Events in American History
But thinking about this assignment has gotten me to put things in perspective. Obama is bad, no doubt, but he isn't this big watershed in American history. He's not the first President to lie about himself. Not even the first President to fight rumors of his religious affiliation (Lincoln was accused of being a Catholic). He isn't the first President to jack the national debt sky high, and he won't be the last. He isn't the first President to vastly increase the power of the government at the expense of individuals, and he won't be the last. He isn't the first President to bail out big corporations on the taxpayers' backs, and it's virtually certain that he won't be the last.
So what are the big watershed events in American history? Well, it depends where you start it from. Let's start it from the Revolutionary War, because up until that point, there was no America as a nation. It was just British colonies. So:
1. The Signing of the Declaration of Independence (1776).
This is a no-brainer. This was the document that turned a bunch of rebellious colonists into a nation in their own right. It was not only a watershed event for America; it was a watershed event for the world. The creation of a nation in which the people were sovereign was novel and extraordinary, and an awful lot of people were convinced it wouldn't last.
2. The Ratification of the United States Constitution (1789).
Since the Constitution, in theory, is the defining document of the United States, specifying how the government of the United States is to be constituted (that being where the word "constitution" comes from, after all), the ratification of this document can be said to have created the United States.
3. The Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794).
This was the first major violation of the Constitution by the United States government. In response to non-payment of a whiskey tax that was itself in violation of the Constitution (since it stemmed from Alexander Hamilton's decision to nationalize the debts incurred by the various states during the Revolutionary War), George Washington led 13,000 troops against farmers in southwestern Pennsylvania.
4. Marbury v. Madison (1803).
This was the second major violation of the Constitution. Chief Justice John Marshall (a first cousin of Thomas Jefferson) invented the idea of "judicial review", claiming that the Supreme Court was the ultimate decisor of Constitutionality, a power not granted it by the Constitution. This was an enormous usurpation of power.
5. The War of Southern Independence (1861-1865).
Commonly called by the misnomer "The Civil War" (a civil war is an internal struggle between factions in a state for control of that state, which was never at issue during this war), this war was the point at which the struggle between advocates of individual rights, as Thomas Jefferson had advocated, finally lost to advocates of a strong, imperial government, as Alexander Hamilton had advocated. From this point on, there were no serious checks on the power of the Federal government.
6. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886).
In this case dealing with railroad property taxes, the court reporter stated in the headnote of the case that the Supreme Court considers corporations to have the rights granted to persons within United States jurisdiction by the Fourteenth Amendment. This view does not appear in the court's opinion, but has been considered to be law ever since then. Since corporations are effectively immortal, and since corporate boards are required -- by law -- to act for the benefit of shareholders, first and foremost, they can't be said to have a conscience. The granting of the rights of persons to what are to all intents and purposes uncontrollable Frankenstein monsters was an enormous watershed in history.
7. The Creation of the Federal Reserve System (1913).
For the first time, the government of the United States delegated its right to create money to a private banking cartel. This was contrary to the Constitution, but as a check on government power, the Constitution had effectively been set aside by this point. Since then, the Federal Reserve Board, which can be appointed and unappointed by the government, but which cannot be audited by the government, and answers only to itself, has been in charge of the wealth of Americans.
After all of these erosions of Constitutional limitations on the government, Barack Obama's actions are only extraordinary in degree; not kind.