American History Lecture Eleven
In this lecture we will cover through World War II. In the next lecture we'll cover until the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, and then the final lecture will be about the Reagan Administration up until the present.
Homework: write an essay of about 800 words on any topic (or two topics) related to this lecture.
The Roaring Twenties
The Roaring Twenties was the period from 1920 to 1929, when there was tremendous economic growth and remarkable cultural progress. It was a period of great excitement and accomplishment in our nation's history on many levels: in politics, business, literature and music. From 1921 to 1929, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (a measure of stock market performance) rose from 60 to an astounding 400, an increase of more than six-fold. Many new millionaires were created in the 1920s. But the good times were not merely about money. The culture (music, literature, festivals, etc.) was vibrant also, and it was a thrilling time to be an American.
President Warren Harding
Politically, the period started with the election of Warren Harding as president. He was a conservative who nominated four (4) conservative Justices to the Supreme Court, several of whom later blocked and invalidated key parts of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)'s liberal New Deal. Harding also supported Prohibition, which was a movement led by Christian women. Harding opposed the League of Nations, which was a form of "world government" that conservatives today still dislike. Harding opposed immigration, and with his support the tightest restrictions on immigration in the nation's history became law.
President Harding and his wife were colorful characters, opening the White House up to the public again (President Wilson had closed it during his prolonged illness at the end of his term), and Harding threw regular garden parties for veterans.
Harding had some immediate political achievements. The Federal Highway Act in 1921 provided $75 million to States in matching funds (i.e., matching monies provided by the States) for State roads. The Washington Naval Conference (1921-22) was an international treaty that limited arms in navies worldwide, delayed war in the Pacific, and temporarily protected China against imperialistic Japan. The Fordney McCumber Act of 1922 increased tariffs to very high levels, but this was later criticized by historians for creating hardship for Europe after World War I, which had ended just a few years earlier.
Most of all, Harding laid the basis for a tremendous economic boom in America, which lasted the entire decade of the 1920s.
The Harding Administration was accused of scandals and corruption, such as the Teapot Dome Scandal. It was observed that George Washington could never tell a lie, but Warren Harding could never tell a liar! (That is, Harding could not recognize when someone in his Administration was lying.) On April 14, 1922, the Wall Street Journal reported an unprecedented secret arrangement in which the Secretary of the Interior, without competitive bidding, had leased the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve, located at Wyoming's Teapot Dome, to a private oil company. Wisconsin Republican Senator Robert La Follette (the founder of the progressive movement) arranged for the Senate Committee on Public Lands to investigate the matter. After his announcement, his office was mysteriously ransacked in the Senate Office Building!
The focus of the inquiry was this: "How did Interior Secretary Albert Fall get so rich so quickly?" The result was that Mr. Fall became the first former cabinet officer to go to prison. The investigation resulted in the Supreme Court decision of McGrain v. Daugherty (1927) which held, for the first time, that Congress had the power to compel witnesses to testify before its committees.
But this scandal did not detract from the continuing prosperity. Just as the nation was prosperous under the conservative president James Monroe, the 1920s (the "Roaring 20s") became a very prosperous time under Harding's initial leadership. But unlike James Monroe, Harding did not live to enjoy it. He died apparently from a heart attack while in office, leaving his Vice President (and former Massachusetts Governor) Calvin Coolidge to take over. Coolidge was already famous for breaking a strike in Massachusetts by public workers, having declared that "there is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime."
President "Silent Cal" Coolidge
Coolidge received the news that he was suddenly president, due to Harding's death, at 2:30 am on Aug. 3, 1923. By the light of a kerosene lamp, his father (a notary public) administered the oath of office while Coolidge placed his hand on the family Bible.
Coolidge was a character who became known for saying and doing nothing. He rejected regulations to control the economic boom, and denied funding for farmers to help their depressed conditions. His first message to Congress in late 1923 was to limit aid to farmers, avoid becoming involved in foreign disputes, and cut taxes. His popularity increased and he won reelection with 54% of the vote, taking credit for "Coolidge prosperity."
"Silent Cal" Coolidge became known for his laconic style of few words. A young woman at a social event whispered to Coolidge's wife that the woman would start a conversation with Coolidge in order to force Coolidge to say at least three words. Coolidge must have overheard the whisper, because he then said, "You lose." In 1928, Coolidge lived up to his reputation by giving the following statement to an anxious public, "I do not choose to run for President in 1928." That was it. In the 1980s conservative President Ronald Reagan infuriated liberals by finding a portrait of Coolidge in the White House attic and prominently displaying it along with George Washington and other prominent presidents.
Culture in the Roaring Twenties
Notwithstanding Coolidge's lack of words, the rest of the nation was saying and doing a great deal. Culture blossomed during this period, with new books, music, entertainment, and achievement. American authors wrote tragedies about wealth (by F. Scott Fitzgerald), business and religion (by Sinclair Lewis), and war (by Ernest Hemingway). A short novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald about his youthful love for a woman named Daisy, "The Great Gatsby," included references to the opulent parties of the Roaring Twenties and is considered today to be one of the finest American novels ever written. William Faulkner became one of America's most acclaimed novelists by writing during 1929-1932 the books "Sound & Fury," "As I Lay Dying," "Sanctuary," and "Light in August." Liberals particularly liked Faulkner because he described the Christian South as poor and racist. Eugene O'Neill was a playwright who became the second American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for in 1936; he was praised for bringing psychological realism to his plays.
In the 1920s Americans invented the music of jazz, and "Tin Pan Alley" became a portion of New York City known for its music culture. There was a Harlem Renaissance that became a center of black culture, and the New Negro Movement emphasized learning and pride for African Americans.
The Cotton Club epitomized the culture of the Roaring Twenties. It thrived in Harlem, an African American part of Manhattan in New York City, throughout the Roaring Twenties and throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Cotton Club featured enormously talented black performers, from singers to musicians. But its audience was initially entirely white from wealthier parts of Manhattan. It was thus segregated by race and is criticized for that today, but its entertainment is praised.
Some jazz clubs and silent movies began to have the same undesirable influence on morality that Hollywood brings to culture today. The "flapper" was a new lifestyle for young ladies that encouraged smoking, shorter dresses, drinking alcohol (which was illegal), taking cocaine (deadly but legal then, illegal now), and overall immorality. The name "flapper" comes from a silent movie called "The Flapper" that was produced in 1920, and today the name is often associated with the type of dress. But an immoral lifestyle came along with it, and tobacco companies promoted it in order to profit from an increase in smoking by women. A musical appeared mocking how women were beginning to act so much like men that all men should grow mustaches, because that was one thing women could not do!
The first commercial radio broadcast was in 1920. The "talking" movies came in 1927, with the first successful one being "The Jazz Singer." Also in 1927 Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo airplane flight from New York City to Paris, in competition for a prize. He named his small airplane the "Spirit of St. Louis." On his takeoff he narrowly avoided crashing, and he encountered problems like ice on his wings and getting slightly lost along the way. He was greeted by a huge crowd and a hero's welcome when he landed in Paris, and thrilled many Americans.
One more key event happened in 1927: the Great Mississippi Flood was massive flooding of the river that displaced 700,000 persons. This caused many African Americans to migrate from South to northern cities. Oh, there was something else that also happened that year: Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in one season!
If you like the excitement and mystery of court trials, the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in 1927 despite having political support by liberals. Their crime was to commit murder in 1920 during a bank robbery, and to this day some have doubts about their real guilt. But reconsideration of their case by independent reviewers has concluded that, yes, they really committed the crime.
In 1928 the Kellogg-Briand Pact (or Treaty) was a silly international attempt to prohibit war. It proved to be ineffective because only a war can force a nation to stop doing something! A country would have to start a war to make another country obey the treaty, and that would defeat the purpose of the treaty.
The Great Depression
Herbert Hoover won the presidency in 1928 as a Republican who was more liberal than Coolidge and Harding. Hoover liked big business and sought its cooperation. He opposed trust-busting and unions.
Economic misfortune then greeted him. In 1929, the stock market suddenly crashed. The era of prosperity was over. The Great Depression had begun. Historians blame this partly on speculators driving up stock prices to ridiculously high levels, but no one really knows what the real cause of the Great Depression was, and people still debate it to this day. Unemployment increased until it exceeded 20% in 1933, meaning that one out of every five families was out of work and likely without money too.
Many historians blame tariffs as a greater cause of the Great Depression than the stock market crash was. In 1930, Congress passed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff to increase tariffs, setting off a worldwide round of tariff increases in 1931, which decreased trade and worsened the worldwide Depression. Historians also blame the Great Depression on the gold standard. Other possible causes were a concentration of wealth among the relatively few, and unregulated speculation in the financial markets. There is probably a political motivation (bias) in some claims about the causes of the Great Depression.
Debate: What do you think caused the Great Depression?
One of the scariest and most devastating aspects of the Great Depression was the "run" on banks, which means nearly everyone trying to withdraw their deposits at a bank immediately before the bank runs out of money. Deposits in a bank are usually not really there, but are used to make loans to people in the community for their businesses and home purchases (with mortgages). When a large number of depositors try to withdraw their money from a bank at the same time, it is a frightening situation because they cannot get their own money out of the bank.
Hoover's reaction to the Great Depression was to seek voluntary wage and price controls. He generally opposed new federal programs sought by the Democrats. But in 1932, Hoover did create the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was a federal agency that lent money to banks, and later lent money to businesses also.
Hoover had to face a pathetic march in D.C. by poor soldiers from World War I, who demanded a bonus. Called the "Bonus March," this ended in riots and was a political disaster for Hoover. Future generals George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur put down the riots using tanks and troops, fearing that the nation was on the verge of a communist revolution. Today troops are almost never used inside our country to deal with violence among Americans, because our troops should defend all Americans, and not fight against some.
The Great Depression caused many voters to switch to the Democratic Party, which took control of the Presidency (through FDR) and Congress in 1932. After winning control of Congress and the White House, the Democrats ended Prohibition by passing a constitutional amendment to repeal it. They argued that the sale of alcohol would help boost the economy, but it did not. Democrats also began enacting many new laws and programs supposedly to try to generate jobs, but none of them pulled the nation out of the Great Depression, which continued throughout the 1930s.
FDR, the New Deal, and Preparing for War
We have learned that failures in the economy often determine the outcome in the presidential election, as happens now also. The presidential election in 1932 was no different: the Great Depression resulted in a transfer from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the election. The Democratic Party also won a huge number of seats in Congress: 90 seats in the House and 13 seats in the Senate. FDR took his victory as a "mandate" to enact sweeping new legislation, ostensibly to try to lift the country out of the depression. In a nutshell, President Roosevelt (who is often called simply "FDR") started massive federal works and relief programs, and refused to retire from the presidency after two terms as every other president had done since George Washington.
President Roosevelt had been previously paralyzed as an adult by contracting polio (probably while swimming), but his physical handicap was hidden from the public. The media heavily promoted President Roosevelt and boosted his popularity above what it would have been otherwise during the hard times. The media also praised FDR's liberal wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who played an aggressive political role much as Hillary Clinton did when her husband Bill Clinton was president in the 1990s.
FDR's aggressive legislative program became known as the "New Deal," which meant expanded government programs supposedly to help the economy and the unemployed. The New Deal consisted of passing many new laws (legislation) and creating new government jobs for people. Critics of the New Deal point out that if the jobs were really needed, then free enterprise (private companies) would be doing it already.
President Roosevelt seized the initiative by trying to pass as much as possible through Congress in his first 100 days in office in 1933, when public support for change was the highest. This is known as the "Hundred Days," when FDR ended the gold standard (and thereby caused inflation) and called for a nationwide banking holiday (to stop the withdrawal of money from banks).
Other programs pushed through quickly by FDR in 1933 included the:
- Emergency Banking Act, which allowed inspection of bank records, established a "bank holiday," and infused money into banks with Reconstruction Finance Corp.
- Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided jobs to men between 17 and 25 for the conservation of natural resources
- Agricultural Adjustment Act, which tried to raise prices and limit farm production by paying farmers not to farm land; this was later declared unconstitutional
- Federal Emergency Relief Act, which provided work on projects such as building roads, airports, schools, playgrounds and parks
- Tennessee Valley Act, which bought, built and operated dams, generated & sold electric power, provided flood control, and withdrew bad land from farming
- Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) set up by the Tennessee Valley Act, which regulated the rates charged by power companies
- Farm-Credit Act, which provided funding for farm mortgages
- Glass-Steagall Banking Act, which established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) to insure deposits in banks in order to stabilize the banking system
- National Industrial Recovery Act, which created the public works administration and defined fair business practices; this was held unconstitutional in Schecter Poultry v. U.S.
The above series of laws constituted the most sweeping change in the nature of government in America since the passage of the Constitution. President Roosevelt quickly gave the federal (national) government vast new powers, and established an "administrative" form of government that continues to rule many industries to this day. Gone forever with this legislation was the free enterprise of the "Era of Good Feelings," the Gilded Age, and the "Roaring Twenties."
As you can see above, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a few key aspects of the New Deal, and this infuriated President Roosevelt. We'll mention this again later. Conservatives opposed the New Deal, and many others were vocal critics of it. Charismatic Louisiana Governor Huey Long, also known as "Kingfish", supported FDR in 1932 but began opposing him in 1933 as a U.S. Senator, and planned to run for president himself until he was assassinated in 1935 at the peak of his popularity.
More big things happened in 1933. The Democrats quickly ratified the 21st Amendment in order to repeal Prohibition and return to the States the power to regulate, allow or prohibit alcohol. This amendment was the only one to use ratifying conventions (rather than votes by the State legislatures) in each State after Congress passed the proposed amendment, in order to obtain the necessary 3/4 number of States for it to become part of the Constitution. Note that this process is different from holding a national constitutional convention to amend the Constitution (a "Con Con"), which has never occurred and would likely rewrite the Constitution in an undesirable manner.
President Roosevelt changed foreign policy towards Latin America. In 1933 he implemented the "Good Neighbor Policy," which was more permissive towards Latin America and was in contrast with Teddy Roosevelt's "Big Stick" and Taft's "Dollar Diplomacy." Instead, FDR reduced the United States' involvement in Latin America.
The New Deal continued to expand the federal government in 1934, again with the stated goal of trying to end the Great Depression. In 1934, Congress and FDR passed the National Housing Act, which set up the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). This new federal agency encouraged banks and building and loan associations to make loans for building homes, small business establishments, and farm buildings. The FHA provided low-cost, long-term loans for modernizing old buildings and constructing new ones.
Also in 1934, the Gold Reserve Act passed, which nationalized the ownership of all gold. The U.S. treasury took title to all gold, and stored most of it at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
To regulate the financial markets, Congress passed the Securities and Exchange Act in 1934. This established the Securities Exchange Commission to regulate stock exchanges.
The Trade Agreements Act became law in 1934. It amended the Tariff Act of 1930 (Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act) to give authority to negotiate mutual tariff reductions. Many felt that high tariffs were interfering with attempts to recover economically from the Great Depression.
Historically, the president's own political party almost always loses seats in Congress in the "midterm" election two years after the presidential election. This is because the public grows tired and disgruntled with the performance of the president, and the voters express their discontent by voting for the opposite party. But in 1934, thanks to glowing media support, FDR's Democratic Party was a rare exception in that it gained seats in Congress: 9 in the House and 9 in the Senate.
The midterm election victory by FDR and the Democrats encouraged them to continue their New Deal in 1935. They established the Works Progress Administration, which employed 8.5 million persons between 1935 and 1943, building public works. They also passed the Wagner Act in 1935. It gave unions greater rights and promoted their growth, limiting what companies could do to stop unionization. The Wagner Act established the National Labor Relations Board to handle disputes between unions and employers.
At the same time, a fiery labor organizer named John Lewis started the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which focused on combining garment trade unions (workers unions) and later included auto and steelworkers. Eventually it merged with the AFL in order to become the "AFL-CIO" that is often heard today.
In 1935, the biggest social program of all passed: the Social Security Act. It provided (and still provides) payments to the elderly by taxing the wages on young workers and employers. It has become a huge liability today, as there are many old people and relatively few young workers, and the government has repeatedly increased the amount of the tax in order to pay for this "Social Security." Millions of retired Americans await their Social Security checks each month.
The New Deal did not help lift the nation out of the Great Depression. The economy improved a little from 1933 to 1940, but the depression never really ended. FDR became furious with the Supreme Court's invalidation of his New Deal programs (e.g., in Schecter Poultry v. U.S. (1935), the Supreme Court declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional because it delegated too much power to an administrative agency). By 1937 FDR was so angry at the Supreme Court that he proposed a "court-packing" scheme to appoint new Justices to the Supreme Court who would be favorable to him. This shocked even FDR's own Democratic Party, which then opposed FDR's flagrant violation of the checks and balances in the Constitution, and as a result FDR lost much of his credibility. He weakened himself with this proposal, which never passed, and FDR himself could not persuade Congress to pass much more of his program.
The final piece of New Deal-style legislation to pass in 1938 was the Fair Labor Standards Act, which abolished child labor and set the national minimum wage at $0.40 per hour (40 cents per hour in 1938, which was the equivalent of $6.63 per hour in 2013).
The only real end to the Great Depression came when we entered into a new war: World War II.
World War II
In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress supported and passed the Neutrality Act, which forbade the sale of arms to all belligerents when the president says a state of war exists. The goal of this law was to keep the nation at peace, as the public wanted.
But the situation was rapidly deteriorating in Europe in 1940, as World War II broke out there. President Roosevelt began to prepare a reluctant nation for war. He signed into law the Selective Training & Service Act, which was the first adoption of peacetime conscription (the "draft"). Previously the only initiations of the draft were during an ongoing American war, as in the Civil War and World War I.
FDR had served two full terms by 1940, and every president before him (beginning with George Washington) voluntarily retired. But FDR refused to step down, and ran again for an unprecedented third term. With the support of the media, he won again. Later, in 1944, despite having a terminal illness (people are unsure today what the sickness was, but it was probably the dangerous skin cancer melanoma), FDR ran and won a fourth term but then died shortly after inauguration.
In 1941, President Roosevelt gave his annual speech to Congress in which he advocated the "Four Freedoms": freedom of speech, worship, from want (e.g., from hunger), and from fear. But FDR privately wanted the United States to enter into World War II to protect Britain against Germany. Britain had been badly weakened by decades of socialism, declining values, and rising atheism along with belief in evolution. Britain, weakened by decades of economic socialism and declining Christianity, was no match for the larger and much stronger Germany, and Britain needed America to save it. At one point in late 1941 Churchill even stayed for several weeks at the White House while Britain was being bombed by Germany.
Throughout 1941 FDR maneuvered Congress in an attempt to involve the United States in the war. Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, which ended America's neutrality and authorized the lending of materials to Britain and other Allies (France and Russia). In July 1941, FDR and Churchill agreed to the Atlantic Charter, which declared their joint purpose to World War II. It was similar to the 14 points announced by President Wilson near the end of World War I, and promised world peace.
Meanwhile, the German submarines ("U-Boats") were sinking ships, which caused public outrage when innocent passengers lost their lives.
In the fall of 1941, the American public was still against joining the war. But while FDR was focused on Europe, Japan was increasingly aggressive in the Far East and planned to attack us. There is evidence that our code-breakers had broken the Japanese codes used to communicate their military messages, and that we knew Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. FDR did nothing to prevent the attack, and news of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941 outraged the American public against Japan. The Japanese sunk most of the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor (several big boats were saved due to their tardiness in arriving to their port). FDR addressed Congress the next day, describing December 7th as "a date which will live in infamy."
The Constitution authorizes only Congress to declare war, which it did on the very next day (Dec. 8th). Only one congressman (who had been the first woman ever elected to the House of Representatives) voted against the declaration of war. Three days later, on Dec. 11th, Congress declared war on Germany too. That was the last time in history that Congress has officially declared war.
The Japanese proved to be tenacious fighters and there was much fear in the United States of Japanese nationalism. FDR forcibly moved Americans of Japanese descent in California to internment camps to keep an eye on their suspected spy activity, despite their American citizenship. The Supreme Court upheld this internment despite an apparent violation of constitutional rights in Korematsu v. United States (1944). This reflected how the Supreme Court has always deferred to the other branches of government on military matters ever since President Andrew Jackson defied a Supreme Court ruling about the treatment of Indians in Worcester v. Georgia.
Debate: Do you think the internment of Americans of Japanese descent was proper and constitutional?
Intense fighting by the United States began in both the European and the Pacific "theaters". In Europe, the hard fighting was done by the Army, on the ground. In the Pacific, the Navy was more important.
The American military leaders were General Dwight Eisenhower in Europe, to fight Germany, and General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific, to fight Japan. The most brilliant American commander, and the only one feared by the Germans, was George Patton, nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts" for his ferocious aggression. Homeschooled, he was not a genius in an academic sense and even had to leave West Point for poor grades, before returning later and graduating. But he was a genius for war. He developed a very aggressive form of tank warfare that would win in a single day military "exercises" (peaceful combat to test the troops) that were supposed to last an entire week. In an example of how an organization does not always reward and promote its best, however, Patton was repeatedly restrained by his superiors from accomplishing even more. Perhaps jealousy of his skills played a role in not promoting him higher.
Patton was given the task of taking on the Germany's greatest field commander, Erwin Rommel ("The Desert Fox"). Rommel had completely destroyed the British in Northern Africa and Patton was sent there in 1942 with his tanks to see what he could do.
Patton, with his aggression, boldly went directly at Rommel's army and completely decimated it. Rommel had no choice but to flee back to Europe and allow Patton to free Northern Africa from German control. From this "African campaign" Patton then went up to Italy in 1943, and liberated Sicily. Historians describe Patton's efforts as "cutting through the German defenders like a hot knife through butter."
Patton was unrelenting in his fighting against the otherwise invincible German Army. Historians estimate that Patton's Third Army caused an astounding 55% of all of Germany's causalities in the war, while Patton's own men suffered only 9% of the losses on our side.
On June 6, 1944, massive Allied forces led by the American soldiers landed at Normandy, France, to retake mainland Europe from the Germans. Called the "longest day" or "D-Day" (dee-day), it was the largest land invasion in the history of the world. Participants said the ocean was completely filled with boats and soldiers and it was difficult to see much water. The invasion caught the Germans, already weakened by Patton, off guard.
The Allied forces, with the strong and fresh American troops, began pushing through Europe. Within months they liberated Florence, Paris, Pisa, Brussels and Antwerp, in that order, and started to enter German soil. But in December the Germans launched a fierce counterattack known as the Battle of the Bulge, causing the Americans 19,000 deaths in a just a few weeks.
The Allies did not discover the concentration camps used by the German Nazis for the Holocaust until April 1945. Allied commander and future President Dwight Eisenhower described his horror:
- I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency.... I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.
The end of the war then came quickly. On April 28, 1945, the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini was captured and hung by Italians, and the Allied army liberated Venice. The next day the U.S. 7th Army liberated Dachau, the site of one of the concentration camps. The following day after that, April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
A week later, on May 7, 1945, the German troops unconditionally surrendered, and the world rejoiced. A month later, on June 5th, the Allies divided up Germany into western and eastern sections, giving communist Soviet Union control over "East Germany." Three weeks after that, on June 26, the Charter for the United Nations was signed in San Francisco.
But the war continued against Japan, and Japanese soldiers had a fanaticism that prevented them from surrendering at any cost. America had the upper hand ever since it had won the Battle of Midway in the Pacific back in June 1942, but the Japanese were never going to surrender unless something extraordinary happened. The opportunity was provided by America's secret development of the atomic bomb. Years earlier some physicists, including a friend of Albert Einstein who persuaded him to write a letter, feared that Germany was developing an atomic bomb and they urged the President to develop it before Germany did. (In fact, Germany was not making any progress.) The President did not act on Einstein's letter, but later he did begin the Manhattan Project to develop our own atomic bomb at a secret facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Top physicists led the project. Roosevelt never lived to hear of its success. It was only after Truman replaced Roosevelt as President that the physicists had been successful in testing the new atomic bomb that they developed.
As president, Truman was an impulsive and not very bright man. He still holds the record for the lowest approval rating (only 23% of the country approving of his performance) in his last year in office (1952). When there was an ugly strike against a steel company, he impulsively ordered a government takeover of the entire company (the Supreme Court later invalidated his action). When a reporter wrote a negative review about his daughter's piano recital, Truman said he wanted to punch the reporter in the face for it. When General Douglas MacArthur wanted to be more aggressive in the Korean War, Truman simply fired him.
But Truman's impulsiveness may have served the nation well at this critical moment. As soon as the atomic bomb was developed, the top military leaders were anxious to use it to save any further loss to American soldiers fighting Japan. They urged Truman to approve dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. Do it, Truman decided quickly, and later said he slept a good night's sleep after his decision. Truman's impulsiveness may remind you of President Andrew Jackson. Truth be told, Truman hated the Japanese with a passion, as many Americans at the time did. Unlike the war against Germany, the war against Japan stirred racial dislike and distrust.
On August 6, 1945, America dropped its first atomic bomb on the entire city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, America dropped a second atomic bomb, called "Fat Man," on Nagasaki, Japan. Japan then unconditionally surrendered on August 15th.
Not even Truman knew when the bombs would be dropped, as he left that up to the military generals. But when Truman heard about it while aboard a cruise, he broke out in a celebration that might strike some as callous and insensitive to the many civilians who unsuspectingly died from the blast.
Debate: Was it right to drop atomic bombs on Japan?
From 1943 through 1945, the Allies held a series of conferences for the purpose of strategic planning for the end of the war:
- Casablanca Conference, Jan. 14–24, 1943, was a meeting between the U.S. and Britain during which they agreed to fight until their enemies (the Axis Powers - Germany, Italy and Japan) unconditionally surrender.
- Tehran Conference, Nov.-Dec. 1943, was the Soviet Union Stalin's first conference and he promised to help against Japan after the defeat of Germany, and the U.S. agreed to the D-Day invasion.
- Yalta Conference, Feb. 1945, during which the Allies agreed to divide Germany into 4 military zones (denazification) and Stalin lied in agreeing to hold free elections in Eastern Europe after the war. The Allies also planned to start the United Nations.
- Potsdam Conference, July-Aug. 1945, was Truman's first conference after Roosevelt died. Truman played cards (as was his habit) most of the time and little was accomplished. The Allies agreed to demand Japan's unconditional surrender.
The "Cold War" began with the communist Soviet Union (Russia was its biggest component) after the end of World War II. It was a "war" in the sense that the United States and the Soviet Union were enemies every bit as much as two sides to an actual war are. Communists were (and are) determined to end the American form of government, with its freedoms. This "war" was "cold", however, because no soldiers fired any shots directly against the real enemy. Instead, this "war" was fought through spies, nuclear armament, installing missiles directed at the other side, and gaining influence and control over smaller countries to achieve a strategic advantage.
The Cold War took the form of publicity campaigns also. In 1942, the "Voice of America" was founded as a radio program to broadcast the American message of freedom from friendly countries to reach audiences inside neighboring communist countries. It continues to exist to this day.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a solid ally of the United States against communism. From 1940 to 1945, Churchill had been the most popular man in England. His approval ratings had never fallen below 78%. In May 1945, his approval rating stood at 83%, and he began running for reelection. He then lost in a landslide! Historians to this day debate why that happened. Possible explanations range from how voters wanted to move towards the future and forget about the war, to a feeling that Churchill had finished his work. Truth be told, political outcomes can be surprising, and there is often little logic in politics. The real benefit of democracy is not that it arrives at the best outcome, but that it provides an element of surprise to check and balance against tyranny. Also, politics is about the future, not the past, and Churchill's leadership of Britain during the war said nothing about how he would lead in peacetime.
In 1946, Churchill traveled to Missouri to receive an honorary degree. He then delivered remarks that were prophetic:
- It is my duty ... to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.
With this "Iron Curtain Speech" about how the communists had gained control over Eastern Europe, Americans were on full notice about the communist threat posed to the world by the Soviet Union.
In 1947, President Truman announced what has become known as "Truman Doctrine." He pledged economic aid for democratic countries opposing communism, beginning with Greece and Turkey. Also in 1947, George Kennan at the United States State Department (the agency that handles foreign policy) published a new policy for dealing with communism: "containment". Its approach was to contain communism to where it already existed and not allow it to spread further to other countries. This philosophy guided the Cold War.
That same year, 1947, saw the founding of two important government groups to defend the security of the United States against foreign enemies. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was created in order to gather "intelligence" (key information) outside the United States through "overt and covert" methods. In simple terms, it is a spy agency. It uses information collected by other United States agencies (hence its name "central intelligence") and set goals for "intelligence" gathering. It has become an object of controversy and many Hollywood movies! In addition, the National Security Act established the National Security Council as an advisory body to the president on national security issues. It uses the CIA to gather information for it.
In 1948, the United States and Western European nations formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ("NATO") to guard against the threat posed by the communist Soviet Union.
Even before World War II, the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) and its communism became an enemy of the freedom embraced by the United States. Soon there was infiltration by communists into American government. The Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb for the United States (so named because its first office was in Manhattan), had at least two spies who independently leaked secrets to the communist Soviet Union during World War II.
After the war, in 1947, President Truman instituted Loyalty Boards to check on government employees to ensure they were not communists attempting to overthrow our form of government.
From 1948 through 1950, a young congressman (and future president) named Richard Nixon held hearings for the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated communists who had infiltrated government and Hollywood. The most important hearings concerned the investigation into Alger Hiss, one of FDR's top aides who continued to hold key positions in government and decision-making. Hiss dramatically denied that he was a communist, but it was later proven that he was. The Committee also investigated the "Hollywood Ten" to try to root out communism in Hollywood.
Alger Hiss was exposed by Whittaker Chambers, a former homosexual communist who converted to Christianity, married, started a family, and then testified against Hiss. Chambers, a writer for Time magazine, described in vivid detail his communications and meetings with Hiss, yet Hiss denied it with equal vigor at the hearings. At times Hiss had the better of the congressmen in the hearing, as when he was presented with a picture of Chambers for identification purposes. Hiss said it resembled many people, including one of the congressmen on the committee! The crowd roared with laughter at the expense of the committee, including Nixon himself. Nixon was furious, and he intensely disliked the wealthier and more urbane Hiss. In contrast, Nixon trusted Chambers; they were both Quakers.
Chambers had informed the committee about how Hiss was a bird-watcher who once saw a rare prothonotory warbler while walking along the Potomac River in D.C. The committee asked Hiss about whether he had seen such an unusual bird. Anxious to show off, Hiss bragged about he had seen this rare bird one morning along the Potomac River. That proved Chambers was right about Hiss, and convinced the committee that Hiss was exactly who Chambers said Hiss was: a lying communist.
In another dramatic moment, Chambers recalled that he had received secret documents from Hiss on microfilm, which Chambers had hidden inside pumpkins on his farm in rural Maryland. Nixon actually drove out to the farm with Chambers and opened up the pumpkins to find microfilm just as Chambers said. Chambers, a brilliant writer, also penned a book about his life as a communist called "Witness", which remains a classic to this day, and students may find it fascinating.
Eventually Hiss was convicted of perjury (lying during his testimony), and served five years in jail. He maintained his innocence for the rest of his life but when communism ended in the Soviet Union and documents about spies were released in the 1990s (the Venona project), it was proven that Hiss was indeed a communist spy. Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded in a special government investigation in the late 1990s, "Hiss was indeed a Soviet agent and appears to have been regarded by Moscow as its most important." The cause of Hiss's communism appeared to be this: he fell in with the communist movement after marrying a communist woman who was unrepentant after having an abortion. Abortion was a big part of communism; the abortion rate in the communist Soviet Union was much higher than the rest of the world.
In the 1950s, another controversial trial was the conviction of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for selling atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. They were executed. For decades some defended the Rosenbergs and asserted their innocence, but in September 2008 the co-conspirator Morton Sobell, age 91, admitted to the New York Times that Julius really was guilty. He also confirmed the view of historians that Ethel knew about the conspiracy but was not an active participant.
As early as August through October 1944, a conference at Dumbarton Oaks established plans to start a new "United Nations" (or "UN") to deal with disputes after the war. China, Britain, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. agreed on preliminary plans for this new world governing body. They agreed that it would include a "Security Council" for the founding nations to hold powers greater than the other nations.
Debate: Do you think a "United Nations" is a good idea?
Near the end of World War II, nations came together to form the United Nations, first in San Francisco and ultimately in New York, where it exists to this day. Alger Hiss, who was secretly a communist but served as a top aide to President Franklin Roosevelt, played a key role in founding the UN.
The United Nations has remained controversial to this day. In the 1990s, an American soldier named Michael New was ordered to fight under command of the United Nations. He refused, and was court-martialed (harshly punished) for it. He then sued, and lost. Many complain that the United Nations encroaches on the right and duty of nations like the United States to remain true to their own principles. Defenders of the United Nations say that it provides an important meeting place to discuss and defuse tensions before they escalate into wars. The United Nations did arrange for many countries to send troops to defend South Korea against invasion by communist North Korea. But as in Vietnam and most major international wars since World War II, the United States sent the vast majority of the soldiers who went to the battlefront.
President Woodrow Wilson would have been a supporter of the United Nations, just as he supported the League of Nations. His motto was to "make the world safe for democracy." Today, "neoconservatives" adopt a similar worldview. They seek to expand and install democracy in countries all around the world, such as Iraq and Iran. Others, however, point out that democracy may not be compatible with religions in other parts of the world, such as Islam. Conservative Congressman and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul wrote an essay entitled, "Making the World Safe for Christianity," observing that democracy in Iraq has increased the persecution of Christians there. Indeed, the loss in innocent life is much worse under democracy in Iraq today than it was under a dictatorship.
By the way, Congressman Paul blames the treaty after World War I (the Versailles Treaty) as the cause for World War II and the rise of communism. The U.S. Senate never ratified that treaty.
Debate: Should the United States try to make the world safe for democracy?
Immigration was free and unlimited for most of our history. William Penn actually advertised in Germany for immigrants to settle in his colony of Pennsylvania in the late 1600s. There was some hostility to immigrants in the early United States, as illustrated by the "Alien and Sedition Laws" (1798) which authorized the deportation of subversive "aliens" or immigrants who had not yet become citizens. The law was inspired by a feeling that most immigrants were becoming Democratic-Republican Party members, and their political opponents (the Federalist Party) passed the law.
Nevertheless, up until the 1850s immigration was mostly welcomed in America. But after a huge influx of immigrants from Ireland due to the potato famine there, in 1854 the "American Party," also called the “Know-Nothings” because of how they would describe themselves, was founded in order to oppose immigration. Ever since, there has been political pressure to limit immigration.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) ended the Mexican War and allowed Mexicans residing in territories acquired by the United States to become American citizens. After 1890, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans entered the United States illegally and were given the racist name of "wetbacks". Segregation of Mexicans in the public schools was common until the Supreme Court abolished it for African-Americans in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
The big flood of immigration occurred between the end of the Civil War and 1921. Up to one-third of Americans today are decedents of immigrants to America during that period. The vast majority was from Europe, but the Burlingame Treaty with China in 1868 gave Chinese unlimited rights to immigrate, and many did. Labor unions then complained about the influx of Chinese immigrants (who had built the transcontinental railroad over the Sierra Nevada mountains). In 1879, the moderate Republican Rutherford Hayes vetoed a bill restricting Chinese immigration, but three years later the new Republican president Chester Arthur signed a bill prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers. This bill was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
In 1891 the federal government established the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), to supervise lawful immigration (it has been renamed as the "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services", or USCIS). In 1892, INS established Ellis Island in New York harbor as the primary screening point for legal immigrants before they settled in the United States. Medical tests and oaths of allegiance to the United States were administered there.
The high point of lawful immigration to the United States was 1905-14, when more than a million legal immigrants entered in each of six separate years. Most were from southern and central Europe. From 1890 through 1917, immigration was mostly from central and southern Europe, and also many from Eastern Europe:
- Central, Southern and Eastern Europe – 70%
- Northwest Europe – 20%
- Central and South America – 3%
- Canada and Newfoundland – 4%
- Asia – 3%
The large percentage of immigration from European countries other than England and Ireland caused alarm among many Americans of English descent. By the 1920s, the United States was increasingly concerned about anarchists and communists entering from southern and eastern Europe. Recall that President McKinley was assassinated in 1901 by an anarchist whose family had immigrated from Eastern Europe, and the American trial of anarchists from Italy named Sacco and Vanzetti for senseless murders had gripped our nation in 1920-21 and during the lengthy appeals afterward. The Red Scare of 1919-20 further alarmed Americans about immigration from Eastern Europe. After the great wave of immigration leading up to World War I, Americans wanted to limit it.
The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 limited immigration to 3% of that originating country's immigration levels in 1910. This had the effect of favoring immigration from Anglo-Saxons (Britain) and northern Europe, which were more Protestant. This reflected the opposition to immigration from parts of Europe that were more Catholic and Jewish.
The Immigration Act of 1924 (also known as the National Origins Act) reduced the 3% quota further, to 2%, and changed the baseline from 1910 to 1890 in order to give even greater preferences to immigrants from Great Britain, Germany and Ireland. Immigration from Italy, Russia and Asia was thereby sharply reduced. Strict quotas were enforced, but applied to unskilled laborers rather than professionals. President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law.
Just after the end of World War II, in 1946, immigration from India was allowed up to an annual quota, and in 1952 immigration from Asia was allowed again for the first time since 1917.
In 1965, Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress under the Lyndon Johnson Administration, the Immigration and Nationality Act increased quotas and opened the floodgates to immigration again, in amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act. This new law established visa limits for needs of family (such as nannies) and employment, while allowing spouses, parents and minor children of American citizens to immigrate freely. Under the visa program many foreign workers, most notably in India and other parts of Asia, then immigrated to fill jobs, many in medical and engineering fields.
Six percent of visas were for refugees, who are people supposedly fleeing persecution in their own country. The Refugee Act of 1980 then expanded the definition of a refugee, and separated refugee admissions from the overall quota system, with the result of many more refugees allowed in.
The 1965 amendments established total immigration limits by hemisphere, and high quotas for some countries including Mexico. In 1968 a limit on visas from the western hemisphere was also established on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Illegal immigration from Mexico, to get around its quota, grew in the early 1980s and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allowed most illegal aliens who resided in the U.S. continuously since 1982 to apply for legal status. Employers were prohibited from hiring illegal aliens, in order to discourage future illegal immigration.
Court decisions made it difficult or impossible for States to deny government benefits (such as free public education) to illegal immigrants. Accordingly, their entry into the United States continued to grow. Estimates are that 20 million people now live in the United States illegally, most having arrived by crossing the United States-Mexico border but not all of whom are Mexican. Congress is bitterly divided about how to address this, and President Trump campaigned in 2016 to build a wall along that border.
Debate: What is your view of immigration?
- http://military-leaders.suite 101.com/article.cfm/us_general_george_patton
- Moynihan, Daniel Patrick (1998). Secrecy: The American Experience. Yale University Press, pp. 145-147. ISBN 0-300-08079-4.