The Most Important Cases, Speeches, Laws & Documents in American History

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Give me liberty or give me death! -- or at least give me a respectable top-40 list.

In honor of Nolos 40th anniversary as America's pioneer do-it-yourself legal publisher, we're looking back -- not just at our own past, but at milestones in our nation's legal history. To that end, our own team of expert lawyer-editors got together and assembled top-40 lists in four categories -- speeches, historical documents, laws, and landmark Supreme Court cases -- that they consider the most important legal documents in American history. Think Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, The Bill of Rights, or the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

There were many documents we would have loved to include, but those we did include share one thing in common: they mark an important idea, movement, or event that figured in our nation's history. And of course, we were somewhat biased toward documents that capture the Nolo law for all spirit, like Thomas Paines Common Sense, which contains a powerful, stirring argument for democracy.

Get inspired! Browse our top-40 collection now!

40 Greatest American Speeches

From Patrick Henrys legendary pronouncement, Give me liberty or give me death! to Martin Luther King, Jr.s famous I Have a Dream speech, for centuries American orators have changed attitudes, spurred action, or summed up a nations collective sorrow. Here are 40 of the greatest (listed in order from the oldest to the most recent).

40 Significant American Legal Documents

A lot can be learned about American history by reading what our forebears and their contemporaries wrote -- contracts, declarations of independence, death warrants, executive orders, and the like. Some of these historical documents changed the way we governed ourselves (the Declaration of Independence), or expanded rights for certain groups of our citizens (the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments). Others serve as a warning of how easily we can collectively run astray of American principles of freedom and respect (the 1692 Death Warrant of Bridget Bishop or Executive Order 9066, which relocated Americans of Japanese descent to internment camps during World War II). Here are 40 historical documents that mark important points, both good and bad, in our nations story (listed in order from the oldest to the most recent).

40 Landmark Supreme Court Cases

The United States Supreme Court has played a large role in U.S. history, at times reflecting the mass sentiment of the era (upholding slavery in Dred Scott v. Sandford) and at other times disregarding popular views to extend rights to our citizens (as in Brown v. Board of Education when it ruled that separate is not equal). Other famous Supreme Court decisions established the Courts own power (Marbury v. Madison) or reshaped the political landscape (for example, by ruling on voter redistricting in Baker v. Carr). Here are 40 of the most important U.S. Supreme Court decisions (listed in order from the oldest to the most recent).

40 Most Important American Laws

Congress, presidents, activists, and voters have all influenced the enactment and repeal of our nations federal laws. Those laws have influenced American lives in many ways by changing the way we do business (the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act), preserving our environment (the Endangered Species Act and the Act to Establish Yellowstone National Park), and protecting our citizens (Keating-Owen Child Labor Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act). Here are 40 of our countrys most important federal laws, some still existing, some now greatly expanded, and some thankfully no longer with us (listed in order from the oldest to the most recent).

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