Semester Two Summaries: Post-Reconstruction to Present Day
These short summaries were prepared to supplement The American Nation by Mark Carnes

In the Wake of War

While major changes were occurring in American society at large, the federal government, but for the "bloody shirt" and debates over the tariff, currency, and civil-service reform, essentially disengaged itself from any meaningful issues of the day. Like most Americans, it took a laissez-faire approach to (not) regulating business; social Darwinism for many justified such an approach. Mark Twain called this era the "Gilded Age," dazzling on the surface but base underneath. In the South, blacks were gradually disenfranchised through the use of poll taxes and literacy tests, while the Supreme Court curtailed blacks' civil rights and the power of the government to defend them. Blacks responded with militant nationalism, a revival of the back-to-Africa movement, and, as preached by Booker T. Washington and most popularly, accommodation and concentration on self-improvement. Meanwhile, Americans were filling the West at breakneck speed, provoking more conflict with the Indians. First the United States attempted a policy of "concentration," which might have worked had it not been for white encroachments on Indian lands. It was then decided that the Indians should be given reservations and take up farming; some tribes yielded but others went to war against the U.S. and settlers. The army eventually broke Indian resistance, though not before taking some spectacular losses, and the Dawes Severalty Act parceled tribal lands out to individual Indians, effectively killing tribal life. Whites were drawn to the West by the great mineral strikes made there and the lure of land, but the reality was that both the mines and most of the land could only be afforded by large corporations or wealthy speculators. Among those corporations were the railroads, which were subsidized by government land grants and loans. The railroads aided western farmers by providing them with cheap and convenient transportation to markets; likewise the railroads helped the growth of cattle ranching in the West, which, until the crowding, fencing, and overproduction caused a crash in the late 1880s, prospered on the open range.

An Industrial Giant

With advances in technology, plentiful natural resources and raw materials, a large immigrant labor force, a favorable tariff, and a laissez-faire government, American industry thrived in the late nineteenth century. Railroads were probably the most significant element in American economic development; important as an industry themselves, the railroads also contributed to the growth and development of other industries. Land-grant railroads helped to settle the West by selling their lands cheaply and on easy terms to settlers. Almost as important was the iron and steel industry, in which the Bessemer process made mass production possible. Furthermore, new technologies fostered the growth of the oil industry, and new inventions like the telephone and incandescent light bulb gave birth to industries of their own. The railroad, steel, and oil industries required expensive machinery and economies of scale, which led to economic concentration. Soon, monopolies developed; the same happened in the utility industries in order to avoid costly duplication of equipment and to protect patents. Many Americans saw such monopolies as threats to fair pricing and endangering economic opportunity and democratic institutions. They were also concerned about maldistribution of wealth and the sheer power of corporations. Reformers included authors such as Henry George, Edward Bellamy, and Henry Demarest Lloyd, and political movements like Marxism. The perceived threat of corporations’ large concentrations of wealth and monopolies was finally addressed by government, first on the local level and then the federal. Railroads were the focus of early regulation, but the subsequent Interstate Commerce Act and Sherman Antitrust Act targeted big business in general, and sought to restore competition. Workers also reacted to their lot by organizing, with varying degrees of success. Significant events in labor history from this era include the Knights of Labor’s involvement in the Haymarket Square riot, the formation of the American Federation of Labor, and the Homestead and Pullman strikes. The government's role in defeating the Pullman strike in particular raised questions about just how effective any labor action against big business could be. The largest question that dominated this era struck at the heart of the nation’s democratic promise: How could the government promote democracy and freedom with industrialization’s growing divide between rich and poor and its suppression of dissent?

American Society in the Industrial Age

As the industrial era progressed, social divisions in America became more apparent. The middle class, wage earners, women, and farmers all experienced industrialization differently. In middle-class families, husbands and wives functioned in separate spheres of responsibility, and children were closely supervised. Improvements in urban transportation allowed them to move out of city centers. Wage earners, especially unskilled ones, had a more difficult time with industrialization, as large-scale industry decreased and made more impersonal contact between employees and employer, machines set the pace of work, and workers were subject to swings of the business cycle and poverty dogged them. Nevertheless, although strikes revealed working-class unrest, many in the working class still believed that with ability and hard work they could rise from their circumstances. Growing numbers of women worked outside the home, most as domestic servants, but others in mills and sewing, nursing, the secretarial field, and in elementary education. Farmers in more established areas benefited from technology and easy access to urban markets, but farmers in general increasingly lived at the mercy of industrial cycles, and reacted with periodic waves of radicalism that shook off some of their previous laissez-faire attitudes. Despite the increasing rigidity of these emerging social divisions, America still remained a socially, economically, and educationally mobile society. The working class and the problems of the cities were of particular concern during this era, probably because the influential urban middle class saw them every day. Working-class slums (and, soon, ethnic neighborhoods) were being filled by new, and different-looking immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, alarming many with their alien customs, the threat they appeared to pose to "American" laborers, and their reputed radicalism. Meanwhile, at the same time that their concentrations of people fostered varied social, artistic, and intellectual opportunities, cities were overwhelmed by their population growth. Reformers, then, were driven by a desire to clean up the cities, alleviate poverty, and in the process, "Americanize" the immigrants. Some church leaders, preaching the "Social Gospel," and settlement houses made up the ranks of the reform movement.

Intellectual and Cultural Trends

American education, social philosophy, the sciences, and literature all experienced significant changes in the Gilded Age. The American population was growing and generally better-educated than ever before, and demand for reading material skyrocketed; the era was probably the golden age of American magazine publishing, and libraries, newspapers, and reading groups proliferated. Many magazines took on the social issues of the day. Literature also reflected this focus, as realists such as Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Henry James gained prominence. American art also reflected this realism. As they witnessed the social changes wrought by industrialization, Americans also became interested in social theory, and social scientists applied the idea of social Darwinism to human relations of all sorts as they attempted to use scientific methodology to find objective truths in subjective fields. Social scientists were also drawn into practical affairs over questions about slums and trusts. Evolution even influenced law and the study of history, as show in the work of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Frederick Jackson Turner. Although the literacy of much of the population was a triumph in itself, educators realized that traditional education did not prepare students for life in industry. Progressive educators, John Dewey foremost among them, saw schools as mechanisms for social reform and argued for a more inclusive curriculum taught by professional instructors. And though only about 2 percent of the eligible population went to college, the modern college and university has its roots in this era. Finally, while the theory of evolution helped explain much of modern life, its logic also made it difficult to justify fixed systems and eternal verities, and that, carried further by Charles Pierce, concepts could only be fairly understood in terms of their practical effects. This thinking, represented most visibly in the work of Pierce and William James, was known as pragmatism.

Politics: Local, State, and National

In the late nineteenth century, the major national political parties avoided taking stands on controversial issues; voters' decisions were usually determined by their ethnic background, region of the country, religion, and stance on the Civil War. The largely ineffective presidents and congressional leaders of the era did little to distinguish themselves. Local politics, however, were somewhat more active: the cities saw the rise of the boss system, while the farm belt, suffering from low commodity prices, restrictive tariff and fiscal policies, foreign competition, drought, and perpetual boom-and-bust cycles, produced the Farmers Alliance, which finally roused national politics from its slumber. The Alliance joined forces with the Knights of Labor in 1892 to form the People's, or Populist, party. Their platform was sweeping, but the most prominent issue was silver. The Populists demanded free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ration of 16:1 to gold. Primarily over the silver issue, Republican William McKinley defeated Populist William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1896. The election was significant not only because it decided the silver question, which turned out to be of little consequence anyway, but because McKinley ran a campaign with a national approach against Bryan's more parochial one that appealed to only certain groups.
The Age of Reform

Following hard on the heels of the Gilded Age was the Progressive era. Progressives were never a single group and never shared a single objective; the movement can best be seen as a search for order in an increasingly complex society. Among the more famous progressives were the muckraking journalists. The order that Progressives sought was very particular: the movement was paternalistic, often oversimplified issues, and regarded its own (predominantly middle-class) values as absolute; it also seldom challenged the fundamental principles of capitalism or basic social structure. Some who did formed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Progressives reform often began with corrupt city machines, replacing them with such systems as "home rule," nonpartisan bureaus, city commissioners, and city managers. They also pursued urban renewal, municipalization of public utilities and public transportation systems, and penal-institution reform. Municipal reforms, however, would fail without support at the state level, so progressive reformers also turned their attention there. Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin is exemplary as a progressive at the state level; he introduced direct primaries, corrupt practices acts, and campaign spending legislation, as well as the Wisconsin Idea, which was basically to consult scholars and outside experts on particular reforms. Other states adopted the initiative and referendum to make their governments more responsive to the people. Progressive legislation by states also included laws regulating workplace conditions, restricting child and women’s labor, and regulating transportation, banking, utilities, and insurance. Nationally, one of progressivism's aims was women's suffrage, which was achieved in 1920 with the Nineteenth Amendment. In the White House, Theodore Roosevelt earned a progressive, "trust-busting" reputation, although he much preferred regulating and reaching "gentlemanly agreements" with large corporations to busting them. He was fair to both labor and business, as illustrated in his handling of the anthracite coal strike. But as time passed, Roosevelt did become more progressive and liberal. He backed the Hepburn Act (1906), giving the ICC the right to fix maximum railroad rates, and the Pure Food and Drug Act (1907), supported conservation, and advocated income and inheritance taxes. His move left and the panic of 1907 helped to split the Republican party . His successor, William Howard Taft, aroused Roosevelt’s ire such that Roosevelt broke with the Republicans in 1912. Woodrow Wilson won the election and continued progressive reforms, though tempered to a degree. Wilson was also an exemplary progressive in that he was a reactionary on race matters: progressives’ search for order often included marginalizing blacks. In reaction to this, a new wave of black militancy, led by W. E. B. Du Bois, broke with Booker T. Washington, and began the Niagara Movement and later the NAACP.

From Isolation to Empire

While not usually so attentive to European affairs in the second part of the nineteenth century, the United States, motivated by markets, missionary zeal, Anglo-Saxonism, manifest destiny, and strategic and military concerns, displayed increasing interest in Latin America and the Far East—the "large policy." In the Pacific, the U.S. acquired Alaska, the Midway Islands, and Hawaii, the latter two of which were important stops on the way to China and Japan. In Latin America, the United States unilaterally abrogated the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850), and via the Hay-Pauncefote Agreement (1901) won the right to sole control of a canal across Panama. The United States also had an abiding interest in Cuba and supported Cuban rebels when they revolted against the Spanish in 1895. When an American battleship, the Maine, exploded in Havana harbor in 1898, the U.S. seized the opportunity to declare war on Spain. Significantly, the United States disavowed any intention to annex Cuba in the Teller Amendment. As a result of the Spanish-American War, Spain evacuated Cuba, and the U.S. gained Puerto Rico, Guam, and, through a later negotiation, the Philippines. The acquisition of the Philippines occasioned great debate in America over the idea of an empire; an insurrection in the islands against the Americans did not help matters. In Cuba, the United States established a military government in 1898, but eventually withdrew after modernizing sugar production, improving sanitary conditions, establishing schools, restoring orderly administration, and inserting the Platt Amendment into the Cuban constitution. The United States intervened repeatedly throughout the Caribbean, justifying such actions with the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. Motivated by Colombia’s rejection of a treaty on the isthmian canal, the U.S. also played a major role in helping Panama break from Colombia. In Asia, the United States sought to trade in China, but Japan and a number of European countries had already established spheres of influence there. To check their influence and secure the U.S. a spot, Secretary of State Hay issued a series of Open Door notes calling upon the various powers to honor existing trade agreements with China, respect China's territorial integrity, and impose no restrictions on trade within their spheres. The Open Door policy, along with the U.S. role in the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War, and the Gentlemen's Agreement all engendered ill feelings between the U.S. and Japan. Somewhat remarkably, by the eve of World War I the U.S. had become a world power.
Woodrow Wilson and the Great War

In Wilson's presidency, the United States mediated a dispute between Japan and China, suppressed unrest in the Caribbean, and intervened in Mexico to overthrow the dictator Victoriano Huerta. The defining event, however, was the Great War, in which the United States initially attempted to remain neutral. Neutrality was tested by increased trade with the Allied powers and German submarine warfare in the Atlantic, and when diplomatic overtures for peace were rejected and the U.S. intercepted the Zimmermann telegram, Wilson declared war on the Central Powers. America mobilized for the war only fitfully, but the war did bring some benefits for blacks, who served in the armed forces in addition to finding work in wartime industry; women, who entered new fields; and for labor in general, as wartime needs decreased unemployment, raised wages, and opened the way for unionization in many areas. Government planning and regulation of industry began a new era of cooperation between the two. To finance the war the government borrowed, sold Liberty and Victory bonds, and used income, inheritance, and excess-profits taxes; to secure support for the war effort, Wilson named George Creel to head the Committee on Public Information. The Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) helped silence dissent. American involvement was decisive in winning the war for the Allies, but Wilson’s plans for the peace did not fare so well. Wilson proffered his Fourteen Points: Germany accepted, but the Big Four, more concerned with security, war guilt, and reparations, did not. Wilson hoped to implement his Fourteen Points, then, with the League of Nations, but he faced daunting opposition at home. Wilson had made political mistakes that eroded his support and refused to compromise on the League, thus Congress rejected American membership. The end of the war and a rapid, unsupervised demobilization brought instability to the United States, leading to inflation, economic decline and unemployment, strikes, and a Red Scare. In electing Harding in 1920, Americans expressed their desire to return to "normalcy."

Postwar Society and Culture

The 1920s was yet another decade of jarring social change in America, even as immigration was sharply reduced by Congress. For the first time, urban Americans outnumbered rural Americans, and city life affected family structure, employment, the role of women, and educational and cultural opportunities. New ideas—about marriage, child rearing, contraception, and women’s rights—gained currency. A younger generation, disillusioned by the outcome of the war, behaved in ways that confounded their elders. And, in addition, the emergence of radio, the movies, and spectator sports transformed leisure and popular culture. Rural Americans saw the urban culture as threatening; they were resistant to the changes society was undergoing. This resistance was played out in a number of ways: a rise of fundamentalism and the Scopes "Monkey Trial," a new Ku Klux Klan, and Prohibition. And in rural and urban areas alike, immigrants and foreigners remained suspect, as illustrated by the travesty of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. Such paranoia coupled with the carnage of World War I led intellectuals to abandon the hope for social change implicit in the work of the realists and progressives. Authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway formed a "lost generation" (many of them expatriates) and along with H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis wrote as critics of society and of alienation. Likewise, blacks in the 1920s were disillusioned: the hope that their patriotism in World War I would lead to more opportunity was shattered. The 1920s did, however, see a flowering of black culture epitomized by the Harlem Renaissance. But in spite of this dissatisfaction, the "New Era" of the 1920s was very prosperous and good to many Americans. It was the first true age of the consumer. Meanwhile, the automobile made Americans even more mobile and became a symbol of freedom, prosperity, and individualism, and the airplane fascinated the public, especially after Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight.

The New Era: 1921-1933

The Harding and Coolidge administrations of the 1920s were very pro-business. Harding's was also not free from scandal, which revolved around his "Ohio Gang" of cronies and Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall's Teapot Dome deal. The World War I and League of Nations experiences led America to withdraw somewhat from foreign involvements, but economic interests rendered impossible complete disengagement. The United States’s efforts in foreign policy included the Washington Conference (1921), which produced the Five-Power Treaty, the Four-Power Treaty, and the Nine-Power Treaty. The treaties were essentially toothless but regained some moral influence for the United States in the wake of the League rejection. The United States in addition had a strong peace movement, and was instrumental in the signing of the rather utopian Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928. American policy toward Latin America also changed drastically under Harding and Coolidge with the introduction of the Good Neighbor Policy; the United States vowed to treat its neighbors as equals, renounced its self-proclaimed right to intervene at will in the region, and withdrew from Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The inadequacy of the Washington Conference and the Kellogg-Briand pact became apparent in the early 1930s, when Japan occupied Manchuria: neither the United States nor the League of Nations would intervene, though the U.S. did issue the Stimson Doctrine. The Europeans were too preoccupied with quarrels over wartime debt and reparations to worry about Japan. Britain and France owed the United States, and insisted on reparations from Germany to help pay those debts. Germany simply could not pay. The combination of these debts, shaky economic foundations, and lack of governmental regulation in the United States resulted in the Great Crash of October 1929. Although Hoover had been elected in a landslide in 1928, he absorbed blame for the depression, and his attempts to deal with it failed and at times exacerbated the situation. Americans elected Franklin Roosevelt president in 1932.

The New Deal, 1933-1941

With a sympathetic bipartisan Congress convinced of the need for government intervention to combat the depression, Roosevelt introduced, and passed, an unprecedented array of legislation upon assuming the presidency. He had no comprehensive plan of action and policies were sometimes contradictory; the intent was to stimulate the economy, alleviate unemployment and industrial stagnation, and inject optimism into the American public. Among the programs introduced in Roosevelt's first New Deal were the National Recovery Administration, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Tennessee Valley Administration, and the Works Progress Administration. But because unemployment still remained high, optimism was not always easy to come by and Roosevelt had his detractors. Literature, such as John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and the work of William Faulkner portray some of the national mood, as did the popularity of Huey Long’s "Share Our Wealth" plan and Father Charles Coughlin’s attacks on Jews, bankers, and Roosevelt himself. As the depression continued, Roosevelt unveiled the second New Deal in 1935; it introduced deficit spending and was somewhat less business-friendly than earlier efforts. Roosevelt won reelection in 1936, and emboldened by his triumph and frustrated by opposition from the Supreme Court to some of the New Deal programs, attempted to increase the number of judges on the Court. He failed, and although some judges became more friendly and others retired or died and thus allowed Roosevelt to name replacements, the court-packing scheme was a blow to Roosevelt. This episode also essentially marked the beginning of the end of the New Deal, as a "Roosevelt recession" gripped the country in 1937. The New Deal was very significant because it increased the role of government in assuring the public welfare, and expanded the federal bureaucracy and the powers of the president. The New Deal also changed the lot of blacks, women, and Indians. Throughout the 1930s, preoccupied with the depression and inspired by the Nye Commission report, America was resolutely isolationist in global matters. Aggression on the part of Germany, Japan, and Italy, however, slowly drew Americans out, albeit very reluctantly. The U.S. aided Britain and France in their fight against Germany and Italy, initiated an atomic-bomb project, and began a peacetime draft. By 1941, with the Lend-Lease Act establishing a relationship with Britain, the U.S. occupying Iceland and Greenland, and the Greer and Reuben James incidents, the United States was at war in all but name.

War and Peace: World War II

While Roosevelt saw Hitler as a more dangerous enemy, the United States and Japan stumbled on a more direct path toward confrontation. In 1937 the Japanese resumed war against China and hostilities in Asia; in early 1941 Secretary of State Hull demanded Japan withdraw from China and not occupy French and Dutch holdings in Asia, a proposal that was overwhelmingly unacceptable to the Japanese. When the Japanese occupied Indochina in July 1941, the United States froze Japanese assets and placed an embargo on petroleum. The Japanese attacked the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in December, drawing the United States into the war. Roosevelt, granted wide emergency powers by Congress, mobilized the home front through the Office of War Mobilization and the National War Labor Board; the United States financed the war with taxes. Wartime industry offered great opportunities to women, blacks, and American Indians, but was not so kind to Hispanics and Mexicans; meanwhile industry and the armed forces contributed to population mobility and an increase in marriages and births. And although German and Italian Americans did not suffer form prejudice, Japanese Americans were interned in a blatant and racist disregard for their civil rights. In the conduct of the war, the Allies chose to concentrate on defeating Hitler first; the Japanese threat remained rather remote. Stalin and Roosevelt argued for opening up a western front in France to alleviate Nazi pressure on the Soviet Union, but Churchill’s preference to bomb German cities and attack through North Africa and then Italy prevailed. Eventually, after the Soviets had turned back the Nazis at Stalingrad and the Allies were moving through Italy, the western front in France was opened in June 1944. Germany’s last gasp came with the Battle of the Bulge, but it surrendered in May 1945. Meanwhile, the United States in the Pacific got the upper hand on the Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, and conducted a campaign of island hopping on the way to a planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. The tenacity of Japanese forces convinced President Truman that an invasion of Japan would result in huge casualties, and with that, and a desire to end the Pacific war before the Soviets could play a part in it and thus the peace, in mind, he decided to use atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, inducing a Japanese surrender in August 1945. The war ended with a new hope for international cooperation embodied in the United Nations, but the Soviets and their Western allies soon had a falling out. Stalin was determined to secure his western boundary and install friendly governments on his borders, which came into conflict with Western commitments to self-determination and a perceived need to check the spread of communism. Conferences at Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam were increasingly contentious and set the stage for postwar Soviet-American rivalry.

The American Century

Truman for the most part carried on Roosevelt's policies at home and abroad; his first challenge was demobilization after the war and a reconversion of the economy. Although he vacillated, the transition went smoothly, aided by pent-up demand and wartime savings. The postwar era was extremely prosperous in America, the trend toward early marriage continued and births boomed, and government policies encouraged large families and home ownership. The era was also the beginning of the Cold War, in which the United States adopted a policy of containment toward communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular. This led to American aid Greece and Turkey and then to the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. Conflict with the Soviets occurred when they closed the West’s surface access to Berlin; Truman countered with an airlift and after a year the Soviets relented. To secure mutual defense and further combat the Soviet threat, the United States and Western Europeans formed NATO in 1949. Containment was not so successful in Asia, where Japan became a prosperous and democratic American ally but China was "lost" to Mao's communists. Containment also led the United States, as the major player in a UN peacekeeping intervention, into a dubious conflict in Korea. Fear of communism made Americans paranoid and directly resulted in the rise of Joseph McCarthy, who was discredited only after he had ruined many people. In 1952 Eisenhower was elected president, and he and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, discontinued the containment policy in favor of a reliance on America’s nuclear arsenal and "massive retaliation." Vestiges of the containment policy, however, were present in U.S. aid to France in Vietnam and the subsequent partitioning of that country and in the standoff in the Suez Crisis of 1956, which prompted the "Eisenhower Doctrine." Nevertheless, tensions with the Soviets appeared to be on the wane when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev spoke of "peaceful coexistence" and he and Eisenhower met in 1955 and Vice President Nixon traveled to Moscow in 1959. Before anything substantial could happen, though, an American spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. In 1959–60, the United States also saw the revolutionary government in Cuba, which it had initially supported, ally itself with the Soviets. Meanwhile, in the United States, the civil-rights movement gathered momentum from the mid-1950s on, under the charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. Key events include the Montgomery bus boycott, the Supreme Court's Brown decision, and Eisenhower’s decision to use federal power to enforce Brown in Arkansas. In 1960 Kennedy defeated Vice President Nixon for the presidency.

From Camelot to Watergate

John F. Kennedy's presidency found its defining moments in the global arena. Kennedy organized the Alliance for Progress, authorized the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuban, faced down Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis, and saw Khrushchev order construction of the Berlin Wall. Domestically, Kennedy did not deal effectively with Congress, which rejected his proposals for federal aid to education, urban renewal, a higher minimum wage, and medical care for the aged. After Kennedy's assassination, Johnson had more success with much the same agenda, which he expanded into his Great Society programs. Both Kennedy and Johnson, like Eisenhower before them, grappled with the civil-rights movement and the issues surrounding it; a major part of the Great Society comprised civil-rights legislation. Meanwhile, the United States became ever more deeply involved in Vietnam under Johnson, a move that was widely unpopular, divided Americans, and essentially led Johnson to decide not to run for reelection in 1968. The Democratic party was rent over the war issue and its national convention marred by violence; Republican Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968 and considered his major challenge to be finding an acceptable, "honorable" resolution to the war. He pursued a policy of "Vietnamization," withdrawing American troops and turning the war over to the hapless South Vietnamese. However, revelations of American war atrocities and the president's decision to bomb Cambodia aroused even more antiwar feeling and protest demonstrations; students were killed at two colleges by National Guardsmen. Nixon in response increased the pace of withdrawal but escalated bombing of North Vietnam and ordered northern harbors mined. Although haunted by Vietnam, Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger pursued a more successful policy with regard to China and the Soviets. Called détente, or a relaxing of tensions, the policy treated each country individually rather than as part of a monolithic "communism," and sought to play them against each other. The oil crisis of 1973 also occurred during Nixon's presidency. Domestically, Nixon faced inflation caused by large war outlays and backed some liberal legislation such as the Clean Air Act, but was less active in supporting desegregation and many Great Society programs unliked by conservatives. Nixon was eventually brought down by the Watergate scandal, which forced him to resign before he could be impeached.

Society in Flux

Facilitated by government policies and advances in transportation, technology, and communication, America's growing population moved in the postwar era from North and East to South and West, from cities to suburbs. Perhaps the most significant development in communications was the growth of television; by the mid-1950s it had already become a near-indispensable advertising, entertainment, information, and political medium. American prosperity and the growth of the middle class, along with the world-shrinking effects of television and the automobile, helped to make America a more homogeneous society. To a certain extent this was reflected in religion, as churches in the 1950s tended to become more secular and tolerant in their outlooks, but at the same time it is important to remember the pivotal role churches played in the civil-rights movement and in the rise of fundamentalism and conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s. The concerns of the postwar era, and critiques of its conformity, can be found in the literature of the period as well in the visual arts in the works of the New York school, the abstract expressionists, and the op (for optical) and pop (for popular) artists, the latter of whom often satirized modern consumer culture. While incredibly materially prosperous in these years, American culture was not without its discontents. Americans faced two dilemmas: progress was often self-defeating, and modern society, in placing a premium on cooperation, undermined the individual’s sense of importance. Meanwhile, many groups agitated for their rights in society. Frustrated by the slowness of integration, some blacks turned to separatism and confrontation in their fight for civil rights. Others, ranging from Hispanics, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups to women and sexual minorities, were inspired by the black struggle to assert their own rights. The era, particularly the 1960s, also saw widespread student unrest over the war in Vietnam, university policies, and governmental failures in civil rights and the economy. Some young people turned their backs on conventional culture and formed a counterculture. Many Americans also questioned traditional sexual mores, leading to a sexual revolution. At the same time, driven by a perceived Soviet superiority in technology, American schools underwent yet another reform in which progressive theories were replaced with an emphasis on traditional subjects. Thanks to the baby boom and the GI Bill, enrollments in American junior colleges, colleges, and universities expanded.

Running on Empty: The Nation Transformed

After Nixon’s resignation, Gerald Ford became president. Plagued by his inability to solve the nation’s economic problems and his pardon of Nixon, Ford was defeated in 1976 by Jimmy Carter. Carter, though unquestionably well-intentioned and virtuous, was not an effective president. He unable to raise the country out of what he termed its “malaise.” During the Carter presidency, the nation faced double-digit inflation, economic competition from abroad, and a recession, none of which Carter addressed effectively. In foreign policy, Carter sought to put “basic human rights” before all else; with this in mind he cut aid to Chile and Argentina. He negotiated the return of the Panama Canal to Panama, and withdrew recognition of Taiwan and recognized the People’s Republic of China. And while he attempted to continue détente and negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union, Soviet actions in Afghanistan led Carter to withdraw the treaty, suspend grain and technology sales to the Soviets, and boycott the Moscow Olympics. Carter’s greatest foreign-policy accomplishment was the Camp David Agreement; his greatest defeat the Iranian hostage crisis. Although there may have been little he could do about the crisis, the failure of a rescue mission brought wide criticism. Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan, upon whose inauguration the hostages were freed. Reagan deeply believed in supply-side economics, cutting federal programs, tax cuts, and military spending; his policies brought about a recession in 1982.

In foreign policy, he was a dedicated anticommunist and supported right-wing rebels in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and used the American military to oust a Cuban-backed government in Grenada. After his reelection in 1984, Reagan’s feelings toward the Soviets softened in light of the reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan did, however, adhere to his commitments to defense spending, tax cuts, and opposition to communism and terrorism. The Reagan administration was shaken, and the president’s image tarnished, by the Iran-Contra scheme in his second administration.

During the Reagan years, the United State absorbed new immigrants from Asia and Latin America, saw an aging population and a new disease, AIDS, begin to put demands on health care and social services, and faced troubling questions about the state of the family, urban decay, maldistribution of wealth, crime, drugs, and dislocations caused by government deregulation, mergers and acquisitions, and a shift from a production-oriented to a service-based economy.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Reagan's vice president George Bush became president in 1988, and immediately faced the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Bush sought to strengthen the American position in the "new world order" that was to emerge, and to show American might he invaded Panama and was the driving force behind the UN effort to push Saddam Hussein and Iraq out of Kuwait. Bush gained a reputation for being inattentive to domestic matters, which included a sluggish economy, though, and this contributed to his defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992. Reaction against many of Clinton’s ealry proposals led to a Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, leading Clinton to subsequently move toward the right. The Clinton presidency has been fraught with scandal, but the President's approval ratings remained quite high. Soon after George W. Bush won the 2000 election (though he lost the popular vote to for Vice President Al Gore), terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The U.S. "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan followed shortly after. These attacks will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on the course of American history in the "imponderable" 21st century.