U.S. History

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U.S. History covers the history of the United States from the colonial era to the present.

to 1700

18th century

Revolution and Early National periods

19th century

Ante Bellum


Civil War, Reconstruction

Gilded Age

20th century

Progressive Movement

Great Depression

World War II

Postwar

Cold War

1960s, 1970s and Popular Culture

The 1960s and 1970s saw enormous societal changes in the United States, a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement. The Supreme Court became a symbol of the new social liberalism. The whole desegregation process was supervised by the courts--not by elected officials--beginning with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that said the system of segregated schools violated the 14th amendment guaranteeing equal rights.

This was an age of prosperity, on a scale greater than other periods of economic growth, such as the Roaring Twenties and the [[Gilded Age]. In 1960 the US had a GDP of $513 billion, a figure which grew dramatically, even taking into account inflation. GDP was one trillion dollars in 1970, over four trillion by 1985 and six and a half trillion in the mid 1990s. [1] The long period of economic growth provided many opportunities for the average citizen, reflected by the move to the suburbs and an exploding middle class. Higher educational institutions were expanded and took in more and more students every year. A lifestyle that was once confined to the wealthy had now become available to a vast middle class.

Growing prosperity had a huge impact on the young people of this era, leading to the formation of what is now known as the Popular Culture. The evolving youth culture of the time ushered in an era of rock stars, rock concerts (Such as the legendary Woodstock) and increased use of recreational drugs such as marijuana and LSD. Also, a British 'invasion' of popular culture followed, with Beatlemania gripping the teenagers of America by storm.

The "Baby Boom" generation was reflected by a large increase in the birth rate; during the 1930's the birth rate stood at 20 per 1,000. The boom followed the Second World War, where birth rates raised on average to 25 per 1,000 that stood roughly up until the early 1960's. [2] The post-war babies thus began their teenage years in the late 1950s, and had matured by the late 1960's and 1970's (See The Summer of Love, 1967) American youth culture was helped in 1971 by the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18.

Social changes were aided by factors of gender as well as age. New contraceptive technologies had loosened the role of reproduction in sexuality, especially with the introduction of the "The Pill" in 1961. This resulted in what is now known as the Sexual Revolution, creating a trend in sexual experimentation the older generation labeled 'promiscuity'. This revolution slowed with the spread of incurable [[sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and AIDS. Sexual, social and political changes combined to transform the role of women in society. Women of the 1960s and 1970's were much more likely to work outside the home, a trait that threatened traditional norms about the male breadwinner status. In 1970 about 43% of women aged over 16 were in the work force, a figure that grew to 52% by 1980 and approached 60% in the early 1990s. [3]

This coincided with the emergence of the feminist movement, and these factors contributed to the rise of divorce. In 1958 there was roughly four marriages for every divorce in the United States. By 1970 the ratio was three to one. By 1976 it reached the level of two to one, a level maintained until the early 1990's. These trends helped change the political landscape and public debate - emphasis was now placed on morality and gender issues like it never had been before. By the 1980's sexual harassment had been defined as a social problem. In 1991, Senate hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court resulted in the airing of sexual harassment charges that gave the issue the status of a national scandal; Thomas was confirmed over the objections of feminists, although there were other objections to his judicial qualifications and philosophy.

The Rise of the New Right

Following a lengthy period of social and political Liberalisation, the 1980's and 1990's saw an increased role of Conservatives in the political scene, personified by the election and popular support for President Ronald Reagan and the 1994 Republican Revolution.

Social and religious conservatism

There was also a rise in popularity and membership of Conservative churches at the expense of more Liberal denominations such as the Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians who lost as much as 20/30% of their membership in two decades. [4] Meanwhile, conservative churches such as the Southern Baptists and Assemblies of God were recording increases of 50 or 100% in the same era. [5] Throughout the 1980's, opinion polls regularly reported that around half of all Americans believed firmly in the Biblical account of creation taught in the Book of Genesis, and most wished this would be taught in the public schools. The new Evangelicalism found prominence in the Mass Media through Christian publications and the ascent of television evangelists (or televangelists) such as Jerry Falwell, Sr. and Pat Robertson. Politically the new Evangelical movement supported the Baptist Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976, but thereafter drifted to the far right, or Christian Right and became a strong voting base for the U.S. Republican Party.

From the late 1970s, Evangelical and Political conservatives found common cause in the anti abortion movement and the struggle to prevent states and cities fostering gay rights legislation. They were also critical of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would prohibit Gender discrimination. The Amendment was passed in Congress but failed to win ratification by the States. Both sides of the political divide rallied both in favour and against the amendment; in 1978, 100,000 feminists and sympathists marched in Washington to support the amendment. Similarly, the Religious Right mobilized and finally won their battle, as the ERA failed to win enough support in the States. With the foundation of the Moral Majority in 1979, the Christian conservative movement had found a structural base. By the 1990's this had been replaced by the Christian Coalition.

National security conservatism

Foreign policy also became an important issue for national security conservatives, who regarded the 1973 oil embargo and 1979 Iranian hostage crisis as humiliations. American weakness abroad also seemed evident by a treaty that would revert control of the Panama Canal to Panama. Meanwhile, Cold War fears were mobilized following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979/1980. International tension with the Soviet Union seemed to reaffirm conservative claims of inevitable conflict and the necessity for rearmament. By 1980, during the presidency of the relatively Liberal Carter, the American political debate had swung far to the right than what it had been before Carter's Presidency. The Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan as their candidate for President, a man who had been dismissed years earlier as a right wing extremist. Reagan's victory that November was assisted by the defection of millions of Liberals from Carter to the independent candidate John Anderson. Even so the Republicans triumphed, winning the Presidency and the Senate and ushering in an era of right wing policies at home and abroad. From 1989, Reagan's policies were continued by his former Vice President, George H. W. Bush.

Ronald Reagan's Presidential victory of 1984.

Reagan's victories in 1980 and 1984 were a direct result from a shift in electoral geography. As the Southern and Western States grew, they steadily acquired more electoral votes, while those of their northern counterparts contracted. For example, between 1952 and 2002, New York lost fourteen electoral votes, Pennsylvania lost ten and Illinois six. Meanwhile, in the same years, Texas gained ten, Florida seventeen and California twenty three. [6] The rise of these States now reflected the political causes important to these regions; which included among other things hostility to social welfare and government intervention, more sympathy for the religious right, and deeper commitment to national defense and the defense industries.

1980s

1990s

21st century


Bibliography

External links

References

  1. Phillip Jenkins; A History of the United States (New York, 2003) p. 282
  2. Jenkins, p. 282-283
  3. Jenkins, p. 282-283
  4. Jenkins, A History of the United States, pp. 287/288
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid, p. 289