Events that formed the American nation
What follows in this section of the essay are ten events that influenced the formation of the United States of America as a nation and a people.
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The Union wins the Civil War (1865)
This event gave birth to the racial conflict that still simmers in the United States today. In Lincoln’s words, “one-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war” (Lincoln 98). The economic divisions between blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans, and progressives and conservatives in the United States all began with this event.
Wounded Knee Massacre (1890)
In 1890 the US Cavalry and members of the Lakota tribe entered into a skirmish near the Wounded Knee River in South Dakota. The massacre affected mostly women and small children – a few Indian warriors were involved; however, most of their rifles had been confiscated. The civilians were unarmed at the time. The Wounded Knee Massacre ostensibly marked the end of the Indian Wars, with Native Americans finally losing all claims to the United States; this event gave European settlers free reign over the land.
World War I (1917)
The United States declared war on Germany only one year before the war ended. However, this event remains significant because it marks the beginning of the United States as a military superpower.
Congress ratified the prohibition law one year after the end of the First World War. The law prohibited the sale of alcohol in the United States. This event marked one of the first and the largest examples of the conservative religious movement’s involvement in American politics and the
mixing of church and state that continues today.
Stock Market Crash (1929)
Black Thursday – the day the Wall Street stock market crashed – launched the 12 agonizing years of the Great Depression, which caused massive unemployment, loss of homes, and terrible suffering for millions of Americans.
New Deal (1933)
FDR launched the New Deal in response to the Great Depression. This event is significant because it demonstrated a period of American history where the government took on a caring role toward its people.
Pearl Harbor (1941)
Two years after Hitler invaded Poland and launched the Second World War, Hitler’s allies Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing over 2000 American soldiers and destroying several ships. The United States declared war on Japan one day after the attack. This event was both negative and positive. Mobilizing for the war helped the United States fully recover from the devastating economic effects of the Depression; however, it also sowed the seeds for the nuclear attack on Japan four years later.
Hiroshima & Nagasaki (1945)
The United States dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki – effectively ending the conflict with Japan. This event might be construed as positive since it ended the war; however, hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were killed and much more horribly maimed. This event is significant because it launched the United States into the Cold War.
The legislated desegregation that began in the 1950s marked the government’s attempts to heal the wounds of the Civil War and Jim Crow Laws. This event is significant because segregation is an ongoing issue in the United States: though not overtly stated or condoned, whites and blacks still live largely separate lives in the United States – the same is true of Latinos.
Kennedy Assassinated (1963)
John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas in 1963. The significance of this event was that it launched the conspiracy theories involving the CIA and the government that continue to swirl today.
The atomic bomb as a transforming invention in US history
This section of the essay highlights an invention that transformed the fabric of life in the United States of America, the atomic bomb.
In the 1940s, the Manhattan Project developed the technology to “set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated” (Einstein 180).
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The result of this research, the atomic bomb possessed “more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam,” which [was] the largest bomb ever used…in the history of warfare” (Truman n.p.). The atomic bomb, which Truman described as a “harnessing of the basic power of the universe,” wiped out two cities in Japan – Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and ended the Second World War (Truman n.p.). This technology also ostensibly launched the Cold War.
The atomic bomb changed the fabric of life in the United States forever; once it became clear from the effects demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the extent of the damage that one invention could do was unprecedented – once it became clear that the bomb could obliterate the human race, fear became the norm.
In the 1950s, especially, this fear reached its zenith. People stockpiled food, built bomb shelters, and lived with the knowledge that they could be vaporized at any time in a blinding white light. Schools taught students – primary students no less – how to hide under their desks if the bomb hit. The level of paranoia that this invention created did not dissipate until the 1980s.
Before the invention of the bomb, the American people’s sense of Armageddon remained largely biblical and religiously themed. After the creation of the atomic bomb, however, Armageddon became just another technological possibility, a reality that other humans in Japan has already experienced, as opposed to a story. The atomic bomb became fodder for dinner conversation between families and something to actually prepare for and worry about. The effect on national psychology, therefore, was to desensitize and acclimatize the American people to an unprecedented level of violence that slowly became part of everyday life.
The atomic bomb also created a level of comfort with destruction and an almost laissez-faire attitude toward self-annihilation; this is the most significant effect of the aftermath of the atomic bomb’s first deployment in Japan.
Franklin Roosevelt’s role in the formation of the US
The final section of the essay explains the importance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the formation of the United States.
Roosevelt led the United States using a balance of power of warmth – he was an approachable president, as evidenced by the letter he received from Mrs. Henry Weddington asking him to give her husband a job. “We are citizens just as much or more than the majority of this country…. We are just as intelligent as they. This is supposed to be a free country regardless of color, creed or race but still we are slaves…. Won’t you help us? I’m sure you can. I admire you and have very much confidence in you. I believe you are a real Christian and non-prejudiced. I have never doubted that you would be elected again. I believe you can and must do something about the labor conditions of the Negro” (Weddington 161).
Elected during the worst economic crisis to hit in American History, the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration were faced with the daunting task of getting America back on its feet three years after the stock market crashed. In Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, he described the situation thus: “values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone” (Roosevelt 150).
In Roosevelt’s mind, there was no doubt that the country was undeniably up to the task, and he reminded his audience that “in such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things,” and assured them that he would “ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe” (Roosevelt 150).
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration created the New Deal, Social Security, and governed with a progressive view. His leadership created opportunities for stricken workers to regain their income and self-direction. His importance to the development of the United States was that he demonstrated a magnanimous approach and viewed the role of President as one that took care of the people of the United States.
Einstein, Albert. “Letter to President Roosevelt.” America Through the Eyes of Its People: Primary Sources in America History. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 180. Print.
Lincoln, Abraham. “Second Inaugural Address.” America Through the Eyes of Its People: Primary Sources in America History. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 98-99. Print.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. “First Inaugural Address.” America Through the Eyes of Its People: Primary Sources in America History. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 150-155. Print.
Truman, Harry S. “Statement by the President of the United States.” Harry S.Truman Library and Museum.com. Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, n.p. Web.
Weddington, Henry Mrs. “Letter to President Roosevelt.” America Through the Eyes of Its People: Primary Sources in America History. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 161. Print.