14 dates to know in the history of the United States

In the competitions, the English orals require an excellent knowledge of the civilization of English-speaking countries. Thus, students are often invited to follow the news closely to understand the major issues at stake. However, we must not neglect the historical dimension in the preparation for orals.

So, in order not to flinch when faced with a pointed question, discover in this article the fourteen major dates to know in the history of the United States.

#1. 1620: the arrival of the Mayflower

The arrival of the Mayflower on American shores is one of the founding events of American history. At the end of the year 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth for America. On board, a hundred passengers, including thirty-five English Protestants, very pious, driven out of their country by the persecutions of King James I. Led by William Bradford, these “pilgrim fathers” have the feeling of reliving the biblical Exodus. After a long journey of more than two months, the boat landed near the present city of Boston on November 26, 1620.

But faced with a particularly harsh winter, nearly half of the inhabitants of the new community died within a few months. The settlers, however, maintained good relations with the Amerindians, who helped them on the plantations. During the first harvests, in the fall of 1621, three days of thanksgiving were decreed.

After the pioneers of the Mayflower, about 13,000 Puritans then settled in New England, mainly in Massachusetts, between 1630 and 1640. For many, the arrival of the Mayflower sign in some way the birth certificate of a new America .

#2. 1776: the independent United States

From the year 1763, relations between England and its American colonies continued to deteriorate. The substance of the disagreement is fiscal. With the Sugar Act (1764) then the Tea Act (1773), the British sought to fill their coffers emptied by the Seven Years’ War. Faced with this, the colonies rebelled, first with symbolic acts (notably during the famous Boston Tea Party ), until leading to open war in April 1775.

On July 4, 1776 , the representatives of the thirteen colonies voted the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. George Washington then takes the head of an army of seasonal militiamen. Supported by Lafayette’s troops, the separatists won. The Treaty of Paris recognized the independence of the United States in 1783 .

#3. 1789-1791: the pillars of the American Constitution

After independence, the political structure of the country changed considerably. In 1789, G. Washington officially becomes the first president in the history of the United States. As early as 1787, the main figures of the federalist movement, such as J. Maddison or A. Hamilton, launched the Philadelphia convention. This resulted in the creation of the United States Constitution. The first ten amendments to it, the Bill of Rights , came into force on December 15, 1791 .

It establishes the main principles that still govern American legislation today. The first amendment celebrates freedom of speech, the second the right to bear arms, the seventh the right to trial by jury, the eighth the ban on cruel punishment (which incidentally raises the question of the legitimacy of the death penalty)… In other words, the foundations of the entire political and legal history of the country are found in this text.

#4. 1823: The Monroe Doctrine

The first years after independence were marked mainly by internal problems. But little by little, the country manages to find a political balance and begins to position itself internationally. In the 1820s, Republican President J. Monroe defined the contours of the international policy of the United States.

In a speech delivered to Congress in December 1823, Monroe addressed himself in particular to Europeans, to whom he forbade any intervention in American affairs. He asserts: “For Europeans the Old Continent, for Americans the New World. In other words, Monroe made the entire American continent the preserve of the United States and refused interference with Europe. He thus paved the way for a major expansionist policy, confirmed by the Roosevelt corollary in 1904.

#5. 1848-1855: the gold rush

In January 1848, a worker named James Marshall found a lump of gold in California soil. Gradually, the news spread to the United States and then to Europe. From 1849, gold diggers flocked to California from all over. In 1852, California’s population increased more than tenfold, to 250,000 people. The whole world, from Asia to Europe, participated in this veritable gold rush. In 1849, California thus produced up to ten million dollars in gold. In four years, almost all the gold nestled on the surface and in the rivers is monopolized.

The gold rush is an important episode in the settlement of American territory. However, massive immigration is seriously disrupting the economic and social system in place. In the space of five years, the Indian population in California fell from more than 150,000 inhabitants to less than 30,000. Most of the victims died of starvation or disease, the others were murdered by minors.

#6. 1865: the end of slavery

In the middle of the 19th century, the precarious balance on which American federalism rested exploded. Everything seems to oppose the States of the North to those of the South. Where the North is more modern and industrial, the South remains marked by the strength of religion and the slavery that still reigns there. In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln pushed South Carolina to secede. This is the beginning of the famous Civil War , which does not really begin until 1861, and which will last until 1865.

In this complex conflict, the abolition of slavery is a major issue. In the middle of the war, President Abraham Lincoln decided to emancipate the slaves on January 1, 1863. However, abolition was not initially general. For Lincoln, it is first of all a measure of war, by which the president threatened the owners of the secessionist States, if they did not put an end to the secession within a hundred days, to free their slaves.

However, it is the North that ends up winning. The XIIIth amendment of the Constitution is then voted in January 1865. It thus affirms that “ neither slavery nor involuntary servitude will exist in the United States nor in any of the places subjected to their jurisdiction ”. Despite the assassination of Lincoln, the text was promulgated on December 18, 1865.

#7. 1898: victory against Spain

From the beginning of the 19th century, the map of the United States began to look like the one we know today. More and more territories are indeed falling into American control. This is the case of Louisiana, bought from France in 1812, or Alaska, a territory bought from Russia in 1867.

In this phase of expansion, the United States then meets the road to the crown of Spain. In 1898, economic tensions are added and lead to an armed conflict. This conflict will cause more than 20,000 deaths (diseases excluded) and will end in an American victory. This is the first major conflict between the United States and a European power since independence. With their victory, the United States thus recovers control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and the island of Guam. 

The American territory will then continue to form, with the conquest of New Mexico, then with the integration of the island of Hawaii into the Union in 1959.

#8. 1929: the time of crises

Crises accumulate from the 1910s. The United States is, compared to Europe, little affected by the First World War . If their help proved invaluable for France and the United Kingdom, they are indeed, more than their allies, the great winners of a conflict in which they returned only late (April 6, 1917). Indeed, the First World War accelerated the overthrow of the economic hierarchy by forcing Germany and the United Kingdom to rebuild themselves.

But the euphoria is short-lived. Only eleven years after their triumph, in 1929 the United States faced the worst economic crisis in their history. Excessive stock market speculation upsets financial balances and leads to the famous Black Thursday. On October 24, tens of millions of titles go on sale . This massive sale causes the collapse of stock market prices, of the order of 30 to 40% during the last quarter, then the bankruptcy of the banks and the ruin of thousands of savers. The country had four million additional unemployed each year between 1929 and 1931. This was the worst economic crisis in American history, which left a lasting mark on people’s minds.

#9. 1941: the return of the war

The crisis is spreading in Europe and favors, among other factors, the rise of Nazism. In the Pacific, authoritarianism is also growing on the Japanese side. On December 7, the Japanese, allies of Germany, lead a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States then made the choice to return to war alongside the allies.

The United States responded with force to the attack suffered in 1941. The bombings of Tokyo, then the dropping of two atomic bombs in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, caused a total of more than 250,000 deaths . Their technological superiority assures victory after a four-year long struggle. The United States then structured the post-war world around major institutions, such as the United Nations founded in San Francisco.

Here too, however, the euphoria was short-lived as the Cold War quickly came to dictate the international agenda.

#10. 1960-1965: the civil rights movement

The 1960s marked the beginning of a difficult period for the United States. The death of President Kennedy in 1963 is the most manifest symbol of this. In full cultural change and in the midst of the Cold War, American society is changing. Among the main developments is the new awareness of the injustices suffered by people of color. The civil rights movement is structured around great figures ( Mr. Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcom X ), who carry the voice of black populations. Among the currents of this movement, some are becoming more radical, such as the Black Panther Party .

Faced with riots and boycotts, the American authorities reacted. The Johnson administration passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, then in 1965 the Voting Rights Act , which restored equal rights between individuals, regardless of their color.

#11. 1973: Ceasefire in Vietnam

The conflict in Vietnam is still perceived today with great bitterness by American citizens. At the end of the 1950s, the communist threat grew in the Indochinese peninsula and pushed the United States to intervene. But it is a very specific type of conflict that awaits American soldiers, an asymmetrical conflict against the Viet Cong guerrillas. 

The conflict thus quickly becomes a financial and human abyss. The direct cost of the war is estimated at nearly 150 billion dollars, its indirect costs up to 900 billion. But it is above all the human cost that revolts civil society: nearly 60,000 American soldiers , most of them quite young, perish in the conflict.

It is also the American image that is tarnished in this war. In 1972, the image of a little girl fleeing her village set on fire by a napalm drop hit the headlines. The United States is losing the support of its allies and its population. Nixon then advocates during his re-election the “Vietnamization” of the conflict. In 1973, the United States withdrew as the region sank into communism.

#12. 1980: the conservative revolution

With the Watergate affair which cost Nixon his place as president, then the presidencies deemed soft by G. Ford and J. Carter, the United States demanded change. In 1980, the change is called Ronald Reagan . This former actor, excellent communicator, revives the conservative passions of the United States. With an ultraliberal program and traditionalist social positions, Reagan strongly seduced the Republican electorate, which thus carried him to the presidency. Rough in his relations with the USSR, Reagan won almost unanimous support when he was re-elected in 1984, where he won 49 of the 50 states, against W. Mondale .

Its tax reduction program ensures sustained growth for eight years. But this growth is made at the cost of gigantic inequalities, which Reagan will have greatly dug. Still, those years remain etched in the hearts of many Americans. The Reagan years are indeed more broadly a period of renewal for the country. Militarily, culturally and sportingly, the United States shines again.

#13. 2001: the tragedy of the Nine Eleven

With its victory in the Cold War, the United States becomes the leader of an increasingly unipolar world . They thus intervene in the Gulf (1991), in Somalia (1992) or even in Bosnia (1995). But these repeated interventions, in particular those in the Middle East, stir up the anger of the Islamists. Seen as the symbol of an imperialist and debauched West, the United States becomes a target of choice.

On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Another plane crashes into the Pentagon while a fourth, aiming for the White House, does not reach its target. In total, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in this tragedy. These attacks deeply upset Americans. The United States retaliates with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, then succeeds in killing Bin Laden, the alleged organizer of the attacks.

#14. 2008: President Obama

B. Obama’s election is probably the most important in recent US history . After the two mandates of GW Bush, Obama embodies alternation. Young and disruptive, Obama is the promise of a reconciled America. He advocates a relative disengagement of the United States combined with a more multilateral approach. As such, his victory is experienced as a major change by many Americans.

If Obama maintains a positive image with Democratic voters, hence his re-election in 2012 , he will not however succeed in easing racial tensions. Faced with the 2008 crisis, its economic results will also remain mixed. Where his election in 2008 had been experienced as an immense hope for many black Democrats, the election of D. Trump in 2016 was the sign of a certain disillusion.

You are now up to date on the major dates in the history of the United States! If you want to find our other resources to shine in English, do not hesitate to consult this article!