Five Turning Points in American History

Edward O’Donnell – Holy Cross College

In the relatively short history of the United States, there have been many turning points and landmark movements that irrevocably altered the direction of the nation and signaled the dramatic start of a new historical reality. Some took the form of groundbreaking political and philosophical concepts; some were dramatic military victories and defeats. Still others were nationwide social and religious movements, or technological and scientific innovations.

What all of these turning points had in common, is that they forever changed the character of America. Sometimes the changes brought about by these events were obvious; sometimes they were more subtle. Sometimes the effects of these turning points were immediate; other times, their aftershocks reverberated for decades. Regardless, these great historical turning points demand to be understood

Turning Points in American History

  1. The first and most crucial turning point for the newly independent United States was the presidency of George Washington. His leadership unified the country and set the model for democratic executive leadership in the modern world.
  2. The Civil War posed the most profound threat to Washington’s vision, and it is the second great turning point in American history. The Union victory in the Civil War gave way to decades of uncertainty and corruption.
  3. The Progressive reforms in American domestic and foreign policy during the early twentieth century transformed the United States into a modern world power — our third turning point.
  4. The Great Depression, the Second World War, and the early Cold War — the great mid-twentieth century crises — were a fourth turning point, as profound as the Civil War in many ways.
  5. The lecture will close with reflections on 9/11/01 and the subsequent “War on Terror” as a fifth turning point in American history that conditions our current economy, society, and troublesome presidential election. Each of these historical turning points has important lessons to teach us about our future as a nation, and the precarious continuity of the American Dream.

You can purchase Five Turning Points That Changed American History by Edward O’Donnell here.