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About this book

This book is an engaging account of US history from the first European contact with the 'New World' to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Bruce Kuklick's straightforward yet authoritative narrative takes students through the complexities of US history without oversimplifying of requiring prior knowledge. Placing politics in the context of religious culture and exploring America's assertive expansion throughout history, A Political History of the USA is supported by wide-ranging examples, vivid extracts from primary sources, maps and illustrations which illuminate the main text. The historical narrative it presents is concise, nuanced and sharply drawn.
Offering a compelling yet balanced account of US political, cultural and religious history, this is essential reading for undergraduate students of History and American Studies.

Table of Contents

Part One Religious Longings

Frontmatter

1. The Impact of the Europeans, 1494–1676

Ideas of a New World from the Treaty of Tordesillas to Bacon’s Rebellion and Virginia Slavery
Abstract
The prehistory of the United States concerns three connected groups. Twenty to forty thousand years before the Christian era (BC), the first migrants – the Indians – came from Asia to the Americas. By the sixteenth century AD, the Europeans arriving from “the Old World” claimed the countryside for themselves. Indians and Euro-Europeans entangled themselves as ownership of land defined the life of the newcomers. The Europeans soon brought African slaves to labor. This entanglement became crucial because race is central to the United States.
Bruce Kuklick

2. North American Colonies, 1632–1732

From the Founding of Maryland to the Founding of Georgia
Abstract
The European powers recognized that some of their influence 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 territories. Obligated to a Mother Country and subject to decisions made there, each colony had its own separate concerns, but also concerns across the Atlantic.
Bruce Kuklick

Part Two The Revolution and the Constitution

Frontmatter

3. The Colonies in the Empire, 1651–1774

From the Navigation Acts to the Continental Congress
Abstract
In a hundred years, from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century, England imposed order on an empire. At the same time, the dependencies sensed their autonomy and freedom from Britain; and disdained hierarchy and titles. Although liberty and equality did not themselves always go together in America, each went against the grain of English ideas. In creating an imperial system, the Mother Country helped its New World possessions to define themselves as different from England. When this viewpoint grew hostile to Britain, the English found that making safe the Empire also put their rule at risk.
Bruce Kuklick

4. War and Order, 1775–1787

The Politics of Virtue from the Revolution to the Constitution
Abstract
By the spring of 1775 the situation in Massachusetts reached such a pitch that the British decided on a preemptive strike. The “Redcoats” determined to seize war-making supplies outside of Boston, in the town of Concord. Battles over the next two months around this provincial center were 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 persecutors. The United States identified themselves as the first new nation, emerging in a revolutionary conflict with a European empire.
Bruce Kuklick

5. The Culture of Politics, 1788–1826

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 thirteen, 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. Except for 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

Part Three Irrepressible Conflict

Frontmatter

6. Experiments in Republicanism, 1783–1832

From the Northwest Ordinances to the Trail of Tears
Abstract
In the first decades of the existence of the United States, their citizens resolved real issues. Victory in the Revolution encouraged settlers to move to the frontier, and weakened but did not destroy the power of the Europeans and of the Indians. Developing in the context of Old World rivalries, the country grew as an outlier in the European system in the nineteenth century. In a series of laws, decisions, opportunities, and emergencies, values were spread, and America mixed the expansion of nationality with views of how non-nationals might be dominated.
Bruce Kuklick

7. Nationalism, Sectionalism, and Slavery, 1820–1861

From Andrew Jackson to the Civil War
Abstract
Successive fallings-out over slavery ran through the second third of the nineteenth century. A more authentic democracy also arose, if we associate democracy with voting rights for all white men, who 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. In the North this meant less respect for what northerners easily perceived as a lack of democracy in the South. This “sectional crisis” had one of its roots in a growing sense of peculiar 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, as the United States enlarged, southerners participated in the construction of a power that threatened their way of life.
Bruce Kuklick

8. Lincoln and the Civil War, 1858–1865

Words to Make a Country
Abstract
In 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born in poverty to anti-slavery Baptists in Kentucky. Moving around the Old Northwest as a young man, he tried his hand at various occupations. Honest and self-taught by the King James version of the Bible and Shakespeare, he settled on the law, and by the 1840s was a prominent Illinois attorney. Lincoln had an unrefined personality that his height and clumsy appearance accentuated. But folks also knew him for his wrestling strength, and he used his ugly looks to his advantage in the courtroom by telling humorous and downhome stories, often on himself, to make legal points. Lincoln had an unusual force of intellect, which he marshaled against those who thought him an insignificant yokel. His political ambitions led to one term (1847–1849) in the House of Representatives, where he opposed the Mexican War. Yet Lincoln was content with his career. At the same time, while he viewed the United States as a white man’s country, he detested slavery. “If slavery is not wrong,” he wrote, “nothing is wrong.” But Lincoln believed it would die a “natural death.” He held it a “minor question on its way to extinction.”
Bruce Kuklick

Part Four Republican Ascendancy

Frontmatter

9. A New Elite, 1865–1896

From Military Occupation of the South to Army Strike-Breakers in the North
Abstract
From 1787 until 1865 slavery complicated the expansion of the Republic. The War Between the States raised new questions. How would the South re-enter the Union? How would the United States absorb western lands now that the North no longer had to negotiate with the South? How should the former slaves be treated? For seventy years after the war, novel authorities – college educated experts – were instrumental in giving answers.
Bruce Kuklick

10. A New Empire, 1890–1917

From the Close of the Frontier to More Fights with Mexico
Abstract
Frederick Jackson Turner got a BA at the University of Wisconsin and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, and went on to teach at Harvard. In 1893 he lectured to the American Historical Association on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” What became known as “the Turner Thesis” declared that the nation had acquired its personality through successive migrations across the country. The people had become “American” as they moved west, and the heritage from Europe decreased. A democratic character resulted. It prized self-reliance, achievement, and the ability to build community; and not wealth and family, traits that birth determined and that defined Europe. The heartland and not the Atlantic seaboard characterized the United States. Turner dismissed scholars who fixated on the thirteen colonies, and especially New England, as the source of what made America. In emphasizing settlement that was always moving west, Turner’s theory emphasized geography and population transfer, 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 World War I Peace Plan
Abstract
My new republicanism was at high tide in the first twenty years of the new century, when it was known as “Progressivism.” It was the last time that a substantial group might check mass democracy. Like the Founding Fathers, however, the progressives were compromised in their attempt to stand between an undifferentiated people, who may or may not have been worthy of citizenship, and an undeserving aristocracy of wealth.
Bruce Kuklick

12. Crises of Progressive Capitalism, 1919–1933

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 Wilson’s ruin. But the Republicans in the 1910s, 1920s, and early 1930s were not opposed to a worldwide role. They did not sanction “isolationism.” Many of the anxieties of public policy in the 1920s echoed those earlier in the century, and progressives demonstrated the same impatience that they had earlier displayed to make non-Protestants conform to Protestantism. Even when a new and still Protestant Ku Klux Klan arose, it supported causes such as the integrity of the family familiar to earlier progressives. Yet many with a progressive persuasion expressed greater pessimism, and sometimes 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. In fact, fights between Protestants over their own religious sentiments reached their high point in the 1920s. Those Protestants with a diminished respect for education and science can barely be called progressive. Nonetheless, their ideas did blend with yet another third-party progressive campaign for the presidency in 1924, and at the end of the decade Herbert Hoover, a Republican progressive and a protégé of Woodrow Wilson, won the presidency. Progressive politics only disappeared when the Great Depression discredited Hoover and produced the conditions for a different order.
Bruce Kuklick

Part Five American Liberalism

Frontmatter

13. The Cosmopolitan New Deal, 1933–1945

Roosevelt’s Authority from the Depression through World War II
Abstract
The American people elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. His New Deal redefined the role of Washington in the lives of citizens. From taxes to social services to foreign policy, ordinary Americans became more aware of national politics. Although Roosevelt may have only marginally mitigated the Depression, “FDR” became a beloved figure, expressing a notable sympathy for the everyday troubles of the people. The psychological lift he gave may have been more important than the success or failure of his policies. 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, after Wilson had lost this reputation. The Democrats became associated not just with Washington’s responsibility for running the economy but also with a global diplomacy.
Bruce Kuklick

14. Cold War America, 1945–1963

The Communist Menace from Roosevelt to Kennedy
Abstract
Roosevelt was 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 in the streets. “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,” sang Woody Guthrie, the iconic folksinger, “Don’t hang your head and cry. His mortal clay is laid away, but his good work fills the sky.” The New York Times declared: “Men will thank God on their knees 100 years from now, that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House.”
Most people did not know Harry Truman. The vice president who took FDR’s place had little experience as a national leader, and his elevation exemplified the problematic nature of the vice presidency, first on display when Andrew Johnson took over at Lincoln’s death. Truman himself always spoke diffidently about his talents and displayed his insecurities. “I’m not big enough for this job,” he told a friend. “You know,” he would tell his staff during the early years, “I’m not an elected President.” At the end of 1947 he blurted out about the crippled Roosevelt, “I’m not a superman like my predecessor.” His narrow victory in 1948 did make him more confident, but toward the end of this elected term he said that “a great many people,” “maybe a million,” could perform presidential duties better, and he regularly expressed reservations about the job.
Bruce Kuklick

15. The Long 1960s, 1954–1975

From the Supreme Court Ruling on Segregation to 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 over the assassination of Kennedy. The primacy of the United States was never so much accepted, its prestige around the world never higher. Ordinary human beings cried for Kennedy from Africa to the Aleutians. At home, 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, the collapse of the mission stemmed from this one senseless act; and so did the subsequent evils of the 1960s and 1970s – war, racism, domestic upheaval, and political deceit. But the turmoil after Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy 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

Part Six Contemporary America

Frontmatter

16. Cultural Division and Cultural Imperialism,1968–2000

From the Destruction of Johnson and Nixon to the End of the Cold War
Abstract
Reflective Americans who lived through the Depression to the Civil Rights Movement often thought that their country was going somewhere. This exceptional place had somehow escaped the ups and downs of history. Looking back, these citizens believed that the revolutionary and constitutional period had founded a new and better form of government. The Civil War had removed slavery, its great imperfection. Then Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal brought the hope of a good life to all citizens, and in World War II the United States carried its commitments outward and defeated Hitler’s Germany, the ghastliest menace to civilized life. After General Eisenhower led the invasion on the beaches of Normandy in behalf of a multitude of peoples, America held privileges in Europe. The Cold War continued the march to global democracy. Was the United States the kingdom of God on earth? In his presidential address of 1961, John Kennedy recalled the Pilgrims when he said that “the glow from/the American/fire can truly light the world.” At home, the African-American effort to achieve equality showed that the nation could meet promises to its disadvantaged. As Kennedy put it in the spring of 1963, the issue was “as old as the scriptures, and as clear as the … Constitution.” A few weeks later, near the wall the communists had built around West Berlin, he referred to civil rights: “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.”
Bruce Kuklick

17. An Age of Terror, 1991–2016

From the First Iraq War, to 9/11, to Trump
Abstract
In the early 1960s, détente with the USSR had resolved major issues of the Cold War and had allowed Americans to respond to only minor irritations in foreign policy. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations had thus moved into Southeast Asia – but with disastrous results. After 1989, the collapse of the Soviets also encouraged diplomats to expand American interests, first into Eastern Europe, then into the Middle East. As had happened with LBJ in Vietnam, Americans searched for a new mission, again with doubtful results. At the same time, Reagan’s patriotic victory over Russia had initially muted the cultural conflict that the 1960s had produced. By the late 1990s that conflict had returned and, more rancorous in the new century, competed for attention with foreign policy difficulties. The announcement of “the end of history” had been premature.
Bruce Kuklick
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