The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776 by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, with a preamble by John Adams and editing by Benjamin Franklin and other members of Congress, it outlines the offenses of King George III to justify the vote for independence that had taken place two days earlier. With the colonies already one year into a war, the Declaration closed the door on reconciliation with Great Britain, paved the way for the creation of the United States of America, and continues to serve as an inspiration throughout the world. E-text available here.
The Magna Carta, signed in 1215, is 800 years old on June 15, 2015. The Magna Carta settled the rebellion of some barons against the king. Although some of the language is still obscure, the document is widely credited as being the first statement of individual rights under kingly rule. Among other things, it put a limit on payments that could be made to a king and ensured swift justice, guaranteed by a board of peers, in this case 25 barons. Here are 35 words from the English translation of the original Latin of this document that is the forerunner of democratic expressions like the Declaration of Independence.
While the world watched, September 15, 1963 became a traumatic day that fourteen-year-old Carolyn Maull (now also McKinstry) struggled to live past and understand. Read "While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement," and learn this list to see how the personal words of the author are integrated with those of historical figures. Here are links to our lists for the memoir: Introduction-Chapter 5, Chapters 6-11, Chapters 12-18, Chapter 19-Barack Obama's Letter
On 24th September 1996, the nations of the world convened to sign a treaty that banned the testing and development of all nuclear weapons in a massive step towards harmony and peace. This list of vocabulary is taken straight from the Treaty itself.
On April 9, 1865, after a final battle that failed to break through Union forces, Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. As a brigadier general and secretary to Ulysses S. Grant, Horace Porter witnessed and recorded this event. In his report, Porter included detailed observations, letters between the opposing generals, and personal opinions—all of which served to emphasize the humanity of the moments leading up to and surrounding the formal ceremony that is now seen as the end of the Civil War. E-text available here.
The Declaration of Sentiments was presented in July 1848 at the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. Composed by the abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it deliberately echoes the Declaration of Independence by casting women in the role of the oppressed and men in the role of the tyrant. This led to much heated dispute, but it is now recognized as the first step towards the addition of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. E-text available here.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948 to reflect the commitment of the international community to prevent any repeat of the atrocities of World War II. Drafted by the Commission on Human Rights, which consisted of 18 members from various political, cultural, and religious backgrounds, it recognizes the value and rights of every individual everywhere. In addition to influencing many subsequent national constitutions, laws, and treaties, it serves as a tool to apply moral pressure on abusive governments. E-text available here.
John L O'Sullivan, the columnist who coined the term "Manifest Destiny," puts forward the case for The United States as the chosen nation. O' Sullivan contrasts nations with bloody histories which oppress them with America, which he sees as free of such hindrances and therefore free to march towards the future- the future being America's rightful domain. E-text available here
The Stamp Act was an act passed by the British Parliament in 1765 in order to collect revenue in the American colonies. The act upset many colonists, since it was passed without the colonists' consent and thus there were widespread protests. The protests were so effective that the tax was never collected in any meaningful way. Full text: http://ahp.gatech.edu/stamp_act_bp_1765.html This list is based on the introductory paragraph, which explains the taxes.
The Quartering Act of 1765 was an act passed by British Parliament, which forced people in the US colonies to house and feed British soldiers during times of peace if there was no room in barracks. The symbolic power of this act was great, as it implied that there would now be a British standing army in the colonies during peace time. The act was largely ineffective and expired in 1767, however, it was amended in 1774 as part of the Intolerable Acts. Even though it was rather ineffective, the act had such high symbolic value and was so unpopular that it is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and in the US Constitution. Full texts: http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/quartering.htm This list is based on paragraph 2, which explains the core aspect of the act.
The Dawes Act, or General Allotment Act of 1887, was a law that allowed the U.S. government to take Native American tribal lands and divide them into 40 acre lots for individual Native Americans. The goal was to break up communal tribal lands and speed the assimilation of Native Americans into American society. The Dawes Act caused great suffering with much of the land winding up in the hands of white settlers.
The pivotal document of the Civil War, this proclamation freed the slaves and opened a new chapter in the nation's history. To emancipate means to liberate or free someone. The Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential order made by Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862. It was a military order that freed any slave held in the Confederacy as of January 1, 1863. While this proclaimed slaves in the South free, it did not end all slavery in the United States. That was accomplished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ratified In 1865.
Vocabulary from this pro-slavery Supreme Court decision illuminates how it brought the nation to the brink of the Civil War. In March of 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion in the Dred Scott Case. Scott, a slave, had been brought from a slave territory to a free territory and demanded his freedom. The Court ruled that as a slave, Scott was not a citizen and as such could not sue in the courts. The decision further polarized the North and the South and ended any chance of compromise on the issue of slavery.
Originally published as "On the Duty of Disobedience" and based on an 1848 lecture, Thoreau's work is a civil libertarian classic. Questioning the authority of all governments, Thoreau especially challenged both the right of the state to tax him and the morality of a government which allows slavery. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/71/71-h/71-h.htm
Following the Constitutional Convention in 1787, James Madison along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, published a series of essays supporting the new Constitution. Together these essays are called "The Federalist Papers." Federalist #10 by Madison is considered one of the most important political documents in U.S. History. Madison discusses political factions, which in today's language might be called political parties. The essay was first published in newspapers under the pen name "Publius."
Seen as a forerunner to the U.S. Constitution, the signers of The Mayflower Compact agreed to work together and to establish their own rules. The Pilgrims were a small group of religious separatists who sailed for the British colony of Virginia in September 1620. Along with a party of Merchant Adventurers, they arrived farther north at Cape Cod instead. Deciding to remain in Massachusetts, it was believed that their original patent for Virginia was now invalid. In its place the adult males signed a new agreement or compact which was later named for their ship as the Mayflower Compact.(*Note: Modern spellings have been used.)
The Articles of Confederation was the first constitution of the United States. Created by the Continental Congress in 1777 it featured a loose confederation or union of sovereign states. In contrast to Britain’s Parliament, the Articles strictly limited the power of the national government. Despite this weakness the United States successfully won the Revolutionary War under the Articles. In 1787 a Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia and created our present plan of government, the U.S. Constitution which then replaced the Articles.
The Monroe Doctrine was a speech given by President James Monroe in December 1823. A doctrine is a rule or principle, so the title means Monroe’s principle. This principle states that the United States promises to respect any colonies already held by European powers in the Americas but will not permit any new colonies to be taken. In return the United States promises not to seek any colonies in Europe. At the time the U.S. was a weak nation and the doctrine was largely ignored. Later, however, when the U.S. became a world power, it was used to prevent European nations from taking over countries in Latin America.
In April 1963 Dr. King was arrested for leading a non-violent protest in Birmingham, Alabama. In a local newspaper a group of white clergymen criticized King. They acknowledged that injustices had been committed when local authorities used fire hoses, batons and police dogs on the demonstrators, but asserted that protest should only be done through the courts. From his jail cell King responded. His letter justifies the use of non-violent protest to fight unjust laws.