Note: Anthony Gregory has decided to go into the textbook-writing business. His first job is to write a brief, politically correct, non-revisionist history of the United States that reflects what the average American should remember from public high school. This is almost all you need to know to fit in with the more educated man on the street who got an A- in American History.
"Now, there are some who would like to rewrite history — revisionist historians is what I like to call them." — President George W. Bush
The First American Revolution
Colonists from Britain began coming to North America in the 17th century, to escape religious persecution and to massacre the Native Americans who offered them food on Thanksgiving.
In the late 1700s, one third or so of the white, land-owning males in the thirteen colonies got sick of paying their taxes to King George III. Whereas previously the British only passed a new big law every decade or so, the American colonists now had a lot of annoying laws to keep track of. The Quartering Act (1765), the Restraining Act (1767), the Proclamation of 1763, the Hovering Act (1763), the Sugar Act (1756), and the Stamp Act (1756) — the colonists simply had it up to their necks with Acts.
The Stamp Act specifically bugged them, because it taxed playing cards and dice.
A lot of these taxes were meant to pay off the debt for the French/Indian War (also called the "Seven Years War"; it lasted nine years from 1754 to 1763), which Britain had waged against the Indians and the French in order to help out the Americans.
The British shot some Americans in Boston, including one African American, who ironically found himself on the side of the slave-holding class. The British passed the Tea Act of 1773. The angered colonists dressed up like Native Americans and dumped 10,000 pounds of tea in the Boston Harbor. This was 200 years before Superfund and the Environmental Protection Agency was not around to clean up the mess.
On April 19, 1775, the British and Americans fought it out at Lexington and Concord. No one knows who fired the first shot, but everyone around the world heard it. In 1776, America saw the publication of two of its most important documents. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, read by drunken people in saloons, complained about how King George shouldn’t have any power because he was so far away and his royal pedigree was un-American. Also that year, Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence came out, telling the world that the white Americans wanted freedom, even as it called the Native Americans "savages."
The American Revolution began, and the two sides fought for a good amount of time. In 1781, the Americans felt confident enough to set up a government through the Articles of Confederation.
The Articles of Confederation were a total, complete, utter, unforgettable, out-of-control disaster. In 1786, a terrorist named Daniel Shays led a rebellion, but the federal government was not strong enough to get things under control. Out of absolute necessity, the Framers got together and made the Constitution, which granted certain rights to the people, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, and the rights of the properly regulated National Guard to have registered muskets.
Early Political Turmoil and Manifest Destiny
America was a new country, with internal political disagreements. Leaders such as George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton represented the landed interests. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, represented the hypocritical stance of the then-conservative Democratic Party: he claimed to oppose tyranny but he owned slaves and had children with them. The Hamiltonian Federalists believed in a strong central bank and internal improvements in industry. The Jeffersonian Democrats were against improving the country, and wanted everyone to be farmers.
As President, Thomas Jefferson’s biggest accomplishments, such as the Louisiana Purchase, clashed with his small-government principles. In 1812 the United States went to war with Britain, and President James Madison lost his home when the British burned the White House.
For decades, all the two main camps in politics could agree on was the inferiority of women and other minorities, and that Native Americans should be massacred. Under President Andrew Jackson, who, as a common man, didn’t understand the importance of central banking, many Native Americans were displaced during the Trail of Tears. Pioneers continued to move westward, and without the federal government sufficiently empowered to stop them, they carried out what they thought was their "Manifest Destiny" to displace the Native American communities.
This was a time of turmoil in America, especially because the American Revolution had yet to apply to slaves. In the decades between the 1820s and the 1860s, the North and South became increasingly hostile toward each other over the issue of slavery. Northerners were very racist, but they still did not enslave African Americans. Southerners were very racist and they had slavery as well. Despite many attempts at reconciliation, from the Compromise of 1820 to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the two regions couldn’t square away their differences.
The sectional divide wasn’t only about slavery. The South didn’t want to pay its share of taxes. Tariffs were detested by the slave-owning Southerners, who called one of them the "the Tariff of Abomination" even as they practiced slavery and enslaved their slaves.
In the first half of the 19th century, there were no important presidents except for the hypocritical, slave-owning Jefferson, and the hypocritical, Native-American-killing Jackson. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, and would become the greatest president and human being ever to grace the earth.
The Civil War and Reconstruction (The Second American Revolution)
When Abraham Lincoln became president, the slave states seceded, violating their social contract and rebelling against the U.S. Constitution. In South Carolina, slave owners fired on Fort Sumter, without warning. Forced into war, Lincoln was determined to keep the Union together. And while he was at it, he figured it was time to free the slaves. As he said in 1862, "If I could save the Union… by freeing all the slaves I would do it."
In 1863, Lincoln heroically issued his bold Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery ended soon after that with the Thirteenth Amendment. Lincoln, ahead of his time, established an Income Tax. He also suspended some civil liberties, establishing the precedent that sometimes a national crisis requires that the people sacrifice some of their privileges. More than 300,000 Union soldiers died to end slavery and to protect the Union from the rebelling South.
Even though Lincoln ended slavery and saved the Union, Southern blacks were still oppressed, discriminated against, and forced into sharecropping — a crude institution of primitive, feudal capitalism. The Republicans, who at that time were the more liberal, more progressive party, instituted reforms during the Reconstruction Era to protect Southern blacks from the Ku Klux Klan.
The Age of the Robber Barons
After the federal government defeated slavery, America saw a new birth of freedom.
But freedom only went so far for the multitudes of poor blacks, women, and child laborers who were forced to work in devastating conditions, all while big corporations became richer and richer. Tied down by a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, which protected laissez faire property rights, the government was unable to protect the poor.
Standard Oil, led by John Rockefeller, typified the problems with laissez faire. The last thing that people like Rockefeller wanted was a strong federal government to keep their companies in check. The clash between Big Business and a growing government began.
The Progressive Era and World War I
Between 1890 and 1920, a new movement to modernize American society and help the poor began enjoying popularity among the poor, minorities, and women. Championing progress, the Progressive movement was determined to protect workers, save the environment, promote democracy, end political corruption, reform the prison system, establish sound banking policies, shield children from factories and let them go to school, curb corporate abuse, and establish social programs for the American people.
In 1898, the United States went to war with the Spanish in Cuba when the U.S.S. Maine, without warning, exploded in the Havana harbor (whether or not the Spanish attacked it is still unknown). Some historians question the wisdom of the war, which was advocated by rich people such as William Randolph Hearst. It was around this time that the United States liberated the Philippines, and annexed Wake Island, and other territories.
In 1900, the first truly Progressive president, Teddy Roosevelt, became president. He was so popular, and muscular, and intelligent, that the Teddy Bear was named after him. Teddy Roosevelt believed in promoting democracy in Latin America, fostering peace with Japan, saving the Wilderness (he passionately loved the outdoors), and speaking softly while carrying a big stick at all his press conferences. He tried hard to smooth out the rough edges of laissez faire capitalism with his various government reforms, and created new regulations to protect consumers from tainted meat and poisoned pharmaceuticals.
In 1908, the country became conservative again with the election of William Howard Taft. Although Taft carried out much of Roosevelt’s agenda, his heart was just not in the Progressive Movement. In 1912, dissatisfied with the choice between the Republican incumbent Taft and Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt started a new Progressive Party — also called the "Bull Moose Party" — effectively taking votes away from Taft and swinging the election toward Wilson. Wilson would become the first Progressive Democrat.
Woodrow Wilson helped bring about the Income Tax, in order to reduce inequalities in society, as well as the Federal Reserve System, designed to control inflation and to regulate banks so as to put an end to the frequent bank crashes that occurred with laissez faire banking throughout American history. The Federal Reserve and other government regulations continued to annoy Big Business. J.P. Morgan, for example, opposed such regulations, because they disrupted the laissez faire economy on which his monopoly thrived. Eventually, however, even banks and corporations came to appreciate the stabilizing effects of regulations such as those imposed by the Federal Reserve.
Wilson’s biggest challenge came in 1915 when the German military, without warning, sank a British ship, The Lusitania, which was carrying many American civilians. The United States was forced into World War I.
During World War I, Wilson drafted his Fourteen Points and spawned the creation of the League of Nations, in order to prevent a global war from ever breaking out again. Unfortunately, his idealism was ineffective without Senate approval. After Germany and the Central Powers surrendered, there was unfortunately no U.S. involvement in the aftermath, and so the world was doomed to see another World War.
The Swinging 20s, the Great Depression and the New Deal
In the 1920s, disillusioned Americans elected a number of reactionary Republican presidents, who believed in business more than protecting the people.
Laissez faire came back to America, and brought with it high tariffs, immigration restrictions, alcohol prohibition, and the Teapot Dome scandal, which forever tainted the Warren Harding administration as one of the most scandalous in American history.
The economy boomed, probably because of the infrastructure built during World War I, and people sat around eating Eskimo Pies, playing miniature golf, watching picture shows, using new appliances, listening to jazz, drinking bathtub gin, and, in the case of women who had just won the right to vote, being flappers. The result of the laissez faire period of unhampered business was the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which even the Federal Reserve couldn’t prevent, because of the low taxes and lack of regulation in the corporate world. The Great Depression swept America, and president Herbert Hoover, a laissez faire conservative, refused to do anything about it.
In 1932, the country elected Franklin Roosevelt, who immediately instituted sweeping reform programs, most of which had three letters in their titles, to protect workers, help the poor, and bring America out of the Depression. Franklin Roosevelt overcame many obstacles, including a reactionary Supreme Court, to save the country. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps to put the poor to work, helped the Native Americans, ended child labor, took America off the unstable gold standard, and developed the Securities and Exchange Commission to stop another Depression from ever happening in America.
World War II
And then, in December of 1941, the Japanese, without warning, attacked Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States into World War II. In order to combat Imperial Japan, and also to stop the Nazi Holocaust, Franklin Roosevelt mobilized the nation to war, finally abandoning the U.S. policy of isolationism set by the laissez faire Republicans of the 1920s.
Desperate to save the world from fascism, Roosevelt teamed up with the Great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who always had witty things to say, and Joseph Stalin, who had some questionable policies in the Soviet Union, but who nevertheless shared with Churchill and Roosevelt a deep understanding of the dangers of fascism. The three world leaders met at Yalta to work out plans on how to bring peace and freedom to the world. Roosevelt found himself pressured into sending some Japanese Americans to special camps, a decision questioned by some of his critics.
Franklin Roosevelt, the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln, shortly after defeating the Nazis in Normandy on D-Day, died fighting fascism.
His successor, Harry Truman, came to office at the end of World War II. Though the Germans had surrendered, Truman was still faced with the Japanese threat in the Pacific. Out of an act of desperation, forced into making one of the toughest presidential decisions of U.S. history, Truman ordered the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed some people. Finally, the Japanese surrendered, and so the United States would not have to invade Japan, which would have cost one million Japanese and American lives. The Allies had defeated the Axis Powers, and the war brought the United States out of the Great Depression. No longer could America afford to ignore the rest of the world. The United Nations was born to stop anyone from ever taking over the world. The U.N. has a declaration of human rights that grants some rights not granted by the U.S. Constitution.
The Cold War
Although Germany and Japan were defeated and liberated, the U.S.S.R. remained, which some Americans believed was a dangerous and oppressive regime. Stalin’s regime had grown, inexplicably, during World War II, and in spite of all efforts by the U.S. government to restrain the Soviet Union, Stalin somehow managed to develop nuclear arms. The Russians became America’s new enemy, and Harry Truman would be forced to begin the Cold War.
Truman, who was so honest that he paid for his own postage stamps, sent troops to South Korea to save it from North Korea, but was unable to liberate North Korea. Some Americans died in that war, which must, above all else, be remembered as the "forgotten war."
In the 1950s, America saw a new prosperity, but people still did not enjoy equality. President Eisenhower sent the National Guard to the South to stop racism. He also helped establish government reforms in Iran. (At the time, the Republican Party still had liberal tendencies.)
The Communist threat was still on the minds of some people, a few of whom even believed that Communists were in the U.S. government. Senator Joe McCarthy, in the most blatant disregard for civil liberties and the Constitution in American history, caused some actors to lose their jobs and shamelessly harassed public servants.
John F. Kennedy saved the world from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Lyndon Johnson became president. Although Lyndon Johnson was a very liberal president, who instituted the Great Society and the War on Poverty to help the poor, he was also a strong war president. In 1964, without warning, there was an incident at the Gulf of Tonkin, and Johnson was forced to send more troops to Vietnam. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t succeed at stopping Communism.
Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, was at the polar opposite end of the political spectrum from Johnson. Nixon was a conservative who ardently continued the Vietnam War, and his domestic policy was unimportant. Nixon showed moderation and compromise in the Cold War with his willingness to bomb Cambodia and yet meet with Mao. Nixon resigned in shame in the greatest scandal in American history since Teapot Dome, when his aids broke into the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate building in order to rig the election.
The End of History and Its Rebirth
The 1970s saw deflation and recession, as well as gas shortages. Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter failed to do anything outstanding while in office, thus bringing the faith of Americans in their government to an all-time low.
In 1980, a charming maverick Hollywood actor with a strict adherence to laissez faire principles, Ronald Reagan, won the presidency. Reagan believed in slashing the federal government to a small fraction of its size. Democrats accused him of cutting taxes and social spending dramatically, while raising defense spending so much that he created large deficits. However, the bipartisan efforts in military spending brilliantly ended the Cold War eventually, by forcing the otherwise economically strong Soviet Union to collapse in 1991.
George Herbert Walker Bush became president in 1988, continuing the small government policies of Reagan and taking the nation to war to save Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, who had murdered hundreds of thousands of Kurds and other innocents. In 1992 an economic recession and independent billionaire Ross Perot made Bush lose the election to William Jefferson Clinton.
Clinton oversaw the greatest period of prosperity in American history. Clinton faced many challenges, including a suicidal armed and dangerous religious cult in Waco, Texas, the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and starvation in Somalia.
In 1995, Republicans took over Congress, and attempted to shrink government as much as they could, shutting down the federal government and trying to cut social programs. They impeached Clinton in 1999, over the greatest scandal since Watergate. Clinton was not forced to leave office, and continued to stop genocide in Yugoslavia.
In 2000, the presidential candidates, Democratic Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, offered two very different visions for America. Bush won by a slight margin in a contested victory.
On September 11, 2001, without warning, Islamic terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. The United States was forced into war, and Bush met the challenges of terrorism by enacting strong law enforcement policies, and liberating Afghanistan and Iraq from their oppressive rulers.
Bush has sometimes been criticized, like Reagan, for cutting taxes and excessively reducing social spending. In the War on Terrorism, however, both Republicans and Democrats have agreed since 9/11 that the United States can no longer neglect and ignore the Middle East.
1. What are the problems with laissez faire economic policies? Name three episodes of economic turmoil in American history caused by unregulated business.
2a. Which problems came about when America had an isolationist foreign policy?
2b. Extra Credit/Critical Thinking: What do you think would have been the best way to stop the Axis Powers before they threatened to conquer the world? How does such a solution apply today to the Middle East?
3a. In your opinion, who are the two greatest presidents in American history, and how did their elections in 1860 and 1932 change the face of American politics?
3b. Extra Credit/Critical Thinking: Who was the third best president in American history, and in what ways did he greatly expand the role of the president? Who was the least great, and what problems did he fail to address?
4. Name three ways in which the federal government evolved over time to solve the newly appreciated problems in American society and the world. Address the issues of racial inequality, fascism, and unregulated business in your answer.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.