United States of America

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The USA flag.

The United States of America is a First World nation on the North American continent. It is a representative democracy with a spotty history regarding the oppression of the people of the First Civilizations and its own minorities, as well as regarding imperialism toward the rest of the Americas and the world at large. The United States is notable among First World nations for combining a high degree of prosperity among its citizens along with a high level of religiosity, with wealth similar to Norway and religiosity similar to Turkey.<ref>A correlation between poverty and religiosity at Whyevolutionistrue</ref>

History

Pre-1492

The American continents were likely colonized via Siberia, across what is now the Bering Strait ~13,500 years ago. During the last, mild Ice Age, the Bering Strait could have been an exposed land bridge called Beringia. This is the currently accepted theory of pre-Columbian migration into the Americas, but it is still being researched.<ref>Land bridge theory at utexas.edu</ref> One complicating issue is that, being so far North, the advancing ice that lowered sea levels and exposed the land bridge may also have covered that same land bridge. The question would then be whether it was possible for the land bridge to be exposed by the ice before being covered by the ice.<ref>The Colonization of the Americas at about.com</ref>

However, we also know that Australia and the Pacific Islands were colonized by sea, by individuals without compasses, astrolabes, etc. In fact, Australia appears to have been colonized by one of the earliest waves of humans to leave Africa, some time between 30-60,000 years ago, and it would have required the ability to navigate by sea as Australia has always been below the horizon from nearby lands.<ref>New ages for human occupation and climatic change at Lake Mungo, Australia at nature.com</ref><ref>Australia 50,000 years ago at the Migration Heritage Center</ref> Similarly, the Hawaiian islands were colonized by Polynesian peoples in ocean-going outrigger canoes more than 1500 years ago.<ref>Australians and Polynesias at Realhistoryww.com</ref>

Given humanity's demonstrated comfort with traveling long distances in canoes, the fifty miles of the Bering Strait would have presented little difficulty. Answering the question thus requires archaeological and genetic evidence.

Archaeology

For a long time, the earliest known archaeological sites were what are called Clovis sites, named for the town of Clovis, New Mexico, near the site that defined the characteristics of these digs. They are dated, at the oldest, to ~13,500 years ago. They are characterized by the distinctive Clovis spear point, and are located across North America. The Holy Grail of North American archaeology has been what are known as pre-Clovis sites, locations older than 13k years, possibly with a different style of tool and culture. Such evidence has always been sketchy and easily discounted, with serious flaws rendering it untrustworthy, but evidence has been accumulating, and support has grown in the scientific community for pre-Clovis culture.<ref>Pre-Clovis sites at archaeology.about.com</ref><ref>Who were the First Americans? at tamu.edu</ref>

Genetics

Genetic testing has been done for indigenous people across the Americas as well as Siberia to try and determine the degree of relatedness. The results indicate a few things.

  1. Beringia was open and habitable during the last Ice Age.
  2. Beringia was closed off from both Asia and America by glaciers, and a population lived there in isolation for 10-20,000 years.
  3. There were three waves of migration, dominated by that population from Beringia when the glaciers retreated. The indigenous people of America are the offspring of those three waves, primarily the first wave, with lesser relatedness to the second, and less still to the third.
  4. Genetics shows a uniformity demonstrating a dominant first wave, but it also shows evidence for much more ancient colonization, as indigenous populations have more differentiation than would be possible within the limit established be Clovis dating (and thus occurred 15-18,000 years ago).<ref>Native American populations descend from three key migrations at ucl.ac.uk</ref><ref>DNA reveals details of peopling the Americas at sciencenews.org</ref>

First People colonization

See the main article on this topic: First People

Expanding into unpeopled continents, the colonization of the Americas by the first peoples was quite rapid. The colonization coincided with what is sometimes known as the Holocene extinction, the disappearance of megafauna on the American and Australian continents. However, although it is becoming more widely accepted that human colonization of the Americas pre-dated Clovis and thus more fully overlapped with the megafauna extinction in the Americas, this is still controversial in the scientific community. Further, it is viewed with hostility and anger by some indigenous populations, who see it both as an accusation of incompetence and a justification for the European colonization/genocide, as if it were evidence that white people are better caretakers for the land.

Though the extent to which humans were responsible for megafauna extinction, it is true that the Americas were relatively poor in large animals following this first colonization, as horses, camels, and elephants all went extinct. As a result, the Precolumbian civilizations that grew in the Americas were hampered by the paucity of domesticable animals.<ref>Kelly's and Prasciunas's chapter in Native American's and the Environment, presenting the argument and its relation to politics today</ref>

First People civilizations

By 1492, millions of people lived in the American continents. Estimates range from 10 million, commonly held at the end of the 19th century, to more than 100 million among some experts today. Today the commonly accepted figure is 50+ million.<ref>American Colonies by Alan Taylor</ref> Spread across the full breadth of two continents, they had widely varied cultures and languages, as well as systems of writing, agriculture, and aquaculture. Although European colonists, at least in North America, felt they had encountered a land absent any civilization, even among the First People who had no cities and only nascent agriculture, management of the landscape was widespread to encourage the growth of food-bearing plants (nut-bearing trees, for example) and foster the growth of game populations.

For example, native populations north of the Mississippi civilization managed the landscape through regular burning. This cleared out the forest and its undergrowth, fostering new growth and keeping the land open and easily navigable. As a result, the first Europeans described New England as an Edenic, parklike landscape, with a forest teeming with game and trees widely-spaced enough for a carriage to easily drive between them.<ref>Native American Burning at californiachapparal.org</ref>

With at least ten thousand years of history, and possibly tens of thousands, the First People developed a number of civilizations: the Inka, Olmec, Maya, Aztec, and Mississippian are just a few populations that developed centralized empires with cities and organized religions. The domesticated crops that were the foundation for these civilizations, maize, beans, and squash, were all native to the South American continent, and translating crops across latitudes is much more difficult than along latitudes, as climate changes dramatically with even small moves north or south. Therefore, it took a long time to get these crops across Central America and into North America. As a result, North American First People civilizations developed much later, and primarily in the south. However, those civilizations had their development cut off by the arrival of Europeans and were so thoroughly destroyed by the decimation of indigenous populations that many white Americans today are completely unaware that they even existed.<ref>Native empires at american-indians.net</ref><ref>Mississippian culture at britannica.com</ref>

European colonization

See the main article on this topic: European colonization of the Americas

Christopher Columbus famously sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and discovered continents and Caribbean Islands teeming with native peoples. This triggered a wave of imperialism and colonization as the nations of western Europe raced to establish power bases and exploit these new lands. The North American mainland was dominated by France, Spain, and England. The Low Countries also established a colony on modern-day Long Island and up the Hudson river, which left a legacy in some place-names and folk-tales, but the colony of New Amsterdam was lost to the English and became New York.<ref>Dutch colonies at nps.gov</ref>

See also: French Canada

Broadly speaking, the French claimed all of modern Canada, along with the Mississippi river valley down to a port at New Orleans. This leaves us today with a legacy of the French language in both modern Quebec and the area around New Orleans.<ref>History of French colonial America at historyworld.net</ref> The English got the east coast of the modern day United States from Maine south (excluding Spanish Florida), with a border at the Appalachian Mountains.<ref>William Robert Shepherd's historical atlas</ref> The Spanish claimed the western United States, Central America (excluding a short-lived Scottish colony), and divided South America with Portugal (see also: Line of Demarcation).<ref>Map of Spanish America at u-s-history.com</ref>

Although European explorers initially encountered continents brimming with indigenous populations, within a few short years, these populations began falling to pieces, shredded by waves of highly contagious diseases. Small pox, measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, typhus, influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, chickenpox and sexually transmitted infections ravaged the native populations. Epidemics swept through them again and again. Sometimes these diseases were spread by contact with Europeans, who quickly established themselves as trading partners with natives. However, they were also spread by people fleeing the diseases to populations that had no contact with Europeans.<ref>How Columbus sickened the New World at New Scientist</ref> Europeans also attempted to deliberately sow disease among natives as a form of genocide<ref>Jeffrey Amherst and Smallpox Blankets at nativeweb.org</ref> though the efficacy of this tactic would have been limited at best. The result of these epidemics was that the native populations were little able to resist European colonization, and sometimes there was complete cultural collapse, as roughly half of the native population died.

Regardless, stable populations of European colonists were established in the Americas. In what would become the United States, the colonizing population was diverse, coming from many European nations. However, the thirteen colonies were dominated culturally and linguistically, politically and economically by England.

Although Europeans were happy to take advantage of First People's successes in domestication, they also brought their own domesticated plants and animals. This large, diverse suite of domesticated products were well-suited to the American climate, and the European population expanded rapidly into the recently vacated landscape. Relations between First People and Europeans were tense at the best of times, often breaking into open violence. European and First people often found themselves embroiled in conflicts originating in Europe as well, with native tribes being hired or forced into war by European belligerents.<ref>[Colonial Indian Wars at legendsofamerica.com]</ref>

Slavery was another European import. The first documented case of slaves arriving in the English colonies were 20 on a ship to Jamestown, Virginia, in the early 17th century. Slavery was never popular among the New England colonies, but took hold in the mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies.<ref>The start of slavery in North America at about.com</ref> The difference is that, as the name implies, New England had a climate similar to that of England and could not grow profitable cash crops for sale in Europe. South of New York, the climate warms and it was possible to grow such crops as rice, indigo, and most importantly tobacco and cotton. Although agriculture did take place in New England, wealth came to those colonies largely through taking up trade and industry, and had a wealth of immigration to supply them.<ref>Salvery in the North at ushistory.org</ref><ref>North vs. South at worldbook.com</ref>

Revolution

See the main article on this topic: American Revolution

Understanding the causes of the American Revolution is an academic field of study in itself. Many influences have been advanced as causes, whole or in part. Among them are syncretism, mercantilism, and population expansion.

Syncretism is the result of two different cultures coming to share a single physical space. As the history of any nation with immigrant populations demonstrates, cultures in contact are cultures in conflict. However, over time the two will find some form of accomodation. Syncretism is a sociological theory explaining how cultures adopt and borrow from one another, forming a new culture with elements from both. In the colonies, it is believed that syncretism between European and indigenous cultures produced a population with a much stronger desire for individual autonomy and distaste for hierarchical authority, adopted by European culture from the far more egalitarian remnants of First Civilization cultures.<ref>Native American religion in early America at nationalhumanitiescenter.org</ref>

Mercantilism was an economic theory that saw colonies as subsidiary populations intended to serve the profit of the imperial capital. England had wholly adopted this model, and a raft of laws and policies had been put in place intended to turn colonial efforts into English prosperity. However, this had the result of impoverishing the colonies to a degree, and certainly kept them poor in specie.<ref>Mercantilism at ancestry.com</ref>

A third causes is believed to be the pressure of European populations pushing against the boundaries of the colonies, as the lands of the colonies had largely been settled and parceled out. The European population was expanding due both to the high fertility rates of the people already settled there and to continuing immigration from Europe.<ref>Land-population-wealth crisis, pg. 49 of Frontier Settlement, by Charles E. Brooks</ref>

The population of the colonies was far from unanimous as to revolution, and the road to revolution was rather slow. The citizens of the colonies still saw themselves as English citizens, and as citizens of their individual colonies. There was no uniform culture or drive for unity within the colonies, and the majority of the population was never eager for revolution. By the time the Revolution proper broke out, the population was divided into three nearly groups: revolutionaries, or Patriots; Loyalists; neutral. The last group strove to remain unnoticed, despite being in the majority, as both Patriots and Loyalists were willing to commit what would now be considered terrorist or mob violence against anyone insufficiently dedicated to their own cause.<ref>Loyalists, fence-sitters, and Patriots at ushistory.org</ref><ref>Mobs in the American Revolution</ref>

The First People generally suffered as a result of the Revolution. They once again found themselves caught between the belligerents of a European conflict, and both Patriots and the British were likely to attack First People populations they believed were allied with the other side, or who they feared would do so. Those who did pick a side ended up suffering as well, as the United States punished those who allied with the British, and failed to maintain loyalty with those who allied with the Patriots.<ref>Native Americans in the American Revolution at ushistory.org</ref>

Violence and tension gradually increased, until the colonies officially declared themselves independence with the aptly named Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776 (now celebrated as Independence Day in the United States). The Declaration contains two sections, the first a short philosophical treatise outlining the purpose of the Declaration, the second a laundry list of grievances against the British crown.<ref>Declaration of Independence at archives.gov</ref>

The Revolution lasted roughly seven years, and was the British Empire's 18th century Vietnam War, they largely won every battle, but as the war continued, they continued to lose the support of the local population. The kingdom of France eventually agreed to ally with the Patriots, and their support was key to several British defeats, which finally convinced the empire to abandon the war. Peace was signed, witnessed by France, with the Treaty of Paris, on September 3, 1783.<ref>Treaty of Paris of 1783 at history.com</ref>

All told, including pre-war tension and violence, the entire process took nearly twenty years, 1765-1783. Although the unity of the colonies was far from assured at the beginning of the conflict, by the end they had moved close enough to sign the Articles of Confederation, binding themselves into a loose federation of independent states, with a weak central government. The government of the Articles lasted for several years, but the resulting nation was too disunified and conflict was rampant. This spurred the writing of the U.S. Constitution, which transformed the nation into the United States, which still exists today.<ref>Articles of Confederation at loc.gov</ref>

One of the more notable results of the Revolution was that it inspired revolutionaries in other nations, most notably France, which underwent its own French Revolution. The French Revolution led to a number of events and governments, including the Reign of Terror, the First French Empire, and the Napoleonic Wars.<ref>Impact on other nations at mapsofworld.com</ref> These events inspired conservativism and fear throughout Europe, shaping a backlash against classical liberalism during the 19th century.<ref>Conservative backlash against the Enlightenment</ref>

Slavery and the Civil War

See the main article on this topic: Slavery in the US
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As demonstrated by the above quote, inhabitants of colonial America and the early United States were well aware of the hypocrisy in demanding liberty for yourself while literally owning another human being as chattel property. The colonies were never a haven for social justice, but the colonies were divided, economically if for no other reason, by slavery early on. Slavery established itself in the southern colonies (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia), but not in the northern colonies. That's not to say that there were no slaves in the north, only that they weren't central to society as they were in the south.

This difference is described as that between a slave society and a society with slaves. Slavery in the south was the focal point of their culture, their economics, their politics. There were also regional differences in the manner in which slavery developed in the various southern colonies. Virginia initially attempted to develop a mixed economy of slaves and free European labor, whereas the Carolinas were slave societies much earlier. This has been attributed to the greater influence of the English Caribbean islands on the colonies further to the south.<ref>English North America: Slave Societies vs. Societies with Slaves at the Low Country Digital History Initiative</ref>

Slavery in the United States is primarily associated with the chattel bondage of African slaves, but early slavery included members of the native population as well as kidnapped Africans.<ref>Enslavement of first people at about.com</ref> Although it would be unwarranted to attempt to argue that racism didn't exist in those days, racial bias had not yet been formalized with language referring to skin color or racial characteristics. Instead it appears to have been a mixture of religious bias and nationalism that was used to define who could be held in bondage.<ref>Fields, Barbara J. Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America, PDF</ref> For example, slavery was initially justified on the basis that those being kidnapped and enslaved were not Christian, and slavery could be used to make them so. This justification was abandoned swiftly when a slave successfully sued for freedom on the basis that he had converted to Christianity. Europeans passed laws early on to govern the treatment of different kinds of slaves (First People vs. African), and rather than identify them by race, the defined them in a roundabout fashion as "slaves who came by land" vs those who "came by sea". It appears that, although racial bias existed, it wasn't formalized, and became not only formalized in the southern slave society, but also quite virulent.<ref>Healey, David The Paradox of Two Faiths, PDF</ref>

Slavery was a contentious issue during the framing of the U.S. Constitution. Not only were there serious concerns about the status of slavery in a nation that intended to frame itself around the concept of individual liberty, but there was the more practical problem of measuring populations for representation in government. Then, as eighty years later, the southern states were vehemently opposed to giving up their slaves, and it was never truly a possibility. The federalists of the northern states wanted all the colonies to join as a single nation and knew that demanding a nation without slaves would have prevented that. However, they felt there was room for debate on the matter of proportional representation.<ref>Debate about slavery at Groningen University</ref>

The idea that slaves would be counted in the population to determine representation, when slaves would never be able to vote or hold office, seems absurd to modern eyes. However, the social view at the time was different. Rather than viewing society as an association of individuals, as is central to the modern liberal and libertarian worldviews, the common worldview in the 18th century was more akin to that of modern conservatives. They viewed the basic unit of society not as the individual, but as the household, with the land-owning (white) man at its head.<ref>World Family Organization brochure</ref> Thus the franchise at the time was limited to property-owning men, and the worldview held that that man would exercise his vote not only on his own behalf, but for his women, children, and servants. From that paternalistic, classist point of view, that slaves would be counted when they couldn't vote or hold office isn't entirely absurd, as women, children, and servants were to be counted in the north despite not being able to vote or hold office.

However, the American Dream was alive even then, and servants hoped one day to acquire their own land and earn the franchise.<ref>Cremona, Rachel, Discovering the American Dream, PDF</ref> One of the driving forces for the revolution was that the English crown had established a limit on western expansion, and what would come to be called the Manifest Destiny (westward expansion) was established early.<ref>The Royal Proclamation of 1763 at ushistory.org</ref> However, there was no path to freedom for slaves, and no path to the franchise. Though the worldview at the time was paternalistic, misogynist, racist, classist, etc., there was at least a hypothetical notion of self-improvement (for men... mostly white men), which notion couldn't be available to slaves (at least not legally).

The result of this debate was the 3/5ths Compromise. Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution reads:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

This arcane language specifies that representation in the U.S. Congress would be apportioned directly by population, which would be determined by adding the whole number of free people and the whole number of indentured servants (free persons bound to Service for a Term of Years), while excluding Native Americans, and 3/5ths of "all other persons", ie. slaves. This number extended back to the time of the Articles of Confederation, when southern states attempted to amend the Articles to change the determination of population for the purposes of taxation. Taxes were apportioned by population, and the southern states wanted slaves to be counted as property rather than as people. A fraction was suggested as a compromise on the understanding that slaves are less efficient workers than free people.

This didn't necessarily mean that slaves were viewed as fractionally human. Once again, the southern states were being hypocritical (demanding slaves be counted as people to determine representation, but as property for purposes of taxation), which hypocrisy was pointed out at the time. The 3/5ths compromise (1/2 and 3/4 were also suggested) was simply something that could be accepted on both sides.<ref>Three-fifths compromise at theroot.com</ref>

See the main article on this topic: Abolition

The abolition movement in the United States went back as early as the seventeenth century, as Quakers and similar religious minorities pushed for the end of slavery for religious reasons. The movement became widespread in the eighteenth century during the Revolution and the build-up to it. The upper classes and agitators of the colonial Patriot movement were heavily steeped Enlightenment philosophy, and many were opposed to slavery. However, the southern states were too attached to the "peculiar institution", and liberty was not extended to the slaves.<ref>American Enlightenment at the internet encyclopedia of philosophy</ref>

The abolitionist movement never died, and grew stronger throughout the 19th century.<ref>The abolitionist movement at history.com</ref> It was often heavily tied to religious movements and to women's rights.<ref>Notes by prof. Lavendar at the College of Staten Island on First Wave Feminism</ref> Slavery and abolition became more and more contentious over time, with political parties routinely splitting into northern and southern wings over the issue. Slavery continued to spread as well, due in part to the invention of the cotton gin (elision of cotton-engine) in 1793 by Eli Whitney, which made it economically viable to grow cotton throughout the south.<ref>Growth and entrenchment of slavery at pbs.org</ref> This resulted in the Missouri Compromise, which governed how new states would be added to the Union, either slave or free, in order to maintain parity in the Senate between slave states and free states.<ref>Missouri Compromise at loc.gov</ref>

Violence and conflict grew through the 1850s. For example, John Brown led an attack on a federal armory at Harper's Ferry. He was unsuccessful and he and his fellow survivors were hanged.<ref>John Brown's raid at pbs.org</ref> Brown became a rallying cry on both sides of the conflict. It became increasingly apparent that the situation was untenable, and the question was whether there would be war, if the Union would survive, if the Constitution could withstand it.

Abraham Lincoln was a politician from the frontier, Illinois. He was a moderate Republican, which was the liberal party at the time. Though Lincoln wasn't an abolitionist (he argued, among other things, for gradual emancipation and shipping slaves back to Africa), the South was determined that he would, and threatened to secede if he won the election. Ultimately, Lincoln won a contentious election, and the South began seceding a few weeks later. In order, the states that seceded were South Carolina (seceded December 20, 1860), Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee (seceded June 8, 1861).

There can be no confusion as to the reasons for secession. Four states published Declarations stating their reasons and goals. Texas was the most circumspect, opening with a paragraph modeled on the Declaration of Independence and waiting until the first sentence of the second paragraph to state that slavery was their primary reason for secession. Mississippi and Georgia mention slavery in the second sentence of their Declarations. South Carolina defined itself as a slaveholding state in its opening line. It is particularly popular today to reimagine the Confederate States of America as defenders of liberty, fighting against government power and the imposition of taxes. There is no ambiguity: they were fighting for slavery.

There is also no ambiguity as to whether the North could win the war. The North was already industrialized and wealthy, the South was poor in cash, resources, and industry. The Confederacy hoped that it could win the support of its European trading partners (who purchased southern tobacco and cotton) and that the North would be unwilling to engage in a protracted war; they were wrong on both counts. European nations had turned against slavery decades earlier, and the southern U.S. was embarrassingly, benightedly backward. The North was entirely willing to fight.

The ensuing war is commonly called the Civil War, sometimes known (partly as a joke) as the War of Northern Aggression in the South, referred to in the Library of Congress as the War of Rebellion. It was a devastatingly sanguinary conflict, as it was fought using accurate weapons that could be reloaded relatively quickly an the massed formations of early modern warfare. What there was of the southern economy and population were both shredded, not least because the war was fought almost entirely on southern soil. The South lost, slavery was abolished, and the Constitution received its 13th and 14th amendments, intended to guarantee racial equality.

See the main article on this topic: Feminism

Feminism also got its start as an organized movement in the nineteenth century, a the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, in July of 1848. The First Wave feminist movement was strongly linked to religious revivalism and the abolitionist movement. Women's rights activists worked for a number of reforms, suffrage chief among them.

Postbellum, Jim Crow, and the Great Depression

See the main article on this topic: Jim Crow
See the main article on this topic: The Great Depression

The Civil War was followed by a period of a little more than ten years known as Reconstruction. The former members of the Confederacy were essentially occupied, hostile territory. The North initially hoped that the South would accept the changed state of affairs, but this was clearly naive. There was immediately a wave of violence and repression, as white Southerners pass laws and forced former slaves back into slavery. The North thus sent the army back in and established military control and provisional governments. The verdict was straightforward: We didn't fight this war for you to pretend it didn't happen.

That's not to say the Union entered the Civil War with the goal of ending slavery. Some abolitionists agitated for exactly that, but the stated purpose of the government was only to preserve the Union, nothing more. Though Lincoln was aware that abolition was a possibility, and one that might turn the tide of war, he delayed as long as possible, hoping for a return to the status quo ante. However, by the end of the war, matters had changed dramatically. The election of 1864 was a referendum on the progress of the war; the South hoped it would end the war, instead it was overwhelmingly in favor of continuing to prosecute the war and end slavery. The reason was Union soldiers.

The Union army was primarily drawn from the lower classes, and Union soldiers initially wanted nothing to do with ending slavery. Their letters home are filled with talk of preserving the Union, of fighting for Liberty, of punishing traitors (Confederate soldiers wrote of preserving their way of life, of upholding Liberty, and defending their homes). By the end of the war, Union soldiers were overwhelmingly abolitionist. The Union army's segregationist policy had quickly blurred, as units gladly took in anyone who could carry a gun. Union soldiers spent years living and fighting beside men who had been slaves, they spent years fighting on the land that had once housed those slaves. They heard about slavery from their brothers in arms, and saw its effects firsthand.<ref>McPherson, James What They Fought For: 1861-1865</ref>

So the North established Reconstruction government, occupying a hostile foreign territory. They repaired roads, built schools, and did the work of government, but also guaranteed the liberty and prosperity of former slaves.

The war and the period after it were incredibly popular for literature and film, and it's important to remember that this resulted in myths and falsehoods so deeply believed by the US population today that few people know the truth about that time. Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation, two very popular, early films, are set during the war and post-war period, respectively. They show the North as hostile invaders, white southerners as noble defenders of their home, and slaves as foolish, happy, and devoted to their owners. The revision of history can be seen in a number of things. For example, the dictionary.

  • Carpetbagger: a person from the northern United States who went to the South after the American Civil War to make money.<ref>Definition of carpetbagger at Merriam-Webster</ref>
  • Scalawag: a white Southerner acting in support of the reconstruction governments after the American Civil War often for private gain.<ref>Definition of scalawag at Merriam-Webster</ref>
  • John Brown: From a staunch abolitionist, he was re-written as borderline insane, and so devoted to abolition that even other abolitionists wanted him to be quiet, because the postbellum United States couldn't understand why someone would want to end the benign, loving institution of slavery.<ref>John Brown Still Lives! at google.books</ref>

In fact, although there were profiteers, both homegrown and imported, in the south during reconstruction, the fact is that the South did have native-born citizens who were opposed to slavery and who worked to support Reconstruction. And a person who packs up all their belongings in a cheap bag (made out of carpet, hence the name) and moves to the backwoods of Louisiana to teach black children in a bare schoolhouse, paid for food, certainly isn't a profiteer. Nevertheless, these definitions are all that have come down to us.

Similarly, we can see this in the writings of Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein was a libertarian (though a socialist in his youth) and vehemently opposed to slavery, racism, and misogyny (though he wasn't very good at fighting the two latter). Nevertheless, as a product of the early twentieth century Bible Belt, he had so thoroughly absorbed their myths about the Civil War and postbellum south that it appears in his writing. For example, from Double Star, "A slave cannot be freed, save he do it himself. Nor can you enslave a free man; the very most you can do is kill him!". This reflects the revisionist myth that slaves were not "ready" for freedom, that they deserved and needed to be enslaved. The myth was that postbellum violence was due to their barbaric nature, and their on-going poverty due to their inability to live free.

The truth is that postbellum violence was a terrorist insurgency. The KKK was born in the aftermath of the Civil War, and was intended to terrorize black southerners and demoralize Union occupiers. It was successful on both counts. Black southerners not only could handle freedom, a successful black middle class sprang up immediately during Reconstruction, disappearing only after the Union left and Jim Crow laws were enacted. For black southerners, Reconstruction was a brief flowering of culture, prosperity, freedom, and hope. The end of Reconstruction brought with it a new and more terrible form of oppression.<ref>The Dunning's school of thought and later understandings, notes from a course at the University of Notre Dame</ref>

As chillingly recounted in, among other sources, Douglas A. Blackmon's work, the postbellum south was a nightmare for black Americans. A raft of legislation, known collectively as Jim Crow, returned black southerns to a worse form of slavery.<ref>Jim Crow at pbs.org</ref> The most famous aspect of Jim Crow was the laws eliminating the black franchise. These laws were nominally color blind, in keeping with the 13th and 14th amendments, but in conjunction with racist application, completely eliminated the franchise. They were:

  • A poll tax: A fee paid in order to vote, far beyond the means of black southerners. It could be waived at the discretion of authorities for "citizens in good standing".
  • A literacy test: Again, at the discretion of authorities. It could have been as simple as "make an X here" or it could have been "recite the Constitution".
  • The grandfather clause: If your grandfather could vote, you could vote. Again, color blind in its words, how many black southerners in 1870 had grandfathers who voted in 1850?

There were other Jim Crow laws that re-enslaved black Americans. Not only were blacks subject to the threat of prison for debt (which was taken at the word of the white man claiming the debt), but they were forbidden to quit their jobs (and vagrancy/loitering laws meant anyone who couldn't show immediate proof of employment would be imprisoned), and couldn't get a new job without the permission of their former employer. Anyone arrested and tried was subjected to numerous fees: court fees, fees to the sheriff, fees to the judge, paying the jail for food, paying for bedding and clothes, paying rent, and of course paying fines for their "crimes". This quickly amounted to an insurmountable debt, and the prisoner would be sold into slavery. Local employers and landowners occasionally bought slaves, but they were also purchased by traveling slave-brokers who traveled the south for that purpose, and then re-sold to larger purchasers, including turpentine camps (a dangerous job cutting down pine trees in southern forests, but still better than...) and coal mines.<ref>slaverybyanothername.com</ref><ref>A brief article on Blackmon's documentary at neh.gov</ref>

Although it must be said that antebellum slavery was a hellish institution, with slaves routinely tortured, mutilated, raped, and murdered by callous owners, the sad fact is that antebellum slavery made slaves private property, often expensive property worth one or two thousand dollars. Postbellum slavery subjected black Americans to a nightmarish vision of the Tragedy of the Commons. Postbellum slaves would quickly be worked to death, and new slaves acquired for a few dozen dollars each.

Post-Reconstruction black Americans strove to fight for their freedom, in the face of lethal violence and corporate murder. They plead in desperate terms to their government. President Theodore Roosevelt, at the turn of the century, made some efforts. A few lawyers and judges made some attempts. In the end, the problem was too large for anything but a sweeping social movement, and the will was absent in Washington D.C. <ref>Roosevelt's mixed legacy at suite.io</ref>

The situation reached its nadir under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. He was a white supremacist who said of Birth of a Nation that it was an important film that every American should watch, and segregated the federal government, eliminating the few jobs (in the post office) available to black southerners beyond the control of their racist neighbors. Lynchings, common in the south, spread further north, as far north as Duluth, Minnesota.<ref>Voices from the Nadir at the LA Times</ref>

Fortunately, the Great Depression, which utterly destroyed what little economy the South possessed, put an end to the widespread institution of slavery. Unfortunately, it didn't do anything to ameliorate the social conditions in the south, nor open up any genuine liberty to black southerners.

See the main article on this topic: Women's suffrage

First wave feminism also achieved its primary goal in this time, in the form of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting (white) women the right to vote.<ref>19th amendment at archives.gov</ref> President Wilson was opposed to the passage of the amendment, believing that it was a matter better left to the states.<ref>Image, woman protesting Wilson's opposition to suffrage</ref> Wilson's staunch political opponent, Helen Keller, disagreed.<ref>Helen Keller at the Utne Reader</ref>

The Great Depression began in October of 1929, when the stock market famously crashed on Black Tuesday. The Great Depression decimated the economy of the West and lasted through the 1930s. The causes of the crash were complex, but the depression ended with the advent of the Second World War.<ref>Great Depression at history.com</ref>

WWII, communism, and empire

See the main article on this topic: WWII
See the main article on this topic: Communism
See the main article on this topic: Imperialism

World War II

The causes of the Second World War are, again, complex and disputed. Some trace it to Germany's humiliation at the end of the WWI. Italy and Germany had been relatively recently unified prior to the first war, and both saw the rise of dictatorial regimes during the Great Depression. In Germany's case, it was the Nationalsozialismus (National Socialism, or Nazi) party led by Adolf Hitler, and in Italy it was the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party) led by Benito Mussolini.<ref>Causes of WWII at about.com</ref> Both regimes closely linked economic reform with religious fundamentalism. Mussolini's Fascism was closely integrated with the Catholic Church.<ref>Mussolini and the church at historylearningsite.co.uk</ref> Hitler's Third Reich wasn't uniquely linked to Catholicism (Germany at the time was roughly divided between the Catholic and Lutheran branches of Christianity), but "Reich" means "state" or "nation", and it was a reference to the Christian Roman Empire. The first Reich was the German Holy Roman Empire, which began under Charlemagne (known in Germany as Karl der Grosse, and claimed as a German hero just as he is claimed as a French hero), the second the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm (for those in doubt, Kaiser, like Czar, refers to Caesar). Thus Hitler was linking his state with German glory, and both German and Christian history.<ref>Definition of Reich at freedictionary.com</ref>

Both regimes revitalized their economies by putting them on war footings and seeking to found empires. The two allied with one another and began the second world war.<ref>Hitler's and Mussolini's alliance at alphahistory.com</ref> In addition to going to war, Nazi Germany is now infamous for the horrific oppression levied against its own people, as Hitler enacted what was known as the Final Solution. Nazi Germany imprisoned and systematically murdered roughly 12 million people in what is known as the Nazi Holocaust, killing political dissidents, people judged unfit (the mentally ill, or mentally or physically disabled, as a eugenics program), homosexuals, Romany, and above all Jews.<ref>Website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum</ref> The last was part of a system of antisemitism enacted by the Nazi party that mapped almost perfectly onto the program developed by Martin Luther, author of the letter that initiated the schism within Catholicism that led to the Protestant Reformation.<http://holocaustroad.org/2010-11readings/Session12--Protestant%20Response%20_Christians_and_the_Holocaust_Ted_Weeden.pdf Weeden, Theodore J., Christianity and the Holocaust -- The Protestant Responses at holocaustroad.org]</ref>

All of Europe and much of Asia became embroiled in the war, as the Axis powers of Germany and Italy Allied with Imperial Japan as it invaded the Asian mainland. The United States was eventually drawn into the conflict, despite conservative/isolationist sentiment, when Japanese forces attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor.<ref>Pearl Harbor at history.com</ref> The United States then joined its Allies in attacking both the Axis forces in Europe, famously invading France on D-Day,<ref>D-Day at history.com</ref> and the many occupied islands of the Pacific theater.<ref>Pacific theater at worldwar2history.info</ref> In addition to giving the US fodder for many movies, comic books, and other thrilling tales of heroism, the war also marked a turning point in marking the United States as a superpower.

Although the United States had pretensions toward imperialism since its earliest days (see: Monroe Doctrine) and had actively sought to expand into and control surrounding territory, it has never called itself such in popular literature or discussions.<ref>Monroe Doctrone at thelatinlibrary.com</ref> Following the war, the Cold War would be the repeated clashing of two great empires seeking to dominate the world.

Communism

Communism is a political and economic philosophy/worldview developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the middle of the 19th century. It proposes that capitalism is just another stage of world history, that it is inherently unstable and unjust, and that eventually the working class will rise up, overthrow the ruling class, and establish first the dictatorship of the proletariat, which will lead inevitably to a communist utopia, a stateless, classless society. <ref>Capitalism is the problem, Socialist Revolution is the solution at lrp-cofi.org</ref>

Communism rapidly became the boogeyman of 19th century Europe, as the governments and societies facing social upheaval saw it as an extension or outgrowth of the disastrous liberalism of the French Revolution (which led first to Robespierre's terror, then to Napoleon's empire). Oppressed workers were rising up against capitalists and governments, and there were not merely strikes and protests, but violent riots, and occasionally revolutions.<ref>Revolutions of 1848 at britannica.com</ref> Socialism, which is an older movement than communism, differs from communism in that it doesn't predict nor require violent revolution; some socialists are willing to work within existing systems for reform rather than from without for revolution. Nevertheless, revolution did occur.

In the early part of the twentieth century, communism remained a powerful social movement in Europe and the United States, albeit a very divisive one. It won its first revolution with the October Revolution of 1917, when Lenin's Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government established during the February Revolution, also of 1917.<ref>Causes of the October Revolution at bbc.co.uk</ref> The Russian empire, viewed as the backwards child of Europe, always far too strange and foreign,<ref>Tsarist Russia at bbc.co.uk</ref> having not even Catholicism, but the Russian Orthodox Church, but even so, the toppling and murder of the Tsar's family, and the replacement of a Christian Empire by an Atheist Communism shocked Europe and the US.

In many ways, the Spanish Civil War was seen by many, even as it took place, as a precursor to WWII. It was a fight between the Catholic fascists of Francisco Franco on one side and the Spanish Republicans on the other, with popular uprisings, known as the Spanish Revolution supporting communism. Franco's fascists received support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Republicans received support and volunteers from Soviet Russia and international Marxists.<ref>Before the war at theatlantic.com</ref> Thus although many right wing US citizens today would be hard pressed to provide any meaningful definition of socialism or communism, let alone the differences between them, it wasn't surprising that Germany and Italy found themselves opposed by the Soviet Union during the war.<ref>Communism vs. Fascism at diffen.com</ref>

However, although the United States and the other democracies of western Europe were ostensibly allied to the Soviet Union, it was an alliance of convenience with little trust. Much of the story of the tail end of the war involved an unsubtle race between Allied powers to conquer as much of central Europe as possible to prevent their erstwhile allies from doing the same.<ref>Race for Berlin at osu.edu</ref>

Communism was also a central feature to the war on mainland Asia, as Chinese communists and nationalists opposed the Japanese empire.<ref>China in WWII at history.co.uk</ref> Although the United States was for decades frightened of communism and saw China as another embodiment of a godless enemy empire, it didn't play a central role in the Cold War narrative, as both the United States and the Soviet Union largely focused on one another. However, the Chinese became the primary opponent of the allied forces in the Korean War.<ref>The Korean War at history.com</ref>

Empire

The United States and the Soviet Union, the two largest combatants on the winning side of the war, found themselves in possession of large empires. Moscow directly controlled eastern Europe, although it was ostensibly a union of democratic republics, as well as a number of central Asian nations. It also had significant influence on many nations in central and southern Europe (Churchill and Stalin had a gentleman's agreement as to how much control each would exercise in different nations following the war).<ref>Churchill's "naughty little list" at the UK's national archive</ref> The United States, by contrast, had a hegemonic empire, exercising influence through NATO and the UN, and placing military bases in nations throughout the world.<ref>The US Empire at the History News Network</ref>

White Terror

This period was, for the descendants of slaves and other people of color, a period of severe repression like those before. However, their labor had largely been replaced by machinery, rendering the slavery of the pre- and post-bellum eras unprofitable in many ways. Instead, they were forced into the lowest paid jobs, and used by the wealthy as a means to fight unionization (replacing low-wage white laborers with even lower-wage black laborers, and preventing them joining forces by emphasizing racial differences at all levels). Their subjugation was maintained via violence and murder, either ignored or carried out by law enforcement, which increased as time went by and US culture and technology changed.

Cold War and Civil Rights

Cold War

See the main article on this topic: Cold War

Immediately on the tail of WWII, there was a general feeling within the US military and US conservatives at large that they had fought the wrong enemy.<ref>The Korean War by Max Hastings</ref> The conservative wing(s) of US politics were frightened to their core of communism, a godless political ideology, viewing it also as an authoritarian, anti-democratic doctrine. Following the war, the United States and the Soviet Union were the two largest players in the world. As the first superpowers, with the largest and ever-growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons, they would dominate world politics in the form of what came to be called the Cold War. As opposed to a "hot" war, the Cold War was characterized by the US and the USSR striving for dominance while also striving to avoid open conflict between themselves (although they came close several times, closer than the public is generally aware). In part, this was due to the aftermath of the world wars, which were shocking in the number of deaths they caused (particularly the first) and the horrors of the Holocaust, which combined with broadcast journalism to make the public more aware of war and its problems than they had been before. The public were more cautious about the negative effects of armed conflict.

However, it was also due to nuclear weapons and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).<ref>Mutual Assured Destruction at nuclearfiles.org</ref> The US dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and were instrumental in ending war in the Pacific theater (there was, and still is, debate over their use; the Japanese surrendered, but how many would have died if the US had invaded Japan?). Nuclear weapons are miles beyond other weapons in their destructive capacity. Early nuclear weapons were measured in "kilotons" of strength, while modern weapons are measured in "megatons". The "tons" refers to the destructive force of a ton of TNT; a 100 megaton nuclear weapon has the same destructive force as 100 million tons of TNT. Both the US and the USSR built up large stockpiles of nuclear weapons (to the point that each had the capacity to destroy all of human civilization hundreds of times over), the idea being that neither would dare attack the other, as there would be no way for them to prevent a counterattack that would destroy them in turn.<ref>Nuclear stockpiles at armscontrol.org</ref>

Although the Cold War never turned into open conflict, they came close several times; the notion of MAD was flawed and compromised by the "brinkmanship" policies enacted by both nations. They tested one another's boundaries, pushing right up to the brink of what they felt the other would tolerate.<ref>Cuban Missile Crisis at jfklibrary.org</ref> They also engaged in proxy wars, a surprisingly common practice among hegemonic empires, fighting conflicts through proxies, using their armies on their soil, funding and advising them behind the scenes. In addition to funding and manipulating "bulwarks of democracy" and "fraternal socialist allies" throughout the Third World, the US and USSR occasionally became directly involved in conflicts: the US spent years embroiled in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan. The results were indecisive for the empires, rather uniformly disastrous for their proxies.<ref>Coups and proxy wars at alphahistory.com</ref>

Civil Rights

See the main article on this topic: Civil Rights

The United States also experienced internal social upheaval during this period. All at roughly the same time, women, people of color, and queer people began demanding their rights.

  • Civil Rights - The fight for racial equality began early. Although it had never truly died, the turn of the twentieth century saw race relations reach a truly terrible low, as people of color in the US faced the horrors of re-enslavement under Jim Crow and racist terrorism. However, beginning in the 1950s, the fight for equality found new vigor. One of the earliest victories was Brown v. Board, a protracted legal battle that resulted in the end of racial segregation in the US public school system. This fight would continue in other walks of life, leading to such victories as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.<ref>Civil Rights timeline at infoplease.com</ref>
  • Second Wave Feminism - There was a lull in the fight for women's rights following the passage of the 19th amendment. But women began fighting for equality in the early 1960s, as they moved into the workplace and politics, demanding full and equal representation. Second wave feminism combined with the many social and political movements of the era to produce a flowering of many schools of thought and fields of study, such as gender studies.<ref>Second wave feminism at britannica.com</ref>
  • Gay Liberation - Gay societies began organizing in the US in the 1950s, and the movement became widespread during the 1960s. One of the larger events is the Stonewall Riots, a wave of subversive violence against the oppression of QUILTBAG people, as the Stonewall Inn was popular among many oppressed communities.<ref>Gay rights timeline at infoplease.com</ref>

These and other threads of social justice achieved a number of significant victories and marked thereafter all of US culture and politics. They also began the longstanding tradition in social justice communities of throwing one another under the bus in order to achieve their own more limited goals.

The Political Reversal

One of the more surprising results of the twentieth century was the complete reversal of the roles of the nation's political parties. Students learning US history are often astonished to learn that the Solid South was solidly Democrat prior to 1960, and more sophisticated students have cause to wonder how the cautiously liberal Abraham Lincoln could be a member of the now notoriously conservative Republican party. The changeover is complex and confusing, and is the focus of ongoing analysis.<ref>The Twentieth-Century Reversal, PDF at columbia.edu</ref> The parties have remained relatively static in terms of economic policies, but have completely reversed social policies. The electorate has followed suit, with black voters moving from the Republican to the Democratic, while racist whites have done the opposite.

This may have been initiated by the coalition assembled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. In addition to the solidly Democratic groups of poor workers and rural farmers, he also brought black voters into the fold, and began a policy of government expenditure, which continued under presidents Truman and Eisenhower (the former a Democrat and Vice President under Roosevelt, the latter a Republican). Both parties ultimately split, though at different times, over social issues.<ref>New Deal Coalition at umich.edu</ref>

The Republican party began to show a divide in the mid-1950s, splitting into what were called Rockefeller Republicans (social liberals, named for New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, now known as moderate Republicans or RINOs) and Goldwater Republicans (libertarians, named for Barry Goldwater).<ref>Rockefeller's campaign at pbs.org</ref> Meanwhile, the Democratic party spawned the Dixiecrats, the white, racist, southern wing of the party.<ref>Dixiecrats at the New Georgia Encyclopedia</ref> The future direction of both parties is shown rather clearly in the results of the presidential elections of the time. The Solid South was initially solidly Democrat, but confusion began to set in during the late 1950s and early 1960s, as the political map of the United States traveled through various combinations of the four parties. Barry Goldwater, a Republican, ended up winning the Solid South in 1964 and George Wallace (who infamously opposed desegregation) in 1968. By the 21st century, the electoral map had settled into a configuration almost entirely opposite that of the end of the 19th.<ref>Electoral college maps, beginning with 1964, at archives.gov</ref>

Much of this is due to Richard Nixon and the Southern Strategy, which shaped the current incarnation of the Republican party and defines politics in the US today. For more on the southern strategy, see below.

Post Cold War

See the main article on this topic: Collapse of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union spent the better part of a decade in decline, with growing discontent, more popular uprisings, and less control. The Union officially ceased to exist on December 26, 1991.<ref>Fall of the Soviet Union at coldwar.org</ref> This had relatively little impact on US politics. Politicians still felt the need to lavish money on "US defense", on security, and to maintain "morals" (strong support for conservative Christian beliefs and activities). The dissolution of the USSR mostly changed film, television, and literature, as the evil empire had been the go-to bad guys.<ref>We We're Bummed Communism Fell at tvtropes.org</ref>

Fortunately for ardent hawks, the US found a new enemy in the form of Islamic fundamentalism, on September 11, 2001, when a group of Muslim extremists, trained and financed by Al Qaeda, an authoritarian sect of Wahabi Islam, flew fully three fueled airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and had similar plans for a fourth, which was crashed by its passengers in Pennsylvania. One month later, the United States and a coalition of other western nations invaded the nation of Afghanistan, whose Taliban leadership was friendly to Al Qaeda.<ref>Invasion of Afghanistan at history.com</ref> Two years later, the coalition invaded the nation of Template:Iraq, which wasn't.<ref>Iraq War at britannica.com</ref>

U.S. government and the two-party system

US government

See the main article on this topic: US government

The government of the United States was established by the US Constitution. The Founders (or Framers, or Founding Fathers) established a government very much based on their experience in the colonial governments under British rule, and on their experience under the Articles of Confederation. They were largely classical liberals, and had learned caution of government authority in the colonies. They were particularly chary of executive authority, and did not care for kings or governors; colonial governors were appointed by the king. On the other hand, they were quite friendly to congressional or parliamentary authority; what power was possessed by colonials was in the colonial legislatures. Although they were disinclined to vest much authority in a central government, the Articles of Confederation showed them that a central government without much authority might as well not exist.

Separation of powers

Part of the theory behind US government is that people are petty, jealous, and competitive, and by separating power among different groups, it will set them to squabbling with one another. Thus the US government is separated into three branches: the executive (the President), the legislative (the Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate), and the judicial (the Supreme Court). Reading the Constitution, you can see that the legislative branch (which passes laws) was intended to be the most powerful; the article of the Constitution dealing with the legislature is the longest by far. This also reflects their experiences; most of the Framers were former legislators. None had been governors.<ref>Colonial government at digitalhistory.uh.edu</ref> The government of the United States is federated, divided into the federal government and the governments of each state. These governments are further subdivided.

The Federal government

Each state government has the same general structure as the federal government. They have their own powers of taxation for example. One difference is that the executive of each state is a Governor, rather than a President. The legislatures are all, like the federal government, divided into a House and a Senate, with the exception of the state of Nebraska, which is unique among the fifty states in having a unicameral legislature. The federal government is located in the Washington, the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.), a small square of land granted by the states of Maryland and Virginia at the mouth of the Potomac River. The state of Maryland would later take reverse its land grant, leaving the District with an uneven northern border. The District is ruled directly by the Congress, which mostly can't be bothered and has delegated management of the city to a city council and mayor, similar to other large cities.<ref>Ben's guide to US government</ref>

  • Legislative - The branch of government that passes laws, levies taxes, and declares war. Like the government as a whole, the theory that people will disagree and not accomplish much is practiced here, as the legislature is divided into two parts (thus making it bicameral), the House of Representatives and the Senate.
    • The House of Representatives - Every member of the House (called Congressmen, or recently Congresswomen) must be at least 25 years old. Initially the number of Representatives was apportioned with one per every thirty-thousand citizens (but with each state having at least one); as the number of US citizens grew into the tens of millions, the number of Representatives was set at a total of 435, with least populous states having at least one, and apportioned evenly among the remainder. Representatives are elected directly by the people. The House was seen or intended as a fractious, argumentative body that would respond more immediately to the wishes of the people. As such, it is composed of younger people, and the entire body is up for election every two years. It is presided over by the Speaker of the House, who is a member of the majority party. The District of Columbia and other non-state territories elect non-voting members to the House that are mostly ignored in national politics.
      • Taxation: The House is also where bills regarding taxes are introduced; the Senate can only respond to bills introduced in the House. This was done because the larger states (such as Virginia) wanted to be certain that smaller states couldn't use their disproportionate authority in the Senate to pull greater taxes out of the larger states.
      • Impeachment: The House has the authority to impeach the President. Should the House pass a bill of impeachment, the President is put to trial by the Senate.
      • Committees: In order to get anything done, the House is divided into committees. Each committee has a Chairman who exercises a great deal of control over what the committee is allowed to discuss or vote on. Only if something is voted out of committee can it be voted on by the entire House. The committee chair is almost always a member of the majority party, like the Speaker. In this way, the majority party has disproportionate control over legislation, as it control what can be discussed in committee, what can be voted out of committee, and what can be discussed on the floor of the House, let alone voted on.
    • The Senate -- The Senate is made up of two Senators from each state (thus there are currently 100 US Senators). In the event of a tie, the Vice President casts the deciding vote. The Senate is led by the President Pro Tempore, the most senior member of the Senate. Seniority is determined by the Senate itself, but is basically how many years a senator has served. Senators were initially elected by the state legislatures, thus ensuring that the majority party of a given state would be disproportionately represented in the Senate. However, that was replaced in the 1950s by direct election by the citizens of each state... which didn't change much.
      • Confirmation: The Senate has the responsibility/authority of "advise and consent" over presidential appointments. In theory, this means the Senate determines if a candidate for high bureaucratic or judicial office (including Cabinet positions, judicial positions, ambassadors...) is qualified. In practice, this means intense political posturing and demands to make sure a candidate isn't too far to one side or another. Further in practice, this means either party can hold up hundreds of appointments, crippling the executive branch. However, this tends not to happen, as the public looks very poorly on a group that too thoroughly impedes the working of government.
      • Impeachment: Once a president is impeached, it falls to the Senate to actually try him, to determine if he has committed any crimes, and then judge him for them.
      • Ratification: The Senate is also responsible for ratifying treaties and foreign agreements.
  • The Executive -- The President of the United States (POTUS) exercises executive power. He executes the laws of the legislature, collects taxes, and is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. He is advised by a Cabinet, and appoints bureaucrats and officers in the executive branch. He also appoints the members of the judiciary, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Initially, the Founders were very leery of executive authority, and intended the President to be subordinate to the Congress. However, the President has amassed a great deal of authority over the centuries, and certainly exercises more authority than the Founders would have liked. However, much of this is simply inescapable, as he is the head of the bureaucracy that services more than 300 million citizens in one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations ever seen... and which is happy to exercise that wealth and power around the globe.
    • The Cabinet -- Initially an informal body of advisers and cronies, the Cabinet is now an official part of the bureaucracy. The members of the Cabinet are the heads of their own bureaucracies, and you have to go several levels down from the Cabinet before the legislature relinquishes the right to advise and consent to appointments. Members of the Cabinet include the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Education, Transportation, Defense... Not all are equally respected or well known. State, Treasury, and Defense, for example, are all very powerful and powerfully sought positions. Education, Transportation, and Interior are less powerful and less desirable.
    • The Joint Chiefs -- The Joint Chiefs of Staff are the most senior members of the US military and, along with the National Security Adviser and Secretary of Defense, advise the President on military matters. They are presided over by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The Secretary of State, who advises the President on foreign affairs, often has great input in these matters as well.
  • The Judiciary -- The Constitution only defines the federal judiciary as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. All other positions in the judiciary, even the other members of the Supreme Court (SCOTUS), exist entirely at the will of the Congress. SCOTUS and the federal judiciary have expanded over the centuries, the former mostly due to politics, the latter with population and territory. The federal judiciary rules over matters of federal law, on conflicts between the state, and over issues and crimes that occur in federal jurisdiction.
    • Precedent -- The US legal system gives a great deal weight to decisions that have already been made. A judge can, however, overturn any prior legal decision at xir own discretion; however, the judge is then vulnerable to losing an election or being impeached (depending on how the position is filled) if their decision is beyond the pale. On smaller matters (whether evidence can be allowed in a certain criminal proceeding, for example), courts bow entirely to existing decisions, even if the rules are different in different jurisdictions. However, this is the case only if a single case moves between courts; it doesn't prevent two cases in two jurisdictions to proceed simultaneously, if the judges choose to allow it.
    • Appeals -- Civil and criminal cases begin at the lowest levels of the judiciary, and work their way up from there. At every stage, it is possible for litigants to challenge a judge's ruling and take it to a higher court. The higher court has the option of declining even to hear it. If they do hear it, they are usually circumscribed in what they can rule on (for example, some appeals are only on matters of law, rather than fact; a criminal defendant may appeal on the grounds that the prosecution shouldn't have been allowed to present a piece of evidence, or that his rights were violated, not that the jury chose incorrectly in itself). Arguments are then made, and the appellate court will then rule on whatever it has the authority to rule on and whatever it decides to rule on within those limits. The decision of a certain court is only binding on all courts below it (decisions of the ninth circuit appellate court bind all judges of the ninth circuit, but not the tenth), but all courts give weight to prior rulings, even if non-binding, as precedent. The exception is the Supreme Court, as it is binding on all courts, even state courts, should it so choose.

The Southern Strategy

See the main article on this topic: The Southern Strategy
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that...but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.<ref>Nixon's Southern strategy 'It's All In the Charts' by JAMES BOYD, PDF</ref>

What cemented the great political reversal (see above) was the political strategy enacted by Richard Nixon during his first successful election to the US Presidency. As seen in the above quote, it was based in a very clear understanding of the political situation in the US at the time: in the mid-1960s, the US was witnessing the mass liberation of its black population, and white voters were terrified. The Republican party was also aware that, although George Wallace had been successful in the South, his virulent racial rhetoric had alienated moderate and independent voters, particularly outside the south.<ref>How the GOP became the white man's party at salon.com</ref>

Thus the Republican party adopted coded language to reach racist Southern voters without alienating others, and the party adopted support for policies that were important to racist voters without being clearly linked to racism. This language and these policies remain central to the Republican party today. The following is an incomplete list of examples:<ref>How to read political racial code at time.com</ref>

  • Big Government - Thanks to Brown v. Board, Roe v. Wade, the Voting Rights Act, and very nearly the ERA, the 50s, 60s, and 70s were a time of social upheaval mostly enforced by the federal government against the wishes of the states (almost exclusively the southern states). So anything styling government as too big or invasive began here.
  • Education - The US public school system was desegregated by SCOTUS in Brown v Board. Southern whites were desperate to prevent integration and get their children out of integrated schools. In 1971, school districts began "busing", moving students between school districts in order to integrate schools. As a result, Republicans began talking about "forced busing" and "involuntary busing". They also began supporting school vouchers, which would remove money from a public school and give it to a private school of the parents' choice. But as vouchers weren't quite enough to afford a private school's tuition, and private schools are allowed to be "choosy"... it was an attempt at segregation. To this day, the South has a very large number of private schools, especially "day schools", which are private schools without boarding facilities, thus serving only a local population. Home schooling has also been very popular among southern conservatives.<ref>Vouchers at latimes.com</ref>
  • Welfare - In the 60s and 70s, as today, the majority of people on social welfare were white. However, following black liberation, they began receiving welfare as well. This is when Republicans began turning against "government handouts". President Reagan, in the 1980s, popularized the "Welfare Queen" image, a lazy (black) woman who has lots of children and abuses the welfare system. This is extended to almost all taxation, calling it "redistribution", but that largely comes from the friendly relationship of Republicans with big business.
  • Law and order - Republican candidates began referring to themselves as "Law and Order" candidates. This was code for "put black people in prison". The prison population began to rise steeply in the mid-70s, at which time the prison population was 50% black (as opposed to only 10% of the US population).<ref>Bureau of Justice statistics, 1925-1981, PDF</ref> The War on Drugs was started by Nixon in 1971.<ref>History of the war on drugs at drugpolicy.org</ref> However, the "war" took off under Reagan, along with the US prison population, which didn't merely rise steeply so much as skyrocket, such that the prison population is four times the size now as it was in 1980 (as a percentage of the population). This war disproportionately targets people of color (as do all other police initiatives), and local law enforcement is encouraged in this through a raft of local legislative efforts and paramilitary "donations" from the federal government. This is, all told, an example of Republican code being so effective that people have almost entirely forgotten that "law and order" and the "war on drugs" started under Nixon, and Democrats have bought into the language entirely, competing to be just as "law and order" as their opponents.<ref>newjimcrow.com</ref>

The Southern Strategy began more than 40 years ago, so two generations of Republicans have grown up under the coded language of Republican racism. The result is that they no longer even realize that this is a code intended to disguise racist intent, and simply accept it at face value. For example, whereas the Republican party used to want to destroy the Department of Education because of integration, now they rationalize it as part of their "must make government small enough to fit in your bedroom and stare at you" rhetoric.

Social justice in the United States

Abolition and people of color

Abolition is older and broader than the United States, beginning before and existing outside them. In the US, it most prominently existed as a social and political movement acting against the institution of chattel slavery in the southern states. This movement never won its victory; the Civil War erupted, and slaves were freed by the 13th and 14th amendments. However, slavery didn't truly end there, but mutated into a more clandestine and horrible form. This new slavery gradually abated somewhat, being blunted by the Great Depression (and possibly the advent of mass media), until black people liberated themselves through Civil Rights. However, it is arguably the case that this only shifted the method of social control to the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of black men (and increasingly black women), and the legal stigma of felony that follows them for the rest of their lives.

Today, people of color are still fighting against racism, and struggle to free themselves from ghettos and housing projects, and preventing their children falling prey to the school to prison pipeline. Progress is slow, and racism in the US still infects every facet of life.<ref>Fifty years after King's speech, at the Economist</ref>

Women

Feminism as an organized movement began in the mid-19th century with the Seneca Falls Convention. Their list of grievances included social and economic problems, but for the following 70 years, they focused on women's suffrage, which was finally achieved in 1920. There followed a lull of several decades, until the beginning of second wave feminism in the 1960s. The feminism sex wars took place in the 1980s, and were part of a growing divide between feminists of the second wave, and the younger feminists who would come to make up third wave feminism, which is more sex positive and intersectional.

Controlling women through shame and fear is a large part of what makes conservative religion so powerful, and Christianity in the US is no exception. From contraceptives in the 1950s, to abortion in the 1970s, to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and beyond, religious America is determined to roll back the clock and force women into the position of forced service. Since President Obama's election, conservatives have passed hundreds of laws at the state level to make it more difficult, sometimes actually impossible, for women to access abortions. Where once VAWA enjoyed broad bipartisan support, now it faces constant challenge from the religious right.<ref>Everyday sexism at theguardian.com</ref><ref>Is the US economy sexist? at theatlantic.com</ref>

QUILTBAG

Gay organizations began meeting in some cities in the US in the 1950s, but the movement really got traction in the 60s and 70s. One of their earliest victories was the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1974. This was a limited victory, however, as it replaced by diagnostic standards for "ego-dystonic homosexuality" in 1980, characterized by persistent homosexual activity, failure to be aroused by heterosexual activity, and distress from persistent sexual arousal. This was criticized as an appeasement to those (mostly psychoanalysts) who had lobbied against the removal of homosexuality in 1974, and was eventually removed entirely in 1986.

Initially, gay activists were fighting for their lives. There was absolutely no protection for them; they could be fired, kicked out of their homes, subjected to criminal violence, and ultimately arrested (you can only imagine how they would be treated in a US prison). The movement has made enormous strides; today, marriage equality is a fact in 20 states (and the District of Columbia), with 9 more states having had their prohibitions overturned by courts (with the ruling pending appeal), and every single remaining state is facing one or more legal challenges. Marriage equality will be the law of the land in a few years.<ref>Gay Rights in the US today at rit.edu</ref>

Disability

Disabled people still face enormous difficulties in all aspects of their lives in the US. However, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all manner of accommodations are now common throughout the US, from braille being common on signs, to ramps on nearly all buildings. However, the legal standard is "reasonable accommodations", which leaves it open to interpretation by judges and juries who are rather uniformly able-bodied and err on the side of "the bare minimum is good enough". Or at least what seems to be the bare minimum.<ref>Guide to disability rights at ada.gov</ref>

Further Reading

  • Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs, and Steel; the author tries to understand why it is that Europe conquered/colonized the rest of the world rather than the other way around, eschewing race in favor of geography and climate.
  • Mann, Charles C., 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus; the author presents the current understanding of the narrative of the history of the First People prior to the coming of Europeans.
  • Fields, Barbara J., Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America; the author explores the development of racism as a social consequence of the enslavement of Africans in the New World. PDF
  • Blackmon, Douglas A., Slavery by Another Name; the author explores the re-enslavement of black people in the United States after the Civil War.
  • Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow; the author demonstrates that mass incarceration and the war on drugs have turned black citizens into second-class citizens.


References

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