This Week in History

PHOTO: The Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, which took place shortly after the Treaty of Ghent.
MPI/Getty Images

From Bunker Hill to the G.I. Bill, this week in history packs a punch of political proceedings. Check out some of the most important events that happened from years past this week in history:

PHOTO: The Statue of Liberty in New York City.
Getty Images
June 17

1885: Statue of Liberty Arrives

After 10 years of construction, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor packed into 214 crates June 17, 1885.

The statue was a gift from the French government, which commissioned sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi to design the lady in recognition of America's centennial in 1876.

In constructing the iron framework to allow the statue to remain upright, Bartholdi sought the assistance of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower.

President Grover Cleveland dedicated the statue a year later, Oct. 28, 1886.

Six years later, the Ellis Island Immigration Station opened nearby. In its 51 years of operation, more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island, all of whom saw the Statue of Liberty as their first welcome to America.

1775: Battle of Bunker Hill

Exactly 110 years before the Statue of Liberty's arrival, American revolutionaries fought British forces for control of a hill near Boston.

On June 17, 1775, American Col. William Prescott and his militiamen constructed fortifications on Breed's Hill to prepare for the British soldiers' attempting to surround the city of Boston.

Although most of the fighting took place on Breed's Hill, the battle was named for the nearby Bunker Hill. The Americans were low on ammunition for the battle, so Prescott advised his men, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!"

The Americans were eventually forced to retreat, but they inflicted 1,000 casualties on the British before doing so, compared to the 400 casualties they suffered.

The battle was a needed morale boost for the revolutionary cause and a wakeup call to the British army that the subsequent conflict would not be easily won.

PHOTO: The Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, which took place shortly after the Treaty of Ghent.
MPI/Getty Images
June 18

1812: The War of 1812 Begins

Two hundred and one years ago today, President James Madison signed the declaration of war against Great Britain that began the two-year conflict of the War of 1812.

The resolution was approved the day before by both the House and the Senate, supported by the "War Hawks" who hoped the clash would end the British impressment of U.S. sailors and expand America's territory.

The two years that followed saw the burning of Washington by British forces and the penning of the "Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key.

The British and the Americans began peace talks in Belgium in 1814 and ended the war by signing the Treaty of Ghent Dec. 24.

But news of the war's end did not come to Andrew Jackson and his troops before the Battle of New Orleans, where they defeated the British in the most decisive American victory of the war.

The American people learned of both events almost simultaneously, giving them the impression of victory and a renewed pride in their young country.

PHOTO: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Washington, D.C., July 2, 1964.
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
June 19

1964: Congress Approves the Civil Rights Act

On June 19, 1964, the Senate approves the Civil Rights Act by a 71-29 majority to end discrimination in public facilities based on race, color, religion or national origin.

The act was first introduced by President John F. Kennedy after the 1963 March on Washington. Kennedy was assassinated before the bill was passed, so it was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson July 2, 1964.

The bill also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to end hiring discrimination and outlawed stricter voter registration requirements for different races.

But the act did not end various methods of voter discrimination, including literacy tests, so the Voting Rights Act was passed the following year Aug. 6, 1965, to ensure the right to vote for all African-Americans.

PHOTO: The Great Seal of the United States, inside the Oval Office of the White House February 29, 2008 in Washington, D.C.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
June 20

1782: The Great Seal of the United States Is Approved

On the very same day that the Declaration of Independence was ratified, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were assigned the task of forging a Great Seal for a new country.

Knowing that a seal would be a symbol of independence, the three men presented several versions of a design in an attempt to represent a nation. The final design actually came from Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress.

His creation was approved June 20, 1782, and can be found on the modern day $1 bill, the rug of the oval office, among many other places.

With 13 stripes on the flag, 13 arrows in an eagle's talon, 13 leaves on the olive branch and 13 stars in the clouds, the seal is a testament to the number of colonies at the time. The reverse side features a 13- step pyramid with an all-seeing eye, representing the eye of God.

1861: West Virginia Becomes a State

In 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union during the Civil War, but without its western half.

The mountainous western region of Virginia, being both different in geography and culture, disagreed with this action and decided to split from Virginia to become its own state.

Adopting the state motto "mountaineers are always free," West Virginia was born and remained with the Union during the war.

PHOTO: United States Constitution.
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June 21

1788: The U.S. Constitution Is Ratified

Set with the task of creating the framework for government, the Constitutional Convention convened in Independence Hall with its leader, George Washington in 1787.

After fierce debate, the document was signed by 38 of the 41 representatives from the states.

In order for the new Constitution to go into effect, though, nine of the 13 states would have to approve it. While many states ratified it right away, several states held out because of lack of fundamental rights, such as for freedom of speech, religion and press.

New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve, with the condition that these amendments would be proposed right away.

The Constitution was ratified June 21, 1788, and the addition of those rights was fulfilled with the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Today, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written governing document still operating in the world today.

PHOTO: Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt circa 1942.
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June 22

1944: The G.I. Bill Becomes Law

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Serviceman's Readjustment Act, otherwise known as the G.I. Bill.

Most famous for helping millions of WW II veterans get a higher education, the bill was designed to provide returning veterans with a host of benefits, including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans and unemployment compensation.

By the end of the program in 1956, the bill had helped more than 2.2 million veterans get a higher education and another 6.6 million in training programs.

Some famous beneficiaries of the law are former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford and famous entertainers Johnny Cash, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.

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