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Kevin Airrington is a professional genealogist & historian with 15+ years experience. Specializing in adoptions - It's Who I Am!™
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Genealogy Tip of the Day!
A Land Patent is Just the Beginning

If your US ancestor obtained a federal land patent‚ remember that there is documentation of how and why he obtained that patent–probably at the National Archives. If your ancestor purchased the land on some type of cash or credit sale‚ the file probably won’t contain a great deal of information. But if he obtained it […]

Historic Documents

The Founding documents are the true primary sources of America.

These important documents which include the Declaration of Independence the Constitution the Bill of Rights and others written between 1764 and 1791 showcase the philosophical traditional and political foundations on which our nation was built and which continue to shape our free society.

Although reading about the Founding documents (in textbooks journal articles or other secondary sources) is important reading the Founding documents themselves is the best way to understand the purpose of our national government the liberties we enjoy and how those liberties continue to affect and shape our free society.

Thomas Paines Common Sense first published in January 1776 didnt make the National Archives list ten years ago but it was named by HNN readers as one of the the most important documents in U.S. history ̵; one reader wrote that Common Sense which laid out the case for American independence from Great Britain was important for its immediate impact. More important because of the consequences of its impact.
The Federalist Papers (#20 on the Peoples Vote list) a series of essays written between 1784 and 1788 argued for the necessity of a stronger federal government. Countless political scientists wrote a reader have dedicated their careers to understanding these documents and judges still use them as a guide to understanding the language and meaning of the Constitution. Beyond that they also persuaded a great many anti-Federalists to support ratification of the Constitution.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (#38 on the Peoples Vote list) created the Northwest Territory the first organized territory of the United States and provided the precedent for future western expansion (and ended once and for all the competition between the original states over land claims). To quote a reader it determined how the land sold through the Land Ordinance [of 1785] would be governed and allowed into the United States as new states
The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments (which did not appear on the Peoples Vote list) was the product of the first womens rights convention which met at Seneca Falls New York in 1848. Primarily written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and structurally based on the Declaration of Independence the Declaration as one reader wrote led slowly but surely to dramatic changes in gender relations in the United States.
What more can be said about the Emancipation Proclamation issued January 1 186? The document written by Abraham Lincoln and #5 on the Peoples Vote list proclaimed all slaves in Confederate-held areas perpetually free and fundamentally altered the nature of the Civil War by making the abolition of slavery a primary Union war aim. The document as it only applied to areas not under federal control has been criticized for being a stop-gap or temporary measure but recently ̵; especially given the 150th anniversary of the Proclamation ̵; it has enjoyed a renewed reputation as one of the most radical documents in American history.
The Gettysburg Address (#8 on the Peoples Vote list) is perhaps the most famous speech in American history. Given by President Lincoln at the dedication of the Gettysburg national cemetery on November 19 186 the speech initially met with a mixed reception (the anti-Lincoln Chicago Times wrote The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States) but it has since become universally acclaimed as distilling the essence of the Civil War into a handful of sentences.
Unlike the Gettysburg Address the Fourteenth Amendment (1868; #1 on the Peoples Vote list) is no statement of eloquence but it is an important statement of American principles and a critical extension of American jurisprudence. The Citizenship Clause guaranteed the citizenship of newly-emancipated slaves the Due Process Clause ̵; for the first time ̵; applied the protections of the Bill of Rights to the states (prior to the 14th Amendment the restrictions on government outlined by the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government) and the Equal Protection Clause extended equal protection of the law to all citizens. Of course not all of the provisions of the 14th Amendment were applied equally at all times ̵; Jim Crow anyone? ̵; but the Amendment still provides the legal framework of civil rights down to the present day.
Woodrow Wilsons Fourteen Points (#48 on the Peoples Vote list) with its unabashed espousal of liberal internationalism has been a guiding principle in American foreign policy ̵; for good or ill ̵; ever since they were listed by Wilson in 1918. One reader wrote Once the Iraq War’s popularity with the public began to wane a lot of historians began comparing George W. Bush and his foreign policy to Wilson’s but one could draw the same parallel with every President since FDR.
When George Marshall gave the commencement address for Harvard University on June 5 1947 he outlined a policy (which had been in the planning stages for months) that would rebuilt war-torn Europe. The Marshall Plan speech set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the greatest foreign aid program in history wrote a reader and for that alone it merits nomination but as another reader wrote the result of that program would be to usher in one of the greatest periods of prosperity in modern history.
Martin Luther King Jr.s 196 I Have a Dream speech ranked by scholars as the greatest speech of the twentieth century (and which appeared in an oblique way in the Peoples Vote list ̵; #76 as the Official Program for the March on Washington) remains iconic to this very day (and in fact was referenced by President Barack Obama in his second inaugural address given on the opposite end of the National Mall. The most famous part of the speech where King describes his dream was largely improvised on the spot.
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