Everyone should know these dates.
How much do you know about American history?
According to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, probably not a lot.
Most Americans don’t know when the Constitution was ratified or the countries the United States fought against in World War II. In an era where 1 in 3 Americans can pass the citizenship test, it’s more important than ever to remember who we are and how we got here.
At America 101, we picked out four pivotal dates from American history that have shaped American democracy. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand the history that makes us who we are.
March 4, 1789 – The Beginning of Constitutional America
Most Americans don’t know that the Constitution came to be 10 years after the colonies gained independence from King George III. For the first ten years of its existence, the United States governed under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation mandated a weak executive branch and placed power in the hands of state governments and local militias.
After uprisings like Shays’ Rebellion and a decade of ineffective governance, Americans decided enough was enough and the Constitution was born. The Constitution serves as the bedrock of our republic and gives Americans the power to govern themselves. The individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution separate the American political system from the rest of the world.
George Washington Reads Farewell Address to Congress – December 7, 1796
On December 7, 1796, George Washington took an extraordinary step to protect the young American republic. Washington did not win a decisive military victory or attempt a daring raid — he simply gave a speech known as “Washington’s Farewell Address.”
Written by Washington and edited by Alexander Hamilton, the farewell address cemented one of American democracy’s key achievements — the peaceful transfer of power. Washington, determined to set an example for future American statesman, stepped away from power and prestige in the name of democratic principles.
The peaceful transfer of power is a foundational principle for liberal democracies. Washington allowed American democracy to flourish and set an example for future presidents. Washington’s farewell address is an important part of the American political canon and a must read for Americans.
The Passing of the Civil Rights Act – July 2, 1964
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” However, it took a bloody civil war, the turmoil of Reconstruction, and the unparalleled bravery of civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for America to fulfill its promise in totality.
On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. The Civil Rights Act is the crowning achievement of the Civil Rights movement. The legislation ends segregation in public places and bans employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or nationality.
The Civil Rights Act guarantees Thomas Jefferson’s “certain unalienable Rights” to every American and cements America’s continued commitment to individual liberty and equality.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall – June 13, 1990
This isn’t technically American history, but it was a victory for American values. The fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the end of the Cold War — the intense geopolitical struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. The fall of the wall was a monumental moment in the 20th century — liberal democracy had finally won out against communism and fascism in a struggle that cost hundreds of millions of lives.
The collapse of the Soviet Union followed shortly thereafter, resulting in the spread of democracy through Eastern Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall set the stage for the spread of democratic values and signaled the defeat of communism and autocracy
These four events are crucial moments in American history that shaped our country and liberal democracy across the world. Every American should understand these four events, as well as countless others. Our history has made us who we are today and we would all be better off with a deeper understanding of where we came from.