Documents

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Iroquois Constitution

The Iroquois Constitution, originally oral, was the founding document of the Iroquois Confederacy and a forerunner to colonist democratic principles. Importantly, it is believed to have influenced concepts in the United States Constitution, and many historians place the Iroquois Constitution alongside the Mayflower Compact and the Fundamental Orders as the most important early New World governing documents.

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Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620 painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.
November 11, 1620 OS (November 21, 1620 NS)

Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact is the written covenant of the new settlers arriving at New Plymouth after crossing the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. It is the first governing document of Plymouth Colony and established the first basis in the New World for written laws.

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The Signing of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut 1638—39 painting by Albert Herter.
January 14, 1639 OS (January 24, 1639 NS)

Fundamental Orders

Consisting of a preamble and 11 orders (laws), the Fundamental Orders created a common government between three towns on the Connecticut River, Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield, in modern day Connecticut.

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The Repeal, or the Funeral Procession, of Miss America Stamp illustration by Benjamin Wilson.
March 22, 1765

Stamp Act

The Stamp Act was the Parliament of Great Britain’s first attempt to impose a direct tax on the American colonies. For the first time the Americans would pay tax not to their own local legislatures, but directly to England.

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October 19, 1765

Resolutions of the Stamp Act

the Resolutions of the Stamp Act was passed in response to the Parliament of Great Britain’s first attempt to impose a direct tax on the American colonies.

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July 6, 1775

Declaration of Arms

The Declaration of Arms was a statement by the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia setting forth the causes and necessity of their taking up arms against Great Britain but, importantly, did not declare immediate independence.

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July 4, 1776

Declaration of Independence

America’s most cherished symbol of liberty, the Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson with the assistance of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert R. Livingston. It announced to the world that the 13 American colonies, then at war with Great Britain for more than a year, were no longer part of the British Empire or under the rule of King George III (1760–1820), and provided a formal explanation for their actions.

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Part of the handwritten Articles of Confederation.
November 15, 1777

Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation was drafted by the same Second Continental Congress that passed the Declaration of Independence, and established a firm league of friendship between and among the 13 American states.

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Signing the Preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris, November 30, 1782 illustration by Carl Wilhelm Anton Seiler.
September 3, 1783

Treaty of Paris

The Treaty of Paris signed by American and British representatives ended the American Revolutionary War, recognized United States independence, and granted the new country significant western territory.

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July 13, 1787

Northwest Ordinance

The Northwest Ordinance is considered one of the most significant achievements under the Articles of Confederation. It told the world that the land north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River would be settled and eventually become part of the United States.

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September 17, 1787

United States Constitution

The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the nation. It defines the three branches of the federal government, a legislative branch with a bicameral Congress, an executive branch led by the President, and a judicial branch headed by the Supreme Court; and carefully outlines the powers and jurisdiction of each. The constitution also reserves numerous rights for the individual states and lays out the basic rights of citizens.

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Part of the handwritten Bill of Rights.
December 15, 1791

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is the name commonly given to the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution. They limit the powers of the federal government and protect the rights of all citizens, residents, and visitors on United States territory.

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Part of an Our Roll of Honor broadside listing women and men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments.
July 20, 1848

Declaration of Sentiments

The Declaration of Sentiments for women’s rights follows the form of the United States Declaration of Independence, and called for equality with men before the law, in education, and in employment.

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First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln painting by Francis Bicknell Carpenter.
January 1, 1863

Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War is considered the most important act of his presidency. It declared freedom for all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America that did not return to the Union by January 1, 1863.

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Part of a broadside announcing a 1769 sale of a cargo of 94 black slaves in the United States.
December 6, 1865

13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution officially ended slavery, and with limited exceptions, such as those convicted of a crime, prohibits involuntary servitude.

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July 9, 1868

14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was specifically intended to overrule Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford (Supreme Court, March 6, 1857) and guarantee American citizenship, civil liberties, due process, and equal protection to former slaves and their descendants.

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February 3, 1870

15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits states from denying voting rights to citizens based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude (meaning slavery). It was specifically intended to guarantee suffrage to former male slaves and their male descendants.

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Suffragists campaigning for the right to vote in 1920.
August 18, 1920

19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits states from denying voting rights to citizens based on gender, and was specifically intended to extend suffrage to women.

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