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The Election of 1936


As Roosevelt’s first term in office neared its end, many people in the United States — and in other countries — wondered if the New Deal could really solve America’s problems. More than that, they wondered if Americans would continue to follow the path of democracy. A wave of totalitarianism was sweeping the world; would it reach as far as America? There was no doubt that there were some Americans who supported Hitler and the Nazis. Members of the German-American Bund paraded in brown shirts and held a mass meeting in New York’s Madison Square Garden, but there were comparatively few Bundists. Many people felt that a more serious threat to democracy and to the Roosevelt administration came from three native American political leaders — Huey P. Long, Father Charles E. Coughlin and Dr. Francis Townsend. Most colourful of the three was Huey Long, a senator from Louisiana. Calling himself the Kingfish, he had come to power in his native state and he ran it, his critics said, as a dictatorship. He was a rousing orator and in front of a crowd he would spout folksy humour, crack sharp political jokes and play the simple country boy. His opponents, however, charged that he was a combination of brutal hoodlum and a shrewd political boss who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. He would promise the people anything — and he did keep some of his promise. He saw that Louisiana got better roads, schools and hospitals. In return, he got power. Huey Long was not satisfied with the power he had won in Louisiana; he had his eye on the White House. At first a supporter of the New Deal, he turned against it and began attacking Roosevelt. He called Roosevelt a “scrootch owl,” explaining that “a …

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A Changing Nation 1934 – 1936

new deal

IN THE spring of 1933, as the New Deal roared into action, business began to get better, but it dropped again and as 1933 ended and a new year began, even the most optimistic New Dealer had to admit that the depression was still on. During 1934, the government took further steps to regulate banking and finance‚ but some Americans were dissatisfied. Businessman complained that the government was making it harder to do business. In spite of all the excitement, the NRA was not working out well. The farmers were complaining that prices of farm products were still too low. Some farmers went on strike, refusing to take their crops to market. In the West, there was even violence as bands of farmers overturned trucks on highways to keep them from carrying farm products to the cities. Other farmers refused to let their neighbours’ farms be sold at auction. Surrounding the auctioneer, they would force him to sell the farm for a few cents and they would then give it back to its owner. Nature itself was working against the farmers. A long drought was creating a great Dust Bowl in the states of the Great Plains — in Oklahoma, the Dakotas, parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. As month after month went by with no rain, the wind stirred up dust storms that darkened the sky. The helpless farmers watched their soil blow away, leaving a wasteland where once there had been fertile acres. Thousands of families were forced to give up their farms. Packing their belongings into rattling, broken-down cars, they set out for California. There they looked for work picking fruit and vegetables in the vast fields. Called “Okies”–because so many of them came from Oklahoma — they became a problem in themselves. The owners of the …

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The United States and Destiny 1848-1914

united states

THE UNITED STATES entered the race for colonies last of all the powers, at the end of the nineteenth century. Long before then, however, Americans were accustomed to taking over territory; they had, in fact, built their country westward from the Atlantic by settling lands they had bought or seized. In the Mexican War of 1845-48 they had taken a huge tract of land from Mexico by force. Many Americans, including Abraham Lincoln believed that the Mexican War was simply an invasion of a weak country by its powerful, land hungry neighbour. Others maintained that the move was justified by the country’s needs. They pointed out that the United States was the largest, richest and most advanced nation in North America, with the fastest-growing population. For these reasons, they said, it was entitled to take the land it needed. This was the doctrine of “manifest destiny.” Its supporters believed that before long the United States was bound to dominate the continent, if not the entire hemisphere. With the land it had gained in the Mexican War, the United States spanned North America from ocean to ocean. Talk of manifest destiny died down, for most Americans felt that the country had reached its limits. When Secretary of State, William Seward, bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, he was widely criticized. People said Alaska was nothing but a frozen wasteland and called it “Seward’s Icebox.” For a time they were too busy building up their own country to bother much about other lands. By the 1890’s, however, the United States was a great industrial power and had trade links with several other parts of the world besides its old trading partners in Europe. Millions of American dollars were invested in neighbouring Latin American republics and American trade with the Far East, especially …

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Industry Transforms America 1865-1914


VETERANS or the Union Army, returning to their home towns in New England or the Middle Atlantic states after the war were surprised at what they saw. They had grown up in towns where most of the people lived by farming, while the rest sold things to farmers or worked in local workshops. Perhaps a mill and a factory had stood on the bank of the town’s river. The farms, stores and workshops remained, but now there were many new brick buildings used for factories, mills and warehouses. American industry, concentrated in the river valleys and ocean ports of the northeast, had grown with a rush during the Civil War. Behind the fighting lines, factories had turned out rails and telegraph wires, rifles and bullets, boots, uniforms, blankets, tents — all the articles needed for the Union forces. These products of Northern industry made a big difference on the battlefields. Before the war, the South had been an agricultural land, with large plantations worked by slaves and smaller farms worked by poor white farmers. Cotton was the big crop and great quantities of it were sold, especially to the mills of Great Britain. The wealth of the South, based on the unpaid labour of slaves, had given it as much influence within the nation as the North, which was partly agricultural and partly industrial. The South had little industry. When war came, it was unable to keep its fighting men supplied with weapons and other needs. The ill-equipped Southerners were worn down by the well-equipped Northerners, until finally they were completely defeated. The victory of the Union upset the balance of power between the North and the South. With the freeing of the slaves, most of the Southern planters were ruined, while the leaders of industry in the North were …

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The Civil War 1860-1865


AS THE Presidential elections of 1860 drew near, the Democratic party was as hopelessly divided as the nation. The Southern Democrats broke away from the party and nominated John C. Brekinridge of Kentucky as their candidate. He demanded that Congress pass laws protecting slavery in all the American territories, whether the people of the territories wanted slavery or not. Democrats from the northern and border states nominated Stephen A. Douglas, who promised to allow each new state in the West to decide the slavery question tor itself by popular vote. With the Democrats divided, the Republicans were almost certain to win the election, but they needed a candidate and a program that would appeal to most of the voters in the free states. They promised free land for all settlers and one of their campaign slogans was “Vote yourself a farm.” They promised factory owners and workers of the Northeast a high import tax to protect American industry. They also promised that the national government would encourage and help pay for the building of a railroad across the continent. The Republicans chose as their candidate Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. He was a Westerner and a man of the people who had risen in life by his own labour and ability. Even more important politically, he had made fewer enemies than any of the other leading candidates. He was known to be a moderate and sensible man; he was no Abolitionist or extremist. At the same time, he was firmly opposed to slavery and supported the Republican position that slavery must not be allowed to spread beyond the South. THE SOUTH SECEDES While others argued whether or not slavery was lawful under the Constitution, Lincoln went back to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln greatly admired Jefferson. Lincoln maintained …

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A House Divided 1833 – 1859


BEFORE ELI Whitney invented the cotton gin, Southern plantation owners were beginning to wonder if they should not give up their slaves. There was a good market for cotton; the English were buying all the cotton they could get to make into cloth in their new factories. It took too long to separate raw cotton from the seed and raising cotton simply did not pay. If the plantation owners stopped raising cotton, they would really have no need for slaves. Then after the invention of the cotton gin, raising cotton began to pay — and pay well! Cotton became the South’s big cash crop and the more cotton the plantation owners raised, the more slaves they needed. So, slavery grew in the South while it was dying out in other parts of the world. Slavery had been outlawed in the British colonies in 1833, in the French colonies fifteen years later; by this time, too, most of the Latin-American republics had liberated their slaves. The economy of the South was based on slave labour and the vast estates of the plantation owners, with their mansions, slave quarters and outbuildings, resembled the manors of feudal Europe. As a matter of fact, there was much in Southern society that resembled feudalism. The plantation owners formed a kind of aristocracy and lived the lives of country gentlemen; they owned most of the slaves and most of the land. The poorer Southerners also lived by farming, but their land holdings were small and they worked in the fields beside the one or two slaves they could afford. The South had little industry. In the North, on the other hand, while thousands of people still lived by farming, industry was growing day by day. The North needed free labour rather than slaves and Northerners began …

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Adventures in the New World 1519 – 1620

“I DID NOT come to till the soil like a peasant,” said Hernando Cortez. “I came to find gold.” His words echoed the thoughts of almost every Spaniard in the New World. The discovery of the sea route to the West had set off a great treasure hunt. Colonizing and slaughtering, building and plundering, the gold-hungry Spaniards won a Spanish Empire of the West. Conquistadores‚ they were called — the conquerors. None of the treasure-hunters was more cunning or ambitious than Hernando Cortez‚ who came to the island of Hispaniola in 1504. It was not until 1519 that the governor of Hispaniola sent him on an expedition to explore the coast of Central America. Cortez sailed with five ships, 500 soldiers, eleven cannon and fifteen horses. The fleet anchored near the coast of the territory called Mexico and the men went ashore to build a settlement. Cortez ordered the ships dismantled so that none of his men could go back to Hispaniola, then set off on a march inland. Mexico was a vast country whose Indians had built a highly organized civilization and Cortez had a force of less than 500 men. He was a skillful leader; besides, he had firearms and horses –and good luck. Not long after he began his march, a horde of Indians swept out of the hills to attack the Spaniards. As soon as the Spanish cavalry appeared, the Indians fled to safety. As one soldier later wrote, the Indians, “who had never before seen a horse, thought that steed and rider were one creature.” One tribe after another surrendered. They had been conquered by the people called the Aztecs and many of them offered to join Cortez in the fight to destroy the Aztec empire. As the Spaniards and their Indian allies pushed on …

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