American History Lecture Twelve
Homework: take the quiz for this week, and begin reviewing the material since Reconstruction.
This lecture covers from the end of World War II (1945) to the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980. The next and final lecture will then complete the course, covering from 1980 through the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 (known simply by its date, "9/11"), and up until 2020.
The period of 35 years from 1945 to 1980 saw a huge transformation in American culture that began with over a million young men returning from the war, marrying, having families, and benefiting from the rapidly growing economy in the 1950s. Then, in the 1960s, great cultural upheaval began with counterculture, rock music, questioning of authority and institutions, and outright rebellion. This upheaval continued into the 1970s, resulting in harsh political conflict that included the resignation of a president and a massive battle over an attempt to amend the Constitution.
The four decades of the 1950s-1980s can be summarized by this: conformity (1950s), then non-conformity/hippies (1960s), then liberal activism (1970s), and then conservative triumph (1980s). Let's begin.
- 1 The Cold War (continued from last lecture)
- 2 The 80th Congress
- 3 The Korean War
- 4 1950s Culture
- 5 The Warren Court
- 6 Civil Rights
- 7 The "Great Society"
- 8 The Vietnam War
- 9 ERA and Abortion
- 10 References
The Cold War (continued from last lecture)
Let's begin by reviewing some key aspects of the Cold War that lasted from 1945 to 1991. It was "cold" in the sense that few shots were fired, but there was enormous conflict through espionage (spying) and even sporting events (such as the world chess championship and Olympic basketball finals in 1972, and the Olympic men's hockey finals in 1980).
First recall that in 1947 President Truman announced what became known as the Truman Doctrine to counter the growing communist threat: "Support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." Truman declared that assistance shall be "primarily through economic and financial aid." Also in 1947, a theory of "containment" became popular to keep communism from spreading beyond the Soviet Union. Despite this, communism continued to spread. As mentioned in the last lecture, in 1948 the United States joined in an alliance with Western European in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ("NATO"), to oppose communist countries controlled by the Soviet Union. Germany was split into West Germany (non-communist) and East Germany (communist), and when West Germany joined NATO in 1955 then the Soviet Union formed a "Warsaw Pact" in an alliance with Eastern European communist countries to offset NATO.
China "fell" to communism in 1949, when Mao Zedong ("Chairman Mao") took over the country by force as part of a communist revolution there. Many began to think that it was inevitable that communism would spread throughout the world and conquer all nations.
The United States sought to protect western Europe against inroads by communism by enacting the Marshall Plan of 1947, which provided financial assistance to European economies struggling in the wake of World War II. A primary motive of this assistance was to strengthen the countries to the point when they could resist communist revolutions. Historians say the Marshall Plan was effective, and European economies grew rapidly after the war, as did the economy in the United States.
The United States also sought to protect Latin America from communism by founding the Organization of American States in 1948. It was an organization of Latin American nations. The United States thereby sought to stop communist expansion in the western hemisphere, and to promote democracy, improve communication and encourage cooperation among its members. The Organization of American States, or OAS, continues to function today. Cuba was a founding member but its participation in OAS was suspended on January 31, 1962, due to its communist government and the threat it posed to regional stability, and it was not restored as a member of OAS until June 3, 2009, when Barack Obama was the president of the United States.
Alarmed by the growing internal threat of communism in the United States, in 1950 Congress passed The McCarran Internal Security Act. It required every communist organization to register with the Attorney General, and members of such an organization were not allowed to work in any national defense-related job. This strong law even authorized the use of internment camps for communists if that became necessary.
Beginning in 1950, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy took the lead in opposing communist infiltration in the United States government. Contrary to misunderstandings today, McCarthy complained about and opposed only the communists who held high-level government jobs, and he did not take any action against Americans working in private companies. McCarthy was opposed to communists infiltrating the highest levels of our government, at a time when communism sought a worldwide revolution that would include overthrowing our system of government.
McCarthy was highly effective in exposing communists in top government jobs, and liberals vilify his name to this day because they are angry at what he accomplished. Ultimately McCarthy's opponents were able to foment public pressure against him, and other senators "censured" him near the end of his career after McCarthy was embarrassed during hearings in 1954 concerning communists in the Army. The term "McCarthyism," coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy's attempts to expose communists, became synonymous with the overzealous use of innuendo, rumor and guilt-by-association to destroy someone's reputation. His defenders would point out that McCarthy and Congress had a duty to uphold the Constitution and guard against infiltration of government positions by anyone committed to overthrowing our constitutional system, as communists were.
One of the newsmen who criticized McCarthy in the 1950s was Edward R. Murrow, who then became a hero to many on the liberal side of the political spectrum, and historians praise Murrow today.
In 1952 and again in 1954 the United States tested the hydrogen bomb, or "H-bomb", which was 1000 times more powerful than the atom bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. "Unlike that device which tapped energy by splitting atomic nuclei, the [H-bomb] forced together nuclei of hydrogen to unleash an even greater destructive force." Soon the Soviet Union had its version also.
The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or SEATO, was formed in 1954 in an effort to prevent the spread of communism in Southeast Asia (where Vietnam is located). Its members included the United States, Great Britain, France, Thailand, Pakistan (which resigned in 1973), Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and smaller island-nations.
In 1957, when World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, he announced the "Eisenhower Doctrine," which meant that the United States would use armed force to oppose communist aggression in Middle East. This was inspired by the "Domino Theory," which was the view that when one country "falls to communism" (becomes controlled by communists), then its neighbors will also fall like dominoes to communism.
Also in 1957, the U.S.S.R. (Soviet Union) launched an unmanned rocket into outer space, carrying a "payload" or satellite famously named "Sputnik". This caused a panic in the United States about how the Soviet Union appeared to be more advanced than Americans, and was ahead of the United States in exploring outer space. Some conservatives felt that it was a tactical ploy by the Russians to send Americans on a "wild goose chase" in outer space, causing the United States to spend lots of money on something unlikely to be productive.
The United States responded to Sputnik by starting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") in 1958, which is a government-run space program that continues to this day. In 1961, President Kennedy started "Project Apollo" with the goal of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon. On July 20, 1969, a simulated broadcast of American Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the Moon was broadcast to a record television audience, with Armstrong's words, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Communist takeover of Cuba, and also the Berlin Wall
In the late 1950s, communism spread to a country only 90 miles from Florida: Cuba, where we still hold a military base (Guantanamo Bay) as an artifact of the Spanish-American war under President McKinley. Recall that America gave Cuba freedom from Spain, but in 1959 the communists moved in with a revolution led by Fidel Castro. The Soviet Union communist dictator Nikita Khrushchev threatened to drop an atomic bomb on us if we intervened. Castro then ruled as a brutal dictator over Cuba for more than four decades, imprisoning or killing those who disagreed with him.
Many Cubans fled to the United States to escape communism, often in handmade boats. These emigrants from Cuba were fervent opponents of communism because they see how it destroyed their own country, and many long to return to restore freedom there. Marco Rubio, a conservative Republican U.S. Senator from Florida, was born in Miami to Cuban immigrants.
President Eisenhower developed a secret or "covert" plan to free Cuba from its communist dictatorship, which Kennedy continued after becoming president in 1961. It consisted of having about a thousand "Cuban exiles," who had been forced to leave Cuba, form an army to invade and overthrow Castro. But President Kennedy backed away from the plan at the last minute, and apparently someone (perhaps a communist infiltrator) in the United States government leaked word of the planned invasion to Castro, who then waited with a much bigger force and captured or killed the Cuban exiles when they invaded at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961. The United States was humiliated by this "Bay of Pigs" tragedy.
President Kennedy was himself assassinated two years later in 1963 in Dallas by a communist sympathizer, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had once tried to become a citizen of the Soviet Union and who supported Castro. Oswald was in communication with communist Soviet Union agents in Mexico City, and had previously attempted to murder an outspokenly conservative American general (Ted Walker) but was not caught for that crime. An official commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren later concluded that Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy, but unanswered questions remain and most Americans believe that there was a conspiracy by multiple people to commit this crime. An independent poll conducted in 2003 (by ABC) showed that 68% of Americans believed that the government covered up the real truth about this assassination and that Oswald did not act alone.
Spying was a central aspect of the Cold War. The United States sent secret spy planes to fly over the Soviet Union to take pictures of activities there from high in the sky. But in 1960, while Eisenhower was still president, one of these "U-2" planes crashed and an American pilot was captured. This caused an international uproar and hurt ongoing attempts at reconciliation (rapprochement). The pilot was later traded in exchange for release of a Soviet spy held by the United States, but the cause of the crash of the U-2 plane remains a mystery even now.
In 1961, soon after the inauguration of the new President John F. Kennedy (the only Catholic president, who had defeated Richard Nixon in a very close election in 1960), the communists built the "Berlin Wall" quickly while Kennedy was enjoying a long vacation weekend. This Wall sealed off the East German section of Berlin from the West German section in order to stop the migration of people from communism to freedom. It was a humiliation to Kennedy that he did nothing to stop this, and many Americans were outraged by this barbarism of a massive wall to cage people in and extinguish their freedom to leave. Daring escapes by people from communist East Berlin by going over, under, or barreling through the Berlin Wall are fun to read about, but some were shot or died trying.
Then, in 1962, the Soviet Union challenged President Kennedy again, whom the communists did not respect. They installed missiles in Cuba, which the communist Fidel Castro had taken over, and aimed them directly at American cities and targets. Cuba, a mere 90 miles from Florida, could then destroy American cities in a very short period time. This created the "Cuban Missile Crisis" when U-2 spy planes photographed these missiles, and a United States Air Force general immediately put bombers on high alert for the possible bombing of Cuba. President Kennedy next ordered a blockade of Cuba until the missiles were removed, and the Soviet Union backed down and apparently took the missiles back by ship or hid them out of sight.
The "Arms Race" and "Mutually Assured Destruction"
Throughout the 1960s, both the United States and the Soviet Union built ever-bigger nuclear weapons, pointing them at each other. This became known as the "arms race," and newspapers began to clamor for peace treaties that would limit the building of these weapons. In 1972, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treat ("SALT") was ratified by the U.S. Senate and contained promises to reduce these "arms" or weapons pointed at the enemy. Conservatives opposed this treaty because it embraced the approach of "Mutual Assured Destruction" and prevented each side from building defensive systems. In addition, there was no way to enforce the communists' side of the bargain; many expected the communists to break their own promises, while the Americans abode by theirs.
The overriding military strategy of the Cold War became dependent on "Mutually Assured Destruction," whereby each side (the U.S. and U.S.S.R.) built more and more nuclear weapons as a deterrent to aggression by the other side. Under this approach, each side was discouraged from attacking because it could set off a massive nuclear war and assure the mutual destruction of both sides. This theory, humorously abbreviated as "MAD", lasted from the 1950s to the 1980s, when conservative President Ronald Reagan urged a shift to a more defensive military approach (the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars) rather than the purely offensive approach of "MAD" (if you attack me, then I'll counterattack and we will both be destroyed).
In 1979, Democratic President Jimmy Carter agreed with the Soviet Union to reduce "arms" further by signing "SALT-II". This time conservatives were successful in defeating it in the U.S. Senate (because the treaty was better for the Soviet Union than the U.S.), and it was never ratified to become law.
The Cold War lasted until the early 1990s, when communism was overthrown in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But communism continues to this day in China (the world's most populated country), Cuba, Venezuela (with oil, one of the most powerful countries in South America), Vietnam and North Korea. Meanwhile, others recognize communism as being pure evil, as it imposes material equality on all and interferes with how different people have different gifts and purposes. Communism also suppresses freedom of religion, speech, and the right to homeschool, too.
Debate: What is your view of communism, and the American response to it?
The 80th Congress
While the era after World War II was filled with prosperity and growth, the nation was anxious to get back to normal after the war ended in 1945. But President Truman kept the wartime government controls on wages and prices in effect even after the war ended. This infuriated voters, who wanted to return to normal life as quickly as possible. In addition, the nation was hit by a wave of big and sometimes violent strikes as soon as the war ended. Unions had avoided strikes during the war out of patriotism, but their membership and power had grown enormously and the pent-up demand exploded when the war ended:
- [In] 1945 there were 4,750 strikes involving 3,470,000 workers for 38 million days, and in 1946 there were 4,985 strikes involving 4,600,000 workers for 116 million days. The US strike wave of 1945-1946 is one of the great episodes in working class history.
Companies had little choice but to cave in to union demands, often agreeing to immediate raises of an astounding 30% for the union workers simply to get them back to work. A recession hit the country, and voters took out their anger on the Democrats who had been in power since 1932. In the congressional elections of 1946, voters dealt President Truman a huge defeat and returned the Republicans to control of Congress for the first time since the Great Depression. This new Republican-controlled Congress began in 1947.
This "80th Congress" that began in 1947 was the most productive and influential session of Congress in American history. (A newly numbered Congress begins in January every two years, after the November election of a new set of congressmen. The First Congress began in 1789, the Second Congress in 1791, the Third Congress in 1793, and so on until the 80th Congress convened in 1947.)
The Republicans moved quickly to pass important legislation. They passed (and the states ratified) the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution in order to limit future presidents to two full terms in office, so that no one could ever again repeat what President Franklin Roosevelt did in dishonoring George Washington's precedent of remaining as president for no more than two terms. President Roosevelt died in office only a few months after his last inauguration, as his illness was concealed from the American people and they were deprived an opportunity to vote in an informed manner for the person who would really serve as president.
The 22nd Amendment also has an effect of reducing the power of the president while he is in office. It requires by law that he leave by a time definite, in contrast with congressmen and justices who have no set limit. That shifts power from the presidency to the other branches of government. By limiting the duration in power of any particular president, the 22nd Amendment limits the extent of his power to control and influence others.
When the Republicans took control of Congress, that enabled them to assume control of key congressional committees and thereby hold public hearings as investigations into key issues. One of the key congressional committees was the House Committee on Un-American Activities, featuring California Congressman (and future president) Richard Nixon. With the Republican Nixon in control, he called hearings into whether Alger Hiss was a communist, and required attendance by Hiss to answer questions. For years Whittaker Chambers had complained about Hiss, but the Democrats refused to do anything. J. Edgar Hoover, who built up and ran the FBI for decades, had worked to force Hiss out of high-level government positions. But it was Nixon's committee that really exposed Hiss as a communist, and the Democrats never forgave Nixon's combative tactics. Eventually the Democrats and the media caught Nixon doing something illegal: the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to become the only president ever to resign (in 1973).
There were other important achievements of the 80th Congress. The Republicans passed, over President Truman's veto, the Taft-Hartley Act to limit the power of unions. This was one of the most important pieces of legislation in the entire century of the 1900s, and by far the most significant labor legislation in our nation's history. It was written by the brilliant conservative Senator Robert Taft, who had graduated first in his class from Yale Law School and nearly defeated Eisenhower for the Republican nomination for president in 1952. By 1947 unions had risen to the zenith of their power, having membership of nearly 10.5 million nationwide.
The Taft-Hartley Act, which was derisively called the "slave-labor bill" by unions, did the following:
- established the right of employees NOT to join unions in states that also supported this right
- a union could represent all employees only if state law permitted it and a majority of workers voted for it
- unions must give 60 days notice before striking
- the federal government could prohibit a strike for 80 days if it endangered national health or safety
- a later amendment in 1959 prohibited "secondary boycotts," which were devastating "sympathy strikes" against additional companies to increase pressure on the target company (Landum-Griffin Act)
For the purposes of this course, remember that the Taft-Hartley Act finally ended the enormous power of private sector (non-government-worker) unions. And not a moment too soon, because there were many crippling strikes that badly hurt the country's economy in 1946 after the end of World War II. Ever since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, Democrats have tried to repeal it, without success. It remains essential today to protect the right of workers not to join a union in States that have adopted "right to work" laws. (But Missouri is not a "right to work" state, thus many jobs in Missouri require the worker to join a union).
In 1955, two large labor organizations merged into the AFL-CIO, and it remains a powerful part of the Democratic Party today. But in 1959 Congress acted further to curb union power by passing the Landum-Griffin Act, which requires democracy in electing union officials, prohibits secondary boycotts (which is a boycott of additional companies to support a strike against a primary company), and places restrictions on picketing. Unions remain powerful, particularly in the car industry and among public school teachers.
Debate: Do you think union power should be strengthened or weakened by Congress today?
Several years later, in 1952, another important law was enacted over President Truman's veto: The McCarran-Walter Act. This Act limited immigration to one-sixth of one percent of the population of the continental United States in 1920. This was similar to the national-origins quota system of 1924, which had also limited immigration.
The 80th Congress also cut taxes, sparking an economic boom that would last through the 1950s. It balanced the federal budget for the first time in years. It implemented the joint income tax return for married couples, which gives a financial benefit to a working man in sharing his income for tax purposes with a wife who is raising the children rather than earning an income.
Ironically, Truman ran for reelection in 1948 by campaigning against what he called a "do nothing Congress." And Truman won in an upset, because his opponent was a Mitt Romney-like wealthy Republican who did not connect with ordinary Americans. But by 1952, Truman was the most unpopular president in history, and he was utterly unelectable.
Truman's mishandling of the Korean War (discussed below) hurt him the most politically, and he made another impulsive mistake on April 9, 1952, when he seized 88 private steel mills around the country to avert a strike during the Korean War. The American flag then flew over the mills as government property. As President he felt he had the power to take over private factories and keep them running for the good of the country, rather than be shut down in a threatened strike. Within two months the Supreme Court, which included four Justices who had been appointed by Truman, ruled against Truman in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer: the President has to obey the law and respect private property too. Control of the steel mills was returned to their owners.
World War II hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower, called "Ike", ran for president and won the White House in 1952, the first Republican presidential victory in 24 years. President Eisenhower is best known for spending his time on the golf course. Near the end of his two terms he warned against growth of a "military-industrial complex" in which government and the military would feed each other's growing power. Coming from a General, this warning was often repeated by the liberal media, which wanted to reduce our defenses during the remainder of the Cold War.
The Korean War
Recall that the communists took over China in 1949, and it has remained communist ever since.
On June 25, 1950, communists in nearby North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States was alarmed that the communists from China were expanding and would take over the entire Korean peninsula and its millions of people. The United States reacted immediately by sending troops to defend against the invasion, and other countries in the United Nations also sent troops to a lesser extent. But the North Korean army was swift and powerful, and the conflict took much longer to resolve than anyone expected.
The North Korean army quickly conquered South Korea's capital (Seoul), which fell in a mere four days. Despite the disapproval by the rest of the world and the mobilizing of troops by the United States and members of the United Nations, the communists made it clear that they were not going to back down. The North Koreans continued to defeat and push back troops of the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) and the Americans. By early September the ROK, American and United Nations troops were trapped into the southeastern corner of the Korean peninsula (where the town of Pusan is on the map on the next page).
General Douglas MacArthur, who like George Patton had been homeschooled, was the leader of the American troops in the Pacific during World War II and remained in charge to handle this Korean War. General MacArthur then made one of the most daring military decisions in all of world history. All of his advisers were against it, thinking it was too risky.
General MacArthur devised a plan to bait the North Koreans into the peninsula while he secretly attempted a massive amphibious operation that would land further north at Inchon, from where he could drive inland to Seoul and trap the North Koreans in the southern peninsula. His advisers felt the sea was too treacherous for this, with 30-foot tides there among the highest anywhere and with low tides leaving mudflats that prevented landing. MacArthur pressed ahead with his daring idea, and hydrographers informed him the best time would be on September 15th, between when the morning high tide was around 7 a.m. and the evening high tide around 7 p.m.
MacArthur called on the U.S. Marines to execute his plan, now known as the "Inchon Landing" (see the U.S. military diagram above). They landed on September 15th, overcoming enormous obstacles, and then quickly defeated 2,200 North Korean troops that formed the outermost defense of Seoul. Fighting intensified against stronger defenses on September 16th, but by September 28th the Marines had defeated the communists around and in Seoul, and liberated the city. MacArthur then personally escorted the Republic of Korea President Syngman Rhee to return to the cheers of throngs of Seoul residents. Meanwhile, the North Korean army was trapped on the southern peninsula, and their lines of communication and supplies were cut off by the Marines.
Communist China then intervened openly, with the communist Soviet Union also lending support to the North Koreans. In early 1951, General MacArthur and the American troops had contained the Chinese army and it was in retreat. By mid-1951, freedom for South Korea would be restored to where it was before the war started: up to the 38th parallel.
But just as superiors to General George Patton were jealous of him, President Truman was unhappy with General MacArthur's successes and his desire to engage and defeat the intervening Chinese troops. President Truman insisted that the war remain limited to the Korean peninsula and did not want it to expand into a broader conflict with other nations. On April 11, 1951, President Truman as the Commander-in-Chief fired Douglas MacArthur. The American people were outraged at Truman, and his popularity nosedived. But as was Truman's nature, he stuck with his decision despite declining approval ratings.
From mid-1951 to mid-1953, without MacArthur in charge, fighting continued in Korea without progress. A final communist offensive in 1953 was defeated, and the leadership in the Soviet Union changed, enabling a peace agreement to be reached that kept North and South Korea divided at the 38th parallel. It remains divided to this day, and Americans still have troops there.
54,000 Americans died in this war, which is a large number of casualties.
The return of all the soldiers from World War II in 1945 was a time of great joy and prosperity for the nation. Families were reunited. Soldiers quickly married and began to have families. Young couples had children, and our nation's economy began to expand.
A culture of conformity developed soon afterward. In the 1950s, it became "cool" to conform. Everybody wanted to be like everyone else. Everybody dressed the same. Everybody had the same style haircut. Every man wanted to get a job with General Motors (making cars) or with IBM (selling typewriters or big computers to other businesses), where the office workers all wore a white shirt every single day to work.
You got ahead in life in the 1950s by doing what you were told, and not by making waves (the same is true today in most big companies). Tired of war, people wanted to make some money, have a happy family life, and then retire. People now look back on the 1950s with much nostalgia, as though it were a better time. Television shows like "Leave it to Beaver" depict the culture. The most popular television show in the late 1970s was "Happy Days," which described growing up in the 1950s. An adult named Ron Howard played the happy-go-lucky teenager "Ritchie Cunningham," and his trouble-making friend was known as the "Fonz".
Credit cards became available for the first time. Families that saved during the war began to spend and buy things for themselves. The 1950s was a decade of great prosperity and growth. More and more Americans bought cars. Automobiles were plentiful and reasonably priced, and there were good interstate roads which made their use practical. In 1940, the first multi-lane superhighway had been built in Pennsylvania, known as the "Pennsylvania Turnpike." Many more highways were built in the 1950s during the Cold War Era, because they could facilitate the transport of troops and double as landing strips for airplanes. The federal government helped pay for these roads and they still work well to this day.
Every young family dreamed of owning its own home. Contrary to the Great Depression, when many families did not own their own home, the American Dream in the 1950s was to save up and have your own home. A housing shortage developed, in contrast to the surplus of houses that we see on the market today. Builders could hardly keep up. As houses were built, Americans began to spread out into suburbs, instead of living in cities.
On July 13, 1950, the leading national magazine (called "Time" magazine) put a man named William Levitt on its cover. Using rapid construction techniques that he mastered as a military Seabee in the Pacific, Levitt built an entire town of thousands of identical houses on Long Island, called "Levittown". It was immediately a huge success. A post war housing crunch and the low prices of the Levittown homes led many young couples to move there. They loved living in houses just like the houses around them. They could work in jobs in New York City or on Long Island. Life seemed very good.
The explosion of new families after the war led to the the "baby boom" (1946 to 1964). Having put off marriage and children due to the Great Depression and World War II, young men and women married, settled down, and began families. The number of baseball Little Leagues nationwide increased from 776 in 1950 to 5,700 by 1960. It was a time of great prosperity. People obtained jobs and earned money. The country grew stronger.
Several modern conveniences were introduced during the post-World War II Era, including refrigerators, televisions, and many other household appliances we still use today. America began to gain its status as the richest nation in the world.
You might ask yourself whether the 1950s was a more conservative time than today. Some, your teacher included, think that the nation is perpetually becoming more conservative as liberal ideas are constantly demonstrated to be failures. Just as a young athlete or musician is constantly improving due to practice and growth, our nation might be constantly becoming more conservative.
But at first glance, television shows from the 1950s suggest it was a more conservative time. Was it really? Consider all the issues, such as the tax rates (they were much higher in the 1950s), restrictions on freedoms (interest rates for savings were fixed by the government rather than by the free market today), the draft (it was required of young men then, while enlistment is voluntary today), and unions (less of a problem today). Other issues include communism (there were far more American communists in the 1950s), the Second Amendment (that right is more secure today in most places), the threat of all-out nuclear war (reduced now), political speech (fewer restrictions today), and -- perhaps most important of all -- homeschooling (legal today, but illegal in the 1950s). Some of the post-World War II legislation, such as the Full Employment Act of 1946, which tried to guarantee employment for every citizen, seems like silly socialism today. (By the way, that law established the Council of Economic Advisers to advise the president about the economy, and it still exists today.)
Debate: Were the 1950s more conservative than today?
By the mid-1950s an undercurrent of rebellion in culture began which is not shown on television shows. One evening in 1955 in a book shop in San Francisco, a man named Allen Ginsberg (who grew up in Newark, NJ) stood up to read a long poem called the "Howl". It was an attack on the conformity, materialism and hypocrisy of the 1950s. This was the beginning of the "Beat Generation," captured best in Jack Kerouac's book "On the Road." The Beat Generation advocated freedom, drugs, and being different simply for the sake of being different. The name comes from "beat-up" lives of its leaders, which were often ugly. Both Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, for example, suffered and died from illnesses associated with alcohol abuse.
By the 1960s the Beat Generation had blossomed into the hippie counterculture. Young people grew their hair long, violated laws, disobeyed their parents, stopped going to church, failed to obtain or remain at good jobs, and basically did whatever they felt like doing. Every form of authority was rejected by the "hippies". Many of the leaders died of drug overdoses or other lifestyle illnesses. Others ended up in jail. They had slogans like "Don't trust anyone over 30" and sold books with titles like "Steal this Book." Rock music started to advocate drug use. Movies changed for the worse. While the 1950s culture was about conforming, the 1960s culture was about rebelling.
The Warren Court
The hippies and others who disliked authority and tradition had help from our court system, and particularly from the "Warren Court." Just as an "Administration" is named after the president at the time (e.g., the "Truman Administration"), a period of time on the Supreme Court is named after the person who was the Chief Justice at the time (e.g., the "Warren Court" refers the Supreme Court years when Earl Warren was Chief Justice).
Earl Warren was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1953 based on a political bargain with President Eisenhower. When Eisenhower was in a close race for the Republican nomination for president in 1952 (against the more conservative Robert Taft), Warren was governor of California and promised the support of the California delegation to Eisenhower if he would promise to appoint Warren to fill the first vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. By chance, that first vacancy in 1953 (after Eisenhower was elected president) was the position of Chief Justice, and Warren threatened to speak out against Eisenhower if he did not honor the deal. Eisenhower then nominated him, and the U.S. Senate confirmed him (approved the nomination by a majority vote). Warren subsequently became the most "activist" Chief Justice in the history of the Court, meaning that he did not stick to the text of the Constitution or other laws, but instead ruled as he wanted to.
Indeed, Chief Justice Earl Warren was probably the most powerful person in all of American politics during his service from 1953 to 1969. The Warren Court was an "activist court," extending judicial powers into areas where it previously showed restraint. For example, the Warren Court applied the Bill of Rights against the States, despite their clear language and intent to apply only against the federal government. On a more controversial level, the Warren Court expanded the power of the Supreme Court and invented many new constitutional rights, while denying the rights of teachers and students to begin class with a prayer.
The Warren Court is most famous for holding in favor of criminals and restricting the power of law enforcement in dealing with crime. Three examples of Warren Court decisions in finding implied rights for criminal suspects in the Constitution are:
- Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), requiring States to provide and pay for a defense attorney for any defendant charged with a felony (a felony is a serious crime, as opposed to a minor offense like a traffic ticket).
- Escobedo v. Illinois (1964): requiring police to provide a suspect with a lawyer, at taxpayer expense, during police interrogation, if the suspect requests one.
- Miranda v. Arizona (1966), establishing strict standards for how police may ask questions of suspects, requiring the police first to recite this "Miranda warning": "you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you, you have a right to an attorney, and an attorney will be appointed for you if you cannot afford one."
Debate: Do you think criminal suspects are entitled to these new rights?
The greatest damage done by the Warren Court was probably its decision banning official school prayer in public school, which had existed for hundreds of years. The Lord's Prayer was being said daily in many public schools, for example, which many students' grandparents might recall. In Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Warren Court prohibited this and public schools have been declining ever since; some consider this decision to have been the worst since the Dred Scott decision just before the Civil War.
Liberal Justice Hugo Black, who became known for his judicial hostility to religion, wrote the Engel v. Vitale decision and cited only one precedent (prior judicial authority) in it: a previous decision Justice Black himself had written (Everson v. Board of Education). A study published by U.S. News & World Report found that in 71 cases before the Supreme Court concerning communists, Justice Black held in favor of the communists every single time. Hugo Black had been a Democratic U.S. Senator before he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Less well known, but also influential, were the deceptively named "one man, one vote" decisions by the Warren Court, which interfered with the structure of state legislatures. Since the ratification of the Constitution, States had their own legislatures that were modeled after Congress, with one chamber or body based on population (like the House), and the other based on geography (like the Senate). This worked well for over 150 years. But the Warren Court decided it did not like that structure, even though Congress uses it. In Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the United States Supreme Court ruled that state legislative districts must be redrawn to be equal in population, and natural geographic lines caused by rivers or county lines should be ignored in order to draw legislative districts equal in population. The Warren Court held that both state legislatures and all their legislative districts must be based on equal populations of voters, which it expected would have a liberal effect by giving cities greater influence. The result is difficult-to-understand and ever-changing district boundaries (due to population shifts) that render most citizens unaware of who their representatives really are. The Warren Court could not change the structure of Congress because it is expressly established by the U.S. Constitution.
The Warren Court was "activist" in additional ways. It established a precedent that the government may take private property from one person and give it to another, which had previously never been allowed under the doctrine of eminent domain. Before this ruling, eminent domain was limited to the taking of private property for public use, such as building a road or government building. This decision was Berman v. Parker (1954) and it approved the taking of many privately owned homes in D.C. in order to convert the property into a new development of stores.
The Warren Court invalidated many state and local laws that protected society against the evil of pornography and its terrible emotional and mental effects on those victimized by it, and addicted to it. The harm caused by pornography to the mind lasts for a long time afterward, because images are so difficult to forget, and pornography causes many horrible crimes in society. Pornography had been illegal, but in the late 1960s the Warren Court declared it to be "free speech" protected by the First Amendment, even though the First Amendment was never intended to protect such harmful images. Between 1966 and 1970, the Warren Court rendered 34 unsigned decisions (unsigned decisions are unusual) in favor of pornographers, overturning laws and lower court decisions. Law enforcement officers say that pornography is typically found in the homes of criminals.
Other decisions of the Warren Court, such as its ruling on segregated schools and invention of a new "right to privacy," are discussed in other sections of this course.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, African Americans struggled for equal treatment and opportunity, particularly in the South. In 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality was founded to end segregation of blacks from whites.
Jesse Owens was the grandson of a slave who accomplished perhaps the greatest athletic feat ever in 1935. While working his way through college, Owens competed at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In a time span of only about 45 minutes, Owens set three world records and tied a fourth in track and field events (running and the long jump). The following year, 1936, Owens stunned Hitler's theory of racial superiority by winning four gold medals in the most competitive events at the Olympics in Berlin.
But professional baseball had only white players for another decade. It was not until 1947 that Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the Major Leagues and thereby broke the "color barrier" by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. While Robinson endured much derision during his first season, he persisted and became a tremendous player who was later elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. His accomplishments foreshadowed the civil rights movement.
In 1954, in a case brought by the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and argued by its attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (the first black appointed to the Court in 1967), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation of blacks and whites in public schools is unconstitutional. This decision, named Brown v. Board of Education (1954), overturned the "separate but equal" decision of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
In 1955, African American woman Rosa Parks refused to walk to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and instead sat at the front. It was customary in the South at the time for blacks to sit at the back of the bus, leaving the seats at the front of the bus for whites. Rosa Park defied this rule. When authorities removed her from the bus, this sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted over a year from 1955 into 1956, until the Supreme Court ended this segregation on buses.
In 1957, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and began to emerge as a leader in what became known as the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. King advocated nonviolent resistance by African Americans, culminating in a speech to a massive crowd of 250,000 that marched on Washington for civil rights in 1963. Rev. King's speech, known as "I Have a Dream," was delivered from the base of the Lincoln Memorial and adapted passages in the Bible to urge an end to discrimination based on race. Rev. King was tragically assassinated in Memphis in 1968.
The early Civil Rights Movement drew much of its strength and inspiration from Christian values; many of the members were evangelical Christians, and the movement relied heavily on churches to provide the organization and manpower to achieve their foals. Historians have characterized the early Civil Rights Movement as a fundamentally Christian, conservative movement that could not have come about in the more liberal north.
The Civil Rights Movement grew in size and intensity throughout the 1960s. In 1960, there were organized protests called "sit-ins" conducted against restaurants that would not serve African Americans in the South. Large groups of people would enter the restaurants that refused to serve blacks and simply "sit in" without moving, ordering, paying, or leaving, thereby causing the business to lose money. These "sit ins" began in North Carolina and soon spread. Also in 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee formed to organize more sit-ins. This was a more radical group that scorned integration and interracial cooperation. By 1966, it was demanding "black power."
In May 1961, a campaign to end segregation on public transportation started, known as the "Freedom Rides." It consisted of blacks and whites riding buses and trains from D.C. to points in the South, such as New Orleans, in order to challenge local laws requiring segregation. It was met with violence in the "deep South" (e.g., Mississippi and Alabama) and some future congressmen, such as the African American congressman John Lewis, were beaten.
In 1962, James Meredith became the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, after the Supreme Court ordered his admission. The Mississippi Governor opposed allowing African Americans into the state college, and riots occurred to try to prevent his attendance. President Kennedy sent in U.S. Marshals (the police force for the federal courts) and also federal troops; dozens of the troops were injured and one foreign journalist was killed. Meredith graduated a year later, majoring in political science. During a march in 1966, he was shot at by an unemployed Ku Klux Klan member but suffered only superficial wounds. But Meredith did not support the broader civil rights movement that sought special treatment based on race. Instead, Meredith wanted individual rights regardless of race, rather than collective benefits based on race. He later worked for conservative Senator Jesse Helms. "Nothing could be more insulting to me than the concept of civil rights," Meredith once said. "It means perpetual second-class citizenship for me and my kind."
Congress responded to the Civil Rights Movement by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, or gender in employment facilities. It also passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guaranteed everyone the right to vote in federal elections. This was designed in particular to ensure the right to vote by southern blacks.
Some civil rights activists became militant and violent. From 1966 through the early 1970s, the Black Panthers collected weapons to resist police and promoted a violent approach to establishing civil rights. Many of them were arrested and went to jail. This shift from a productive movement to a destructive one was marked by the abandonment of Christian values and a pronounced move to the left; key members of the Black Panthers, such as Angela Davis, were also Communists.
The "Great Society"
A tough politician from Texas named Lyndon Baines Johnson ("LBJ") became President immediately upon the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963. LBJ became known for two things: pushing through the "Great Society" programs, and starting the Vietnam War. We review each.
The "Great Society" was an attempt by the Democrats who controlled both the White House and Congress from 1963 through 1968 to expand government in order to "end poverty." Also known as the "War on Poverty," Johnson started pushing his vast new and expensive federal government programs through Congress in 1964. This established the modern "welfare state," giving people millions of taxpayer-funded programs without requiring them to work for it. It was a massive and permanent expansion of the approach taken by the New Deal. The "Great Society" or "War on Poverty" included:
- Office of Economic Opportunity: a program consisting of President Johnson giving $1 billion for poverty relief
- Medicare and Medicaid (1965): establishing almost free medical care (at taxpayer expense) for everyone over 65 (Medicare) and for the poor (Medicaid)
- Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education Acts (1965): establishing federal funding for public school districts, and also the "Head Start" preschool program for the poor
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (1965): establishing housing for the poor in cities
Jesus said that "you will always have the destitute with you." But President Johnson promised that his programs would eradicate and eliminate poverty. Jesus was right and most of the programs of the Great Society are failing today. In fact, many concluded that the "Great Society" did more harm than good, as in giving people an incentive not to work and even for mothers to divorce so they could claim welfare. Future Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan from New York, who had served as an assistant secretary in the Labor Department of the Johnson Administration, was later critical of the Great Society. Moynihan's later message "to messianic Great Society liberals - we thought we could do anything" but "the central psychological proposition of liberalism is that for every problem there is a solution."
Rather than achieving "an end to poverty as we know it," as Johnson promised, thirty years later it became necessary to repeal some of the Great Society. Public outrage at ever-expanding welfare caused Democratic President Bill Clinton to sign a partial repeal passed by the conservative Congress in 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Clinton's press secretary (the official who addresses the media for the president) quipped, this "ends welfare as we know it."
But in February 2007, Barack Obama began his campaign for president by declaring, "Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America."
The Vietnam War
President Lyndon B. Johnson ("LBJ") was a very powerful, arrogant and intimidating politician who quickly rose to power as a United States Senator in the 1950s before becoming Vice President and then President in the 1960s. He is considered by his biographer to have been the most effective Senate Majority Leader in history in the late 1950s, and his ability to manipulate the legislative process enabled him to pass his "Great Society" program when he later became President.
Johnson was a tough Texan used to giving orders and destroying anyone who got in his way. His tricks included personal accusations and threats, and even sending opponents on foreign trips at a time when a key vote was scheduled, so they could not vote against it. Johnson became so famous for his confrontational tactics that it even acquired a name: "The Treatment," which consisted of Johnson confronting an adversary and berating him with Johnson's face only inches from his opponent.
But Johnson's own arrogance, manipulation and intimidating tactics became his undoing. In the fall of 1964, Johnson was up for reelection and, like many presidents before him, he became paranoid about the possibility of defeat. The Republican Party nominated the conservative Barry Goldwater, and he was delivering tough, uncompromising speeches against Johnson. Self-centered, Johnson watched public opinion polls closely.
Johnson then sparked and exaggerated a conflict in Vietnam in order to increase public support for his leadership. The popularity of a president always increases when America is attacked. But the truth was distorted: actually, the American destroyer USS Maddox attacked three North Vietnamese P-4 torpedo boats before they could attack us. Days later a false report of an attack on the Maddox by the North Vietnamese was publicized. Johnson presented this untruthful information to Congress in order to obtain passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted Johnson the power to assist South Vietnam against communist aggression. This was not a full declaration of war, but Johnson used it to support injecting the United States into the Vietnam War and to win reelection in 1964 in a landslide.
Vietnam is a huge country: 81 million people, more than North and South Korea combined. Vietnam is also a jungle. The communists had planted land mines everywhere. A substantial percentage of our casualties in the Vietnam War were from stepping on land mines. Between 1964 and 1975, when our last troops left, 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives and hundreds of thousands were severely injured. Unlike today, the mandatory draft was used then to compel these young men to fight in this war.
The United States entered this war on the side of South Vietnam against the communist North Vietnamese, who were backed by China and the Soviet Union. America won every battle we fought. But in the jungle warfare, we were not any closer to winning the war after years of struggle.
President Johnson mishandled everything about the war. He became obsessed with bombing North Vietnam, but would not let our generals win the war completely. Instead, LBJ insisted on ordering some bombing raids that he wanted, without doing what was necessary to win the war. Later politicians swore that we should never repeat the mistake of Vietnam, which means we should never enter a war unless we are committed to doing what is necessary to win it. Future Presidents also avoided Johnson’s mistake of dictating detailed military strategy from the White House.
The war, and particularly the draft, became very unpopular. Americans, particularly students, began protesting the war. They caused disruption at colleges. The protests became bigger and bigger. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, hippies caused massive riots that were brutally suppressed by the tough Chicago Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, which was a political disaster for the Democratic Party. The "Chicago Seven," the hippie ringleaders of the riots, were convicted for disrupting the convention but their convictions were overturned on appeal. Democrats had hoped to nominate Robert Kennedy, the brother of the late President John Kennedy, but Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June by a disgruntled immigrant from the Middle East (Jordan). The Democrats then nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey instead. (President Johnson himself had pulled out of the race after the first primary in New Hampshire, when he was embarrassed by low support in that primary election due to unhappiness within his own Party about the war.)
The United States began looking for ways to get out of the war. When we finally pulled out completely in 1973, the South Vietnamese clung to the wheels or landing gear of the last airplanes and helicopters, begging to leave with us. North Vietnam eventually conquered South Vietnam after we left (Saigon fell to the communists in 1975), and created the new communist country of Vietnam that exists to this day.
Humphrey lost the presidential election in a three-way race in 1968 to Republican Richard Nixon, who campaigned by promising to end the war based on his secret plan. Nixon was nominated at a peaceful Republican national convention in 1968 in Miami (which your teacher attended, where he met Nixon in person).
Yet once President, Nixon did not handle the war any better than Johnson had.
In 1969, Nixon tried "Vietnamization", which consisted of America giving planes to South Vietnam so it could defend itself against the communists; this strategy was unsuccessful. Also in 1969, news reports from Vietnam shocked the nation with a story about how American soldiers had murdered villagers in the "My Lai Massacre." The story was that our soldiers would unsuccessfully look for North Vietnamese, known as "Viet Cong," but in their frustration with trying to find the real enemy would allegedly kill innocent people instead.
At Kent State University in 1970, peaceful protesters were shot at by National Guardsmen and several were killed. Unrest continued. The United States began looking for ways to get out of the war in any way possible.
Henry Kissinger, a foreign-born adviser to Nixon who essentially ran the Nixon Administration, repeatedly made the mistake of calling for a "cease-fire" to discuss settlement, during which the communists would use the cease-fire to obtain replacement of all their ammunition and supplies from China and the Soviet Union. Kissinger finally settled the war in the Paris peace talks in 1972 and 1973 by giving the communists everything they wanted, including a complete pull-out by the United States. Vietnam then fell to the communist takeover.
A decade later, a memorial was built in D.C. that commemorates those who gave their lives by showing their names inscribed in a wall (see left). Some say that the fighting was not in vain, because it slowed down the growth of communism long enough to save the neighboring countries until the Soviet Union itself collapsed. Future presidential candidate John McCain (nominated by Republicans in 2008, but who then lost to Obama) was a prisoner of war (POW) for many years of the war, before being released back to the United States.
To avoid a repeat of involvement in a war without a formal declaration of war, as happened in the Vietnam War (and in the Korean War), Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973. It requires that the President obtain the approval of Congress within 60 days of using troops in battle in a foreign conflict.
All legal challenges to the draft failed during the war. However, African American boxer Cassius Clay converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and then refused to be drafted because he did not consider the Vietnam War to be a "holy war." In other words, Ali asserted a "conscientious objection" that is rarely granted to any religious belief except the most established (such as the Amish). "War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don't take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers," Ali declared in refusing to be drafted. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in Muhammad Ali's favor on a technicality, in an unsigned (per curiam) opinion. The decision did suggest, however, that adherents to Islam may be considered conscientious objectors exempt from the draft: "For the record shows that the petitioner's beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them. They are surely no less religiously based than those of the three registrants before this Court in Seeger," which was a rare Court decision in 1965 that upheld a claim of conscientious objection against the draft.
Debate: Should Muhammad Ali have been allowed to avoid the draft?
In 1971, in New York Times v. U.S., the Supreme Court denied President Nixon the power to stop publication of the Pentagon Papers, which was a secret document prepared by the government and leaked to the press. It contained an embarrassing study of the American involvement in Vietnam.
ERA and Abortion
The hippie culture and the breakdown of morals in the 1960s had an effect in legalizing abortion. The original leaders of the women's rights movement were opposed to abortion. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, were pro-life. Alice Paul, a famous advocate of women's rights in the 1920s, called abortion "the ultimate exploitation of women." Democratic President Jimmy Carter was (and is) against it, but did nothing to reduce or stop it.
The culture of "me first" and "do whatever you want" in the 1960s led to laws legalizing abortion in California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska. But there were signs that the tide was changing back to pro-life. In 1972, a referendum in Michigan to legalize abortion was soundly defeated by the margin of 61-39% by the voters.
A different type of "feminist" emerged in 1960s who opposed marriage and supported abortion. Betty Friedan, one of the leaders of this new feminist movement, published "The Feminine Mystique" in 1963. She argued that popular magazines brainwashed women into domesticity.
In 1966, Friedan founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), and demanded a new right to abortion and passage of the so-called "Equal Rights Amendment."
The Supreme Court declared abortion to be a constitutional right on January 22, 1973, in the case of Roe v. Wade. Even the woman "Jane Roe" in that case, whose real name is Norma McCorvey, later said the ruling was wrong and that abortion is a mistake. But the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution provides for a right to abortion even though it is never mentioned anywhere in the original document, or any amendments, or any statements by those who drafted anything in the Constitution. By a 7-2 vote, the Court ruled that abortion is in the "penumbra" (shadowy area) of the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court had banned classroom prayer to God in Engel v. Vitale in 1962, and legalized abortion with this decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.
At the same time, this new breed of feminists was demanding passage of the so-called Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It consisted of the following:
- Section 1. Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.
- Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
The House of Representatives had passed this Amendment by a 354-24 margin. The Senate had passed it by a margin of 84-8. Both political parties (Republican and Democratic) favored it; all presidents until Ronald Reagan supported it; and the media strongly backed it. Ted Kennedy, a U.S. Senator who was the most powerful Democrat for more than 40 years, pushed for passage of ERA. Its ratification by 3/4ths of the states (38 states), as required to amend the Constitution, seemed inevitable.
ERA would have required drafting women just like men; forcing taxpayer-funded abortion just like medical care for men; mandating same-sex marriage (ERA would require no discrimination "on account of sex"); and ending special Social Security benefits enjoyed by widows. The courts could enforce ERA almost any way it liked due its open-ended and superficially appealing language. ERA would shift the entire field of family law (including marriage law) from state and local levels to the federal government, and to the federal courts where judges are not elected and are appointed for life. ERA would prohibit single-sex programs and classes, particularly in public schools.
It was up to a handful of conservative women to stop it. They met in a hotel near Chicago O'Hare airport on July 7, 1972, to discuss political strategy, and one woman proposed naming their movement "Stop Taking our Privileges" or simply "STOP ERA." The name stuck.
The leader of the STOP ERA movement was Phyllis Schlafly, and for the next ten years she stood up against the Republican and Democratic Presidents, nearly all of Congress, the entire media, and big corporate supporters of ERA (like the pornography industry, which saw ERA as helpful in defeating laws against pornography).
At the beginning, the momentum to ratify ERA was overwhelming. By the middle of 1973, 30 states had ratified the so-called "Equal Rights Amendment." But then some states began to hold legislative hearings to consider the pros and cons of the amendment, and the tide began to change when the arguments were out in the open.
After 30 states passed it in 1972 and 1973, only 3 passed ERA in 1974. Just one passed it in 1975, none in 1976, and only one in 1977. That brought the total to 35, just three shy of the 38 needed for ratification. Meanwhile, the states of Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota were persuaded they had made a mistake, and they passed laws nullifying or rescinding their acts. Congress had set a deadline of 1979 for ERA to pass, but then changed the rules (without a 2/3rds majority) and reset the deadline for 1982. STOP ERA activists observed that this was as unfair as the losing side in a basketball game adding another period to the game clock so it would have an extra chance to catch up and win. The deadline finally expired in 1982, and ERA had failed to be ratified.
The defeat of ERA helped elect a conservative president, Ronald Reagan. In the one and only debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, held less than two weeks before the election, Jimmy Carter raised his support of the ERA at the end of the debate in his final attempt to embarrass Ronald Reagan, who opposed it. Reagan then rebutted Carter's arguments and won the election by a wide margin in November 1980.
- A "Seabee" was a Construction Battalion (spelled "CB", and hence the pronunciation "Seabee") that built bases for the United States Navy.
- Phyllis Schlafly, "The Supremacists," p. 151 (2006).
- Mark 14:7 (NIV).
- Roe v. Wade was unprecedented but did build on a decision from the Warren Court called Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).