Documents may seem like simple words on paper or a screen, as we know them today, but even simple documents achieve powerful outcomes. Our lives today have been influenced by several historical documents. Some have received a lot of prominence while others, not so much. It is interesting how a document signed on one side of the ocean can influence life on the other side.
In this blog, we'll be taking a step back from our usual tech discussions regarding document automation and generation. Let's take a quick look into the most influential world historical documents that changed lives for the worse or better:
Without this document, justice wouldn’t exist in this world as we know it today. It is also known as the Great Charter of Freedoms. This charter was signed by a reluctant King John in 1215 creating a foundation for constitutional justice as it is practiced today. If you are familiar with the right of habeas corpus, then you know how important this charter was and still is. The Magna Carta pruned the powers of the king so that he couldn’t imprison people without trial or based on his whims. Courts of law were also established to try accused people along with other introductions to safeguard rights to justice.
Thomas Paine’s tract is one of the most famous documents because it set the stage for what we now call human rights. His ideology was not welcomed in England and he was sentenced to death for writing his famous tract, “Rights of Man” in France where he escaped to however, this was favorably received after the French revolution. Thomas Paine’s document was incorporated into the French constitution where every man has rights to liberty, safety, property, and freedom from oppression. It includes other rights like education for the poor and introduces a tax on the wealthy which today we refer to as income tax.
This treaty was signed between representatives of America and Representatives of Britain as well as France and Spain. The treaty brought an end to the war between France, Britain, and Spain. This treaty also helped America fully establish itself as an independent nation. Britain for the first time recognized America as a territory free from its colonial influence. This may have influenced the drive by many other British colonies to seek independence and they borrowed some ideas from this treaty. The impact of the Treaty of Paris was probably felt more by France which had to give up its influence in the New Found Land. However, it was a small price to pat to be at peace with its European neighbors.
Talk about the importance of historical documents and it is hard to overlook this one. Although Britain had already abolished the slave trade by 1772, many people still owned slaves. The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act began the process of putting an end to the ownership of slaves. This, however, was not an instant process since within the document were clauses that seemed to provide slave owners some time to gain from slave labor under the law of apprenticeship. The act however emboldened slaves to demand their freedom earlier than the period set by the act.
This document though didn’t come without its cost to the government as £20 million had to be paid to the plantation farmers who had to give up their property.
The American Civil War is one of the great wars of history. This war was won in part because of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The proclamation document was made by Abraham Lincoln. He issued the proclamation that all slaves in states in rebellion would be declared free. This led to over 200,000 black slaves joining the war which turned from war to uphold the union to a war of emancipation. Many hearts and minds were won over by this document. The proclamation was followed by the 13th amendment which abolished slavery altogether. The amendment needed to be made to ensure the proclamation would stand. Before the amendment, slavery was still lawful in confederation states as well as southern states captured by the North. The 1863 document set the stage for its abolition.
This is the document that lays the foundation for communism as we know it today. At the height of the industrial revolution, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote the communist manifesto which was published in 1848. The two argued that budding capitalism would not survive long and it would eventually be replaced by socialism which would give way to communism. According to history commentators, the manifesto is vastly a document that highlights the struggle between classes in society as well as the injustice the working class experiences as they toil for a living. Countries that embraced communism derive a lot of their ideology from this manifesto and a lot of the social inequality exposed in the document continue to be seen today.
This is probably the worst treaty ever signed. Although it is said to have ended the First World War, it is also to blame for the Second World War. Negotiated by the US president in 1919, this document was signed by European leaders with fingers pointing at Germany for starting the war and it imposed tough punitive action against German. Some of the terms included Germany losing its territories and its army weakened considerably. In the end, the treaty was something offensive to politicians in Germany and some of the European nations. It was not long before what was a document intended to promote peace became a rally instrument for war and the Second World War was born!
Of all the documents of American history, this is the most celebrated and its influence stretches far beyond America. The Declaration of Independence is a finely woven document that intertwines the history, aspirations, and way of life of the people living in the country. Drawn up by Thomas Jefferson, the declaration of independence has been quoted innumerable times by politicians, civil rights activists, scholars and so many more. Even though Britain recognized American independence in 1783, America considered itself independent since July 4th, 1776 when this document was approved by Congress with the final text added.
The UN aptly describes this as a milestone document in human history. Proclaimed in December 1948 by the UN General Assembly, it spells out fundamental human rights that have to be protected and respected. The declaration was put together by legal brains from across the globe and translated to over 500 languages. Following the destruction and dehumanizing ordeal, millions of people experienced during the World War, this document was intended to protect the dignity of the human being and promote peace universally. This declaration addresses several civil rights issues contained in other documents like the ban on slavery, discrimination, and torture among others. Numerous countries across the globe have incorporated these rights into their constitutions making it one of the most influential historical documents.
This act is what made apartheid work in South Africa. The government introduced the population act which required everyone in the country to register according to their race. Four main groups were recognized in this act and that was white, black, colored, and Indian. Each group would have a particular area of residence, education and they would be treated in a particular way because of their race. This act led to the mistreatment of particularly black people in South Africa. The rest of the world responded to this by boycotting South Africa. Several sanctions were placed on South Africa and these were mainly economic and military. The document however remained an operational act from 1950 to 1990.
From the 5th century, this was one of the most followed guides to war in East Asia. It is believed to be written by a Chinese general known as Sun Tzu, some Historians however dispute this. They doubt whether that was a real person and suggest it could be a compilation of documents written by different Chinese generals. Whoever wrote it though, this treatise has changed history. Many famous battles were won by military leaders who used the tactics suggested. One famous leader who applied strategies from The Art of War was French General Napoleon.
Generals are not the only ones who apply Sun Tzu’s techniques. Team leaders, motivational speakers, and ordinary people borrow leaves from The Art of War.
This is a key document in the history of pharmacy. The act sought to regulate the sale of drugs, especially potent drugs that at the time were referred to as poisons. It also introduced a requirement that only qualified pharmacists would be allowed to sell these drugs. This document was the first attempt to regulate the way medications as well as narcotics were sold. Many more similar documents were brought forward after this in Britain. This was an act that started a drive to introduce order in the way dangerous drugs were used. This was especially important as many people at that time would take opium the way alcohol is taken today.
The US has the oldest constitutional document in the world. Written in 1787, this constitution has been a model for so many other countries that were formed after the US. One of the most influential features of the US Constitution is the Bill of Rights which comprises the different rights of every citizen. The constitution also includes amendments about the way the government is run and what powers it has. The US constitution promotes democracy and the country is referred to as the oldest democracy in the world. Many other countries have adopted the same principles enshrined in the documents that run the American constitution.
The cylinder is argued to be the oldest charter of human rights. Made in 539 BCE, the Cyrus Cylinder was authored by Cyrus the Great after he took over Babylon from Nabonidus. Parts of the writings inscribed on the cylinder indicate that the Great Achaemenid ruler freed the slaves who were captive in Babylon. Some historians argue that this was the first documented abolition of slavery and that is why it is considered to be one of the most important historical documents that changed the world. In 1971 a replica of this cylinder with English translation was handed over to the UN. The translation was largely intended to give credence to historical sources that insist Cyrus made the first declaration of human rights. Although this may be up for argument, there is undisputed evidence that the document demonstrates tolerance of the cult which became a policy carried on by Cyrus' successor.
For years or centuries to come when historians examine documents from our present era, WikiLeaks is likely to be one of the most important documents in world history they will find. It certainly created change across the globe. The leaked cables shared between diplomats and heads of state exposed a lot about the world today. It also brought into question the way we handle sensitive information. It is believed leaking of the documents played a part in the Egyptian revolution and probably the entire Arab spring. The change brought about by the leaked documents continues to be felt within the political arena and other aspects of our lives.
From the oldest historical records of rock paintings found in caves and clay cylinders from Persia to the present-day digital documents accessible anywhere on the go, documents remain a big part of human existence. They are a record of our lives in the past, a guide for our present and blueprint for the future. Humans have always found ways to document their lives and it is evident that these ways are improving. With the digital age, we no longer have to worry about papyrus documents falling apart or missing pages of important manuscripts. At the click of a button or even command of our voice, we can access documents.
The future of human development is promising with innovation guiding change for the better. We can influence development much faster and share information that defines our future much faster. As history continues to be written, the innovators will find smarter ways to document it.
And if you’re looking for a way to automate your company’s important documents, check out our guide on Evaluating Document Generation Solutions.