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About this book

A fresh and engaging account of America's history from the 15th century to the 21st that navigates complexities without oversimplifying or assuming prior knowledge. Kuklick focuses on politics, but places this in the context of religious culture and emphasizes the assertive expansion at the heart of the development of the U.S.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

The national experience
Abstract
In Philadelphia, in the summer of 1787, the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution of the United States, a short written document about how they would manage public affairs. When Benjamin Franklin was leaving at the end of the meetings, a woman asked him: “Dr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?” He replied, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
Bruce Kuklick

Making a State

Frontmatter

1. The European impact in America, 1494–1676

Ideas of a New World from the Treaty of Tordesillas to Bacon’s Rebellion and Slavery in Virginia
Abstract
The prehistory of the United States tells the stories of three connected groups. Twenty thousand to forty thousand years before the Christian era (B. C.) the indigenous natives — the Indians — originally migrated from Asia to the Americas. By the sixteenth century A.D., the Europeans arriving from “the Old World” claimed the countryside for themselves. Indians and Europeans crucially entangled themselves because ownership of land defined life in the United States. The Europeans themselves soon brought African slaves to work. This entanglement became crucial because of the centrality of race to the history of the United States.
Bruce Kuklick

2. North American colonies, 1632–1732

American accents from the founding of Maryland to the founding of Georgia
Abstract
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the European powers came to recognize that part of their prestige hung on their standing in the Americas. They fought over who had what in the New World. They extended their holdings, and undertook new ventures. No nation worked more actively than England in the Caribbean and along the North American coast. By the first part of the eighteenth century the English had not just sent some migrants to Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay. From present-day Maine to the West Indies, the English had a network of colonies. These dependent territories did not rule themselves but were ruled by a Mother Country, obligated to England and subject to decisions made there. Each colony had its own separate concerns, but all participated in a political world that looked east across the Atlantic.
Bruce Kuklick

3. The colonies in the Empire, 1651–1774

The creation of an all-colonial voice from the imperial navigation acts to the first Continental Congress
Abstract
In the course of 100 years, from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth century England reorganized its policies to build a more rational order and to strengthen itself against its enemies. The Mother Country now self-consciously had an Empire with dependencies governed from afar. Britain defined the colonies as places that did not control their own political life. At the same time the coastal colonies had a growing sense of their own liberties — their autonomy; the colonies valued the equality of the individuals who lived in America and disdained the hierarchy and titles of Europe. Liberty and equality did not themselves always go together in America, but each went against the grain of English ideas about how people were governed. In creating an imperial system, the Mother Country aided their New World possessions in the elaboration of a unified point of view. When this viewpoint grew hostile to Britain, the English found that in trying to make safe the Empire, they had instead put their rule over America at risk.
Bruce Kuklick

4. War and order, 1775–1787

The politics of virtue from the outbreak of the revolution to the making of the Constitution
Abstract
By the spring of 1775 the situation in Massachusetts had reached such a pitch that the British decided on a pre-emptive strike. The “Redcoats” determined to seize local war-making supplies outside of Boston, in the town of Concord. Battles over the next two months around this provincial New England center proved to be the first incidents in what would be known as the Revolutionary War, which divided the colonies from Britain. For 150 years after the conflict, no one found fault with the epoch-making events of 1775 and the New England origin of what became the “United States.” Essayists echoed the popular culture of the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries and painted a heroic view of these tussles between the Patriots, as they were called, and their English oppressors. The United States identified themselves as the first new nation, emerging in a revolutionary conflict with a European empire.
Bruce Kuklick

Consolidating the Power of the State

Frontmatter

5. The culture of politics, 1788–1826

An American politics from Washington’s presidency to the deaths of Adams and Jefferson
Abstract
As the nation came into being, and states were added to the original 13, the same leaders and their constituency of white male property owners created a political culture in which both people and statesmen got a hearing. The war had brought together men from Massachusetts to Georgia. In the 1770s and 1780s, service in the army, on congressional committees, or on diplomatic missions had made them the most ardent believers in a new American people. But these men still had little experience of what a national political life might mean. They entered the 1790s with different state allegiances, and they held up different foreign countries as ideals. These leaders would build their nationalism on the job, and in an uneasy dialogue with the people. With the exception of Franklin, who died in 1790, the same men filled the highest positions — Washington, Jefferson, and Madison from Virginia; and Hamilton and Adams from New York and Massachusetts. James Monroe and John Marshall from Virginia, and Adams’s son, John Quincy, later joined them. All would find themselves showing consideration for the ordinary white man as much as for each other.
Bruce Kuklick

6. From coexistence to expansion, 1783–1832

Building a nation from the Northwest Ordinances to the Cherokee Trail of Tears
Abstract
In the first decades of the existence of the United States politicians and citizens spoke theoretically about political good and evil. They also resolved real issues that would influence individuals. Victory in the Revolution encouraged settlers to move to the frontier, and weakened but did not destroy the power of the Europeans, as well as of the Indians. In the 50 years after the defeat of the English in 1783, the inexperienced American government overcame further European and Indian threats. Politicians set precedents on ruling that would last for centuries. Developing in the context of European rivalries, the country grew as one member of the system of countries in Europe and the New World in the nineteenth century. In a series of laws, decisions, opportunities, and emergencies, various strategies spread American values. The United States mixed the expansion of nationality with peculiar views of how non-nationals might be dominated.
Bruce Kuklick

7. Nationalism, sectionalism, and slavery, 1820–1861

Democratic culture under stress from Jackson to the Civil War
Abstract
Successive fallings out over slavery ran through the second third of the nineteenth century. This “sectional crisis” had one of its roots in a growing sense of distinct southern identity. But the South had developed in its own way as a national culture was created; a sense of nationhood and a sense of being a special part of the nation went together. And in the North a more authentic democracy arose, if we associate democracy with the extension of voting rights to all white men. In the North of the nineteenth century, democracy now also meant that voters presumed equality with those for whom they voted. The deference of republicanism gave way to a rougher and more aggressive politics that spread from the backcountry to the coast, and in the North this development meant less respect for what could easily be perceived as a lack of democracy in the South. Finally, with the geographic enlargement of the United States, southern politicians participated in the construction of a power that could threaten their way of life.
Bruce Kuklick

8. Lincoln and the Civil War, 1858–1865

Words to make a country from the debates with Douglas to the assassination
Abstract
In 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born in poverty to an anti-slavery Baptist couple in the southwestern state of Kentucky. Moving around the Old Northwest as a young man, he tried his hand at various occupations. Self-taught and honest, he settled on the law, and by the 1840s was a prominent attorney in the state of Illinois. Lincoln had an unrefined personality that his height and clumsy appearance accentuated. But folks also knew him for his physical strength and wrestling ability, and he used his ugly looks to his advantage in the courtroom by telling humorous and down-home stories, often on himself, to make legal points. Most important, Lincoln had an unusual force of intellect, which he marshaled against those who thought him a yokel of no significance. His political ambitions led to one term in the US House of Representatives in 1847–1849, where he opposed the Mexican War. Yet Lincoln seemed content with his successful career. At the same time, while he viewed the United States as a white man’s country, he intuitively detested slavery. “If slavery is not wrong,” he wrote, “nothing is wrong.” But Lincoln believed it would die a “natural death.” In the 1840s he held it a “minor question on its way to extinction.”
Bruce Kuklick

9. The sections integrated: South, West, and Northeast, 1865–1896

From the military occupation of the South to army strikebreakers in the North
Abstract
For years slavery complicated the expansion of the Republic and demanded attention. The Civil War resolved the issues. The United States would now quickly absorb far western lands. How would that occur now that the North no longer had to negotiate with the South? The South itself had to re-enter the United States. Would the old slaves emerge as real citizens? The four short years of the Civil War had made these questions overriding. For 30 years after the war politicians scrambled to put policies in place that answered the questions. Everywhere leaders looked, they saw uses for an army that could play a new role.
Bruce Kuklick

The American State and the World

Frontmatter

10. The New Empire, 1890–1917

Varieties of expansion from the close of the frontier to more fights with Mexico
Abstract
In 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner, a professor, lectured to the American Historical Association on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” In what became known as “the Turner Thesis,” he declared that the nation had acquired its personality through successive migrations across the country. The people had become “American” as they moved west, and as the new settlements had decreased the heritage of Europe. A democratic character resulted. It prized self-reliance, achievement, and the ability to build community; and not wealth and family connection, traits that dominated Europe and that birth determined. The heartland and not the Atlantic seaboard defined the United States. Turner haled from the Midwest, from Wisconsin, where he taught before going to Harvard University in Massachusetts. But he dismissed the scholars who centered on the 13 coastal colonies, and especially New England, as the source of what made America. In emphasizing the frontier of settlement that was always moving west, Turner had also put forward a general theory about American history. Geography and population transfer had defined the nation, not ideas, religion, or economics.
Bruce Kuklick

11. Progressive America, 1900–1920

The educated speak out from the rise of the settlement houses to the failure of the World War I peace plan
Abstract
When President McKinley went to war against the Spanish, everyone could agree on a sort of religious mission that might make Christians of lesser peoples. After the victory a different spirit existed at home. Historians have acknowledged this spirit as “Progressivism,” but have debated ever since what it meant.
Bruce Kuklick

12. The crises of progressive capitalism, 1919–1933

Political culture from the ban on liquor to the election of Franklin Roosevelt
Abstract
Historians often define the period after the World War as a decade of reaction to the failure of Woodrow Wilson. But the Republicans in the 1910s, 1920s, and early 1930s were not opposed to a worldwide role for the United States. They did not as a party sanction “isolationism.” Many of the anxieties of public policy in the 1920s resembled those earlier in the century. In the 1920s, progressives demonstrated the same impatience that they had earlier displayed to make non-Protestants conform to Protestant ways. The big concerns included the “prohibition” of alcohol and immigration restriction, both of which had a progressive coloration. Even when a new KKK arose, it supported causes such as the integrity of the family familiar to earlier progressives. Yet the inability to export Progressivism around the world had disheartened progressives. The politicians who had progressive inclinations in the 1920s expressed greater pessimism, and did not embrace the complexities of modern times. Such progressives relied more on their troops and less on their leadership to secure goals that look narrower. Even the leaders did not always show the respect for university training and the new practical sciences that had characterized the period before the World War. In fact, fights between Protestants over their own religious sentiments reached their high point in the 1920s and resulted in a celebrated court case over the role of evolutionary science in American life.
Bruce Kuklick

13. The cosmopolitan New Deal in depression and war, 1933–1945

Roosevelt’s authority from the bottom of the depression to the end of World War II
Abstract
The American people elected Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency four times, in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. His New Deal policies dramatically redefined the role of the federal government in the lives of common citizens. On matters that ranged from taxes to social services to foreign policy, ordinary Americans became more aware of national politics. While Roosevelt’s programs may have only marginally cured the problems of the Depression in the 1930s, Roosevelt himself became a beloved figure. FDR, as he was known, expressed a notable sympathy for the everyday troubles of the people in his country, and the psychological lift he gave may have been more important than the success or failure of the economic policies. In a time of hardship and drive for social change the President lent to the era both stability and a positive feeling for experiments. In 1941 after the United States went to war with Japan and, again, with Germany, Roosevelt added to his stature as a soldier of freedom. He made a new reputation for Democrats as the party of a hopeful internationalism, when Wilson’s failure had lost this reputation. The Democrats became associated not just with the growing responsibility of Washington in running the economy but also ultimately with a global diplomacy.
Bruce Kuklick

14. Cold War America, 1945–1963

The communist menace from Roosevelt’s death to the assassination of John Kennedy
Abstract
Franklin Roosevelt reigned as the premier politician of his age. His death just before the end of World War II in April of 1945 shocked the country. People wept openly in the streets. “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,” sung Woody Guthrie, the iconic American folksinger, “Don’t hang your head and cry. His mortal clay is laid away, but his good work fills the sky”
Bruce Kuklick

Personal Politics and the State

Frontmatter

15. The Long 1960s, 1954–1975

Voices of protest from the Supreme Court ruling on school segregation to the end of the Vietnam War
Abstract
In the early 1960s the country was poised for a new mission, and it is impossible to recreate the horror and distress that accompanied the assassination of Kennedy. The dominance of the United States was never so much accepted, American prestige around the world never higher. Ordinary human beings cried for Kennedy from Africa to the Aleutians. At home, one poet, Arnold Lee Greenberg, wrote, “More than a president is dead;/and not ten thousand bullets/in ten thousand heads/could make the moment different.” For many Americans the failure of the mission stemmed from this one senseless act; and so did the subsequent unrest and evils of the 1960s and 1970s — war, racism, domestic upheaval, and political deceit. But the turmoil that came after Kennedy’s murder had many sources in the nation’s past. The effort by black Americans for a measure of equality proved one of the most significant.
Bruce Kuklick

16. Cultural divisions and cultural imperialism, 1968–2000

From the destruction of Johnson and Nixon to the impeachment of Clinton
Abstract
From World War II to the Civil Rights Movement, reflective Americans often thought that their country was going somewhere. This exceptional place had somehow escaped the ups and downs of history. The Revolutionary and Constitutional period had founded a new and better form of government among the powers of the world. The Civil War had removed slavery, the great imperfection on this form of government. In the twentieth century, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal brought the hope of a good life to all citizens, and in World War II Roosevelt’s United States had carried its commitments outward and defeated Hitler’s Germany, the most ghastly menace to civilized life on the planet. The Cold War had continued the march to global democracy that America led. Was it the kingdom of God on earth? In his presidential address John Kennedy had recalled the hope of the Pilgrims when he said that “the glow from/the American/fire can truly light the world.” At home, the effort to achieve African American equality showed that the nation could meet promises to its own citizens. As Kennedy put it in the spring of 1963, civil rights took up an issue “as old as the scriptures, and as clear as the American Constitution.” Then, a few weeks later, near the wall the Soviets had built around West Berlin, he made a realistic reference to the black demonstrations in the United States. “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect,” he noted. “But we have never had to put up a wall to keep our people in.” Exactly!
Bruce Kuklick

Epilogue

America in History, 2001 and After
Abstract
After World War II the United States had underwritten the formation of the Jewish state of Israel on the edge of the Middle East. The electoral considerations of the Democrats first reinforced this policy: in the important states of New York and Florida Democrats needed Jewish voters. By the 1960s America was guaranteeing Israel’s success among unwelcoming Arab nations. Experts would cite the Middle East as one more venue of the Cold War. America needed allies there, while Israel required support. The United States, however, now also relied on oil from abroad, and the reliance made American plans complex.
Bruce Kuklick
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