10 Most Important Events In U.S. History (So Far)
Throughout the history of the United States, there have been several events which have not only changed the course of our country, it actually changed the lives of those were were alive during the event.
Trying to narrow down the top 10 most important events in U.S. history is difficult, as many have occurred in the 240 years since the country has been founded. From land expansion that gave the country new territory and monuments that were erected with pride, to great wars and devastating terrorist events, the history of the U.S. is filled with both good and bad events, yet each and every one still impacts those of us who live here today.
These events were those that brought the nation together, and in some cases, ripped people apart. They created buzz across the land when they occurred, and when the technology was great enough, had families, and in some cases entire towns, gathered around their television sets and radios.
Though some of these events happened decades before we were born, that doesn’t mean that they cannot still impact us today, and the United States that we live in now, was shaped by these events. In other words, without the tragedy, wars, leadership and patriotism, the United States that we know today would have failed to exist. So, what are the top 10 most important events in U.S. history so far? Read on to find out:
10. The Founding of Jamestown
Though most people attribute the Pilgrims as the first people to start a colony in the United States, this isn’t true. There were actually a number of colonies that were founded before the Pilgrims ever arrived to Plymouth Rock, including the colony of Jamestown, VA.
The colony of Jamestown is important because it is considered the first permanent English settlement in the New World, and it is tied with stories such as the tale of Pocahontas, which isn’t as nice as Disney would have you believe. Additionally, the colony of Jamestown was the first colony to bring Africans over, and the people treated them as indentured servants, not yet slaves. The language, custom, government and beliefs of these founders are quite similar to those we have today.
The colony was chartered in 1606, a full 13 years before the Pilgrims came over, and it was named for King James I from England. John Smith was the governor of the colony in 1608, and he established a “no work, no food” policy, which started a string of issues in the colony. The following years were filled with starvation, fires, wars and the death of many of the settlers.
The first Africans, kidnapped from Angola, were brought to Jamestown in 1619, and these practices were what would eventually lead to the rise of slavery. Though there were a number of bad things about Jamestown, there is still a residence in the colony today, and the practices and culture of the settlement spread throughout the rest of the 13 colonies, and ultimately serve as the bases of our modern practices and culture.
9. The American Revolution
If you look ahead about 170 years from the founding of Jamestown, you will see the beginnings of the American Revolution. This is the point where the US ceased simply being a colony of Britain, and instead became the United States of America.
Technically, the American Revolutions lasted from April 1776 to October of 1781, but we celebrate our nations birthday on July 4th, as this is the date in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was ratified and shared throughout the colonies, which were now going to be states.
Of course, Great Britain wasn’t going to just take this lying down, as they had a lot of income which was coming in from these colonies, and now, these men were seen as traitors to the crown. If it wasn’t for the leadership of General George Washington and a great deal of help from the French, the Declaration of Independence probably wouldn’t have meant a lot.
Fortunately, in the five years of war with Great Britain following the signing of the document, the American and French forces were able to slowly, but surely beat down the Red Coats. It wasn’t easy, however, and General Washington actually lost six major battles to the British, and all seemed to be lost. However, he was able to lead his troops to victory against his main antagonist, Charles Lord Cornwallis, who eventually surrendered after losing to Washington and the French military leader, Gilbert du Motier, who was the Marquis de Lafayette, in the Battle of Yorktown.
8. The Louisiana Purchase
Though the land that we know of today as part of the United States was always there, it didn’t always belong to the United States. Up until the early 1800s, the United States only consisted of the 13 original colonies, which were now states, as well as Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. In addition, there was a large tract of land known as the Indiana Territory, which covered some of the areas of modern day Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. There was also a small area of land known as the Mississippi Territory. The rest of the land that we know of as the United States was owned by either Spain or France.
France owned the Louisiana Territory, which was approximately 828,800 square miles of land that covered more than 15 modern states including Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Missouri, to name a few. France has a lot of debt to the U.S. at the time, so Thomas Jefferson, who was the President at the time, made a deal with France to buy the land. He spent only about $15 million on the purchase, and canceled France’s debt. In the process, when making the Louisiana Purchase, he doubled the land area of the United States.
It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte, who was the leader of France at the time, only agreed to the sale of the land to stick it to England, who was a huge rival of the French. Napoleon was counting on the US conquering the British on the water, and this was his way of picking sides.
7. The Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln
In 1865, the United States was reeling. Stuck in a massive Civil War between the north and south, long gone were the days of the Revolution when all citizens were united in a common goal. President Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, and the Civil War began just a few months later, so for much of his term, he was a war-time President…the only one to ever lead the country while war was occurring on American soil.
The four years of the Civil War were some of the worst in the history of the country of all time, but President Lincoln was able to bring it all together, and the south eventually conceded to the north. Though the war was as good as over at this time, there were a number of people who were angry with the outcome, including an actor from Maryland named John Wilkes Booth.
Booth and his cronies because upset with how Lincoln was handling the war, and hatched a plan to kidnap him, and then take him to the Confederate capital, which was in Richmond. However, Lincoln failed to appear, and two weeks later, Richmond fell to the Union. This angered Booth even more, and desperate to save the Confederacy and throw the government into array, Booth planned on killing Lincoln, his Vice President Andrew Johnson, and the Secretary of State, William H. Seward. He succeeded in shooting Lincoln on April 14, 1865 during a performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. This was a turning point in American history, and one that we still deal with, in some sense, today, due to the racial segregation that is still present in our culture.
6. World War II
If there is one event in the history of the world that affected each and every person in the country, and for much of the world, for that matter, it was the second World War. This was a war that had nothing good come out of it, short of the suicide of Adolph Hitler, and though the war did not occur on the continental United States, the U.S. was not forced to enter into the war until the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Once the U.S. entered the war, nothing would ever be the same again, for good or for bad. Approximately 60 million people were killed worldwide, and almost 500,000 Americans were killed during the war. At home in the United States, approximately 16 million troops were sent to fight, which affected almost each and every family in the country. Though the US only fought for about four years, those four years were a game changer for the country, and the impact of the war is still felt today.
When the troops returned to the U.S. following the war, life was very different. The U.S. economy was actually stimulated by the war, since there was no destruction in the country, and the United States was boosted up to dominate the world economy. Additionally, the U.S. was seen as a major military power in the world, and the country’s position as a world leader was now set.
5. Apollo 11 and the Moon Landing
In May of 1961, President Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation: get a man on the mon before the end of the 1960s, and most importantly, get to the moon before the Soviets. On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 met the challenge and launched from Kennedy Space Center.
It took a couple of days to get to the moon, and on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps upon the surface. Landing on the moon was a big deal, of course, but there was another aspect of the moon landing that had a huge impact on the culture of the United States; the live broadcast on television.
At this point in history, television was quite popular, and this was the first time since televisions became mainstream that an event like this occurred. More than 600 million people watched the moon landing live from across the globe, and the United States was deemed the winner of the “Space Race.”
From the first challenge to the final steps on the surface of the moon, the American public remained captivated by the developments of both the U.S. and Soviet space programs, and the “Space Race” was covered heavily on television. The astronauts were seen as American heroes, and the Soviets were seen as villains, which ultimately continued to fuel the Cold War.
4. The Vietnam War
Even today, the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War is controversial, and it was no less controversial in the 1960s when the height of the war occurred. The U.S. entered the war to stop the spread of Communism from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, but looking back on it now, it was really due to some really bad political decisions world wide, not just in the U.S. President Kennedy was against the war in Vietnam, and was further against any U.S. involvement in the conflicts of Southeast Asia. After his death, however, President Johnson pushed for the troops to move, due to various motives, including oil.
The problem, however, is that no one wanted to go to war. There was no great villain, as there was in World War 2, and the U.S. was weary of war, as most of the previous 60 years was spent in war. On U.S. soil, protests and peace rallies began popping up, and tens of thousands of Americans began marching against the war in Vietnam. Many of these protests were held right in Washington D.C., and finally, the government listened to what the people wanted. The outcome, however, was a loss for the U.S., and the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans for no reason.
Even today, the impact of the Vietnam War is still felt, and it is hard to go through a week without seeing a serviceperson who served during the war, and proudly showing their involvement.
3. The Dropping of the Atomic Bomb
The U.S. became the first, and only, nation in the world to use an atomic bomb during wartime, and there were actually two bombs. One of these, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan, fell on August 6, 1945 and immediately wiped out more than 90 percent of the city and killed approximately 80,000 people. Tens of thousands more died in the weeks and months following the bomb drop due to radiation poisoning. Three days later, the U.S. dropped another bomb in the city of Nagasaki, which killed an additional 40,000. Within days, Japan withdrew from the war and surrendered.
The effects of this were two-fold. First, the dropping of the atomic bomb ended World War 2, a conflict that had lasted for more than six years. The other effect, however, was the start of the Cold War. In fact, scholars believe that in addition to bringing the war to an end, the decision to drop the bomb was to show the Soviet Union that the U.S. meant business. After all, relations between the two powers were greatly deteriorated, and there was a lot of suspicion between the nations. Russian troops were occupying most of the eastern half of Europe, and President Truman and his advisors saw the fact that the U.S. has the only atomic bomb in the world as a good leveraging tool with the Soviets. However, the Soviets began building their own nuclear program in the years following, so the Cold War continued on.
2. The Great Depression
Though the Great Depression affected much of the world for about a decade, it had its start in the United States when the stock market catastrophically collapsed in October, 1929.
This collapse caused a huge economic downturn over the next couple of years, and by 1932, stock prices were only about 20 percent, on average, of what their value had been in 1929. This economic crisis impacted every family and every business, especially the banking and financial industry, and by 1933, almost half of all banks in the U.S. had failed. With the failure of so many banks, along with the loss of economic confidence, the country plummeted into a financial depression. At this time, unemployment grew to 25 to 30 percent, and manufacturing output fell by about 54 percent.
Though the Great Depression started in the U.S., it quickly turned into a slump that the entire world would experience. Following the war, the U.S. was in excellent economic shape, and had extended credit to a number of European countries. However, since the U.S. was experiencing economic turmoil, this had an impact on Europe, too. In Germany, for instance, the unemployment rate rose to 25 percent and in Britain, unemployment was about 20 percent, nationwide, but in some areas, rose to 70 percent.
The Great Depression finally ended with the official end of the war and the introduction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program.
1. September 11
September 11, 2001 changed the country forever, and many are still horrified by their memories of this fateful day, and how it played out in front of our eyes on our television screens. The morning started out like any other for most people, but 19 terrorist hijackers set out to change this. These hijackers boarded four planes, two of which eventually hit the World Trade Center complex. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth, which was heading towards the U.S. Capital building, crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers of the plane fought the hijackers.
Almost 3,000 people were killed within hours, and 2,606 of them were civilians who were simply going on with their daily routine. Al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist group, took responsibility for the attacks, and the United States immediately began investigating the situation. The search was worldwide, and focused on finding their leader, Osama bin Laden. The U.S. and many countries worldwide changed the way people travel, and strict airline rules are now in place to prevent this type of tragedy from ever occurring again.
In 2011, almost a decade after the attacks, Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces. Though the man behind the attacks is no longer, the war against terrorism continues.
Though the U.S. is only 240 years old, which is relatively young compared to other nations of the world, the country has seen both turmoil and tranquility, as well as everything in between. From the wars and conflicts with other nations of the world, to the excitement and pride cheering for the nation, these events have not only shaped the country itself, it has shaped the people who live here. Even if the event happened decades ago, there is still a noticeable impact on the country as it is today.
Trying to narrow down just 10 of the most important events in the history of the United States is difficult, but the above events had a great impact on the country we live in today. Through both good and bad, these events prove that the United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world, and one that continues to be a world leader due to the impact these events have had worldwide.
As time continues to march on, we hope that there are very few, if any, new events that will be added to the list, unless, of course, they are events that raise the country up and improve the livelihood of her citizens. With one of the most exciting elections of modern times upon us, there are sure to be some exciting events coming in the future, especially if a certain candidate gets his way. Let’s hope that any event associated with this candidate or election doesn’t end up on the next list.