Which Americans influenced modern life the most? Impact does not necessarily denote a positive or negative contribution to society. Instead, it delineates those individuals that helped create the modern world. The following is a list of individuals directly responsible for modern America in alphabetical order. Some are recent while others date to the founding.
1. John Adams (1735-1826): John Adams catapulted to the international stage defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. He led the charge to independence at the Continental Congress and served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. During the war, he served as a diplomat abroad and negotiated the peace. After the war, he became the nation’s first vice president and second president. As president, Adams preserved the peace as many advocated war. His efforts helped the United States republic survive its formative years.
2. John Quincy Adams (1767-1848): John Quincy Adams remains America’s greatest Secretary of State. While serving in the Monroe Administration, he wrote the Monroe Doctrine, acquired Florida from Spain, and negotiated a border dispute with Great Britain. His presidency proved inconsequential, but he did pay down the national debt. After his presidency, Adams led the anti-slavery crusade until his death.
3. Jane Addams (1860-1935): Jane Addams emerged the most important reformer of the Progressive Era. She founded Hull House hoping to unite rich and poor. Eventually, it housed 25 women and included schools, a gym, coffee house, a library, and job training. Addams also advocated for women, public health, children, and communities. She won the Nobel Prize in 1931.
4. Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906): Susan B. Anthony played a major role in women’s rights in the nineteenth century. She advocated women’s suffrage, abolition, and temperance. Following her death, the country passed prohibition and gave women the right to vote.
5. Clara Barton (1821-1912): Clara Barton served as a nurse during the Civil War under appalling conditions. Eventually, she brought her own supplies to the battlefield. After the war, she formed the American Red Cross. As president of the organization, Barton ensured the charity helped those in need regardless of circumstance. The Red Cross remains one of the most respected charities to this day.
6. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922): Alexander Graham Bell created and patented the first telephone in 1876. Bell made other breakthroughs in aeronautics and telecommunications. He also helped found the National Geographic Society. However, Bell is synonymous with the telephone. What would people do today without their phones?
7. John Brown (1800-1859): John Brown ensured the Civil War with his raid into Virginia. Brown hoped to lead a slave insurrection to wipe the institution from the Earth, but planned poorly. As a result, the U.S. Marines arrested Brown at Harper’s Ferry and Virginia hanged him. His raid frightened the South, as they believed most northerners supported, and thought like, Brown. Once Lincoln won the 1860 Presidential Election, the South left the Union.
8. William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925): William Jennings Bryan brought progressivism to the Democratic Party. In 1896, Bryan incorporated the Populist Party’s message into his campaign. With few exceptions, the Democrats have been left of center ever since. Bryan lost three presidential elections and served as a witness for creationism at the Scopes Monkey Trial. He died shortly after the trial leading many to consider him a Christian martyr.
9. George W. Bush (born 1946): George W. Bush won a contested election in 2000 exacerbating an already hyper partisan atmosphere. On September 11, 2001, the partisanship dissipated for a time when terrorists struck New York City. Bush launched a war that overthrew the Taliban and initiated democratic reforms in Afghanistan. In 2003, Saddam Hussein violated terms of the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire leading to a second war. The Iraqis eventually hanged Hussein for crimes against humanity and Bush established a shaky democracy. Images of Iraqi and Afghan voters flashed through the Middle East leading to popular uprisings throughout the region.
10. John C Calhoun (1782-1850): John C. Calhoun began his career as a nationalist, but later emerged a leading proponent of states’ rights and slavery. He developed the doctrines of nullification and interposition, which plagued the country into the 20th century. Calhoun also supported secession to protect South Carolina. He backed down when President Jackson threatened to hang him. However, his theories lived on after his death and helped lead to the Civil War and Jim Crow Era.