Dividing history into decades is an arbitrary but sometimes very useful way of trying to understand the arcs and significance of events. Trying to identify any single event as crucial to the understanding of a given decade may be even more arbitrary. It is certainly subjective. Nevertheless, that attempt can at the very least be a catalyst for discussion. What follows is an attempt to identify decade-defining moments in the history of the United States since the country’s inception.
1770s: Declaration of Independence (1776)
The centrality of the Declaration of Independence (1776) to the developments of the 1770s is self-evident. From the Boston Tea Party to the shot heard round the world, Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware, and the Valley Forge winter, the American Revolution’s pursuit of liberty was made meaningful by the founding document of the great American experiment in democracy.
1780s: Constitution of the United States of America (1787)
With the war won, independence secured, and the Articles of Confederation proving inadequate, the Founding Fathers laid down the law by which the new country would be governed in the elegantly crafted Constitution, which, depending upon one’s perspective, was meant to either evolve to meet changing circumstances or to be strictly interpreted to adhere to the Founders’ “original intent.”
1790s: Whiskey Rebellion (1794)
As the new country began finding its feet, U.S. Pres. George Washington sent troops to western Pennsylvania in 1794 to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, an uprising by citizens who refused to pay a liquor tax that had been imposed by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton to raise money for the national debt and to assert the power of the national government.