam era and set the stage for the current social and political


The Cuban Missile Crisis ranks as one of the most significant events of

the Cold War period. For several days, the United States appeared to be

on the verge of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. In 1962, Cuba was

convinced that the United States was planning an attack and asked the

Soviets for additional military aid. The Soviet Union responded with

missiles and materials for construction of launch sites. The United States

Intelligence Agency advised President Kennedy of this nuclear missile

build-up in Cuba. The president demanded that Khrushchev remove the

missiles immediately, which Kennedy viewed as a violation of the American

sphere of influence. On October 22nd, Kennedy announced his course of

action which included establishing a naval blockade to prevent further

shipment of supplies, a demand that the bases be dismantled, and a warning

that any attack from Cuba would be regarded as an attack by the Soviet

Union, requiring retaliation from the United States. The con ct rose in

suspense until finally the Soviet ships were directed not to challenge the

blockade and turn back. In a letter to Kennedy, Khrushchev expressed his

concern over the horrors of nuclear war and agreed to remove the missiles

if the United States would end the naval blockade and agree not to invade

Cuba. The United States accepted these terms and the crisis, which had the

world on the brink of nuclear war, was over. The Cold War would not have

another event in which tensions on both sides were so high.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the strongest and most

important pieces of legislation in support of civil rights in the United

States. The law banned discrimination because of a person’s color, race,

national origin, religion, or sex. The rights protected by the act are

freedom to seek employment, vote and use parks, restaurants, and other

places. The act also forbid discrimination by any program that received

funds from the government. In addition, the act authorized the Office of

Education to direct school desegregation in areas specified by the

government. The act was proposed in 1963 by President Kennedy. After his

death, it was supported by President Johnson and passed after a lengthy

debate in the Senate. The act reinforced the rights guaranteed by the

Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and reversed the Supreme

Court decisions of the late 1800’s which limited these rights and plagued

minorities for a century.

In a comparison of these two events, the Cuban Missile Crisis emerges

as the event which had the most impact on the period. In reaching this

conclusion, however, the importance of the Civil Rights Act cannot be

ignored. In many ways the act concluded unfinished business of the Civil

War and Reconstruction Period in defining civil rights for all Americans.

Previous Supreme Court decisions, such as Plessy v Furgeson, had attempted

to deny many Americans the full measure of rights that had been guaranteed

by the Constitution. The act was the defining statement on civil rights in

the United States, reversing previous Supreme Court cases and providing

equal rights for all Americans. Despite its significance in providing

equal opportunity to all Americans, its impact primarily effected black

Americans, who had been the subject of continued discrimination. As a

result, it cannot be considered to have had as universal an impact on the

American public as the Missile Crisis. The Cuban ssile Crisis brought

tensions in the Cold War to the breaking point. The concern of all

Americans about the threat of nuclear war seemed to be materializing with

this crisis. The country was frozen in anticipation of the outcome.

Finally, the compromise reached between Russia and the United States to end

the crisis not only relieved the immediate concern of a nuclear war, but

marked a turning point in the Cold War. Both sides, faced with the reality

of nuclear destruction, realized the need to avoid a conflict. Although

tensions would remain high on both sides for years to come, agreements were

reached to limit the production and testing of nuclear weapons, and the

threat of a nuclear war began to decline.

The finalists in Bracket IV are the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile

Crisis. They represent two of the most controversial events of the time

period. In considering the lasting effects the Vietnam War would have on

the United States, it emerges as the major event of the time period.

The Cold War with the Soviet Union was the dominating international

issue during the first twenty-five years of this time period. The Cuban

Missile Crisis was the closest the United States came to entering a nuclear

war with the Soviet Union during the Cold War period. It represented the

defining moment of the Cold War when anti-Communist tension would nearly

reach the breaking point. The world stood on edge during the crisis. The

destructive capability of nuclear weapons could have resulted in one of the

most disastrous events in history. However, as a result of the recognition

by both major powers of the potential for disaster, the crisis was defused

through negotiations rather than confrontation. The crisis represented the

beginning of the end of the Cold War. The major world powers would begin

negotiations, limiting the development, production, and testing of nuclear


While the Cuban Missile Crisis had significant international

implications, the Vietnam War had a greater impact on America society and

culture. It was the first foreign war in which U.S. forces would fail to

achieve victory, leaving Americans angry and disillusioned. It appeared to

be a war without a defined cause, other than the obscure premise of

containing Communism in an insignificant part of the world. The attitudes

in America, which resulted from the war, led to dramatic changes in

American society and politics, making it the most significant event of the

period. Besides the death, injury, and psychological problems of those who

fought the war, many other Americans were profoundly effected by the war.

They became increasingly critical of the government’s motivation for

involving the country in the war and began to take a more active role in

criticizing foreign policy. This rebellion would extend itself into

American culture. Those who opposed the war and American invol ent also

rejected much of America’s culture and tradition for unquestioned support

of the government. As a result, much of the American tradition for

unquestioned patriotism and loyalty that existed before the war would be

drastically changed, leaving a lasting effect on American history.

The competition has been reduced to the finalist from each of the four

brackets. In the semifinals, representing bracket I is the “Mexican-

American War”, which is paired against the finalist from bracket II the

“Civil War”. The other semifinal pairing matches the winner of bracket III

“World War I” against the winner of bracket IV the “Vietnam War”.

In the first semifinal match-up, the Civil War emerges as the event

that not only had the most significant impact on the time period in which

it occurred, but also on the future of the United States. Both the Civil

War and the Mexican-American War had significant economic, political, and

social implications. However, an examination of the impact each had in

these areas clearly establishes the Civil War as the landmark event of the

time period that brought closure to many of the issues precipitated by the

Mexican-American War. Politically, the Mexican-American War widened the

division between Democrats and Republicans over the slavery issue. Although

several attempts at compromise were made, none were successful. This

political division left the country on the brink of dissolution with no

apparent solution to the issue. The Civil War, on the other hand,

preserved the Union by settling the slavery issue once and for all and

readmitting the states that had succeeded from the Uni The war also

established the Republican Party as the dominant political power in the

United States for the next several decades. The influence of the Democrats

immediately after the war was weakened to the point that politically the

country appeared to have a one party system. Economically, the Mexican-

American War extended the boundaries of the United States to the Pacific,

gaining territories which were rich in natural resources. This extension

of the boundaries would allow settlement beyond the Mississippi, increase

agricultural production, and play a major role in American economic growth.

The impact of the Civil War on the U.S. economy was even more dramatic.

The war devastated the economy of the South. Not only were agricultural

resources of the region destroyed, but slave labor, on which the economy

was based, was eliminated. The Civil War also marked the transformation of

the U.S. from what had been mainly an agrarian society into an industrial

society. This shift in the economy resulted from rapidly changing

technology which came as a direct response to wartime needs. The emergence

of the U.S. as an industrial society also resulted in the North replacing

the South as the economic center of the country. Socially, the Mexican-

American War heightened the debate over the issue of slavery. on which the

social structure of the South was based. Northern Abolitionists seized the

opportunity to challenge admission of the new territories as slave states

and disrupt the balance of free and slave states in Congress. Southerners

realized that as slavery grew more unpopular in the North, its survival

depended on its expansion into new territories. None of the compromises

offered after the Mexican-American War would lead to resolution of the

issue. The Civil War, however, provided a permanent solution to the issue.

As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation and passage of the Thirteenth,

Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, slavery was eliminated and t he

United States began the process of assuring civil rights for all Americans

and forcing a complete reordering of the South’s social structure.

In the second semifinal pairing, World War I emerges as the event that

had the most significant impact on the United States. Both World War I and

the Vietnam War ended without resolving many issues that precipitated the

conflicts. In the case of World War I, although the allies were victorious,

the United States’ refusal to participate in the Treaty of Versailles and

the League of Nations left unsettled many issues that would ultimately lead

to another World War. These events signaled the end of Wilsonian idealism

and began a reactionary period in the U.S. that would spark significant

economic, political, and social change. With respect to the Vietnam War,

the inability of the U.S. forces to weaken the North Vietnamese opposition,

combined with the government’s inability to maintain popular support for

the war, led to the eventual withdrawal of American troops without victory.

The popular outcry against this war, combined with the failure of the

effort to attain any tangible r lts, brought about another reactionary

period. In my opinion, however, the impact of events of the post Vietnam

War period were less significant and far reaching than those that followed

World War I.

The post World War I period in the U.S. resulted in a rejection of the

idealistic philosophy of President Wilson. The opposition to Wilson’s

policies and the politics of the period prevented the United States from

participating in the treaty to settle the war. They also prevented U.S.

participation in the League of Nations, an organization whose purpose was

to prevent further conflicts. As a result, many issues important to a

lasting peace were left unaddressed and this would eventually lead to World

War II. The period also marked the end of the Progressive philosophy of

the prewar period. America’s postwar optimism led to a resurgence of

laissez-faire economic policies and a return to the political philosophy of

the nineteenth century. This change in economic policy and political

philosophy began to set the stage for the Great Depression. American

society became very materialistic. The availability of credit led to free

spending. Many of the advantages gained by workers d ng the Progressive

era were reversed, while taxes on the rich were reduced. This combination

of events would result in the unequal distribution of wealth which would

spark the depression. Socially, the postwar period witnessed wide-scale

discrimination. The propaganda campaigns of the war had resulted in strong

anti-foreign, anti-Communist feelings. Immigrants were often falsely

accused of being Communists, Socialists, or radicals, conspiring against

the United States. Members of labor unions were often targeted as being

anti-American. This climate frequently led to violence and the violation

of the civil rights of many Americans.

The Vietnam War and postwar period also resulted in a period of

significant social and political change. The division in the country

between those who supported the war and those who opposed it led to a

political and social revolution. Americans began, as never in the past, to

question and publicly protest decisions made by the government and elected

officials. Congress and the public challenged the president on U.S.

military and foreign policy issues. The war became a standard for

comparison in future situations that might involve U.S. troops abroad. The

American culture and tradition for unquestioning support of the government

ended and the perception of what constituted patriotism and loyalty changed

dramatically. However, none of these changes led to a major economic

downturn, precipitated a war, or denied the civil rights of Americans as

did the events following World War I.

The two finalists in the competition are from bracket II, the “Civil

War”, and from bracket III, “World War I”. Despite the significant

implications of World War I and the fact that the Civil War occurred over

one hundred years ago, the Civil War remains as the most important event in

American history. Unlike the Civil War, World War I was not fought on U.S.

soil, the fate of the Union was not in jeopardy, and the political,

economic, and social implications were not nearly as significant or long

lasting as those of the Civil War.

From a political perspective, an examination of World War I reveals two

major results. First, after the failure to negotiate a post war treaty

acceptable to the U. S. Congress followed by the United States’ refusal to

participate in the League of Nations, the U.S. entered a period of

isolationism. Affairs in Europe remained unsettled. The lack of

involvement by the United States in the settlement of the postwar issues

contributed to the causes of World War II. Also, the failure of Wilson’s

political theory of idealism would result in a return to the laissez-faire

political philosophy of the late 1800’s and the reversal of many of the

positive achievements of the Progressive Era. The political results of the

Civil War, however, were more significant. The preservation of the Union,

the most significant political result of the Civil War, was also one of

the most significant events in the history of the United States. Had the

Southern states been allowed to succeed from the Un , the history of the

United States, as we know it today, would not exist. In addition, the

emergence of the Republicans as the dominant party for nearly the next one

hundred years had a major influence on the economic and social philosophy

of the country. It was not until Roosevelt and the New Deal that the

laissez-faire policies of the Republicans would be repudiated.

World War I had a significant impact on the economy. During the

mobilization period, the conversion to a wartime economy resulted in

increased employment. However, at the end of the war, the failure of the

government to regulate the demobilization period resulted in high

unemployment and inflation. This combined with the fact that labor lost

many concessions won during the Progressive Era, such as the rights of

labor unions to strike, resulted in worse conditions for workers than in

the prewar era. At the same time, credit became readily available and

economic speculation was rampant. The cumulative effect of these

conditions would lead to an unequal distribution of wealth and set the

stage for the Great Depression. The economic implications of the Civil War

and postwar period, however, contributed to a radical change in the overall

economic structure of the United States. The Southern economy, based on

slavery and agriculture, was destroyed by the Civil War. The eliminatio f

slavery, combined with improvements in technology to meet wartime demands,

changed the United States’ economy from what had previously been agrarian

based to an industrial, mercantile economy. Coinciding with this economic

shift, the North would gain dominance over the South as the economic center

of the nation. For years after the Civil War, the South would struggle to

rebuild its economy and begin the slow process of industrialization.

Finally, from a social perspective, the effect of World War I was

marked by discrimination towards blacks and immigrants. Americans became

distrustful of foreigners as a result of propaganda campaigns designed to

gain support for the war. Blacks, who relocated to the North to fill jobs

of enlisted men, were blamed for the problems of unemployment during the

demobilization period. Many Americans who were innocent of any wrong doing

were accused of being anti-American or Communist sympathizers. The civil

rights of many of these people were often violated. The social

implications of the Civil War, however, are the most important in the

history of the United States. The war provided the foundation for the

Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, which guaranteed civil

rights to all Americans. While blacks would continue to be discriminated

against, the end of slavery and passage of the amendments was the first

recognition of equality for all Americans.

In conclusion, each of the sixteen events discussed has had a

significant impact on American history. Each event has played a role in

shaping the political, economic, and social structure of the United States.

Not only were these events significant to the time period in which they

occured, but they also had a lasting effect on the future of the country.


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