What was the most significant event/issue between 1492 and 1877 that shaped America into the nation that it is today?

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Many good answers.  I'd suggest the selection/election of George Washington as our first President.  He kept us from getting another "King George" and established many precedents that have served us well ... they would have served us even better had we paid more attention to them.

 

 

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Without the American Revolution, and the subsequent failure of the first national government under the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution could not have been ratified.   Without that, the "Great Experiment" of a Constitutional Republic would not have been realized.

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The Civil War pointed to what is an example of what is yet existant today:  the great and defining divide in this country and the overpowering actions of a Federal government.  To this day, the right of states to control their destinies is still being surpressed by a politically fueled Federal government as, for example, in the federal suit to block Arizona's immigration law forbidding the entry of illegals. Certainly, the South and the North yet have great ideological and political differences.  (The incumbent president even compares himself to Lincoln as he himself recognizes this divide.)

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I vote for the Civil War as being the most significant event for the time period designated in the question. The development of slavery obviously is a precondition for the Civil War's occurrence, but I guess I'm looking at how the issue was dealt with as the important item. I also really like the suggestion that the Louisiana Purchase was the most important event - particularly since I live in one of the states that were carved out of that territory!

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I must agree with those who said that the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were the defining moments in our history. The Revolutionary War marked the first time that a people revolted against their government in the name of the inalienable rights every human being possesses. The Civil War, as Bullgatortail pointed out, forever ended the idea of secession. In fact, the "United States" was considered a plural term prior to the war; but ever since has been considered singular. This point alone illustrates the importance of the war as perhaps the pivotal defining moment in American history.

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So many different options to choose from on this one! For me, I would have to go for the Civil War. To my mind, the importance of this action lies in the way that it helped America to define itself as a nation and what it does and doesn't stand for. It also represented the birth of a united nation that could become a major power in the world in the future.

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I would say the establishment of African slavery in the New World, although it didn't happen in a single moment, which is what the question seems to be asking. You cannot understand the development of the Atlantic economy, the American colonies, the Revolution, the politics of the American republic, the Civil War, or many modern issues without understanding the role of racial slavery.

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I while I agree with the above answers, I would throw in the Louisiana Purchase which more than doubled the size of the country. America always was a land of opportunity, and this deal made it even easier for the ever-growing population to move west and establish something for themselves.

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I'll go off the beaten path a bit and say the Election of 1800: the first time we peacefully transfered power between political rivals after a democratic election.  It was vitually unprecedented and the beginning of our democratic tradition.  Today we could hardly even entertain the idea of a President refusing to leave office after losing an election, but the reason we can't entertain that idea is because of the democratic tradition started by John Adams in 1801.

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I would say both the American Revolution and the Civil War were the two defining moments in American history prior to 1877. America proved its strength and determination by outlasting Great Britain, possessor of the most powerful military on Earth. The Civil War brought an end to the talk of secession for good and gave the rest of the world a look at the fighting prowess of both the North and the South.

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This would be much better as a discussion question because there are so many possible answers.  The most obvious answers would be the Revolutionary War or the Civil War.  I, however, will go against the grain and argue that the most important event in US history was the election of 1800.

The reason for this is that this election represented the first handing over of power from political party to another.  It had been important when Washington stepped down and gave up power, but at least he was handing it to his own vice president.  In 1800, by contrast, the Federalists had to hand power over to a man (Thomas Jefferson) that they accused of being an atheist who would completely ruin the country, introducing all sorts of horrible and immoral practices straight out of the French Revolution.

In many new countries, this sort of situation (with Jefferson winning the election) would have led to the government calling out the army to overrule the election results.  This could have led to the sorts of protracted civil wars between liberals and conservatives that Mexico, for example, underwent.  Instead, Adams and the Federalists stepped down peacefully.  That shaped the US into the country that it is today, where democratic elections peacefully transfer power and political violence is essentially unknown.

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