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History of the USA

p>Nonetheless, fundamental changes continued in relations between white and black. Although the economic disparity in income did not disappear--indeed, it widened, as unemployment within black ghettos and among black youths remained at a high level in the 1970s--white-dominated American culture opened itself significantly toward black people. Entrance requirements for schools and colleges were changed; hundreds of communities sought to work out equitable arrangements to end de facto segregation in the schools
(usually with limited success, and to the accompaniment of a white flight to different school districts); graduate programs searched for black applicants; and integration in jobs and in the professions expanded. Blacks moved into the mainstream of the party system, for the voting- rights enactments transformed national politics. The daily impact of television helped make blacks, seen in shows and commercial advertisements, seem an integral part of a pluralistic nation.

Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans were also becoming more prominent in
American life. Reaching the level of 9 million by the 1960s, Spanish- surnamed Americans had become the second largest ethnic minority; they, too, were asserting their right to equitable treatment in politics, in culture, and in economic affairs.

Kennedy-Johnson Legislative Accomplishments

In his first 3 months of office, Kennedy sent 39 messages and letters to
Congress asking for reform legislation--messages dealing with health care, education, housing and community development, civil rights, transportation, and many other areas. His narrow margin of victory in 1960, however, had not seemed a mandate for change, and an entrenched coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats in Congress had prevented the achievement of many of Kennedy's legislative goals by the time of his death. Johnson, who in 1964 won an enormous victory over the Republican presidential candidate, Barry GOLDWATER, and carried on his coattails a large Democratic congressional majority, proceeded with consummate political skill to enact this broad program.

Johnson launched his WAR ON POVERTY, which focused on children and young people, providing them with better education and remedial training, and
Congress created a domestic Peace Corps (VISTA). Huge sums went to the states for education. MEDICARE was enacted in 1965, providing millions of elderly Americans a kind of security from the costs of illness that they had never known before. Following Kennedy's Clean Air Act of 1963, the
Water Quality Act of 1965 broadened the effort to combat pollution. New national parks were established, and a Wilderness Act to protect primeval regions was passed. The Economic Development Administration moved into depressed areas, such as Appalachia. Billions were appropriated for urban redevelopment and public housing.

At War in Vietnam

The VIETNAM WAR, however, destroyed the Johnson presidency. The United
States had been the protector of South Vietnam since 1954, when the Geneva
Conference had divided Vietnam into a communist North and a pro-Western
South. By 1961 an internal revolution had brought the South Vietnamese regime to the point of toppling. President Kennedy, deciding that South
Vietnam was salvageable and that he could not allow another communist victory, sent in 15,000 military advisors and large supplies of munitions.
By 1964 it was clear that a collapse was again impending (the CIA warned that the reason was the regime's harshness and corruption), and Johnson decided to escalate American involvement. After his electoral victory that year, he began aerial bombardment of North Vietnam, which persisted almost continuously for 3 years to no apparent result other than the destruction of large parts of the North and heavy loss of life. Meanwhile, the world at large (and many Americans) condemned the U.S. military actions.

In April 1965, Johnson began sending American ground troops to Vietnam, the total reaching nearly 550,000 in early 1969. (In that year alone, with a full-scale naval, aerial, and ground war being waged in Vietnam, total expenditures there reached $100 billion.) Huge regions in the South were laid waste by American troops in search of hostile forces. Still victory eluded. Responding to mass public protests that went on year after year and put the United States in a state of near- insurrection--and in recognition of fruitless American casualties, which in 1967 passed 100,000--Johnson decided in March 1968 to halt the bombing of the North and to begin deescalation. At the same time he announced that he would not run for reelection. From being an immensely popular president, he had descended to a position as one of the most hated and reviled occupants of that office.

Foreign Policy under Nixon

When Richard M. Nixon became president in 1969, he profoundly changed U.S. foreign policy. The new theme was withdrawal from commitments around the globe. Nixon revived the kind of nationalist, unilateral foreign policy that, since Theodore Roosevelt, presidents of his political tradition had preferred. With Henry KISSINGER as an advisor and later as secretary of state, he began a kind of balance-of-power diplomacy. He preferred to keep the United States free of lasting commitments (even to former allies) so that it could move back and forth between the other four power centers--
Europe, the USSR, China, and Japan--and maintain world equilibrium.

Nixon soon announced his "Vietnamization" policy, which meant a slow withdrawal of American forces and a heavy building up of the South Vietnam army. Nonetheless, in the 3 years 1969-71, 15,000 more Americans died fighting in Vietnam. In April 1970, Nixon launched a huge invasion of
Cambodia in a vain attempt to clear out communist "sanctuaries."

Then, most dramatically, he deflected world attention by ending the long
American quarantine of Communist China, visiting Peking in February 1972 for general discussions on all matters of mutual concern--a move that led to the establishment (1979) of diplomatic relations. At the same time, he continued the heavy bombing attacks on North Vietnam that he had reinstituted in late 1971. He brushed aside as "without binding force or effect"the congressional attempt to halt American fighting in Vietnam by repealing the TONKIN GULF RESOLUTION of 1964, which had authorized Johnson to begin military operations. Nixon asserted that as commander in chief he could do anything he deemed necessary to protect the lives of American troops still in Vietnam.

In May 1972, Nixon became the first American president to consult with
Soviet leaders in Moscow, leaving with major agreements relating to trade, cooperation in space programs and other fields of technology, cultural exchanges, and many other areas. He became more popular as prosperity waxed and as negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris seemed to be bringing the Vietnam War to a halt. In 1972 the Democrats nominated for the presidency Sen. George MCGOVERN of South Dakota, a man who for years had advocated women's rights, black equality, and greater power for the young.
With the nation's increasingly conservative cultural mood and the trend in
Vietnam, Nixon won a massive landslide victory. In January 1973, Nixon announced a successful end to the Vietnamese negotiations: a cease-fire was established and an exchange of prisoners provided for.


Few presidents could ever have been more confident of a successful second term than Richard Nixon at this point. But before the year 1973 was out, his administration had fallen into the gravest scandal in American history.
By March 1974 the stunning events of the WATERGATE crisis and associated villainies had led to the resignation of more than a dozen high officials-- including the vice-president (for the acceptance of graft)--and the indictment or conviction of many others. Their criminal acts included burglary, forgery, illegal wiretapping and electronic surveillance, perjury, obstruction of justice, bribery, and many other offenses.

These scandalous events had their roots in the long Democratic years beginning with Roosevelt, when the American presidency had risen in a kind of solitary majesty to become overwhelmingly the most powerful agency of government. All that was needed for grave events to occur was the appearance in the White House of individuals who would put this immense power to its full use. Lyndon Johnson was such a man, for he was driven by gargantuan dreams. One result was America's disastrous war in Vietnam.
Richard Nixon, too, believed in the imperial authority of the presidency.
He envisioned politics as an arena in which he represented true Americanism and his critics the forces of subversion.

At least from 1969, Nixon operated on the principle that, at his direction, federal officials could violate the law. On June 17, 1972, members of his
Special Investigations Unit (created without congressional authorization) were arrested while burglarizing the national Democratic party offices in the Watergate office-and-apartment complex in Washington, D.C.

A frantic effort then began, urged on by the president, to cover up links between the Watergate burglars and the executive branch. This cover-up constituted an obstruction of justice, a felony. This fact, however, was kept hidden through many months of congressional hearings (begun in May
1973) into the burglaries. Televised, they were watched by multitudes. The
American people learned of millions of dollars jammed into office safes and sluiced about from hand to hand to finance shady dealings, of elaborate procedures for covering tracks and destroying papers, and of tapes recording the president's conversations with his aides.

With Watergate eroding Nixon's prestige, Congress finally halted American fighting in Indochina by cutting off funds (after Aug. 15, 1973) to finance the bombing of Cambodia, which had continued after the Vietnam Peace
Agreement. Thus, America's longest war was finally concluded. In November
1973, Congress passed, over the president's veto, the War Powers Act, sharply limiting the executive's freedom of action in initiating foreign wars. When Vice-President Spiro T. AGNEW resigned his office on Oct. 10,
1973, Nixon, with Senate ratification, appointed Gerald R. Ford to replace him.

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to deliver his Oval
Office tapes to Congress. This order, in turn, led to the revelation that he had directly approved the cover-up. Informed by Republican congressional leaders of his certain conviction in forthcoming impeachment proceedings,
Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974.

The Third Century Begins

As the nation approached its bicentennial anniversary under President
Gerald R. FORD (1974-77), it was reassured that the Constitution had worked: a president guilty of grave offenses had been made peacefully to leave his office. The American people had become aware, however, in the
Vietnam conflict, of the limits to their nation's strength and of questions as to the moral legitimacy of its purposes. They had also learned, in the
Watergate scandal, of the danger of corruption of the republic's democratic values. The nation's cities were in grave difficulties; its nonwhite peoples still lagged far behind the whites in income and opportunity; unemployment seemed fixed at a level of more than 6 percent, which, for minorities and the young, translated into much higher figures, and inflation threatened to erode the buying power of everyone in the country.

Most of these problems continued to plague the American nation during the presidency (1977-81) of Jimmy CARTER, Democrat of Georgia, who defeated
Ford in the 1976 election. Carter brought to the presidency an informality and sense of piety. He arranged negotiations for an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty (signed in 1979) and guided the Panama Canal treaty through narrow
Senate approval (1978). Carter also had to deal with shortages of petroleum that threatened to bring the energy- hungry U.S. economy to a standstill, with soaring inflation and interest rates, with the taking (1979) of U.S. hostages by Iranian militants (see IRANIAN HOSTAGE CRISIS), and with an international crisis precipitated by Soviet intervention (1979) in
Afghanistan. His popularity waned as problems remained unsolved, and in
1980 the voters turned overwhelmingly to the conservative Republican candidate, Ronald REAGAN.

Robert Kelley

The Reagan Era

The release of the U.S. hostages in Iran on the same day as Reagan's inauguration launched the new administration on a wave of euphoria. Aided by a torrent of goodwill following an attempt on his life in March 1981,
Reagan persuaded the Congress to cut government spending for welfare, increase outlays for defense, reduce taxes, and deregulate private enterprise. His "supply side" economic policy (dubbed "Reaganomics" by the media) anticipated that lower taxes and a freer market would stimulate investment and that a prosperous, expanding economy would increase employment, reduce inflation, and provide enough government revenue to eliminate future budget deficits.

The "Reagan Revolution," combined with the tight money policies of the
Federal Reserve System, initially dismayed those who hoped for a reversal of the economic stagnation of the 1970s. Although high interest rates helped cut inflation from more than 12 percent in 1980 to less than 7 percent in 1982, unemployment rose from 7 percent to 11 percent--the highest rate since 1940--and the annual federal deficit soared to $117 billion, almost twice as high as it had ever been. The United States experienced its worst recession since the 1930s. Beginning in 1983, however, the economy rebounded sharply. By the end of 1986, 11 million new jobs had been created, the consumer price index had dropped from 13.1 percent in 1979 to just 4.1 percent, and the Dow-Jones average had climbed to an all-time high.

The Reagan recovery did little for rural America or for the declining industrial regions of the Midwest. In the first half of the 1980s, 8.4 million people joined the ranks of the poor, an increase of 40 percent.
Nearly 33 million Americans--one out of every seven--were reported as living below the poverty line. But the bulk of middle-class America, buoyed by low inflation and its own prosperity, gave the president high marks for his economic program. Conservatives were pleased with his appointments to the federal bench, his declarations of faith in traditional values, and his proud patriotism.

In practice, and often in response to congressional pressure, Reagan balanced his ardent anti-Communist rhetoric with generally restrained foreign-policy actions. He denounced the USSR as an "evil empire" but ended the embargo on grain sales to the Soviets imposed by President Carter after the invasion of Afghanistan. While presiding over the largest peacetime military buildup in U.S. history, he observed the still- unratified SALT II arms control treaty negotiated by his predecessor. He sent American troops to Lebanon as part of a peacekeeping force but withdrew them after 241 marines were killed in a bomb attack in October 1983.

Only in Central America and the Caribbean did the president's actions match his rhetoric. To quash a Communist revolt in El Salvador, Reagan committed military advisors and furnished financial aid to the Salvadoran government.
Determined to oust Nicaragua's pro-Communist Sandinista government, he gave covert aid to antigovernment rebels--known as the contras--in defiance of a congressional ban on such aid. In 1983 he used military force to topple a pro-Cuban regime on the Caribbean island of Grenada.

Reagan and his running mate, George Bush, easily defeated their Democratic opponents, Walter MONDALE and Geraldine FERRARO, in 1984, but the Democrats maintained control of Congress and the president offered fewer domestic initiatives during his second term. Partisan wrangling over what parts of the budget to cut in order to reduce the staggering federal deficit led to passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act (1985), which mandated automatic, across-the-board spending cuts over a period of years. The Supreme Court declared the automatic cuts unconstitutional in 1986, however, and repeated failure by the president and Congress to agree on budget reductions kept the deficit at record levels. Disputes over the control of trade policy also worsened the imbalance of imports over exports, which rose to $161 billion in 1987.

Tax reductions and defense spending, however, kept the economy booming.
Reagan boosted defense spending 35 percent above the 1980 level, and in
1986 he secured congressional approval for a major INCOME TAX reform law that further cut taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals and also reduced by 6 million the number of poorer taxpayers.

At the end of Reagan's tenure the GOP could boast that his administration had helped create 16.5 million new jobs, bring down the unemployment rate to a 17-year low, cut double-digit inflation down to about 4 percent, and raise the gross national product by one-third. Democrats, on the other hand, could criticize "Reaganomics" for promoting prosperity at the expense of the poor and the nation's future well-being. The number of people below the poverty line rose by 8 million, and their lot was made worse by cuts of nearly $50 billion in social-welfare programs. Reductions in subsidized housing from $30 billion in 1981 to $7 billion in 1988 made HOMELESSNESS part of the national lexicon, and the number of Americans without any health-care insurance rose to 37 million. By borrowing rather than taxing to rearm, Reagan mortgaged the financial future. The cost of servicing the national debt rose from 8.9 percent of all federal outlays in 1980 to 14.8 percent in 1989. Moreover, persistent trade and budget deficits made the country a debtor nation for the first time since 1914.

During its eight years in office, the administration had a significant impact on the composition of the federal judiciary. President Reagan appointed three conservatives to the Supreme Court and elevated conservative William Rehnquist to the position of chief justice. Overall, he filled about half of the 700 federal judgeships, most of them with conservative appointees.

A major scandal of Reagan's second term was the IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR, in which national security advisor John M. Poindexter, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver
North, and other administration officials were involved in a secret scheme to sell arms to Iran, diverting some of the proceeds to the contra rebels in Nicaragua. Investigation of this affair by Congress in 1987 led to the prosecution of Poindexter and North, and damaged the administration's image.

Ironically, developments in foreign affairs during Ronald Reagan's second term led this most anti-Communist of presidents into a new, harmonious relationship with the Soviet Union and to sign the first superpower treaty that actually reduced nuclear armaments. Soviet leader Mikhail GORBACHEV, determined to relax tensions with the West, met with Reagan in 1985 and
1986; in 1987 they signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, and in
1988 a triumphant Reagan traveled to Moscow for a fourth summit and further arms-reduction talks.

The Bush Administration

The remarkable reduction in cold-war tensions, combined with the promise of continued prosperity with no increase in taxes, carried Republicans George
BUSH and Dan QUAYLE to victory over Democratic candidates Michael DUKAKIS and Lloyd BENTSEN in 1988. Lacking his predecessor's strong personal following and facing a Democratic-controlled Congress, Bush sought to govern in a more moderate, middle-of-the-road way than Reagan. The rapid demise of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989-90 and upheaval in the USSR in 1991 provided him with an opportunity to lessen international tensions and to reclaim the primacy of the United States in world affairs. Bush intervened militarily in Panama in 1989 to overthrow its president, Manuel
NORIEGA. In mid-1990, responding to Iraq's invasion and annexation of
Kuwait, he ordered more than 400,000 American troops to the Persian Gulf region to defend Saudi Arabia. When Iraqi troops refused to withdraw from
Kuwait in January 1991, demanded by Bush in an ultimatum, he authorized a massive bombing, and then ground assault, on Iraq and its forces in Kuwait, and won a swift victory. (See PERSIAN GULF WAR.)

Decisive in acting abroad, Bush failed to evolve a domestic program that adequately addressed a persistent recession starting in 1990. That year, despite the recession, he and congressional leaders agreed to a deficit- reduction package that raised federal taxes, thereby breaking his "no new taxes" 1988 election campaign pledge. He also failed on his promise to be both "the environment president" and "the education president," and angered many women by nominating Clarence THOMAS to the Supreme Court and continuing to support him despite allegations of sexual harassment.
Concerned about the economy and demanding change, many conservative
Republicans backed political columnist Patrick J. Buchanan's effort to contest Bush's renomination while moderates rallied to the independent candidacy of H. Ross PEROT. Also focusing on the nation's economic woes and promising change, William Jefferson "Bill" CLINTON, governor of Arkansas, beat several rivals in the Democratic primaries and chose as his running mate Tennessee senator Albert GORE--like Clinton, a baby-boomer, a white
Southern Baptist, and a moderate. Capitalizing on a slumping economy and increasing unemployment, the Clinton-Gore ticket won 43 percent of the highest voter turnout (55 percent) since 1976 and 370 electoral votes. The
Republicans Bush and Quayle tallied just 37 percent of the popular vote and
168 electoral votes, while Perot garnered 19 percent.

The Clinton Administration

Despite the movement into Washington of new people with fresh ideas, the
Clinton administration got off to a slow, unsteady start. Crises in Bosnia,
Haiti, Somalia, and Russia forced the president to focus on the volatile, multipolar world of the post-cold war era. At the same time, Clinton backed down from his promise to prohibit discrimination against gays in the military and reneged on his pledge, for lack of revenue, to cut middle- class taxes. Defeated by Congress on his proposals to stimulate the economy, Clinton then won by the narrowest of margins a highly compromised federal budget plan to reduce the deficit. The president had more success in persuading Congress to enact family-leave, "motor voter" registration
(see VOTER REGISTRATION), and campaign finance reform bills, to approve the
NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT, and to consent to his nomination of
Ruth Bader GINSBURG to the Supreme Court. Clinton's future effectiveness and reputation rested largely on the fate of his plans to reform the health- care system and to provide effective solutions to the problems of economic insecurity and social disorder haunting middle-class Americans.

Harvard Sitkoff



Ahlstrom, Sydney E., A Religious History of the American People (1972);
Banner, Lois W., Women in Modern America, 2d ed. (1984); Barth, Gunther,
Fleeting Moments: Nature and Culture in American History (1990); Blum, John
M., et al., The National Experience: A History of the United States, 7th ed. (1989); Cohen, Warren I., ed., The Cambridge History of American
Foreign Relations, 4 vols. (1993); Curti, Merle Eugene, The Growth of
American Thought, 3d ed. (1964; repr. 1981); Ferrell, Robert H., American
Diplomacy, 3d ed. (1975); Garraty, J. A., The American Nation, 7th ed.
(1991); Heilbroner, R. L., and Singer, Aaron, The Economic Transformation of America: 1600 to Present, 2d ed. (1984); Hofstadter, Richard, The
American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It, 2d ed. (1973);
Huckshorn, R. J., Political Parties in America, 2d ed. (1983); Morison, S.
E., and Commager, H. S., The Growth of the American Republic, 2 vols., 7th ed. (1980).

To c.1860:

Bailyn, Bernard, The Peopling of British North America (1986); Boorstin,
Daniel Joseph, The Americans: The National Experience (1965; repr. 1985);
Elkins, Stanley, and McKitrick, Eric, The Age of Federalism (1993);
Genovese, Eugene, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974).

From c.1860:

Biles, Roger, A New Deal for the American People (1991); Foner, Eric,
Reconstruction (1988); Higham, John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of
American Nativism, 1860-1925, 2d ed. (1965; repr. 1988); Hodgson, Godfrey,
America in Our Time (1976); Hofstadter, Richard, The Age of Reform: From
Bryan to F. D. R. (1955); Leffler, Melvin, A Preponderance of Power (1992);
Leuchtenburg, William E., Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940
(1963); and In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan
(1985); McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
(1988); Nevins, Allan, Ordeal of the Union, 8 vols. (1947-71); Painter,
Neil I., Standing at Armageddon: The United States 1877-1919 (1987);
Preston, Daniel, Twentieth Century United States History (1992); Schlereth,
Thomas J., Victorian America (1988); Schlossstein, Steven, The End of the
American Century (1990); Sitkoff, Harvard, The Struggle for Black Equality,
1954-1992 (1993); Wiebe, R. H., The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (1967; repr. 1980); Winkler, Allan, Modern America (1991).


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