A Student of History

August 26, 2006

The Most Influential Documents of US History

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 9:22 pm

The People’s Vote, co-sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration, National History Day, and U.S. News & World Report, invited Americans of all ages and educational backgrounds to vote for 10 of 100 milestone documents drawn mainly from the holdings of the National Archives. The vote is part of a larger project created by the National Archives and National History Day in collaboration with USA Freedom Corps titled Our Documents: A National Initiative on American History, Civics and Service. The purpose of Our Documents is to provide programs like The People’s Vote to engage Americans in a better understanding of the records that shaped our country. More on this effort can be found here.  The complete list is here. Note: go to the list and click on the document name and it will bring up an image of the ACTUAL document on the list, which I think is great!

From John Carlin, the Archivist of the United States:

The People’s Vote is truly a unique initiative. No other project has invited Americans from all walks of life, all across the country, to voice their opinion on documents that have shaped our history, culture, and society today.

Not only did the People’s Vote challenge voters to really think and learn about these 100 milestone documents, but it encouraged enthusiastic debate in homes, classrooms, workplaces, and online. U.S. News created the People’s Vote web site; tabulated both online and paper ballots; and featured the vote in their magazine – among many other contributions.

And National History Day was instrumental in working with teachers to bring the Vote into classrooms around the U.S. I want to extend my thanks to everyone associated with this project.

Overall, nearly forty thousand people cast more than three hundred thousand votes for the documents they believe have most influenced America.

Some of these records are well known, like the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights, but some played a lesser known role in history like the Morrill Act, which enabled new western states to establish colleges for its citizens, opening educational opportunities to thousands of people and the Keating-Owens Child Labor Act that limited the working hours of children and forbade interstate sale of goods produced by child labor.

Statistics give some very interesting insight into this project.

This was truly a diverse national initiative, as people from all geographic regions and age groups participated. More votes came from the midwest than any other region, followed by the northeast. Almost 27 thousand votes were cast online, while approximately twelve thousand people voted by paper ballot.  And interestingly, almost twice as many males voted as females.

About 15 thousand of the voters were over 50 years old, and the next largest age group of participants was people between 18 and 34 years old. There were about eight thousand voters in this group.

The rest of Carlin’s remarks are here.

The top 10 Documents?  No surprises, really, though I would have put the Emancipation Proclamation higher than the La. Purchase.

The Top 10 Milestone Documents:

  1. Declaration of Independence (1776) 29,681 votes
  2. Constitution of the United States (1787) 27,070 votes
  3. Bill of Rights (1791) 26,545 votes
  4. Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803) 13,417 votes
  5. Emancipation Proclamation (1863) 13,086 votes
  6. 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote (1920) 12,282 votes
  7. 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865) 11,789 votes
  8. Gettysburg Address (1863) 9,939 votes
  9. Civil Rights Act (1964) 9,860 votes
  10. Social Security Act (1935) 8,157 votes 

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