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Unit 4. US history (part 2): brief overview 1600s to 1997; African American history


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Explore the following useful content links - or find links at the bottom of this page to study questions or an easy multiple choice quiz
The conventional starting point for the history of WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) settlers in North America is the Mayflower. Read up on these first immigrants at Caleb Johnson's extensiveMayflower site.

Tension between the American colonists and their British rulers resulted in the armed rebellion known as the War of Independence or American Revolution, starting in 1775. On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies issued the Declaration of Independence. Another seven years were to pass, however, before the American forces, led by George Washington, defeated the British and signed a peace treaty.

Although the Declaration of Independence declared it a "self-evident" truth that "all men are created equal", this did not apply to African Americans. Slavery in the South was one important cause of the Civil War, which broke out after Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861. The turning point in the war was the Battle of Gettysburg, where Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address.

Despite the fact that slavery was abolished in the Emancipation Declaration of 1863, African Americans still did not have full civil rights. The Reconstruction period 1865-77 was followed by a period when segration became normal and accepted in the South. It was going to take a century after the abolition of slavery before African Americans secured formal civil rights is seen in this  timetable of the civil rights movement (loads slowly because of the graphics).

From 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt was president of the US and, as Bill Clinton has put it, "led the American people from the farm to the factory, from the countryside to the cities". The American economy became the strongest in the world.  In foreign policy, Roosevelt's strategy was to "speak softly and wield a big stick". The stick in Roosevelt's days as well as later was mostly applied in the Western hemisphere, whereas the US stayed out of conflicts in Europe, not entering World War I until 1917 (partly as a result of public outrage at the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915).

The 1929 stock market crash and the resulting Great Depression made it clear just how important the US economy was for the rest of the world. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, he proposed a New Deal to end the depression. FDR established the Works Project Administration (WPA) which, among many other things, had the federal government hire writers and artists to portray life i n America. Another New Deal agency was The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which provided jobs for more than 2.5 million young men.

On December 7, 1941, the US Pacific Fleet was attacked in Pearl Harbor, and the United States joined WW II. Four years later the war ended after Harry Truman ( president since Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945) decided to use two atomic bombs against Japan.

Foreign policy for the next forty years would be dominated by the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The most dramatic incident during this period was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, which may have brought us closer to World War III than anything before or since.  President John F Kennedy gets mixed reviews by historians for his handling of the crisis, as well as for other aspects of his short presidency. He is one of the most written about presidents in American history, and in recent years writers have focused mainly on the various allegations of scandals and, of course, on his assassination on November 22, 1963. Several American presidents have been shot, but probably Kennedy is the only one to be shown the dubious honor of his own "assassination home page".

At home, the 1960s was a decade marked by the civil rights movement (see also photo tour). The leader of the movement was Martin Luther King jr., whose birthday, January 16, since 1986 has been a national holiday in the USA (Martin Luther King Day).

One way of taking a look at the state of blacks and other ethnic minorities in America today is to study some of the figures from the US Census Bureau, the agency that counts the population every ten years and publishes all sorts of statistics about the country in between. You could, for example, begin by looking at what Martin Luther King, jr. referred to in the radio program we heard as "the economic issue": what is the average income of blacks compared to other ethnic groups (scroll to the end of the article to see the table - you don't have to read the whole text)? To what extent is poverty a problem? Income and poverty  to some extent depend on education. What are the levels of education in different ethnic groups? What percentage of the population define themselves as belonging to the different ethnic groups, and which ethnic group is growing the fastest?

Kennedy's Vice President, Lyndon B Johnson, was responsible for escalating American involvement in the Vietnam War even though he may have had doubts about the wisdom of this.

Johnson did not seek reelection in 1968. Richard M Nixon won the election, partly as a result of his promise of a "peace with honor" in Vietnam". Instead, he will probably be associated forever with  the Watergate scandal, which forced him to resign in 1974.

Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford (Nixon's vice president) in the 1976 election, but himself failed to win reelection in 1980, when former actor Ronald Reagan became president. Reagan was controversial while still in office, and the debate continues about his political legacy. An extremely positive view of "the Gipper" (a nickname based on one of his movie characters) is found on the Ronald Reagan home page, while others have a decidedly less charitable opinion of the man. The most serious allegations against Reagan concern the Iran-Contra affair.

Reagan's vice president for eight years, George Bush, succeeded him after a landslide victory in 1988 (Bush's own vice president was so infamous for putting his foot in his mouth that an industry grew up dedicated to sharing Dan Qayle quotes with the world). After successfully leading the UN coalition that defeated Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, Bush was a favorite to win the 1992 presidential election. Instead, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas became the first baby boomer to move into the White House. Despite accusations against Bill Clinton as well as First Lady Hillary Clinton over the Whitewater scandal, Clinton easily defeated Bob Dole in 1996 to win a second term. However, any political achievements of Clinton's during this term were easily overshadowed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which led to his impeachment by a Republican-dominated Congress in 1998-99. Despite widespread disgust at the President's behavior, his approval ratings continued to be high. At the same time he was also struggling to rally the nation behind his policy of a limited air war in Kosovo.



Study questions and multiple choice quiz

See if you can answer the following 44 study questions over American history.
, or try this easy multiple choice quiz (it's too easy - just my first attempt at making an HTML multiple choice test)


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