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20 Important Historical Documents




Document Date Major Focus

Magna Carta 1215 charter given by King John to rebellious noblemen; it is the basis for the English constitution
Mayflower Compact 1620 agreement signed by the Pilgrims to create a “civil body politic” that would enact “just and equal laws”
Declaration of Independence 1776 proclamation by the Second Continental Congress asserting the independence of the Colonies from Great Britain
Articles of Confederation 1777 the first written constitution of the United States, creating a loose central government
Treaty of Paris 1783 formally ended the American Revolution and recognized American independence
U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights 1787 the document written at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and ratified by the first thirteen states, plus the first ten amendments to that constitution, developed by James Madison to appease anti-Federalists
Federalist Papers 1787–88 a series of letters from Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, urging ratification of the Constitution and stressing the need for a strong Union
Fugitive Slave Acts 1793, 1850 both declared that runaway slaves must be returned to their masters
Monroe Doctrine 1823 closed the door to colonization of the Western Hemisphere by European powers
Emancipation Proclamation 1864 declared free all slaves in states that had seceded from the Union (although not those in border states that had not formally seceded)
Balfour Declaration 1917 statement promising British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine
Fourteen Points 1918 speech by Woodrow Wilson declaring goals for the end of hostilities in World War I, including the establishment of the League of Nations
Neutrality Acts 1935, 1936, non-intervention policies designed to 1937, 1939 keep America out of wars in Asia and Europe
Truman Doctrine 1947 a policy of providing American support for people resisting communism or totalitarianism
Marshall Plan 1948–51 the European Recovery Program, which helped Europe recover economically while providing a valuable market for U.S. goods
North Atlantic Treaty 1949 a treaty in response to the cold war, signed at first by 12 Western nations who wished to ally against a possible Soviet invasion
Warsaw Pact 1955 a mutual defense pact signed by the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies
Civil Rights Act 1964 outlawed racial segregation in employment, schools, and public places; struck down the Jim Crow laws of the South
Voting Rights Act 1965 outlawed discriminatory election procedures that had long disenfranchised African-Americans
War Powers Resolution 1973 limited the powers of the President to deploy troops without notification of Congress and a declaration of war





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