Top Eight Decisions That Changed the United States

                                            

Why the “Top Eight?” Because there are too many “Top Ten” lists published on the web today.  If you can’t say what you have on your mind in eight then don’t even try to strain your wrists typing, I say. This is a fast paced, take no prisoners culture we live in.  My contribution is to save you some time by eliminating two places on the list.  With that stated, I know people have many decisions that need to made throughout the day.  Here are my most influential decisions that changed America’s destiny.

 1. The decision to sign the Declaration of Independence.

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The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are      created equal, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of      happiness.” These are just words until people back it up by putting  names to it. I consider this to be the most significant of decisions because it was made by a group of founding fathers that put the country on a course toward separation from England and the monarchy. Fifty six people signed the document including two future presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin at 70 years was the oldest to sign.  John Hancock was the most famous. Several other lesser-known signers had just as much to lose, if not more, by signing the document. Many authors have penned various reasons why this group signed the declaration. Some did it for freedom, others for business and financial incentives, and still others signed it because they were aware they were creating something that would last through the centuries  Signing the declaration achieved several purposes. The declaration moved the colonies in the direction towards independence.  And as a bonus, it agitated the British even more. If the declaration wasn’t signed, the colonies may have eventually won its freedom from England but it might have taken many more years and the results may not have been as generous.

 2. The decision to pass and sign the Civil Rights Act.  Most citizens are aware of, and some even remember, the 1964 civil right acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson.  President Johnson used some of his trademark Johnson charm to get it passed through the legislature. It continued what Congress started years earlier. Congress passed the original civil rights act in 1866 and it declares that, “all  persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all  laws…”  This was followed by the 14th Amendment in 1868 that stated, “”All persons born or naturalized in the US…are citizens…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.”  This led to the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920,  giving people the right to vote regardless of sex.

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President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provided more rights.  These, among others, are, “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion.  Prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation.”  The 1866 Civil Rights Act started  America down the righteous path toward true equality..

 3. The  decision to secede from the union. This is more of a collective decision by several powerful people. The Southern states’ decision to secede from the union produced a chain of events that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery, a stronger Federal Government, General William T. Sherman’s march through the south, and finally, the actual end of the Southern slave holding culture.  According to most civil war scholars, at the end of the war, Americans began referring to themselves as being from the “United” States rather than from a particular state such as Virginia or New York. If secession hadn’t happened, it could be argued the South would have negotiated to retain some of their states rights and kept slavery in tact. Instead, southern leaders voted for secession and lost their way of life.

4. The decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. America’s RV enthusiasts wouldn’t get the thrill of driving across the fruited plane today if it hadn’t been for Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of Napoleon’s urge to conquer Europe on a shoestring budget.

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At 3 cents an acre, Thomas Jefferson struck a great real estate deal at 15 million dollars for more than 800,000 acres in 1803. The deal covers what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian provinces. What is intriguing about the deal is that President Jefferson originally intended for the team of James Monroe and Robert Livingston to just purchase the Port of New Orleans from France for 10 million dollars. However, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to limit England’s influence in America and he needed money to refill his government coffers after his wars. For these reasons, he offered the Jefferson team the whole territory for 5 million more.  Sometimes the stars align and a business deal just falls into place.

 5. The decision by President Truman to use the Atom Bomb.  

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The diplomacy game changed when the United States used the Atomic Bomb to end WWII.  It was the first time a weapon of that magnitude  and it let the world’s leaders know that the US government would use this type of weapon if needed to end a War.  On the negative side, the development and use of the Atomic Bomb began the build up of globally destructive warheads. This was a cloud that future generations had to live under while growing up.  President Harry S.Truman wasn’t even given the knowledge that the bomb was being built until he was sworn into the office. That was kept secret from him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most likely due to  “need to know” security procedures. Before the bomb was used, the Japanese proved to the world they would not surrender easily.  The Battle of Okinawa, an island south of the mainland, proved to President Truman and the military that the Japanese military upper hiearchy would fight to the end to save their empire and their culture. The fact that the US had to use two bombs tells us that fact.  President Truman didn’t take the decision lightly. He thought about the repurcussions for days.  Once he made the decision though, he never second-guessed himself. 

6. The decision to serve only two terms by President Washington.

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President George Washington set an important precedent by stepping down after two terms as the Chief Executive.  Future Presidents followed his decision to leave office after two terms despite nothing being written in the Constitution about the subject..  President Thomas Jefferson served two terms as the third President but chose to step down voluntarily.  This verified the tradition. It didn’t become an issue until President Grant thought about serving a third term. Congress denounced the idea because it broke with the tradition set by Washington.  He, however, stood ready to be drafted in 1875 and 1880 but the republican convention chose other candidates.  President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately broke the tradition by serving a third term in 1940 due to the onset of WWII. He was elected in 1944 but didn’t finish his fourth term.  Afterwards, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms with an exemption for the current President Truman. Truman declined to run for a third term.  Congress introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment during President Ronald Reagan’s term and while President Bill Clinton was in office but they both failed to pass the legislative branch.  President Washington was wary of monarchies and dictatorships so his stepping down after 8 years in 1797 was a product of that thinking.  Besides he was tired of the criticism brought on by the office and wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. .

 7. The decision to fund the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill. The nation’s highways as we know them today began in 1938 with the passing of the Federal Highway Act. It called for a toll based 26,700-mile interregional highway network with three highways running south to north and three more running east to west. In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, the Congress acted on these recommendations. The act called for “designation of a National System of Interstate Highways, to include up to 40,000 miles “… so located, as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable points.”  These acts didn’t specifically spell out how the system would be funded so the construction was slow.  Here’s where President Eisenhower comes in.  He led a team that figured out how to fund the highway system to build highways as the citizens of the United States know them today. The Department of Transportation documents make it clear that The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 authorized the first funding specifically for system construction. Under President Eisenhower, the system funding was created so it wouldn’t increase the federal budget much. This is where the vehicle tax and gas tax enter the picture.  With the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 it increased the system’s proposed length to 41,000 miles. From there we have several highways running west to east and north to south, with the longest running highway being I-90 at 3020.54 miles from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington. The highway system has aided interstate commerce as well as the tourism industry.  It has provided a means for families and individuals to view the landscape of the United States as well as being the catalyst for many a sibling feud in backseats.

8. The decision to Land on the MoonThe decision to explore space and reach to other worlds began with the Eisenhower administration and the Mercury program.  The goal became focused when President Kennedy gave a speech on May 25th, 1961 to a special joint session of congress and stated the goal of sending an American safely to moon and return to earth before the end of the decade.

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Much of the decision involved cold war politics with the Soviet Union but also healthy dose of American bravado spirit. However, Kennedy consulted with his vice president and the NASA chief and determined that the US had a good chance of beating the Soviets to moon.  The space program created many benefits that people use today. The advancement in electronics and computers ushered in solid-state electronics.  In addition to these developments, according to NASA’s official government website, insulation technology developed by NASA engineers is used for thermal blankets.  These are just some of the many benefits the space program has yielded since its inception. Finally, Americans could boast that we were the first to land on the moon but in the name of “mankind” of course.

These are my top eight decisions.  I am sure there are people who disagree.  It was tough just to narrow it down to eight.  Let me know your top eight. .

General Butler and Doctor Oppenheimer

                                              

MG Smedley Darlington Butler

July 30, 1881-June 21, 1940

 Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler was a warrior in the truest sense.  He had two Medals of Honor (MOH) to prove it. Born in 1881, he joined the service, got his commission and earned his MOH in Haiti and Mexico. He rose through the ranks through hard work and a big helping of Marine Corps spirit. After serving in the Marine Corps for more than 30 years in a variety of assignments from platoon leader to commander and finally staff positions, he retired from the Marines with a stellar record.

Once he was out of the service, he was free to think and write what he wanted. He came to the conclusion that “war is a racket.”  He really dropped a mortar round into the establishment with that one.  He wrote a book that outlined how companies working with government increased their profits during wartime.  His point that corporate profits are made from wars that costs the lives of young people resonates to this day.  He was way of ahead of his time railing against the “Military Industrial Complex”.

As he wrote in his book, “War is a Racket”, a racket is an inside game with only a few people knowing the rules.  A racket exploits many people for the personal gain of few.  He was right and continues to be correct is this assessment.  Servicemen pay the price for diplomatic screw-ups by waging wars that are decided in secure, closed rooms only accessible to the power-elite.

He died of cancer on June 21, 1940 railing against the machine but proud of his service in the Marine Corps.

Doctor J. Robert Oppenheimer

April 22, 1904-February 18, 1967

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life may seem like a polar opposite from General Butler’s but each traveled a similar path to get to the same intellectually.  Oppenheimer spent the majority of his younger days matriculating through universities and then working in research labs.

He went from being the driving force in building and testing the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, NM, to lecturing and lobbying against the use of globally destructive weapons.

He was appointed Chairman of the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission after it was formed in 1947.  It was from this position that Oppenheimer began lobbying for international arms control in addition to his responsibilities for advising on nuclear issues and other areas such as funding and the building of laboratories.

His lobbying efforts toward scaling back of the production of global destructive weapons was both an intellectual and practical decision. He felt that too many civilian lives would be lost when hydrogen bombs were used and he also thought that the development technology needed to be better.

Oppenheimer’s was continually wrestling with the advancement of science and the political and military use of those breakthroughs. Oppenheimer wanted the government to be careful about how and if the bomb was used again.  His public views on the subject cost him his security clearance and therefore his position on the advisory committee in the fifties.

After losing political power, Oppenheimer used his position to lecture and publish articles on science and his views on atomic energy into the sixties. He died of cancer on February 18, 1967.

Similarities

OPPENHEIMER

BUTLER

One of the best in his field

One of the best in his field

Intelligent

Intelligent

Developed his own conclusions despite the consequences

Developed his own conclusions despite the consequences

 Went against conventional wisdom for developing weapons

Went against conventional wisdom concerning the reason for waging war

Successful early in life

Successful early in life

Died young of cancer

Died young of cancer

General Butler and J. Robert Oppenheimer were people who did a job they were trained to do when they were called upon.   They were smart, intelligent people who took their thoughts, based on first hand experiences, through to conclusions that were so alarming that they were compelled to act positively, despite the consequences.   Both General Butler and Dr. Oppenheimer encountered backlash from the government, their peers and public opinion.  For that courge they deserve merit it would have been much easier to nothing at all.

Where to begin?

This blog is a collection of posts that compare and contrast historical figures and events that have influenced and accelerated society to our present state. My idea is that personalities and events have certain traits that are alike that bring them to the forefront of the media and eventually into the pages of university textbooks and the scholarship community. My job in this blog will be to write interesting articles that compare two people or events of past.

The Syncronicity of Life

History, in my opinion, is about people rather than dates.  People make the difference with their actions and their personality quirks. A person with a positive or negative trait can influence how people live for many years.  The choices influential people make determine how they are seen by generations.  This is my goal – figuring out what makes people tick and how they fit into history’s timeline.

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