Thoughts on the most historic 19th century report…

October 21, 2008 by  
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A few weeks ago we had some interesting comments on what collectors thought was the most historic 20th century newspaper report. Let’s try the same with the 19th century. But given the tremendous diversity of events from 1801 thru 1900 I’m going to break the century into three parts: pre-Civil War; the Civil War; and post-Civil War. Let’s work our way backwards and discuss the post-Civil War era first.

There are many ways to approach  “most historic”. My approach will be the most life-altering event with emphasis on “event”. One could argue that the second Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the world but it cannot be pinned down to a single date or event.

Several items come to mind: the first successful Atlantic cable in 1866 was a major step in causing the world to be much smaller–a trend which continues to this day; the completion of the transcontinental railroad in the United States was a major step in the westward expansion & settlement of the United States which changed the country in many ways; and then there is the Battle of Wounded Knee which was the last battle in the American Indian Wars and the official end of the Old West. Not to be omitted would be the invention of the automobile by gentlemen in Germany in 1889.

I’m going to go with the completion of the transcontinental railroad. In thinking of the multitude of events which played off this event and how it changed the fabric of America (pardon the ethnocentrism) I’ll vote for it as the most historic event of the 19th century post-Civil War era.

What are your thoughts?

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7 Responses to “Thoughts on the most historic 19th century report…”

  1. Morris on October 21st, 2008 8:31 pm

    The events mentioned by Tim certainly changed the physical environment of America. The Transcontinental Railroad and the automobile were monumental accomplishments that facilitated the mobility of Americans and contributed to economic prosperity and transport of freight and people and made our county more accessible for tens of millions of people to follow.

    I chose to consider what changed the ‘character’ of America and in so doing I selected a newspaper I own. That being….

    The New York Time – December 19, 1865 –


    This report concerns the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and reads as follows:

    Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United State, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Section 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    This piece of legislation abolished the practice of slavery, set millions of people free, and started the path to which we arrive today with the first black candidate to be nominated by a major political party for the position of President of the United States of America.


  2. TimHughes on October 21st, 2008 8:41 pm

    Morris – A great choice!
    What do you others think? Feel free to express your thought for the most historic event of the 19th century post-Civil War era.

  3. Paul Sarna on October 22nd, 2008 1:49 am

    My pick is the invention of the kinetoscope, which gave us motion pictures. The first showing of moving pictures commercially was in 1894. It was with those first steps that we ended up with the motion picture industry, newsreels covering historic events and television and all the way to dvds, etc. Think how much we take for granted watching “the illusion of motion” in our daily lives today.

  4. Jim Wheeler on October 24th, 2008 8:30 pm

    I have to agree with Morris’ vote for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. However, you may want to consider the March 3, 1870 NY Tribune headline “All Men are Free and Equal, the XVth Amendment Proclaimed” as a co-runner to the 13th Amendment headline as the Fifteenth Amendment guarantees voting rights regardless of race.

    Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

    Section 2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    After the passage of the 13th Amendment that barred slavery, and the 14th, which guaranteed former slaves citizenship, there were still fears that sympathizers to the Confederate cause would attempt to achieve through suppression of the black vote what they could not obtain by war. No southern state had ever had a black elected official, and most southern states even prohibited the vote to freed slaves and free-born blacks. As to the fear that southern legislatures would restrict the vote to whites as they did before the Civil War, the amendment was clearly justified.

    After the passage of the 15th Amendment, southern blacks voted in numbers that on a per capita basis would probably exceed black political participation today and more blacks were elected to political office during the period from 1865 to 1880 than at any other time in American history.

    With that said, I have to vote for the end of slavery following the Civil War as the most important event of the late 19th Century.

  5. Alan Pollack on October 25th, 2008 1:20 am

    Being the Old West history buff that I am, I would have to bring up two events that were both infamous nationwide and altered the course of history in the Western U.S. of the 19th century. First was the Battle of the Little Big Horn or “Custer’s Last Stand”, which took place June 25, 1876 in Montana Territory. It was the classic case of “won the battle, but lost the war” for the victorious Sioux and Cheyenne warriors against the troops of George Armstrong Custer. The ire raised in the States by the destruction of the 7th Cavalry led to further crackdowns against the Native Americans of the Plains by the U.S. Army, eventually leading to the Wounded Knee Massacre and the end of a way of life that the Native Americans had led for centuries.

    Another interesting aspect of the Old West was the era of lawlessness and the “Outlaw” which was especially rampant in the decades after the Civil War. Inexplicably, the exploits of the likes of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, the Dalton Gang, John Wesley Hardin, and others captured the imagination of the entire country– a fascination which continues to this day. The lives of these outlaws have been recalled and exploited in countless books and movies over the last century and a half (even as recently as last year with the movie “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” with Brad Pitt). So the event that I choose as the most influential from this Old West era would be the assassination of Jesse James on April 3, 1882. Here was a man who became enormously famous as probably the most prolific bank and train robber in United States history in his quest to avenge the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War. His death marked the beginning of the end of the lawless but “romanticized” Old West. The Dalton Gang struck one more famous blow for the outlaw cause in 1892, but by the turn of the century the “Old West” was mostly a memory and relegated to the “Wild West” shows of Buffalo Bill and later the Hollywood Westerns.

  6. Most Historic 19th Century post-Civil War Headline… revisited… : History’s Newsstand Blog on November 22nd, 2008 4:30 pm

    […] I think Tim’s choice was a good one (see his post), my choice for the most important event of the nineteenth century, post-Civil War is the invention […]

  7. carl cripps on August 11th, 2009 3:01 am

    myself i think the perfection of the indoor plumbing rates right up there with everything else. i do not believe plumbing gets its proper due. it ‘s sanitation property is and probably better than any vaccine that has been produced. just my thought anyway. thanks. carl.

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