THIS IS OUR STORY
Rising Above Disaster
In 2001, our country suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in its history. In the face of the September 11 terrorist attacks, thousands of heroes rushed into the burning towers to rescue those fighting to escape. Hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and other emergency response workers sacrificed themselves to save others. Other citizens gave up their lives to save strangers. And America remained united, one people standing against terror.
Affirming that “All Men Are Created Equal”
On August 28, 1963, nearly 100 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the most famous speech of the American civil rights movement from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He affirmed the self-evident truths of our Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Less than one year later, on June 29, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial and gender discrimination by prohibiting segregation in schools, by employers, and by those companies and institutions that serve as “public accommodations,” such as hotels and restaurants.
Daring to Explore the Unknown
On July 20, 1969, the United States became the first country to land a man on the moon. After their launch on July 16, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, astronauts aboard the Apollo 11, safely landed on the moon and spent two-and-a-half hours exploring the lunar surface. The event was immortalized by Neil Armstrong’s words as he stepped onto the moon: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Over the next few years 10 more astronauts visited the moon and led more extensive space exploration. In 1998 the International Space Station launched, providing a center for space-related scientific research as well has functioning as a base for missions to Mars.
Defending Our Freedom
World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945, and claimed millions of lives.
On February 19, 1945, the Battle of Iwo Jima, which lasted for 35 days and resulted in thousands of casualties, gave the American Air Force a platform from which to begin bombing the Japanese mainland in an effort to end the war.
V-E Day arrived on May 8, 1945. Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies on May 7, and the Allies ratified it a day later. As Adolf Hitler had committed suicide on April 30, the surrender was authorized by his successor, President Karl Dönitz. This marked the end of World War II in Europe.
V-J Day arrived a few months afterwards on September 2, 1945. Following the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan formally surrendered to the United States in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri. Japan’s surrender marked the end of World War II.
Pursuing Liberty in America
From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were the entrance for hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Today, hundreds of thousands of people visit Ellis Island, to learn about this historic location and to search for ancestors from their past, exploring the famous skyward-pointing Statue of Liberty.
The Statue of Liberty, officially named “Liberty Enlightening the World,” was given in 1886 as a gift from the people of France in honor of the Franco-American alliance during the Revolutionary War. The 151-foot personification of liberty depicts a woman holding aloft a torch and carrying a tablet of laws. Lines from American poet Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” are inscribed on the base: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. / I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Fighting for Equal Rights
Born a slave in Maryland in 1818, Frederick Douglass spent his early life moving between homes and plantations. Taught to read at the age of 12, Douglass fled to freedom when he was 20. Douglass did not actually know the date of his birth; he chose February 14 because his mother, who died when Douglass was only eight years of age, called him her “little valentine.”
Decades later, the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 22, 1862, promised emancipation for slaves residing in the Confederacy, unless the rebellious states returned to the Union by January 1 of the following year. The three-month deadline came and went, and slavery ceased to have legal sanction in much of the South. Although complete emancipation did not occur until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, Lincoln’s actions earned him the nickname “The Great Emancipator.”
On December 6, 1865, in the wake of the Civil War, the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery nationwide. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 shortly followed. A major part of post-Civil War reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 declared that all people born in the United States were American citizens regardless of race, color, or previous condition of involuntary servitude. Although President Andrew Johnson refused to sign the bill, a two-thirds majority of Congress overturned his veto. The act overturned the “Black Codes”—laws enacted by Southern states that restricted the rights of former slaves. Despite its sweeping attempts at reform, the act provided little enforcement power to the national government.
With the War for Independence over a year old and hope for a peaceful resolution nonexistent, the Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Five—including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—to draft a document “declar[ing] the causes which impel [the American colonies] to the separation.” 33-year-old Jefferson composed the initial draft, completing it in seventeen days. The committee submitted its draft to Congress on June 28, 1776, and on July 2, Congress voted for independence. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, after numerous edits, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence by unanimous vote.
Over a decade later, on September 17, 1787, fifty-five delegates from twelve states (Rhode Island declined to participate) traveled to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention, which began in May 1787. They quickly scrapped the existing Articles of Confederation, and after four months they concluded their business by adopting a new frame of government. On September 17, thirty-nine delegates signed the Constitution. For the Constitution to go into effect, nine states would need to ratify it.
On June 21, 1788, the Constitution of the United States officially replaced the Articles of Confederation as the official law of the land when New Hampshire became the ninth and last necessary state to ratify the Constitution. Unlike the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution required ratification by a convention in each of the separate states, as opposed to ratification by the state legislatures. Also significant, the Constitution required only nine states for ratification, rather than the unanimity required by the Articles of Confederation.
OUR STORY IN THE LIBERTY WALK
Ronald Reagan devoted his presidency to the defeat of Communism and the renewal of America’s founding principles. A popular former governor of California, Reagan promised to shrink the federal bureaucracy, to cut taxes to spur economic growth, and to defend the “consent of the governed” against the Progressive vision of an unelected administrative state. Reagan also declared the Soviet Union an “evil empire” that would be relegated to die on the “ash heap of history.”
Frederick Douglass was a runaway slave who became one of America’s greatest orators and writers, a lifelong champion of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and a friend of presidents. Douglass visited Hillsdale College—an anti-slavery college whose 1844 charter committed it to accept students “without regard to race, sex, or national origin”—in the midst of the Civil War. On January 21, 1863, he delivered a speech titled “Popular Error and Unpopular Truth.” During this visit, Douglass posed for a photo (featured here) that would later be used for his visiting card and is reported to have been his favorite. The photo was located and purchased by Hillsdale College in 2004. Douglass spoke again at Hillsdale in 1888.
With the War for Independence over a year old and hope for a peaceful resolution nonexistent, the Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Five—including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—to draft a document “declar[ing] the causes which impel [the American colonies] to the separation.” 33-year-old Jefferson composed the initial draft, completing it in seventeen days. The committee submitted its draft to Congress on June 28, 1776, and on July 2, Congress voted for independence. On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as the third president. As president, he is perhaps most famous for the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which doubled the size of the United States. A lifelong champion of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s dedication to the American spirit made him an inspiration to Hillsdale College.
Interested in learning more about our American story? Hillsdale College’s free “American Heritage” online course offers fascinating lectures by our very own professors, quizzes to track your progress, and the opportunity to study the primary-source documents that have shaped our country.
As part of its nationwide educational outreach, Hillsdale College has distributed more than 4.5 million copies of its Pocket Constitution, containing the complete text of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Published by Hillsdale College Press, this invaluable 882-page book contains over 100 historic primary source documents with introductions from Hillsdale’s History faculty. It is a vital resource for any intentional American history scholar.