Turning Points in American History
audio course of Professor E. T. O'Donnell
  edited by W. Antoniotti 

See Next Turning Point?  How Democracies Die 4 min video

A Turning Point is when a society takes a new historically significant trajectory creating a new historical reality. It may be marked by the  emergence of a new technology and the establishment of a new ideal. The impact may be immediate or develop of time. Editor's Note: These very brief written do little justice to the fascinating lectures available through The Great Courses. Consider using them for an Internet research/writing assignment. 
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Part 2 Growing a Democratic Republic Return to Part 1.

Go to Part 3 A Growing Nation

11. A 1789 Brain Drain Begins US Industry

14. Transportation Revolution for Growing Nation

20. Mexican War, Expansion, Manifest Destiny

28. War With Spain-Manifest Destiny Rides Again

1862 Go West, Young Man! The Homestead Act

1872 Open Spaces—The National Parks

1903 Transportation Revolution 2

1909 The Scourge of the South

7. 1773 Boston Tea Party Begins a Process
A Hesitant Reluctant 1776 Nation Seeks Freedom
The French Save the Day
1786 Shays' Tax Rebellion Leads to a Constitution

1800 Sees First Peaceful Democratic Power Transfer
13. Marshal Creates a Third Separate Power
15. Who Are We of We the People?
23. Who Protects Unalienable 1866 Rights of Whom?
The 1870's Take Away Unalienable Rights
1930's Safety Net Deficits, Like War Deficits, Attract Many

1973 Finally Brings Faster Track Civil Rights
Managing the United States Constatution

2 Growing a Democratic Republic

7.  1773 Boston Tea Party Begins a Process 

Salutary neglect by England began late in the 17th century when she left the colonies pretty much to themselves by ignoring British law and trade regulations. The tranquility ended because England was broke because of the French and Indian War expenses. Having pushed the French away from the colonies, she felt justified in sharing expenses. First came a ban on Western expansion and then a neglected sugar tax was enforced. The first direct tax came with the 1765 Stamp Act. It required a stamp to prove paid taxes. This made colonials unhappy and they cried no taxes without representations. A boycott soon resulted in the 1966 Declaratory Act being repealed. England saved face as she had demonstrated that  Parliament's America authority was the same as in Britain. That is Britain could pass laws that were binding on the American colonies. Little revenue was collected but England was not done!

The crackdown of the 1760's included moving troops to cities. This led to confrontations. The Boston Massacre  of 1770 killed 5 colonists. In spite of many demonstrations and incidents Britain did not overreact. Most colonist still wanted British rule. So what changed?

Parliament's passed the 1773 Tea Act  to bailout the financially troubled economically dominate British East India Company. It was given a tea monopoly and a very small tax on tea was imposed. Most colonists got their tea from people like Smuggling King John-Hancock. He was unhappy with all the British attention and financed the Sons of Liberty. The arrival of the first three tea ships sparked John, Adams and John Hancock sponsored protests. Unloading the tea proved problematic. 

Two ships in a harbor, one in the distance. On board, men stripped to the waist and wearing feathers in their hair throw crates of tea overboard. A large crowd, mostly men, stands on the dock, waving hats and cheering. A few people wave their hats from windows in a nearby building.

A Radicals within the Sons of Liberty held what many years later would become known as the Boston Tea Party.  It destroyed a fortune of English owned tea. An unhappy King George sent more  troops guaranteed Boston Harbor and the war for independence would start less than two years. Recently arrived General Gage decided in the Spring of 1775 to go after colonial arms stored in nearby Concord. On the way back his troops were fired upon by the Minutemen. There were 273 British casualties with 73 killed. Colonial numbers were 88 and 49 respectively. Sixteen month after England ender her colonial neglect  the colonies were willing to part with the "mother country."

8. A Hesitant Reluctant 1776 Nation Seeks Freedom

Commonsense.jpgVery few Americans wanted separation from England until January of 1776 when Thomas Payne's pamphlet Common Sense  began appearing in the colonies. Click to enlarge.

Pain wrote the King and not Parliament was  the bad guy because a Monarch was not an appropriate form of government. Its common language affected average people as conflict between the soon to be combatants was at a high point. In May John Adams proposed at the Continental Congress. He also suggested that colonies begin calling themselves states and that states should begin writing state constitutions. At the congress Richard Henry Lee proposed a formal separation declaration. Five people including Franklin, Adams and Jefferson met to write a proposal and Jefferson was chosen to write a draft. It took one day! Franklin then suggested "we hold these truths sacred and undeniable" be changed to  "self-evident"... .  Ben thought this was less relegiouse and more in step with the secular ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.  Unhappy author Jefferson listen as representatives changed about 25% of his draft.  One item removed was Jefferson's blaming King George for U.S. slavery as most didn't want to go there.


Within two decades the Declaration's prosaic opening which contained the declaration of a citizen's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was the document's centerpiece. These words are still revered today.

The definition of "we the people" as only white landowning or taxpaying males needed some work.

Click to enlarge.

Truths or rights are inalienable. They are not gifts from a political leader and are not malleable. The right to independence and revolt against  oppressive government has been popular with revolutionaries around the world. John Lock whose writing were sacred to the founding fathers had included property but Jefferson changed property to pursuit of happiness. Property is to narrow and happiness is broad and can be expanded. The word "among" also allowed for expansion of rights. When signed

This document was no big deal. It  was ignored by the Federalist who felt it was too democratic.  They also felt it was too much like the revolutionary radical and dangerous Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen coming out of France. Anarchy is always feared by those in power.

By the 1790's Jeffersonian Republicans felt the need to defend the country and its Republic from the pro-monarchy, pro British, pro aristocratic Federalist. Thus they began to celebrate the Declaration of Independence at 4th of July celebrations and in speeches throughout the year. Jefferson wrote it was pro liberty and individual rights. Soon they took over the government and it became "the" symbol of a democratic republic.

Federalist represented the industrial Northeast which feared anarchy associated with weak government. Republicans represented the rural by agriculturally based South which feared strong government. As of 5/9/15 these battles are the basis for many Current Political Controversies.

9. The French 
Save the Day

 The 1777 Battle of Saratoga was the game-changing conflict of the revolutionary war. It took three weeks for the news to reach Philadelphia and another 6 weeks to notify ambassador Franklin. He then persuaded France to sign the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with the completely overmatched United States. France then provided the military and financial help required to win the war. The battle also convinced colonists they could defeat the British Empire. Click on pictures.

The British (center) surrender to French (left) and American (right) troops, at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

French (left) and British ships (right) at the battle of the Chesapeake off Yorktown in 1781; the outnumbered British fleet departed, leaving the British army no choice but to surrender.


10. Shays' 1786 Tax Rebellion
Leads to a Constitution

Farmers in western Massachusetts were having serious problems paying taxes after the state government began accepting only hard currency and not the worthless continental currency or farm goods. Farmers felt oppressed by a few elite eastern merchants and politicians who had set up the tax and legal systems to benefit themselves. Civil disobedience in the form of not allowing judges to foreclose on farm property began in August of 1886. It was the main tool used by the protesters. The Massachusetts Militia refused the governor's orders to control the disobedience. The purposely designed weak central government under Articles of Confederation was unable to raise a meaningful army.  Sam Adams had been the most aggressive revolutionary leader when it came to English oppression but now he was a member of the establishment. He wanted harsh treatment even including execution against the conspirators. The governor offered a few minor tax collection adjustments to help farmers.  But he also  passed the very harsh Riot Act which took away human rights.  See Politics is still in Control



Then a Militia Act allowed for the execution of militia who refused to follow orders. Soon the governor began to raised a privately financed state militia. This caused a severe reaction by farmer who saw a private army is the first step on the road to tyranny.  The farmers  raised their own army led by revolutionary war veteran and militia member Daniel Shay. Their main battle was to be a surprise attack at the federal Springfield arsenal. It didn't work out. The armory was unexpectedly defended by militia men and they killed four rebels who were quickly dispersed. They regrouped but the new Governor's privately financed army led by Benjamin Lincoln arrived and dispersed them with a surprise attack. That was it. Rebellion over. Eventually there was an amnesty based on signing of a loyalty oath. Twenty-one leaders were order hung but only two got the rope. The governor lost reelection and the new governor was more sympathetic to the farmers and he pardoned Shay and the other leaders.

The rebellion provided much substance for those In the Philadelphia Congress who feared rebellion and anarchy. They wanted a strong central government to control dissent and scheduled a May of 1887 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention.



By September a constitution was written. Ratification followed in July of 1788 and the Bill of Rights followed in 1791. The founders wrote what is now the world's oldest written constitution. France was writing her first constitution and she is now on her seventeenth and counting. Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck.jpg

Contemporary depiction of Daniel Shays (left) and Job Shattuck, two of the main protest leaders

Editors Note: Difficult economic times after the revolution caused by an almost worthless Continental Currency caused many farmers to want debt forgiveness. Their actions united Oligarchs to maintain economic stability.

Causes of Shay's Rebellion

This popular uprisings cause a fear of potential anarchy in those with the abilities to accumulate wealth. They represented a rule of law conservative constituency which called for the  Constitutional Convention.

Economic policy
Aggressive tax and debt collection
Political corruption and cronyism
Reform of state government, later 
its overthrow
Direct action to close courts; then military organization in an attempt to capture the U.S. arsenal at the Springfield Armory
Rebellion crushed, and problems of Federal authority linked to the weak Articles of Confederation spur U.S. Constitutional Convention

Similar unrest was happening in the Carolinas where rural farmers known as Regulators were having a difficult go of it economically and again taxes were the problem. It was the beginning of the Tea  Party/Libertarian movement.


12. 1800 Sees First Peaceful Democratic Power Transfer

Republican ideology of the late 18th century believed political parties were detrimental to society because they served vested interests. Nonpartisan elite would best served the Republic. But differences and party politics developed. Thomas Pain wondered if Washington was a traitor or an imposter. Federalist Adams won the 1796 election and the constitution indicated second place finisher Jefferson was Vice President. The two friends had different political beliefs and would not get along.

A key differences between the two was diplomatic relations with England and France. Federalist loved Brittan and idealized their government. They felt the U.S. was too weak to get involved with the intense war between the two countries. They also hated the French because of the anarchy that had resulted after the French Revolution.  Jefferson's  group had strong Republican beliefs and soon were called Jeffersonian Republicans though many called them Democratic/Republicans. They  felt the Federalist wanted to turn the fledgling Republic into a Monarchy plus and they wanted to help revolutionary war ally France.

Federalist believed in a strong central government as demonstrated by Washington's administration assuming state revolutionary war debt even though some states had already paid their debt. They also formed the Bank of the U.S and generated revenue with a new tariff. Both helped the Northeast industry much more than Southern agriculture. Republicans lived in mostly rural states. They felt these actions endangered the Republic. They wanted a weak central government that did not need revenue and they didn't like the eastern bankers or their tariffs. They wanted states rights.



The 1800 Presidential Election was very rancorous because no rules of acceptable behavior existed and politics could be a messy business. The Aurora of Philadelphia became the mouthpiece of the Jeffersonian Republicans. They printed that Adams was a Monarchist who would appoint himself King. His son would be the hereditary successor. They said Adams had ordered a boatload of prostates delivered from England to meat his lustful passions. The Porcupine Gazette did the same for the Federalists. They printed Jefferson was an atheist and anarchists.

President Adams was hurt by two mistakes. In 1798 he created a standing army and enlarged the Navy. This hurt because traditional Republican orthodoxy preached that a standing army always led to a tyrant becoming a dictator. A citizen soldier was enough to meet emergencies. Second, the Alien and Sedition Acts hurt on two fronts.  Immigrants didn't like the Alien Act which made them wait longer for citizenship and allowed them to be arrested and even deported. The Sedition Act made Republican written anti- government literature illegal. This would be the first of many such instances where the President's would abuse the Constitution in the name of national security.

The election ended in an Electoral College tie. Receiving votes were two Federalists , Adams( 65) and Thomas  Pickney(64) plus two Republicans Jefferson(73) and Aaron Burr(73), John Jay had one vote. The election went to the House of Representing. Hamilton worked behind the scenes for Jefferson who he felt was less-dangerous than Burr. The runoff was tied for 36 ballots and finally on number 37 Jefferson was declared the winner. The U.S. became the first society to followed a revolution with a peacefully transfer of power.

In his Inaugural Jefferson said "We are all Federalists, We are all Republicans." This assured a more peaceful power transfers. Two interesting side-note. VP Burr later killed former Treasury Secretary Hamilton in a dual. Former friends Adams and Jefferson became bitter enemies because of partisan politics and didn't communicate until 1812 when letters between the two healed the damage. Letters continued until their death on the same day of 7/4/26, the 50th anniversary of the nation's birth.

A Quarrel between a Federalist and a Republican in the House of Representatives

Quarrel between a Federalist and a Republican in the House of Representatives Foreign influence on Domestic Politics


Presidential election results map. Green denotes states won by Jefferson, orange denotes states won by Adams, and gray denotes non voting territories. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

13. Marshal Creates a Third Separate Power 

Of all a President's powers, many feel the appointment of a Supreme Court justice is most important.

The Federalist lost power in 1800 and feared anarchy from the new administration. They decided to decrease the new President's power. Outgoing Federalist under President  Adams decides to control the federal judiciary. He appointed John Marshall as Supreme Court Chief Justice. Then the Federalist congress passed a law that decreased the number of justices from 7 to 5 and increased the number of Federal Judgeships. Adams dutifully appointed these new justices with the last group appointed the night he left office. These 42 appointments were  left signed and sealed but undelivered by Chief Justice Marshall. They became known as the  infamous "Midnight Judges"   Chief Justice Marshal felt signed and sealed meant appointed and the new administration had to mail the appointments.

Jefferson refused and issued 25 new appointments in their place. Marshal wanted his fellow justices to rule the 1801 Judiciary Act unconstitutional. The justices refused. Then William



Marbury, one of the 42 envelope appointees, sued for his job. He wanted the soon to be appointed be Secretary of State John Madison to send the mail.

In Marbury v. Madison the court ruled that Marbury had a right to the commission and that the law provided Marbury with the correct legal remedy. Nonetheless, the Court stopped short of ordering Madison (by writ of mandamus) to hand over Marbury's commission. Instead it held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that enabled Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was itself unconstitutional since it purported to extend the Court's original jurisdiction beyond that established by Article III.

Over the years legal scholars have decided what Marshal did was a stretch at best but the deed was done. Voting for a President is almost always voting for a Supreme Court Justice or two and giving a direction for history toward a President's political philosophy. Madison felt adding to the court's power was more important than the short term political gain of his Federalist Party. The  concept of Judicial Review would spread throughout the world.


Inscription on the wall of the Supreme Court Building from Marbury v. Madison, in which Chief Justice John Marshall outlined the concept of judicial review.
U.S. Constitutional History

FDR Court-packing plan

15 Who Are We of We the People?

 At the dawn of the American Revolution about 60% of the white males (and their oldest son) could vote provided they owned a reasonable amount of real property or personal property. Republican government needed people who had a stake in society, a vested interest in a stable society and who wanted low taxes. No poor would be allowed to vote themselves money from the wealthy. Democracy was mob rule. Residency was also required in many states and some excluded Catholics and Jews. Property owning women, free African Americans, and Indians were allowed in a few states.

After the Revolution payment of taxes and being in the militia or army were added to the list of conditions. Having one allowed a person to vote. Most states eliminated religious tests. Maryland, North. Carolina and three other states allowed free blacks to vote. We were founded as a Representative Republic where some and not all have control. The constitution had left voting to the states.

Westward expansion led to new states and their leaders wanted economic prosperity and high congressional representation. Both required people and Vermont was first when in 1791 she allowed all white males to vote but only Kentucky followed in 1792.  In 1817 Indiana started a movement toward universal white male suffrage and many states quickly followed. See Managing the United States Constitution

Image result for voting rights cartoons

Image result for voting rights cartoons






Click to enlarge and see other cartoons..

23. Who Protects the Unalienable 1866 Rights of Whom?

Equal rights for all was limited to very few people at the time of our founding fathers. Women, slaves, Indians and poor men need not apply. Radicals of the early 1830's associated with abolition wanted much more than freeing slaves. Everyone they insisted  were entitled to civil rights.

The Civil War had freed the slaves but what would be their status. Would freedman have civil, social, political and economic rights or would they have a serf-like status. Many people at that time did not have these rights. Also, what would happen to the southern states and their leaders. In the beginning of reconstruction southern President Johnson wanted the states back quickly so he let them back in 1865 when Congress was not in session. He also wanted no civil rights for freedman. Radical Republicans were not happy with what they observed after the war. The leaders of the South had quickly regained political power, much violence was perpetrated against former slaves, and Black Codes laws limiting rights were passed. Congress returned and passed the first civil rights laws defining what for first time a citizen and their rights. This negating the Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision by the Supreme Court that stated blacks were not and cold not be citizens. President Johnson vetoed it but Congresses overrode his veto.

But soon many felt more was needed after the Memphis race riot of 1866 killed 46 blacks. Many were Civil War veterans.  Local government did nothing. This riot convinced many an Amendment to the constitution was required to make change permanent and enforceable.

The 14th amendment passed Congress in June 1866 declared all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. were citizens. It also declared all citizens were entitled to equal protection under the law, states that denied voting rights to any adult male would have their congressional representation reduced and finally to run for office former confederate office holders needed to be pardoned by an act of Congress. It expanded "We the people..." and charged Congress with enforcement. President Johnson went on a speaking tour to try and stop ratification but it was completed in 1868.

Anti-black activities by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan soon began in most of the south. New president Grant enforced the new amendment. By 1871 the federal government had subdued much of the violence. Blacks participated in and to some degree were integrated into society. Click on picture of Freedmen voting in 1867 New Orleans.

But a counter revolution had started. Redeemer governments took over the South and went on a publicity campaign to convince northerners that blacks were being treated fairly. Eventually  federal enforcement waned  and after 1873 few people were involved in enforcing the civil rights. Then the Supreme Court started taking a very narrow interpretation of the Constitution in relation to civil rights. The court negated that equal rights applied to race. Then they determined it did not apply to segregation in interstate commerce, private organizations like hotels, clubs, rail road cars ... and that separate but equal was legal.

Then in 1886 the rights of citizens were established for corporations. They were collection of people and while this interpretation simplified the legal system it also made it impossible to regulate corporation. Thus the 14th Amendment  was an asset to big business but not to minorities.

In this map R= segregation required, Y no law, B optional/limited and G illegal,

25.  The 1870's Takes Away Unalienable Rights

Northern political support for freedman began to wane in the early 1870's because scandals hit the Grant administration and  the financial Panic of 1773 gave politicians other concerns. Also some northern Republican though enough had been done and it was time for the southern self-government plus a successful southern publicity campaign convinced many northerners that the south was living under a reign of black terror. Freeman they argued were not capable of intelligent leadership. Slowly over time southern resistance to northern efforts began to rise and eventually the south would go its own way.

A disputed Louisiana governor's election went to an election board which split so both Republican and Democrat acted as winners. A judge ruled a Republican winner and Republican President Grant sent troops to enforce his party's victory. Then  the Democratic set up their own New Orleans government. They also  and set up  a paramilitary organization called the White League to do their bidding. They had frequent clashes with the state militia. Click on this interesting interpretation of events. See Carpetbagger

Then a disputed election for sheriff and judge again went to Republicans so the Democrats took control of the Colfax Courthouse. On March 25 Republicans took back control. Armed blacks who supported the Republicans surrounded the courthouse to protect it from Democrats who soon mustered a large force of armed whites. A few shots were fired on April 3 but the real trouble happened on April 13. The Democrats  allowed the Freedman's  women and children to leave. Then they attacked with almost everyone  slaughtered. This 1773 Colfax Massacre signified how the southern counter revolution against freedman had accelerated.  

About fifty freedman escaped but they to were captured and slaughtered. In all 150 blacks died. Some of the Republicans were eventually convicted but soon the Supreme Court that ruled in US V Cruikshank that the 14th Amendment only applied to state government and not individuals. Those convicted were set free. Groups like the Klan could not be stopped. Enforcement Act of 1870 did not apply to those to whom it was directed. Soon southern Democrats were using Mississippi Plan to control the south.


As a result the Democratic Party employed terror with impunity against white and black opponents. Violence and murder especially close to elections soon spread throughout the south. The goal was to take rights and both economic and political power from all opponents. Voting Republicans meant threats, beatings and killings. A Republican governor's request to the Grant Administration for help was rejected. The Democratic party run by Redeemers took control of the South.

In the 1880's and 1890's the Jim Crow south developed. First, a share cropping system forced blacks into poverty by forcing them to cultivate crops and pay owners so much that poverty was pretty much guaranteed.  Secondly, segregation forced blacks into a second class status as private industry excluded or separated blacks. Governments soon followed. Blacks sued but a 1896 a conservative court ruled in Plessey vs. Fergusson that separate but equal was legal. In reality facilities were very unequal. Lastly, the voting rights awarded with the 15th Amendment were negated with voting requirements that were extremely difficult for blacks. First people whose grandfather voted  before 1867 were exempted. Whites were thus excluded while almost blacks needed to complete the requirements.  A poll tax had to be paid and few poor could afford the tax. Then a literacy test whose difficulty was the based on race excluded many blacks. The result was a 66% drop in black voting and in some states it was almost eliminated. In Louisiana black voting dropped from 130,000 in 1896 to 1,300 in 1904.

The south managed to negate the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments but they did no disappear and would be to be reinvigorated in the 1950's and 1960' some fifty plus years later. Editors Note: In 2015 22 states threatened new voting restrictions.

Click on  A segregation sign on a 1938 Lancaster, Ohio restaurant.

See 42 
1973 Finally Brings Fast Track Civil Right

33. 1930's Government Safety Net Deficits, Like War Deficits, Prove Attractive

Between 1929 and 19333 GDP had dropped from $104 billion to $56 billion and unemployment increased from 3.2% to 24.9% topping 40% in Detroit and other industrial cites. Spending on food dropped from the $20 billion to $ 12 billions because 43% of the bank had closed taking their deposits down with them. Hoovervilles  developed as places where the homeless lived. Click

Farmers burned food as that was cheaper than sending food to market. Were Capitalism and Democracy dead? Did we need a dictatorship to escape the depression.

The Hoover administration did more than previous administrations to help during a sever depression. But Hoover was conservative and believed in Classical Economic principles that government interference wood worsen the problem. Republicans were confident. Why? Because FDR needing help getting to the podium to accept the Democratic Presidential nomination and this was described on national radio. Many felt the country would not elect a invalid with polio. But

 Police with batons confront demonstrators armed with bricks and clubs. A policeman and a demonstrator wrestle over a U.S. flag.Hoover's decision to send troops to disband a veterans army that had settle in Washington in hopes of receiving early payment of their WWI bonus check due in 1945. Soldiers attacked veterans and their families. Four including children died. Click


During his now famous first 100 days, FDR implemented Keynesian Economics. It advocated deficit government spending to put people back to work. This would expand the economy which would increase tax collections and eliminate potential deficits. There would be little long-term debt buildup if the government ran a surplus during good times.

FDR immediately called Congressional back in session and also ordered an immediate four day bank holiday which worked so well  that when they reopened deposits went up! The Presidents also began  to use radio for fireside chats to addresses the countries' anxiety. FDR had been the first candidates to give an convention nomination acceptance speech and he was the first President to use radio to help the nation and enhance his public persona. There were many important programs.

Relief Civilian Conservation Corps eventually employed two million to work on conservation projects.
Public Works Administration completed 34,000 infrastructure projects.
Civil Works Administration built and improved sewers, roads, schools, much needed outhouses ...
Works Progress Administration created 8 million temporary jobs in varied fields.
Home Owners' Loan Corporation refinanced existing mortgages decreasing foreclosures.
Recovery TVA employed people to build dams, controlled floods, improved irrigation and eventually generate electricity. Agricultural Adjustment Act 1933 and 1938 increased farm income.

Emergency Banking Act  establish first federal bank regulation and set up SEC to police Wall Street Social Security Act: Old-Age pensions, unemployment insurance, disability Insurance
Fair Labor Standards Act/1938 set max hours, min wages
Prohibition Discriminatory Employment related to federal employment

These laws helped but it took a WWII buildup to get the economy back to normal. But the age of minimum government was over. The federal government was to do more protect citizens and promote the common good. Laissez-faire would no longer dominate and debate move to the size and cost government and not weather the government should do these things.

42. 1973 Finally Brings Faster Track Civil Rights

African Americans improvements after the Civil War didn't last long and by the 1870's Jim Crow laws meant segregation in education, housing, and every-day life remained unchanged. It was a difficult time when eighty-six percent of Mississippi African Americans lived in poverty. Other areas in the south and most cities were similar.

Rosaparks.jpgThen in 1954 with a  9-0 vote, the Supreme Court overturned " separate but equal" with Brown vs. Board of Education. Then Forty-three-year-old seamstress Rosa Parks would not go to the back of the bus. This resulted in a 1956 Supreme Court order ending Montgomery, Alabama bus segregation. Federal Troops had to be ordered to Arkansas in 1957 by President Eisenhower to enforce school integration for the Little Rock Nine
See Integration of Central High School For more see  the Race Relations section of Don't Know Much About History.




Martin Luther King's 1963 decision to defy a court order by marching was to nationalize the civil rights movement. Many were arrested.  King wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. People following his movement would continue being peaceful but now they would be more aggressive. When getting out of jail was made difficult, it looked like Birmingham efforts would fail. Then a decision to have the school children march led to very positive publicity.  About 1,000 school children were arrested. "...the notorious public safety chief Eugene 'Bull' Connor held back his police force so that  Ku Klux Klansmen could brutalize the outsiders without interference". Protesters were arrested. Civil rights leaders had their crisis.   Seen on TV the pressure on Birmingham was immense and reform followed.

In Washington JFK saw the a photo of a police dog biting a student protester and the President's go slow civil rights attitude to maintain political viability in the South was over. He  asked for a new civil rights bill from a hostile congress. The law would give the Attorney Genera the expanded powers needed to enforce other provisions of the bill. President Kennedy hoped his proposal would ease King's new aggressiveness but instead a major march on Washington was planned to put pressure on Congress. King made his most famous speech but it didn't work as southern opposition kept the proposed bill from coming to a vote.  Then while in Dallas to shore up his southern stategee President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.

See the JFK section of Presidential Courage.

Under Construction 

Growing Nation  Part 3     A Nation Divided   Part 4 A Changing Culture  Part 5