Essay about The American Quest for Perfection

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The American Quest for Perfection

When Americans think of significant days that profoundly impacted the United States, a few almost always come to mind. The most obvious are April 19, 1775, better known as the beginning of the American Revolution; July 4, 1776 the signing of the Declaration of Independence; April 4, 1968 the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and more recently, the attacks of September 11, 2001. These dates all greatly affected the United States, but what if other less obvious events had an even greater impact? The author of 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America, Steven M. Gillon argues that the major historical events most Americans recognize didn’t have the same extreme effect as other more obscure events in American history. Although Gillon recognizes that historically significant events such as Pearl Harbor changed the nation, he believes events should be measured based on the scope of the questions they leave unanswered; and he attempts to prove this in 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America by examining lesser known events. Gillon believes days like July 4, 1776 (Pearl Harbor), and other historically significant events led to the resolution of problems with American democracy, which implies the most well-known American events are the most important. Throughout the history of the United States, many obstacles arose to prevent the success of the new democratic form of government. With each of these obstacles or problematic events came a reaction and solution to the problem. Sometimes the solution worked and other times it didn’t, but a potential solution would always arise. This is one reason America has been such a successful and powerful country for the past century. Gillon continually refers to problematic, lesser-known events and the solutions put in place. The reason Gillon doesn’t use the commonly known events is that he is trying to prove all problematic events have important solutions, even if the solutions aren’t as vital as those well-known events. For instance, Gillon writes about the convention to resolve problems with the Articles of Confederation made apparent with Shays’ Rebellion. “Although he was not in the room, Daniel Shays cast a shadow over the [convention] and the debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists” (Gillon 48). The murder of three civil rights activists during Freedom Summer is another instance of Gillon providing an example of the government responding to a problem. “The three murders in the summer of 1964 focused public outrage like never before… Two months later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964” (Gillon 247). These examples support that Gillon is trying to prove any event, big or small, can lead to the resolution of problems in American democracy. If Gillon believed any obstacle to the formation of an American democracy would result in a solution, then why didn’t he use some well-known events along with the obscure? The events Gillon mentions and examines all have something in common, they leave something unresolved, which means Gillon isn’t focusing on the immediate changes caused by an event, but rather the importance of the question the event leaves behind. Some major events like Pearl Harbor caused a change to America’s history, but they were quickly resolved and didn’t leave an unanswered question. Events like the gold rush left questions unanswered. Gillon states, “[California] remains the most diverse state in the union, with a population that is 52 percent white, 30 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian, and 7 percent black—a clear legacy of the gold rush” (Gillon 77). This gold rush legacy is leading the United States to question how to deal with this mix of cultures, which can result in violent conflicts. Along with the unanswered questions left by the events in 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America there are unforeseen results; and these unforeseen results can leave vital problems unresolved. One of the most