US political history from the year you were born
There’s no denying that the past 100 years have been a transformative time for the entire world, but particularly for the United States as a nation. With the two major political parties established, the country cast their votes in more than 25 elections, leading to the election of the first African American president and the first female vice president—who is also the first person of color to be elected to that role.
It was also a century of war, as the United States entered into World War II, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Korean War, and the Iraq War, to name a few. While the armed forces were finally desegregated, the cost and bloodshed associated with what many citizens deemed to be unnecessary endeavors led to strong antiwar protests that challenged Americans’ views of the country’s military entanglements.
National alliances grew and changed, with the United States entering NATO and engaging in a prolonged conflict with the Soviet Union and other potentially communist enemies.
While it has been a century tinged with hardship and strife, the United States has also seen a huge wave of social activism, as communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community fought to pass legislation that would truly grant Americans equal opportunity under the law—from the Civil Rights Act to the case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage across the country.
To put these changes into perspective, Stacker compiled a list of notable U.S. political occurrences from the past century from a variety of news articles, nonprofits, government pages, and historical records. From Warren G. Harding’s election as the United States’ 29th president in 1921 to Joe Biden’s election as the United States’ 46th president in 2020, read on to find out what was happening in American politics during the year you were born.
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1921: Harding becomes the 29th president
Republican candidate Warren G. Harding won in the first election to take place after the 19th Amendment allowed some women the right to vote for the first time. Republicans also increased their majorities in the House and the Senate that same election cycle.
1922: Felton becomes the first woman appointed to the Senate
Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgia politician, served for one day, and was sworn in at the age of 87. Her tenure was so short because Gov. Thomas Hardwick was filling a vacant seat just before a special election occurred.
1923: Hoover becomes the director of the Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover played a pivotal role in founding the Bureau of Investigation, which became known as the FBI in 1935, and became its first director. He’s also known for creating a national blacklist, but became a controversial figure when it was revealed that he previously used the FBI to intimidate political activists and figures during his tenure.
1924: The Immigration Act is passed
The xenophobic law drastically reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the country per year, and essentially banned Asian immigration. The Immigration Act also enforced quotas that allowed 2% of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States at the time, and required immigrants to receive U.S. visas before arriving in the country.
1925: Scopes goes on trial for teaching evolution
A prolific court case began when John Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 for teaching evolution to his Tennessee students. Although Scopes lost, the trial made many Americans aware of the ACLU for the first time, and demonstrated the clash between modern science and traditional, more theologically centered American beliefs. A state supreme court reversed the verdict on a technicality, and eventually Americans realized that there needed to be a separation between the teaching of theology and science.
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1926: The Air Commerce Act becomes law
The Air Commerce Act placed issues like flight safety rules, creating new airways, and generally increasing U.S. air commerce in the hands of the federal government—more specifically, the Commerce Department’s aeronautics branch. The year also marked the first one when contract airmail carriers were responsible for delivering most airmail within the country.
1927: The U.S. grants citizenship to U.S. Virgin Islands inhabitants
Federal authority over the U.S. Virgin Islands was granted to the Department of the Interior in 1931. While the first constitutional elections for U.S. Virgin Islanders were held in 1970, they are not allotted electoral votes.
1928: Herbert Hoover is elected the 31st president
When Republican candidate Herbert Hoover triumphed over his Democratic opponent Al Smith, he was the last Republican to become president until 1952. The Great Depression was a major issue in his presidency, after the stock market crashed the same year he was inaugurated.
1929: The Great Depression hits
The economic crisis began when the U.S. suffered from a stock market crash, now known as Black Tuesday. During the recession, national unemployment peaked at 25.6%, and persisted steadily until the introduction of World War II.
1930: Democrats gain control of Congress
The Democrats maintained this majority until Republicans regained Congressional control in 1946. It was also the last election held under the country’s Fourth Party System, and was the first time since 1918 in which the party had controlled either the House or the Senate.
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1931: An AFL national committee is formed
The National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act was headed by American Federation of Labor’s vice president Matthew Woll, and aimed to repeal the prohibition of alcohol, which was implemented through the 18th Amendment. The 21st Amendment ultimately repealed it in 1933.
1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the 32nd president
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic nominee, achieved a landslide victory against incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover in the midst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt went on to serve for a record four terms, and is well-known for making the New Deal Coalition.
1933: Roosevelt leads the country
Roosevelt served as president from 1933 until his death in 1945, making him the longest-serving leader in U.S. history. He’s known for leading the country through trials like the Great Depression and the rise of German and Japanese conflicts, particularly through the comfort of his weekly “fireside chats” that were broadcast to Americans.
1934: FDR founds the FHA
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was founded as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to fight the Great Depression, and is currently part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the years since its founding, the FHA has financed more than 50,000 multifamily mortgages and helped approximately 44 million American homeowners.
1935: The FBI is established
What was once the Bureau of Investigation was officially renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935, with J. Edgar Hoover as its director. That same year, the FBI created a national police training program, which would eventually develop into the FBI National Academy.
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1936: FDR is reelected
President Franklin D. Roosevelt won the highest portion of the popular vote for any presidential candidate since the uncontested 1820 election. The president’s landslide reelection reaffirmed the influence of his New Deal Coalition, which existed until the 1960s.
1937: Hastie becomes the first Black federal judge
After William Henry Hastie had worked for the Roosevelt administration as a race relations advisor and an assistant solicitor of the Department of the Interior, the president appointed him to the bench of the Virgin Islands’ Federal District Court. He served there for two years, before returning to the United States and later receiving the NAACP’s Springarn Medal for his “distinguished career as jurist and as an uncompromising champion of civil rights.”
1938: The Fair Labor Standards Act is passed
The Fair Labor Standards Act, which was landmark workers’ rights legislation, created workers’ rights to a minimum wage, as well as overtime pay for employees who work over 40 hours in one week. The legislation also abolished “oppressive child labor.”
1939: The U.S. declares its neutrality in World War II
As World War II intensified, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a 1939 proclamation reaffirming the United States’ neutrality. The country didn’t officially join the war until 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
1940: Legislation creates the first U.S. peacetime draft
The Selective Service Act required that all American men between 21 and 45 register for the draft, although the United States had not yet entered World War II. Men who were drafted were required to serve in the armed forces for at least a year, and 50 million men had been selected for the draft when World War II ended in 1945.
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1941: The U.S. enters World War II
Although the country had previously avoided the war, that all changed on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan carried out an attack against American military installations at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor naval base. The event claimed the lives of more than 2,4000 people.
1942: Japanese-American internment begins
During World War II, President Roosevelt ordered that all people of Japanese descent be relocated and interned in concentration camps. The internment lasted from 1942 to 1946, and was largely a response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
1943: Project Y starts operations
Project Y, also known as the Los Alamos Laboratory, was established by the top-secret Manhattan Project for the research and creation of atomic bombs. It was first headed by Robert Oppenheimer, who is often credited with being among those known to be the “father of the atomic bomb” because of the part he played in the project.
1944: FDR becomes the only president to be elected four times
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth win marked the last time that a Democratic president would win reelection following a full first term until President Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996. The 22nd Amendment was passed in 1951, and limited the number of terms served by presidents to two.
1945: Hiroshima and Nagasaki become targets
The United States initially entered World War II after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Harry S. Truman ultimately brought the country into the nuclear era by dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, major Japanese cities, after the war in Europe had ended.
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1946: Civil rights committee is established
President Truman formed the President’s Committee on Civil Rights to gather information on the state of American civil rights through transcripts, news articles, inquiries, reports, and more. The findings were published in 1947, in the report “To Secure These Rights.”
1947: The Cold War begins
While the Cold War doesn’t have an official beginning date, the closest is when President Truman signed the Truman Doctrine, which granted $400 million to Turkey and Greece in order to prevent them from becoming involved with communism. The war lasted until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.
1948: President Truman desegregates the armed forces
President Harry S. Truman desegregated the armed forces by signing Executive Order 9981, which bypassed Congress. Afterward, U.S. Army chief of staff Omar N. Bradley stated that the Army wouldn’t be racially desegregated until it became commonplace in American society.
1949: NATO is created
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance that consists of 30 North American and European countries, including the United States. Member countries agree to consult and aid one another on defense, military, and security-related issues. NATO was formed after World War II, in the event of another major external conflict.
1950: U.S. enters the Korean War
The United States officially entered the war when President Harry S. Truman deployed federal troops to South Korea to help South Koreans fend off the invading North Korean People’s Army. The fighting went on until 1953, when the two Koreas signed an armistice. In the meantime, the United States gave South Korea around 90% of its military personnel.
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1951: The 22nd Amendment establishes presidential term limits
Under the 22nd Amendment, no politician may be elected president for more than two terms. It also states that vice presidents who succeed presidents can be elected to two full presidential terms, but only if they served less than two years of the term of the president they followed.
1952: Eisenhower is elected the 34th president
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s win over Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson ended a series of Democratic presidential wins that ran from 1932 until 1952. His two-term presidency unfolded in the midst of the civil rights movement, McCarthyism, and the final days of the Korean War.
1953: The U.S. conducts Upshot-Knothole
The Atomic Energy Commission ran Upshot-Knothole, the ninth series of 11 nuclear tests from March through June in Nevada to test for devices to be used in the U.S. military arsenal and to test procedures. One of the tests in this series, with the code name Grable, was the country’s first nuclear artillery test—a new 280 mm cannon firing a 15 kiloton shell 7 miles at a top secret location in Nevada.
1954: Court rules that segregated schools are unconstitutional
The name Brown v. Board of Education was given to five separate Supreme Court cases dealing with segregation in public schools. Although the cases didn’t result in the desegregation of all schools, it was the first major legal step toward doing that.
1955: Parks inspires the Montgomery bus boycott
Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated Alabama bus. The incident sparked a mass racial segregation boycott that lasted more than a year and involved 40,000 people, a major repudiation of the laws.
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1956: Eisenhower signs the highway act into law
The Interstate Highway Act authorized the creation of 41,000 miles of interstate highways across the continental United States. At the time, it was the biggest American public works program ever signed into law.
1957: Eisenhower sends federal troops to Arkansas
President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered federal troops to protect nine African American high school students from racist violence as they began school at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. This was one of the first instances in which the federal government took actions against racial segregation on a state-by-state basis.
1958: NASA is formed
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in direct response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the satellite Sputnik I during the Cold War. This led to several major programs in its first few decades, from human space flight initiatives to working on remote-sensing Earth satellites.
1959: Alaska and Hawaii become states
Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, respectively, after World War II, the last states to officially join the United States to date. Alaska was originally a Russian colony before the United States purchased it, while Hawaii was a kingdom and republic before ceding itself to the United States in 1898.
1960: The Civil Rights Act goes into effect
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was meant to build upon the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and to discourage racist voter suppression. It criminalized attempting to keep other citizens from voting, and allowed court-appointed referees to assist African Americans in registering and voting.
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1961: Bay of Pigs invasion is unsuccessful
The failed Bay of Pigs invasion was covertly funded and directed by the U.S. government. The operation involved an effort to send the nearly 1,500 Cuban exiles in the United States, who were against the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, back to their country to take over the communist government. The U.S. became interested given leader Castro’s close ties to Soviet Union leader Nikita Khruschchev.
1962: Cuban Missile Crisis unfolds
The Cuban Missile Crisis involved a military and political standoff over the planned installation of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba, close to the continental United States. After 13 days, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev finally agreed to remove the missiles, a major win for the United States during the Cold War.
1963: Kennedy is assassinated
Just as he was planning his 1964 reelection campaign, President John F. Kennedy, who was the youngest man elected to that office, was shot multiple times while riding in an open car motorcade in Dallas. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy was at the president’s side that day. The car immediately went to Parkland Memorial Hospital, but Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1 p.m., shortly after its arrival. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who also was riding in the motorcade, was sworn in as the country’s 36th president at 2:38 p.m. aboard Air Force One on its way from Dallas back to Washington D.C.
1964: Johnson introduces his war on poverty
During President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” State of the Union address, the president argued for policies to end racial discrimination, help the elderly, and reduce American poverty. This led to legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965’s Social Security Amendments.
1965: First U.S. combat troops are sent to Vietnam
President Johnson first sent troops into South Vietnam in order to fight communism, which had ostensibly spread from North Vietnam. The president’s decision to involve the United States in the war led to widespread national controversy from antiwar activists and citizens who believed that the war threatened Vietnamese national independence.
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1966: The Department of Transportation is established
Before its creation, the Under Secretary of Commerce was responsible for handling larger federal policies for which the Federal Aviation Administration is now responsible. By 1966, the formation of the Department of Transportation was announced as a means of ensuring “a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.”
1967: The long summer of 1967 unfolds
During the summer of 1967, 159 race riots took place across the United States to protest abusive policing and institutionalized unemployment directly targeted at African Americans. In response, President Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, to investigate the riots’ underlying causes.
1968: King is assassinated
Martin Luther King Jr., the prominent civil rights activist, was fatally shot by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. To this day, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech stands as one of the most iconic American speeches in history and historical moments in the 1960’s civil rights movement.
1969: Republican nominee Nixon is elected president
Richard Nixon was a California politician who had previously served as a U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative, and defeated Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Neither candidate received more than 50% of the popular vote due to the popularity of third-party candidate George Wallace.
1970: Nixon sends troops to Cambodia
Nixon approved an operation to invade Cambodia with South Vietnamese forces in order to remove concentrations of Northern Vietnamese forces in the area. This sparked even more antiwar protests in the United States, as the president furthered American involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts.
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1971: The Pentagon Papers are released
The Pentagon Papers was the name given to a U.S. Department of Defense study. It was first released by the New York Times and covered the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War. The study revealed misinformation given to the American public about U.S. involvement, as well as an extended campaign in Laos and Cambodia.
1972: Chisholm becomes the first Black woman to run for president
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, and for seven terms she represented New York’s 12th congressional district. She also became the first Black candidate to run for a major party’s presidential nomination in 1972, and was the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. At the Democratic National Convention, she received 151.25 delegate votes.
1973: The Supreme Court rules on Roe vs. Wade
The Supreme Court ultimately found that, under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, states cannot fully block citizens’ decisions to terminate their pregnancies. However, states are still able to outlaw abortion in the third trimester in circumstances that are not life-threatening.
1974: Nixon resigns
President Richard Nixon resigned in the face of a probable impeachment, after he played a role in covering up the Watergate scandal. This incident involved a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972.
1975: The Vietnam War ends
Congress officially considers 1975 to be the end of the Vietnam War for the United States, because President Gerald R. Ford didn’t officially announce its end until May of that year. However, the United States actually withdrew its troops from Vietnam in 1973, after the Paris Peace Accords were signed.
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1976: Carter is elected the 39th president
Jimmy Carter triumphed over incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford, making him the only Democrat to win a presidential election from 1968 to 1992. The politician laid the groundwork for his presidency when he became chair of the Democratic Governor’s Campaign Committee in 1974, one of the first Democratic wins after Watergate.
1977: Carter creates the Department of Energy
President Carter created the Department of Energy to deal with policies surrounding the country’s domestic energy production, naval reactor production, the nuclear weapons program, and more. Before this, the United States didn’t have a solidified energy policy, which was called into question during the 1973 energy crisis.
1978: Employment act amendment passes
This amendment to the Employment Act of 1946 was passed in response to rising inflation and unemployment rates, which stoked public fears about the possibility of a recession. It contained numerous objectives, such as that under the president’s guidance, inflation should be less than 3% and unemployment should be under 3% for people 20 and older.
1979: Americans held hostage
At the end of 1979, 52 Americans were taken hostage after a group of Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, as a show of support for the Iranian Revolution. The hostages were held from November 1979 until January 1981, or 444 days.
1980: Reagan elected the 40th president
Reagan’s landslide election marked a turning point toward conservative American leadership. The president was elected in the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis, and moved to increase federal defense spending.
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1981: First female Supreme Court justice
Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, and served until her retirement in 2006. In 2009, President Barack Obama honored Justice O’Connor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
1982: Reagan addresses Parliament
President Ronald Reagan’s address was the first time in which a U.S. president had been granted the honor of speaking to a joint session of the British Parliament. In his appearance, Reagan took Britain’s side in the ongoing Falkland Islands conflict with Argentina.
1983: Defense initiative develops
The Strategic Defense Initiative, also called the “Star Wars program,” was a proposed attempt to create an antiballistic missile shield to protect the United States in the event of a nuclear attack. It was established in 1984, but in 1987, the American Physical Society found that such technologies were years away from practical use.
1984: First female vice presidential candidate
New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro became the first female vice presidential candidate when she was announced as the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale. Dianne Feinstein, who was San Francisco’s mayor at the time, was also reportedly considered for the nomination.
1985: Budget restraints enacted
The Gramm Rudman Hollings Balanced Budget Act was the first legislation to introduce formal spending constraints on the United States’ federal budget, and was created in hopes of reducing the country’s budget deficit. The act was followed by the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act in 1987.
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1986: An affair is revealed
The Iran-Contra affair—considered to be the biggest political scandal since Watergate—dealt with the fact that senior presidential administrators secretly sold weapons to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Khomeini government in order to send money to the U.S.-funded Contras in Nicaragua. It occurred despite the fact that Congress had prohibited further aid to the Contras.
1987: Nuclear treaty gets signed
Under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the United States and the Soviet Union were forbidden from fielding cruise missiles, as well as short range and intermediate range land-based ballistic missiles. The legislation was a significant step toward the end of the Cold War. In 2018, President Donald Trump ordered that the U.S. withdraw from the treaty due to alleged Russian noncompliance.
1988: Vice president is elected the 41st president
The Republican candidate George H. W. Bush’s defeat of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis marked the most recent instance to date in which an American political party won three consecutive presidential terms. Bush was also the first sitting vice president to win the presidency since President Martin Van Buren won the election in 1836.
1989: Bush announces war on drugs
While the term had been around in previous decades, 1989 marked President Bush’s establishment of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Although spending on law enforcement directed to combat drug abuse was increased under ONDCP leader William Bennett, treatment of drug addiction was less than a third of the office’s budget.
1990: Treaty is signed to destroy chemical weapons
President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a treaty to eliminate chemical weapon production in the United States and Soviet Union. Following the treaty, each country pledged to destroy 80% of their chemical weapons inventory. However, 13 years later, President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq on the grounds that the country also potentially possessed similar weapons.
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1991: The U.S. goes to war in the Middle East
The United States first got involved in the Middle East after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait in 1990. The United States sent forces to defend the neighboring country of Saudi Arabia, where its Operation Desert Shield oil assets were located.
1992: The Cold War ends
In early 1992, President George H.W. Bush and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin met to formally declare the end of the Cold War. They previously announced that they would no longer aim nuclear missiles at the other’s country.
1993: Ginsburg is appointed to the Supreme Court
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, and served from 1993 until her death in 2020. She is remembered as a pioneer for gender equality, and was also the cofounder of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU.
1994: Border trade agreement is set
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade zone was established between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It also called for a 15-year slow elimination of obstructions of cross-border investments, representing a substantial trade bloc between the nations.
1995: Domestic terror attack hits Oklahoma City
The U.S. suffered its worst domestic terrorist attack yet when Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, resulting in the deaths of at least 168 people. McVeigh was executed, while Nichols was issued a lifelong prison sentence.
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1996: Clinton is reelected
President Bill Clinton was able to overcome his initially slim chances of reelection as the U.S. economy started to recover from the early ’90s recession. Despite being impeached during his second term, Clinton left in 2001 with the highest end-of-office approval rating for any American president since World War II.
1997: Secret war in Laos is revealed
The United States covertly dropped more than two million tons worth of bombs on Laos from 1964 to 1973 as part of the Cambodian Civil War and the Vietnam War, making it the most bombed country per capita in world history. In 1997, Hmong and Lao veterans were recognized for the first time at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
1998: Clinton is impeached
President Bill Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives following an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. However, the president was eventually acquitted of charges of obstruction of justice and perjury by the U.S. Senate.
1999: Clinton is acquitted by the Senate
The Senate allowed President Clinton to complete the final 708 days of his second presidential term after being impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury by the House of Representatives in order to hide his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The acquittal marked the end of the first presidential impeachment trial since Andrew Johnson’s trial in 1868.
2000: Another Bush wins the presidency
The 2000 election was the fourth of five presidential elections in which the winner lost the national popular vote. Determining the winner took weeks, and George W. Bush, the son of the former President George H. W. Bush, was ultimately named the 43rd president by the Supreme Court after a close race in Florida.
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2001: Terrorists attack the U.S.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four U.S. airliners. They crashed one plane into each of Manhattan’s World Trade Center towers; one plane into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia; and crashed another into the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to divert the plane from an unknown target, which was believed to be a government building in Washington D.C. The attack killed 2,977 people between the ages of 2 and 85. It was the worst domestic terrorist event in U.S. history since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
2002: Homeland Security Act is enacted
After 9/11 shook the country, President George W. Bush and Congress authorized the Homeland Security Act, which was the largest reorganization of federal security measures since the Department of Defense’s creation in 1947. The legislation made large changes to security measures.
2003: The U.S. invades Iraq
The United States invaded Iraq in hopes of destroying the country’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. With the help of allied forces like Britain, the country began the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign, but the weapons weren’t found.
2004: Massachusetts legalizes same-sex marriage
The landmark legalization of same-sex marriage came in May, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected the heterosexual-only restriction within the state’s marriage law. At the time, both presidential candidates—incumbent George Bush and John Kerry—opposed same-sex marriage, although Kerry said that he supported same-sex civil unions.
2005: Hurricanes devastate the southern coastlines
The year was marked by a number of devastating hurricanes on America’s southern coastlines, particularly Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 Americans and became the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Within four days of Katrina hitting, President George W. Bush signed a $10.4 billion aid package, and sent 7,200 National Guard troops to help victims.
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2006: Democrats retake both houses of Congress
The Democratic party achieved its biggest gains within the House of Representatives and Senate since the Watergate years, ending a 12-year Republican majority in the House. Many Democrats based their campaigns on the low public opinion of the Bush administration at the time, as well as Republican-majority Congress scandals.
2007: First female becomes Speaker of the House
Before becoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi had served as minority leader in the House since 2003. She later lost her speakership in 2011, but regained it in 2019 after Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives.
2008: First African American is elected president
The first African American to be elected president, Barack Obama defeated Republican Senator John McCain and was the third sitting U.S. Senator to be elected president. Until 2020, he held the record for the most votes received by a presidential candidate, amassing 69.5 million votes.
2009: Multi-billion dollar stimulus package is approved
During the recession, President Barack Obama received House approval for a $787 billion stimulus package in hopes of saving or creating 3.5 million jobs and helping the country’s struggling economy. It went on to win Senate approval by a vote of 60-38, with near-unanimous Republican opposition.
2010: Republicans retake the House
Although Republicans only needed to take 39 Democratic seats to regain the House, they ended up winning more than 60 seats. The party largely centered their campaigns in opposition to President Obama’s policies, from Wall Street regulation to his stimulus plan.
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2011: American soldiers kill Osama bin Laden
On May 1, 25 Navy SEALs found and killed Osama bin Laden in a compound located in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He was the person credited with outlining the 9/11 attacks on the United States. After being identified, he was buried at sea within 24 hours, according to Islamic law.
2012: Obama wins reelection
Incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama defeated Republican candidate Mitt Romney, while Democrats maintained their control of the Senate. Obama became the only incumbent president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win with a smaller popular vote margin and fewer electoral votes than in his previous election.
2013: Snowden leaks U.S. intelligence
The security leak by Edward Snowden, a one-time employee of the National Security Agency (NSA), is described by some as one of the most important classified intelligence leaks in United States history. The leaks revealed the extent of the NSA’s program to collect citizens’ internet and phone records, as well as spying against national allies and other international targets.
2014: Protests tackle police brutality
Following the murders of unarmed Black men—Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner of New York City—by police officers, protesters took to the streets to demand justice for the men, as well as call attention to the disproportionate deaths of African Americans at the hands of the police. It also played a major role in shaping the growing Black Lives Matter movement.
2015: Same-sex marriage is legalized
On June 26, the Supreme Court shot down same-sex marriage bans in every U.S. state in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision overrode 14 state bans on same-sex marriage in places like Texas, Georgia, and Michigan.
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2016: Trump is elected the president
While Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election for the 45th president of the United States, Republican businessman Donald Trump won with 304 electoral votes. It was the fifth presidential election in which the winning candidate lost the popular vote.
2017: First openly transgender person takes seat in Virginia
Dania Roem, the first openly transgender person to be elected to a state legislature, unseated conservative Virginia lawmaker Robert G. Marshall, outraising him 3-to-1 in political donations. A trans candidate was elected in New Hampshire in 2012, but ultimately did not take office.
2018: A record 127 women head to 116th Congress
Following the 2018 midterm election, a record 102 women joined the House of Representatives, and 15 headed to the Senate. The election also saw major first-time wins for rising female politicians, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.
2019: Trump is impeached
Impeachment hearings began after President Donald Trump was accused of soliciting help from the Ukrainian government for his reelection bid, and of obstructing Congress. The president was impeached in January of 2020 by the House of Representatives, but was later acquitted by the Senate.
2020: Biden wins presidential election
Joe Biden made history by receiving more than 80 million votes—the most for any U.S. presidential candidate. The former senator and vice president is the 46th president of the United States. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, also broke down barriers by becoming the first woman and woman of color to be elected vice president.
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