I'd have to answer - with some reservation - that it was the evening the Berlin Wall was torn down by deliriously happy - and free - German citizens. I sat in front of the television watching in awe and knew that it was a moment in history that was ringing the death knell of communism. What an evening it was.
That, to me, is the most outstanding moment in my lifetime. That said, what is the greatest moment in American history? When I received my copy of Smithsonian magazine the other day, and read "My Whole Soul is In It," I was reminded of this:
As his army faltered and his cabinet bickered, Abraham Lincoln determined that "we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued." In 1862, he finally got his chance. (link*)We could each have a different opinion on the matter but, to my thinking, the monumental changes that came about as a result of Lincoln's order that all slaves then living in rebellious regions of the country would be free as of January 1 of the following year - some three and a half million people - was the most momentous act in American history.
Think about it. Think about the hope this proclamation brought to those millions of slaves who were to be set free, and the hope that it gave to the millions who were not covered by the proclamation but knew freedom was soon to be theirs as well.
Also, think about how bold Lincoln's decision to issue the proclamation - especially considering when he issued it - really was. Half the country - the south - was already in mortal rebellion (and don't let revisionists fool you; the war was fought because of the slavery issue, not over states rights). And even in the north, a sizeable percentage of the white population was opposed to such a drastic act and would rather their government appease the south - and bring an end to the terrible civil war that was claiming so many thousands of lives (yes, most Democrats were openly opposed to that war too. They opposed freeing the slaves then, they oppose freeing Iraqis today - seems to be a pattern ...)
Abraham Lincoln turned down the advice of many of his supporters - and all his political advisors - and did what he felt was the right thing to do. He knew - more than anyone else alive in 1862 - what that act meant to the future of our nation:
"In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth." (link)My choice for "The Greatest Moment In American History."
The Emancipation Proclamation* Only a portion of Doris Kearns Goodwin's article appears on line. If you want to read her work in its entirety, you'll have to come over and borrow my copy.
January 1, 1863
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free ...
... by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. (link)