America is a young country. When European settlers first began arriving in the early 17th century, they called this place “Virginia.” It wasn’t until after the American Revolutionary War that Americans began referring to their new country as the United States of America.
That means Americans are still learning about their nation’s history and where it came from. Many people don’t know that much about their country and its cultural roots, which can be a good thing. If you only know a little bit about your own country, reading this list of essential historical events should serve as a crash course on what makes America exceptional and why freedom isn’t free.
1) The signing of the Declaration of Independence
For all the talk about how history repeats itself, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how far into the future people look when they make decisions and plan for the future. A lot has changed in America since the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, even though it feels like only yesterday.
While the Declaration of Independence marks one of the most important historical events of all time, it’s also one of the most well-known. Students are taught about it when they’re young and often have vague but fond images in their minds of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. But while the Declaration of Independence is a well-known historical event, it isn’t one that most Americans know a lot about. If you’re one of them, you should read on.
2) Abraham Lincoln becomes the 16th President of the United States
Before Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren — the 15th and 16th Presidents of the United States, respectively — even entered the White House, there was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be directly elected by the people, and he was the first president to be assassinated. Before Lincoln was elected, Presidents were chosen by members of the Electoral College, who were appointed by state legislatures.
Lincoln’s election in 1860 initiated the Civil War that separated the country and killed more than 600,000 people. After the war, Lincoln hired the first African-American federal employee, and he freed millions of slaves as part of the 13th Amendment. Lincoln also ended slavery in the District of Columbia by signing the Proclamation of Emancipation in 1863. He was assassinated in 1865.
3) World War I breaks out and soldiers begin training en masse
In the early 20th century, European nations had been making advancements in technology and industrialization. But when World War I broke out in 1914, the European powers were significantly weaker than their enemies.
The war, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, was an unprecedentedly deadly conflict. Millions of people died, and millions more were injured. The war left millions of people hungry and caused millions more to leave their homes and move to cities.
It was also an early example of modern propaganda, with both sides using propaganda to convince the public of their countries’ ideals. The war also helped pave the way for the emergence of the United States as a superpower.
4) Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the only U.S. President to be elected four times
You’ve heard a lot about how President Donald Trump is the first man to be elected to the White House four times in a row. But before that, there was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the only president in U.S. history to be elected four times — he was elected to four terms — and he was also the only president to be elected to multiple non-consecutive terms.
A few of Roosevelt’s accomplishments as president include creating Social Security and the alphabet soup of alphabet-soup agencies that now includes the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Reserve.
He also overcame great political odds to pass much of the New Deal legislation aimed at helping the middle class and unemployed people during the Great Depression. Roosevelt died just a few years into his fourth term, but he helped lay the groundwork for the next generation of American presidents.
5) The Great Depression takes hold and millions of Americans lose their jobs
The 1920s were a time of experimentation in America. Jazz music and dancing were popular and women were wearing pants and hats instead of dresses. The decade also saw the rise of the flapper, who was rebellious and a little bit wild. But the 20s also saw a lot of economic hardship, which came to be known as the Great Depression.
The stock market crash of 1929 marked the beginning of the Great Depression, and the United States went through a period of high unemployment and low wages. While the modern American economy is much different from the one Americans were experiencing back then, America’s history with the Great Depression is relevant to today’s economic problems.
The Great Depression was a painful event in American history that was taught at school. It also shows how quickly things can go wrong, which can be useful in planning for the future.
6) The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and WWII begins
There are plenty of things Americans would like to forget about WWII, including the fact that it started with an attack on the Pacific island of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise to the American military, which until then had thought the Japanese wouldn’t attack the U.S. until after invading Europe.
The attack forced the United States into a war with Japan and against the Axis powers, which also included Germany and Italy. The war lasted from 1941 until 1945, and it eventually brought the United States to the brink of defeat. It also created an image of Americans fighting for freedom that was used to boost morale during the Cold War years.
7) The Korean War ends and American troops pull out of South Korea
WWII was the first time the United States had been in a war with multiple countries, but the Korean War was the first time U.S. troops had to fight outside of their own country. The Korean War was a conflict between South Korea, a U.S. ally, and North Korea, which was supported by China and Russia.
Eventually, the war ended with an armistice, which is not the same thing as an official peace treaty that would formally end the war. The Korean War resulted in a lot of casualties and suffered a lot of damage to infrastructure, including a lot of destroyed or damaged buildings and bridges.
It also resulted in a lot of refugees, who were eventually resettled in American cities. American troops left South Korea and returned to the United States. The war marked the first time U.S. troops had been sent outside American borders.
8) John F Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas, ending a peaceful period in American history
Like so many other events on this list, John F Kennedy’s assassination isn’t something everyone knows about. And by most standards, it’s only a minor historical event. But it’s an important one because it’s the only example we have of someone successfully killing a sitting president.
And in a way, it’s better than killing a sitting president, because the man who killed Kennedy was later caught, tried, and executed. After Kennedy was elected president, he seemed like a peaceful and relatively normal president. But his assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, is a reminder that there’s a lot about American history that most people don’t know about.
9) The Great Recession officially ends and unemployment rises to 10 percent
Since the late 20th century, the United States has been through a lot of economic turmoil, but none of it comes close to the Great Recession of 2008. The Great Recession officially ended in 2009, when the Federal Reserve’s official unemployment rate was 8.9 percent.
Since then, the United States has experienced several economic problems, but none of them have been as painful as the one that ended the Great Recession. The Great Recession is a great example of what happens when capitalism pushes the working class too far. It also shows just how quickly things can go wrong. The worst thing about the Great Recession is that it shows how easily things can get worse, which is scary to think about.