December 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 8
When American Heritage suggested last year that I put together the article that became “101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know about American History,” I accepted the assignment eagerly. None of the many articles I have published in this magazine over the years have attracted half so much attention, and I became so absorbed in thinking of items to include that I soon had far more than could fit into an article. I therefore decided to gather still more. I currently have well over a thousand, and the best of these will be published in book form by Doubleday next fall. Here are 101 of what I consider the best of the best.
A term used after the Civil War by Southern publicists and boosters of industrial development in the region as a kind of shorthand for modernization and economic expansion.
Theodore Roosevelt’s program for regulating big business and expanding the role of the federal government in economic and social matters.
The program of Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential campaign, a counter to Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. It urged the country to rely on competition rather than government regulation to protect the public against economic exploitation. Monopolistic corporations should be broken up by strict enforcement of the antitrust law. Then the competition of the “freed” smaller companies would keep costs and prices down and profits reasonable.
4 New Negro.
A term used in the decade after World War I by black intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance, who stressed racial pride and independence from white influences. In The New Negro (1925) the educator and critic Alain Locke urged blacks to exchange “the status of beneficiary and ward for that of a collaborator and participant in American civilization.”
The Republican description of the mid-1920s, when wages, profits, and stock prices were on the rise, interest rates were low, and business leaders seemed the embodiment of wisdom and good citizenship. During the New Era, the advertising executive Bruce Barton described Jesus Christ in all seriousness as the “founder of modern business.”
A 1950s British term, adopted by American radicals in the 1960s, mostly young, who bitterly opposed racism, the Vietnam War, corporate power, and “middle-class” morality. The term was used as a pejorative by many people.
This term was used by opponents of unrestricted immigration to distinguish the change that occurred in the flow of European immigrants to the United States beginning in the 1880s. Whereas previously the majority had come from northern and western Europe, the “new” immigrants came from southern and eastern sections of the Continent. People who made the distinction claimed that the newcomers were either “unfit” or incapable of being assimilated in the American “melting pot.”
The word embargo, spelled backward. The term was concocted by opponents of the Embargo Act of 1807, which sought to deal with the impressment of American sailors on the high seas and other violations of the rights of neutrals during the Napoleonic Wars by forbidding virtually all exports to “any foreign port or place.”
A charge made by supporters of Andrew Jackson before and during the 1828 presidential campaign. In 1824 none of the four candidates won a majority in the Electoral College, but Jackson had the largest total, ninety-nine. John Quincy Adams had eighty-four; William H. Crawford, forty-one; and Henry Clay, thirty-seven. The election was therefore thrown into the House of Representatives, where Clay used his influence to swing the election to Adams. When Adams then appointed Clay his Secretary of State, Rep. George Kremer charged that a “corrupt bargain” had been made.
Name applied by abolitionists and other opponents of slavery to the chaotic situation that developed in the Kansas Territory in the mid-1850s. With the territory open to slavery as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, pro and antislavery supporters rushed to the state to try to capture the government. Fighting broke out between proslavery “Border Ruffians” from Missouri and antislavery settlers. John Brown’s raid at Pottawatomie is the best known of the numerous atrocities of the period.
Argument of Southern disunionists in the 1850s, who claimed that the North would not resist secession because its economy and that of Great Britain and other European powers were dependent on Southern cotton.
The response of critics to Secretary of State William H. Seward’s purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, who felt that the price, $7,200,000, was far too high.
This was a Republican response in 1936 to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. When that failed, the Republicans tried Two Good Terms Deserve a Rest. This rather feeble 1940 slogan met, of course, with equal lack of success.
A nineteenth-century political technique involving criticism of Great Britain in general and British policies in particular in order to win the support of Irish-Americans.
15 Remeber the "Maine."
Rallyingcry of those eager to go to war with Spain in order to free Cuba after the USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor in February 1898.
This phrase (actually a telegram sent by Secretary of State John Hay to the sultan of Morocco) was used by the Republicans to help reelect Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. Ion Perdicaris and his son had been abducted in Morocco by a bandit named Ahmed ibn-Muhammed Raisuli. The Greek-born Perdicaris, whose American citizenship was actually open to question, was released before Hay’s telegram arrived.
Republican advice during the 1924 presidential campaign, probably an attempt to make a virtue of Calvin Coolidge’s taciturn style.
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s substitute for the Democrats’ policy of “containing” Soviet expansion. Dulles proposed that any Soviet or Red Chinese aggression should be nipped in the bud by threatening to respond with nuclear weapons. This “atomic diplomacy” was also said to offer the United States the cheapest possible defense—a “bigger bang for a buck.”
The Democratic slogan in 1964 urging that Lyndon B. Johnson—who had become President after Kennedy’s assassination the year before—deserved to be elected in his own right.
A phrase used by Republican publicists in the 1984 election to describe the apparent change of mood in the country from pessimism to optimism.
(1776), by Thomas Paine. The pamphlet that, with its bold call for outright independence rather than reform of the British imperial system and with its harsh attack on both King George III, the “Royal Brute,” and the very idea of monarchy, persuaded thousands to favor a complete break with Great Britain.
22 Uncle Tom's Cabin
(1852), by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Whether or not Abraham Lincoln actually said to Stowe, “So this is the little woman who made this big war,” this book had an enormous impact on how Northerners felt about slavery. It did so principally because of Stowe’s ability to describe plantation slaves as individual people with deep feelings caught in an evil system without treating every white character in the story as an unmitigated villain.
(1890), by Alfred Thayer Mahan. Captain Mahan argued that nations with powerful navies and the overseas bases to support them were victorious in war and prosperous in peacetime. The book had a wide influence among American military and political leaders.
(1894), by Henry Demarest Lloyd. This powerful, if somewhat exaggerated, attack on the Standard Oil monopoly attracted wide attention. In addition to denouncing Standard’s business practices—Lloyd said that the trust had done everything to the Pennsylvania legislature except refine it—he denounced laissez-faire economics and the application of Darwinian ideas about survival of the fittest to social affairs.
(1899), by John Dewey. In this book the author developed the basic ideas of what was later to be known as “progressive” education. Schools should build character and train children to be good citizens, not merely provide them with new knowledge. They should make use of the child’s curiosity, imagination, and past experience, not rely on discipline and rote memory to teach.
(1906), by Upton Sinclair. Sinclair’s story of the life of a Chicago stockyard worker described both the filthy conditions under which cattle were slaughtered and the ways in which the meat-packers exploited their workers. The novel was a best seller and led, partly because President Theodore Roosevelt reacted to it by setting in motion a government investigation, to federal meat inspection and the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906.
(1962), by Michael Harrington. This book was a major force behind the so-called War on Poverty of the Lyndon Johnson era. Harrington called attention to what he called the “invisible land.” Forty or fifty million souls, “somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the American people,” were living below the poverty line, he claimed. Most of them were crowded into inner-city slums, “invisible” to the middle class.
28 Silent Spring
(1962), by Rachel Carson. By showing how pesticides such as DDT affected birds and other animals, and indirectly humans, too, Silent Spring caused a public furor that led to the banning of many such substances and to the modern attack on all forms of pollution.
(1948), by Alfred C. Kinsey. This study, based on more than five thousand interviews with men of all ages, and a similar volume on women, published in 1953, demonstrated that people of all kinds engaged in a great variety of sexual practices. The books had an enormous influence on public attitudes toward human sexuality.
(1963), by Betty Friedan. If this work did not give birth to the modern feminist movement, it surely raised it to maturity. Friedan argued that most of the opinion-shaping forces of modern society were engaged in a witless effort to convince women of the virtues of domesticity. By so doing, they were wasting the talents of millions. Women should resist these pressures. “The only way for a woman…to know herself as a person,” wrote Friedan, “is by creative work.”
(1839–1937), organizer of the Standard Oil trust, principal benefactor of the University of Chicago, billionaire, bête noire of the antimonopolists. Also founder of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the Rockefeller Foundation “to promote the well-being of mankind,” and other charitable organizations, and longtime Baptist Sunday school superintendent of Cleveland.
(1841–1922), brother of John D., oilman, Wall Street promoter, a director of the National City Bank, public utility magnate and railroad man, bon vivant.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
(1874–1960), son of John D., founder of Rockefeller University and the Cloisters, builder of Riverside Church and Rockefeller Center in New York City, restorer of Colonial Williamsburg and other historic sites, contributor of the land on which the United Nations Headquarters stands, teetotaler. Father of Winthrop, David, Laurance, John D. III, and Nelson.
(1874–1948), wife of John D., Jr., and daughter of Sen. Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island; a founder and benefactor of the Museum of Modern Art.
John D. Rockefeller III
(1906–78), first president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a founder of both the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the Asia Society.
(1909–), wife of John D. Ill, art collector, president and chairman of the Museum of Modern Art.
Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller
(1908–79), coordinator of Inter-American Affairs under Franklin Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of State, Undersecretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, four-term Republican governor of New York, threetime seeker of the Republican presidential nomination, Vice-President of the United States.
(1910–), philanthropist, businessman, conservationist.
(1912–73), Republican governor of Arkansas, closely involved in development of Colonial Williamsburg.
(1915– ), international banker, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, philanthropist, public official.
John D. Rockefeller IV
(1937–), son of John D. Ill and Blanchette, Democratic senator and governor of West Virginia, diplomat.
The name given to Miles Standish of the Plymouth Colony by his enemy, Thomas Morton of Merry Mount. The reference, of course, was to his diminutive stature.
The nickname of Henry Lee, Revolutionary War cavalry officer, friend of Washington, and father of Robert E. Lee. It was Henry Lee who described Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Charles Townshend, British chancellor of the exchequer, who pushed the Townshend Acts (taxing tea, glass, paint, paper, and other products imported into the colonies) through Parliament in 1767.
De Witt Clinton, longtime mayor of New York, governor of New York, United States senator, unsuccessful Federalist candidate for President in 1812; so called because of his large size and impressive appearance. Despite the many offices he held, Clinton’s most important achievement was his planning and carrying to completion in 1825 the 363-mile-long Erie Canal.
The Civil War Union general George H. Thomas, so called because of his careful, seemingly unimaginative way of organizing for battle. He was actually a brilliant tactician and battlefield commander, as is demonstrated by his betterknown nickname, The Rock of Chickamauga, given to him after his troops withstood a furious Confederate assault in that battle.
Union general George B. McClellan, so called because he somewhat resembled the Napoleon in physical appearance and grandiose style, and because of his inflated sense of his own importance.
William Dudley Haywood, the radical leader of the Western Federation of Miners, who in 1905 was a founder of the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World, an organization noted for violent strikes and an anticapitalist philosophy.
John Fitzgerald, Boston political boss, best known for being the namesake of his grandson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Fitzgerald got the name for his charm and skill at singing “Sweet Adeline.” He was also known as Fitzblarney, for more easily understandable reasons.
Title given to President Woodrow Wilson by unscrupulous political opponents because of his supposed illicit relationship with a divorcée, Mrs. Mary Alien Peck.
The name given Gen. John J. Pershing by West Point cadets because of the strict discipline he maintained while assigned there in the late 1890s. Pershing had earlier commanded the 10th Cavalry, an all-black unit, and was devoted to that regiment. This roused the scorn of the cadets.
1676. An uprising of western Virginia planters against the Eastern Establishment headed by Sir William Berkeley, the royal governor. The Westerners, led by Nathaniel Bacon, resented both the social pretensions of the Berkeley group—which in turn considered the Baconites “a giddy and unthinking multitude”—and Berkeley’s unwillingness to support their attacks on local Indians. Bacon raised a small army, murdered some peaceful Indians, burned Jamestown, and forced the governor to flee. But Bacon came down with a “violent flux” and died, and soon thereafter Berkeley restored order.
1689–91. After news of the abdication of James II had reached New York, Jacob Leisler, a local militia captain, proclaimed himself governor of the colony. He claimed to rule in the name of the new monarchs, William and Mary, and attempted without success to organize an expedition against French Canada during King William’s War. In 1691, after a governor appointed by King William had arrived in New York, Leisler resisted turning over power. He was arrested, tried for treason, and executed.
1763–64. Pennsylvania frontiersmen—many of them from the town of Paxton—angered by the Easterndominated colonial Assembly’s unwillingness to help in the defense against Indian attacks, murdered some peaceful Indians (always easier than taking on warlike tribes) and marched on Philadelphia. They were persuaded to return to their homes by a group headed by Benjamin Franklin, who promised the Assembly would authorize paying bounties for Indian scalps.
45 Pontiac's Rebellion,
1763–64. Indians of the Great Lakes area, led by Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas, attempted unsuccessfully to drive the British out of their territory and check the influx of white settlers who invaded the region after the end of the French and Indian War.
1769–71. Another east-west conflict, this one in North Carolina, triggered by the dominance of the eastern counties. It culminated in the Battle of Alamance, where a thousand government troops beat a Regulator force twice that size.
47 Shay's Rebellion,
1786–87. This Massachusetts uprising was both a result of unstable economic conditions following the Revolution and an important cause of the movement to strengthen the central government that resulted in the drafting of the Constitution. Debt-ridden western Massachusetts farmers, led by Daniel Shays, seeking to stop foreclosures and obtain the printing of new issues of paper money by the state, marched on Springfield, where they hoped to seize a government arsenal. Government militia units easily defeated them, however, and Shays fled the state. The “rebellion” then collapsed.
48 Whiskey Rebellion,
1794. When Congress enacted a stiff excise tax on whiskey in 1791, farmers in western Pennsylvania were especially hard hit. They were accustomed to turn their surplus grain into whiskey, which was much easier to store and ship to market than grain itself. When the farmers organized protest meetings and prevented the collection of the tax, President Washington announced that their actions “amount to treason” and ordered them to disperse. When they did not, he called up thirteen thousand militiamen (more men than he had ever commanded during the Revolution) and marched against them. Faced with this overwhelming force, the protesters submitted. Thomas Jefferson, who was popular throughout the West, had the tax repealed after he became President in 1801.
1841–42. Long after the Revolution, Rhode Island continued to function under a charter dating from the seventeenth century that restricted the suffrage to substantial landowners and their eldest sons. More than half the adult male population (and all the women) did not have the right to vote. When the legislature refused to remedy this situation, a People’s party led by Thomas W. Dorr, a well-to-do lawyer, drafted a constitution and submitted it to a popular vote. It was overwhelmingly approved, and the People’s party then elected Dorr governor. Of course, the existing government did not recognize these actions. The legal governor proclaimed martial law and sent militia units against the Dorrites. Dorr surrendered and was convicted of treason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but released a year later.
1839–46. A protest movement occasioned by the attempt of Hudson Valley landlords to collect what amounted to feudal dues based on “leases” dating from the colonial period. In 1839, after the death of Stephen Van Rensselaer III, who owned about three thousand farms and was “owed” some four hundred thousand dollars in back rents, his heirs attempted to collect these debts. Van Rensselaer had been lax about these obligations, and the tenants resorted to violence to prevent foreclosures. The New York State militia was called out, and order was restored. In 1844 a legislative committee decided that the Van Rensselaer titles were legal. This caused farmers, disguised as Indians, to riot again. After a sheriff had been killed by the antirenters, martial law was again declared, and order restored. Finally, in 1846, a new state constitution put an end to the old tenures, and eventually the tenants obtained title to their farms.
A plea by Benjamin Franklin for colonial unity against the French, this 1754 woodcut from the Pennsylvania Gazette may have been the first cartoon to appear in an American newspaper.
The gerrymander entered the political bestiary in 1812 via this cartoon decrying partisan district apportionment in Massachusetts under Gov. Elbridge Gerry.
In 1931, the year this PulitzerPrize-winning cartoon by John T. McCutcheon appeared, more than two thousand banks failed and unemployment reached eight million.
This 1936 cartoon by C. D. Batchelor reflected the isolationist sentiment of the time. By 1937, when the Nazis were arming, Japan had invaded China, and the Spanish Civil War had erupted. In March 1937 a poll showed that 94 percent of the people opposed American involvement in any war.
Daniel Fitzpatrick’s prophetic 1955 cartoon depicted the United States advancing toward a heart of darkness.
There is no record that Miles Standish asked John Alden to propose to Priscilla Mullens or any other female Pilgrim in his behalf, and since John and Priscilla may have been married as early as 1621, the story told by Longfellow in “The Courtship of Miles Standish” is no doubt an example of poetic license.
Lincoln was supposed to have said this to a delegation of politicians who had complained to him of Grant’s drinking. Lincoln, however, denied having made the remark, saying, “That would have been very good if I had said it,” and on another occasion: “No, I didn’t happen to say it—but it’s a good story, a hardy perennial. I’ve traced that story as far back as George II and General Wolfe. When certain persons complained to George that Wolfe was mad, George said, 'I wish he’d bite some of the others!’ ”
58 "Fighting Joe"
Civil War general Hooker’s nickname was not given him because of his bold, aggressive tactics, though he was anything but a cautious commander. During General McClellan’s 1862 campaign against Richmond, a lastminute Associated Press dispatch reached the New York Courier and Enquirer just as the paper was going to press. It began: “Fighting—Joe Hooker,” meaning that what followed was to be added to earlier accounts of the action involving Hooker’s corps. The compositor, however, set it up as a heading, “Fighting Joe Hooker,” and after publication the name caught on. Hooker claimed not to like the name, saying, “It sounds like Fighting Fool,” and “People will think I am a highwayman or bandit.”
Nowadays we call “ordinary” economic downturns “recessions”: in early times they were called “panics.” There have been a lot of them:
In 1819 the boom that had followed the War of 1812 ended. The downturn that followed was triggered by the revival of European agriculture after the ending of the Napoleonic Wars and by the contraction of credit instituted by the Second Bank of the United States, which was paying off loans that had been made to finance the Louisiana Purchase. Sales of undeveloped land on the frontier then slowed to a trickle, and the price of cotton and other crops dropped sharply. Many farmers were unable to pay their debts, and this led to foreclosures and to numerous bank failures. The bad times lasted until about 1822. Although the Bank of the United States was not really responsible for the troubles, many Westerners blamed it. Among them was Andrew Jackson, who took his revenge, so to speak, by vetoing a bill to extend the charter of the bank in 1832. Ironically, this set in motion events that led to the…
The transfer of federal money from the conservative Bank of the United States to the “wildcat” state banks after President Jackson had vetoed the bill extending the charter of the bank enabled the wildcats to make credit available on easy terms. This led to soaring land sales in the West (up from $2,600,000 in 1832 to $24,900,000 in 1836) and an accompanying boom in canal and road construction, the latter largely financed by British investors. But in 1836 Jackson issued the Specie Circular, which required purchasers of government land to pay for it with gold or silver. This caused purchasers to withdraw specie from the banks and to buy less land. The loss of their gold and silver reserves in turn led to the restriction of bank credit and to many bank failures. The panic occurred when every bank in the country had to suspend converting its paper currency into specie on demand. Conditions improved thereafter, and in 1838 the banks resumed specie payments; but the revival was short-lived. The economy remained depressed until 1843.
61 Panic of 1857.
This downturn was the result of falling grain prices caused by a big increase in Russian exports of wheat after the Crimean War. As a result, Western farmers could buy less, and their declining consumption hurt the business of both Eastern manufacturers and the railroads. The bankruptcy of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company in August 1857 was followed by the collapse of many hundreds of rural banks. The Southern states were hurt less by the bad times because the European demand for cotton remained high. This strengthened Southerners’ confidence in the viability of their slave economy.
62 Panic of 1873.
The failure of the banking house of Jay Cooke and Company precipitated this panic, which was by far the most severe one up to that date. The New York Stock Exchange had to be shut down for ten days to check the steep decline of prices. But like all others, the causes of the following economic downturn, which lasted for several years, were complex. Dislocations caused by the Civil War played a part, but more important were the reckless overbuilding of American railroads and the opening of the Suez Canal, which caused major readjustments in world trade patterns. The year 1873 also marked the beginning of a period of severe worldwide price deflation that extended far beyond the bad times of the mid-1870s.
Triggered by the failure of the National Cordage Company in May and marked by many bank failures and business bankruptcies later in the year, this panic exacerbated an already serious economic decline. The causes were worldwide, but in the United States the conflict over the coinage of silver, which was advocated by groups hurt by the long deflationary cycle, was a major factor. The Treasury’s declining gold reserves, which fell below a hundred million dollars (considered a danger point), further eroded public confidence in the economy. The next few years were among the darkest in American history, being marked by the Pullman Strike, in which federal troops were used to keep the trains running, widespread protest marches by unemployed people, and the spectacle of the government’s having to turn to a private banker, J. P. Morgan, to obtain enough gold to avoid bankruptcy. The question of the free coinage of silver seems less important today than it did in the 1890s, but it split the Democratic party, gave force to the Populist movement, and made a national figure of William Jennings Bryan.
64 Panic of 1907.
This was known as the “rich man’s panic.” In October the failure of F. Augustus Heinze’s United Copper Company led to runs on a number of banks. When depositors suddenly began to withdraw money in huge amounts from the Knickerbocker Trust Company, whose president had been associated with Heinze, the bank had to close its doors. This precipitated a full-fledged panic. The hero of the resulting crisis was the same J. P. Morgan who had been pictured as a villain during the depression of the 1890s. Morgan rallied other bankers to raise cash to help hard-pressed but sound institutions to withstand the pressure of frightened depositors and to bolster sagging prices on the stock exchange. President Theodore Roosevelt helped by authorizing the deposit of federal funds in New York banks to bolster their reserves. The President also agreed to allow U.S. Steel to swallow the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company in order to save the brokerage house that owned it, a decision he was later to regret. The long-range effect of the panic on the economy was not great, but it led to important reforms, notably the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913–14.
This was the famous “Black Thursday,” the stock market collapse of October 24, 1929. The trend of securities prices had been down for several weeks, when suddenly the market gave way. Although it certainly had a psychologically depressing effect on millions of people, the Crash, as it was called, did not cause the depression that followed. By the end of the year stock prices had regained a good part of what had been lost in October, and it was only in the spring of 1930 that the serious economic downturn began. What was remarkable about the resulting depression was its length and the persistent high unemployment.
Forty-two guns, flagship of Capt. John Paul Jones during the Revolution. In a bloody battle off the east coast of England in 1779, the Bonhomme Richard defeated the vastly more powerful Serapis. Early in the engagement, when asked by the Briton if he had struck his colors, Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.”
During the War of 1812, while under the command of Capt. Isaac Hull, the heavy frigate Constitution defeated HMS Guerrière . Eater in the war, while commanded by William Bainbridge, the Constitution destroyed HMS Java; she was known as Old Ironsides. The Constitution is still a commissioned warship in the U.S. Navy and can be visited today at the Boston Navy Yard.
A Confederate warship, powered by steam and sail, that was built during the Civil War in England. Between July 1862, when she put to sea, and her destruction in a battle with the USS Kearsarge in June 1864 in the English Channel off Cherbourg, the Alabama captured or destroyed some sixty Union ships. In 1872 arbitrators awarded the United States $15,500,000 in compensation for damage to its shipping done by Alabama and two other Confederate raiders built in England during the war.
Built in desperate haste to counter the Confederate ironclad Merrimac , the Monitor was the revolutionary creation of the engineer John Ericsson. Above a submerged hull, she mounted two big guns in a revolving turret. When she arrived in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March 1862, a Rebel officer said she was the “strangest looking craft we had ever seen…an immense shingle floating in the water with a gigantic cheese box rising from its center.” But she fought her foe to a standstill in a duel that marked the beginning of the end of wooden warships.
This 1896 battleship is best known for its epic fifteen-thousandmile voyage from its base on the Pacific coast around South America to the West Indies in order to be available in case of war with Spain over Cuba. The vessel accomplished its object and played a major role in the destruction of the Spanish fleet after the war had started. But the time the trip took, well over two months, was one of the reasons the United States undertook the construction of the Panama Canal.
This old fourI M. stacker destroyer fired the first American shots of World War II in September 1941. While en route to Iceland, the Greer received a message from a patrolling British plane that it had sighted a German submarine nearby. The Greer made sonar contact with the U-boat and began to trail it. After the British plane had dropped four depth charges in the area and the Greer continued to follow its maneuvers closely, the Uboat fired a torpedo at the destroyer. The Greer dropped a total of nineteen depth charges in an unsuccessful effort to sink the sub. In announcing the engagement, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Navy to attack German vessels in the North Atlantic on sight. “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike,” he said, “you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.” Roosevelt neglected to inform the public, however, that the Greer had been pursuing the submarine when it struck.
Speedy but frail, this patrol torpedo boat became famous because, at the time it was cut in two in the black of an August night in 1943 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, it was commanded by Lt. (jg.) John F. Kennedy.
(ca. 1767–1822) was a slave who purchased his freedom after winning a lottery and organized an elaborate uprising among South Carolina slaves. However, the authorities got wind of the scheme, and Vesey and thirty-five other blacks were hanged, despite the fact that no actual uprising had taken place.
74 Sojourner Truth
(ca. 1797–1883) was a leading black abolitionist in the decades before the Civil War, unusual in that she campaigned for women’s rights as well as for the ending of slavery. At a women’s rights convention in 1851 she said: “The man over there says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place—and ain’t I a woman?…I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ain’t I a woman?”
(ca. 1817–95), a Baltimore slave, escaped to New York in 1838. He became an abolitionist, developed an extraordinary ability as a speaker, and published an abolitionist paper, the North Star. During the Civil War he helped raise black regiments and in later life continued to campaign for full equality for blacks and for women.
76 Marcus Garvey
(1887–1940), an ardent black nationalist, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. By the mid-1920s the association had nearly a million members and Garvey had created the Black Star steamship line and other all-black businesses. He hoped to establish an independent black nation in Africa the success of which would compel whites to accept blacks as equals. Eventually, however, his companies failed and he was convicted of fraud and deported to his native Jamaica.
(1925–65), born Malcolm Little, was a “hustler” who was converted to the Black Muslim faith while in prison. Having become one of the most radical Muslim critics of white America, a black nationalist who opposed integration of any sort on the ground that white people were devils, he began to moderate his position after extensive travels in the Middle East and Africa. His career was cut short when he was assassinated after he had begun to criticize other Muslim leaders.
“[Men] denied us the means of knowledge and then reproached us for the want of it.…They doomed the sex to servile or frivolous employment on purpose to degrade their minds, that they themselves might hold unrivalled the power and preemptions they usurped.” Priscilla Mason, 1793.
“There is no foundation in reason or expediency, for the absolute and slavish subjection of the wife to the husband, which forms the foundation of the present legal relations. Were woman, in point of fact, the abject thing which the law, in theory, considers her to be when married, she would not be worthy the companionship of man.” Lucretia Mott, 1849.
“Men call us angels, and boast of the deference they pay to our weakness! They give us their seats in church, in cars and omnibusses, at lectures and concerts, and in many other ways show us great respect where nothing but form is concerned. … but at the same time they are defrauding us of our just rights by crowding us out of every lucrative employment, and subjecting us to virtual slavery.” Amelia Bloomer, 1851.
“The reason why women effect so little & are so shallow is because their aims are low, marriage is the prize for which they strive, if foiled in that they rarely rise above the disappointment.…But we feel this so keenly we now demand an equal education with man to qualify us to become coworkers with him in the great arena of human life.” Sarah Grirnke, “Education of Women,” 1852–57.
“Southern women are I believe all at heart abolitionists. I will stand to the opinion that the institution of slavery degrades the white man more than the Negro and exerts a most deleterious effect upon our children.” Ella Thomas, a Georgian, writing in her journal, 1858.
“Women have the same invaluable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that men have. Why have they not this right politically as well as men? Women constitute a majority of the people of this country—they hold vast portions of the nation’s wealth and pay a proportionate share of the taxes.…The American nation, in its march onward and upward, cannot publicly choke the intellectual and political activity of half its citizens by narrow statutes.” Victoria Woodhull, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, 1871.
“A Woman’s body belongs to herself alone. It does not belong to the United States of America or any other government on the face of the earth.” Margaret Sanger, Woman Rebel, 1914.
“Even the woman movement we have called feminism has not succeeded by and large in giving women any control over men. It has only changed the distribution of women…removing vast numbers of women from the class supported by men to the class working for them.” Elsie Clews Parsons, Social Rule, 1916.
“With women as half the country’s elected representatives, and a woman President once in a while, the country’s machismo problems would be greatly reduced.…I’m not saying that women leaders would eliminate violence. We are not more moral than men; we are only uncorrupted by power so far.” Gloria Steinern, 1970.
In an intensely competitive political society where 55 percent is a sweeping victory and 60 percent a landslide, success in politics often depends upon the art of compromising. American history is therefore full of wheeling and dealing, where one group agrees to something it dislikes in order to get something that it wants very much or, to put a better face on the practice, where politicians take into account the needs of others as well as themselves and try to do what is best for the entire country. Apart from the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 (see last December’s issue), here are some examples:
(1787). This was the agreement reached at the Constitutional Convention between the smaller, less populous states, which wished all states to be represented equally in Congress, and the larger states, which favored representation according to population. The compromise, of course, was to give each state two senators, chosen by its legislature, and to apportion seats in the House of Representatives according to population and elect the members by popular vote. The Great Compromise was far less important than the Founding Fathers thought at the time, since in practice most issues have divided the country on economic or geographic lines, not on the size of the states.
88 The Three-fifths Compromise
(1787). This was a deal at the convention between Northern and Southern delegates. Northerners wanted to count slaves as property in the apportionment of federal taxes. Southerners wanted to count them as part of the population when determining the size of each state’s delegation in the House of Representatives. The compromise was to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for both purposes. In practice this favored the South because no direct taxes were enacted by Congress until after slavery was abolished.
(1833). In the late 1820s and early 1830s Northern and Western interests had pushed laws through Congress placing high protective duties on many imported manufactured goods. Most Southerners disliked these duties because there was little manufacturing in their section. Passage of the Tariff of 1832 led South Carolina (inspired by its leading statesman, John C. Calhoun) to enact an Ordinance of Nullification declaring that law and the previous tariff void in South Carolina and prohibiting the collection of duties in the state after February 1,1833. To prevent the showdown between state and federal authority that would have followed, Calhoun and Henry Clay (whose American System had encouraged the coalition of Northern and Western interests that had made passage of the high tariffs possible) engineered the passage of a new tariff that lowered the duties gradually over a period of years. South Carolina then repealed its ordinance before the February 1 deadline.
(1860). This proposal was advanced by Sen. John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, a disciple of Henry Clay, who had died in 1852, to relieve the sectional crisis that resulted from the election of Lincoln as President. Crittenden suggested a constitutional amendment allowing slavery in all territories south of 36°30’ and guaranteeing that no future amendment would seek to tamper with slavery where it already existed. The necessary legislation failed, however, when Republicans refused to go along with any extension of slavery into new territory.
91 The Compromise of 1877.
This deal broke the deadlock created by the disputed 1876 presidential election. In exchange for accepting the Republican version of the results and thus the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Democrats were promised that Hayes would remove the last Federal troops from the South and appoint a Southerner to his cabinet. The compromise marked the end of the Reconstruction Era and of Federal efforts to compel white Southerners to treat blacks fairly.
(1895). The. name given to the policy proposed by Booker T. Washington in his speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. Washington urged Southern blacks to accept segregation and to concentrate on developing useful skills. In return he urged white Southerners to help black people get ahead in the world. If they did, he promised, blacks would be the “most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.” The policy worked in the sense that it reduced racial tensions and attracted considerable Northern philanthropic support for Southern blacks, but, as W. E. B. Du Bois and other black radicals pointed out, the psychological cost was high and Southern white aid scant.
Discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist, in 1928 and made available for general use during World War II.
Source of the electronic revolution, invented at the Bell laboratories by William B. Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter H. Brattain, in 1947.
Invented by Wallace Hume Carothers, head of the Du Pont experimental station, in 1937. Nylon stockings came on the market in 1940; they were so popular that Du Pont sold sixty-four million pairs that year. Carothers and his associates at Du Pont also invented the synthetic rubber neoprene.
The system of transmitting sound patterns by varying the frequency of the carrier wave rather than its amplitude (AM), invented by Edwin H. Armstrong in 1933 but not developed widely until after World War II.
Invented in 1953 by Robert Abplanalp (better known for his friendship with Richard Nixon).
98 Permanent Wave.
Invented by Karl Ludwig Nessler, a German-born hairdresser, who over a period of years ending in the mid-1920s perfected machines for making hair more porous so that it would absorb moisture. Moist hair holds a curl longer than dry hair, but not, of course, permanently.
Invented in the 1950s by Gregory Pincus, who produced Enovid, the first “pill,” by combining synthetic progesterone and estrogen.
100 Quick-frozen foods.
Invented by Clarence Birdseye, who first experimented with the concept while he was a fur trader in Labrador before World War I. Birdseye invented the term quick-freeze and sold his patents in 1929.
In the 1870s George B. Seiden had developed detailed designs for a “horseless carriage,” powered by a gasoline engine and complete with an ignition system, a clutch, brakes, and other details. He never built even a prototype for such a machine, apparently because he was unable to obtain financing. Nevertheless, in 1895 he was issued a patent for a “road engine.” He assigned his patent to the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, and for many years this group licensed the actual manufacturers of cars, charging a small royalty. Henry Ford, however, refused to recognize the Seiden patent, and in 1911, after a complicated legal battle, a US. circuit court decided in Ford’s favor.