Historic Documents & Speeches
That Shaped Our Nation
Throughout American History, key moments in the form of documents and speeches influenced the course of our nation.
The Mayfolower Compact
1620 - Established as a Covenant relationship among the Pilgrims who established their colony in Massachusetts. It was signed before anyone was allowed to go ashore. It formed a body politic intended to self-govern.
The Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges
1701 - Established the first democratically elected legislature in North America and solidified a colony built upon the ideals of freedom of religion.
The Declaration of Independence
1776 - Established the separation of the United States from the Crown of Great Britain and listed the grievances whereby they justified this departure. In essence a declaration of war.
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
1775 - Patrick Henry gave his famous speech issuing a persuasive appeal to arms asking Americans to claim their liberty from the King.
1787 - The Constitution passed Congress in 1787 but awaited ratification by the states until 1789. This document established the framework of the government of the United States centralizing power to solve for inadequacies encountered under the Articles of Confederation.
The Federalist Papers
1788 - These were a series of newspaper articles/essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to persuade the American people to vote for the ratification of the Constitution.
The Original Ten Amendments
1789 - Established the natural rights of American citizens that they already were guaranteed by Natural Law but were passed to protect the people from the encroachment of government.
The Louisiana Purchase
1803 - For about 4 cents per acre the United States doubled in size and set the stage for Westward Expansion.
The Star-Spangled Banner
1814 - Written during Mr. Madison's War or the War of 1812 by Francis Scott Key. It would later become our National Anthem.
The Missouri Compromise
1820 - Tried to preserve the balance of power between slave and free states by admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Later repealed and declared unconstitutional by the Dred-Scott Decision in 1857.
The Monroe Doctrine
1823 - The U.S. enters a period of isolationism under the administration of President James Monroe.
Letter from the Alamo "Victory or Death"
1836 - Travis Tritt's letter to the people of Texas and Americans, a plea for aid in a battle whose only outcome could be Victory or Death.
"7th of March" Speech
1850 - Webster's speech was given in favor of the "1850 Compromise" begging for the preservation of the union and admitting the continuation of slavery where it already existed. Everyone but his base applauded him for moral courage, at home they believed he'd been bought out by Southern plantation holders. He was soon forced to resign.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act
1854 - argued for popular sovereignty of states, deciding that the territories west of the Missouri River would be slave or free depending on the choice of its settlers. A land rush ensued by proponents on both sides leading to violence.
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
1863 - Lincoln's famous eulogy on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."
The Emancipation Proclamation
1863 - the abolition of slavery in the Confederate-controlled states.
The 13th Amendment, The Abolition of Slavery
1865 - the abolishment of slavery throughout the United States.
The Wyoming Constitution
1890 - the Constitution of the State of Wyoming is ratified granting women the right to vote in Wyoming thirty years before the rest of the nation.
The Pledge of Allegiance
1892 - the original pledge was written by Socialist Francis Bellamy and was intended to be used by any nation that considered itself a Republic. The words were changed in 1923 and 1954 respectively until we have the 31-word pledge we know today. There have been continuous debates about removing the words "under God" which were not added until the most recent update in 1954.
You may also commonly hear the words, "born and unborn" added to the end of the pledge at Republican gatherings.
The Zimmerman Telegram
1917 - a secret diplomatic communication between Germany and Mexico asking for an alliance between the two if the United States were to enter WWI. The telegram was intercepted by the British and given to the U.S. Soon after the U.S. joined the war.
The American's Creed
1918 - written by William Tyler Page in 1917 this Creed passed the United States House of Representatives in 1918.
The 19th Amendment, Women's Right to Vote
1920 - Women's Suffrage is at last granted in the United States of America.
The Social Security Act
1935 - General Welfare program signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was meant to provide financial aid to elderly, unemployed, and disadvantaged Americans based upon lifetime tax contributions for retirees.
"Day That Will Live in Infamy" Speech
1941 - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt responds to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. enters World War II.
The Economic Bill of Rights
1944 - President F.D.R.'s political challenge to Congress regarding the rights of workers. This address is sometimes referred to as the Second Bill of Rights.
Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Decision
1955 - this ruling decreed that the segregation of children in schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional.
J.F.K.'s Inaugural Address
1961 - "Ask not what your country can do for you..." Called an increasingly fractured nation to band together in public service, solving problems for the community rather than expecting the government to do so.
Letter From a Birmingham Jail
1963 - Martin Luther King Jr. writes from incarceration in Birmingham to the eight Alabama clergy who opposed the demonstrations he and his supporters were encouraging. In this letter, he lays out his philosophy of protest.
The Voting Rights Act
1965 - Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it prohibited the discriminatory practices put in place by many Southern states post-Civil War to hinder African Americans from using their 15th Amendment Right to Vote.