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Top 10 DEFINING DOCUMENTS in American History

Updated on January 2, 2009

Evaluating zillions of documents isn't easy.

Which documents reign supreme in the USA?

Of the millions of documents pushed across desks, jammed into file cabinets and argued over by politicians, which ones are most important to the United States of America? Which documents defined, more than any others, what America is all about?

The History Channel's television documentary of 2003 called "Defining Documents: milestone documents in American History" did exhaustive research into determining these documents.

Called into the selection process were the staff members of the National Archives, the National History Day and the USA Freedom Corps. Together, they created a list of 100 of the country's most important documents, then, as is the democratic way, put that list out to the people for a vote.

Over 300,000 votes were cast online at back in 2003 to determine the order in which these 100 documents would rank.

Now, the results. Although most Americans and others who follow US history would unquestionably quess which document ranked number one on this list, it's interesting to see what the others are.

So, let's countdown the top ten defining documents in American history and the years they were "born":

10. Social Security Act (1935)

9. Civil Rights Act (1964)

8. Gettysburg Address (1863)

7. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution: The Abolition of Slavery (1865)

6. The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution: Women's Right to Vote (1920)

5. Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

4. Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803)

3. Bill of Rights (1791)

2. U.S. Constitution (1787)

1. Declaration of Independence (1776)

WHAT DOES EACH DOCUMENT DO OR SAY?  How much do you know about any of these documents?   Get INSTANT and  seemingly unlimited background info and full, rich explanations of each of the above famous American documents.  

Here's how:  Just type any one of their names into a mass-appeal search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Wikipedia.

Or, experiment within those same search engines and try phrases like "American history" or "founding fathers".

Alternate idea: visit the American Heritage site to begin exploring the deep and fascintating history of the USA.


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      Barbara L. Huggins-Washburn 8 years ago

      I feel that the Mayflower Compact should have been included in the top 10 most important documents in United States history. I believe that it was the forerunner of our Constitution. Thanks for the above list.