USA Modern History Glossary:
Terms and definitions as used in early twenty-first-century USA Modern History in the United States of America.


Alien and Sedition Acts.
1798: Four acts passed in 1798 by the Federalist Congress to suppress dissent from Federalist policies. The Acts curtailed freedom of speech and the liberty of foreign United States residents.

Alien Enemies Act.
1798: One of the Alien and Sedition Acts passed in 1798 by Congress: authorized the president to deport (in the event of war) any alien thought to endanger the public peace.

Alien Friends Act.
1798: One of the Alien and Sedition Acts passed in 1798 by Congress: authorized the president to deport even in peacetime any alien suspected of subversive activities.

Anglo-American Accords.
1818: At the 1818 British-American Convention, agreements that included establishing the 49th parallel as the western boundary between the United States and Canada.

Articles of Confederation.
1781: Ratified 1781 the confederation of states that rebelled against England. Their Articles were the first United States' constitution. They denied the national government any coercive power including the power to tax and to regulate trade. They established the loose confederation of states that was the U.S. first national government (1781-1788).

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention were authorized to produce a revision the Articles of Confederation, to remove weaknesses:
  1. The national government could not levy taxes or regulate commerce.
  2. The states retained sovereignty and independence.
  3. Each state had only one vote in Congress.
  4. Any amendment to the Articles required all thirteen states' consent.
  5. Any non-amendment measure required at least nine of thirteen votes in Congress.
  6. The confederation's army was small, dependent on state militias.
  7. Lack of a national judicial system.


Banking Act of 1935.
1935: A law passed to strengthen the Federal Reserve Board's authority over the nation's currency and credit system.

Bear Flag Republic.
1846: The covert take-over of the Mexican state of California. A covert small number of Americans (tacitly supported by U.S. Military forces) declared California independence from Mexican central government. This informal "Bear Flag Republic" tottered along for two years will the U.S. formally annexed California in 1848.

Brown v. Board of Education.
1954: The Supreme Court found segregation in schools inherently unequal and in violation of the Constitution. The decision reversed the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that had established the "separate but equal" doctrine.


An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are mainly in private ownership for private gain at the expense of the non-owners. Mechanisms include free markets and freedom of contract.

Carter, Jimmy.
1976: Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia, elected president in 1976.

Categorical Grants.
Federal funds granted to state and local governments for specific programs or projects. Compare with Block Grants.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Intelligence organization that deals with foreign threats and enemies.

Checks and Balances.
A principle of a system of government whereby each branch of the government can check the actions of the others. As originally conceived, this was true of the government of the USA.

closed shop.
Employment situation where a provision in a labor contract requires new workers to join a union as a condition of employment. Closed shops were outlawed by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.


Constitutional Convention.
1787: meeting of delegates from the States that fought the Revolutionary War.


Dawes Act.
In 1887, this law terminated tribal ownership of land in the USA. It allotted 160-acre parcels of farmland or 320 acres of grazing land to individual Indians. The remainder of the land was opened for white settlement.

Department of Defense (DOD).
1947: Created to bring all activities of the American military establishment under the jurisdiction of a single department headed by a civilian.

Dollar diplomacy.
A foreign policy under President William Taft. It theorized that American economic intrusion would not only accrue profit and power to the United States (without the need to for U.S. military control of the region) but would also stabilize underdeveloped nations; Latin America and Asia were of main interest.


Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC).
A government program that gives back to low-income workers part of their Social Security taxes.

Electoral College.
In the USA, the electors selected by the voters in each state and the District of Columbia; these electors formally elect the president and vice president of the USA. The number of electors of a state equals the number of each state's representatives in the two chambers of Congress.


Historically, a person in favor of the adoption of the US Constitution in 1787, with its system for keeping some factors from dominating others, and the creation of a federal union with a strong central government.

Federalist Paper 10.
James Madison's essay claiming:S'liberty is safest in a large republic where many interests compete. Such diversity make tyranny by the majority more difficult since ruling coalitions will need to be more moderate'.

Federalist Papers.
85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in defense of the new constitution. Published in New York papers to convince New Yorkers to vote for ratification of the newly proposed constitution.

Field Order No. 15.
In January 1865, by General William T. Sherman issued this order, which declared that abandoned land on the southern Atlantic coast would be set aside for 40-acre grants to freedman. President Andrew Johnson rescinded it a few months later.

Fifteenth Amendment.
Passed in 1870, this constitutional amendment forbids all states to deny the vote to anyone on the basis of race, color, or servitude.

Fourteenth Amendment.
Passed in 1866, this constitutional amendment (incorporating some of the features of the 1866 Civil Rights Act) prohibits states from violating the civil rights of its citizens. States can choose to disallow blacks to vote or losing representation in Congress.

Freedman (or freedperson).
A person freed from slavery.

Freedmen's Bureau.
After the U.S. Civil War, this federal refugee agency was established to help former slaves and poor whites. It provided food and clothing, helped find jobs, set up schools. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the Freedmen's Bureau renewal bill. Congress overrode his veto.


Great Compromise.
The compromise between the New Jersey and the Virginia plans. It created one chamber of the Congress based on population and one chamber representing each state equally. [Also called the Connecticut Compromise.]


Horizontal integration.
Merger of competitors in the same industry. Contrast with vertical integration.


Iron Curtain.
Winston Churchill's term for the barrier of censorship and secrecy that he perceived being imposed (specifically in Europe after World War II) by the Soviet Union between its region of influence (the Soviet Bloc) and rest of the world.


Judicial Review.
The power of a court (the Supreme Court or any other court) to declare unconstitutional federal or state laws and other acts of government.




Madisonian Model.
The structure of government proposed by James Madison in which the powers of the government are separated into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

Malcolm X.
Malcolm X autobiography.

A joint state-federal program providing medical care to the poor.

Monroe Doctrine.
2 December 1822, President James Monroe's message to Congress said that any attempt by European powers to acquire territory on the American continent or to interfere in the affairs of any American country would be regarded by the U.S.A. as an unfriendly act. This was the foundation of U.S.A. isolationist foreign policy toward Europe in the 1800s.


National Security Council (NSC).
Agency (housed in the Executive Office of the President) that advises the President on integrating "domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security".


A state of peace and security, maintained by protecting citizens from violence and criminal activity.


  1. 1789-1797: George Washington.
  2. 1797-1801: John Adams. Washington's vice-president; defeated Jefferson for the presidency in the election of 1796. Resisted his party's demand for war with France.
  3. 1801-1809: Thomas Jefferson.
  4. 1809-1817: James Madison.
  5. 1817-1825: James Monroe.
  6. 1825-1829: John Quincy Adams. Successful secretary of state for President Monroe; but a single troubled and unsuccessful presidency.
  7. 1829-1837: Andrew Jackson.
  8. 1837-1841: Martin Van Buren.
  9. 1841-1841: William H. Harrison.
  10. 1841-1845: John Tyler.
  11. 1845-1849: James K. Polk.
  12. 1849-1850: Zachary Taylor.
  13. 1850-1853: Millard Fillmore.
  14. 1853-1857: Franklin Pierce.
  15. 1857-1861: James Buchanan. Experienced diplomat. Won the presidency as the nominee of the Democratic party. But during his term, the Democratic party divided North and South, and he was indecisive during the subsequent Secession Crisis (1860-1861).
  16. 1861-1865: Abraham Lincoln.
  17. 1865-1869: Andrew Johnson.
  18. 1869-1877: Ulysses S. Grant. General commander of Union forces; received General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Elected president in 1868 and 1872. Scandal-ridden administration.
  19. 1877-1881: Rutherford B. Hayes. (Republican) Elected when an electoral commission gave him disputed electoral votes. Weak leader.
  20. 1881-1881: James A. Garfield. A compromise (and relatively unknown) Republican nominee. A weak and indecisive leader. Assassinated four months into his presidency by Charles Guiteau.
  21. 1881-1885: Chester A. Arthur. Garfield's vice-president; became president when Garfield was assassinated in 1881. Weak leader.
  22. 1885-1889: Grover Cleveland. Elected 1884 and 1892; the only Democrat elected president between 1856 and 1912.
  23. 1889-1893: Benjamin Harrison. Harrison accused Democrats of treason for the Civil War. Mainly deferred to Congress.
  24. 1893-1897: Grover Cleveland.
  25. 1897-1901: William McKinley. Assassinated in 1901 by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz.
  26. 1901-1909: Theodore Roosevelt.
  27. 1909-1913: William H. Taft. See his:
  28. 1913-1921: Woodrow Wilson.
  29. 1921-1923: Warren G. Harding.
  30. 1923-1929: Calvin Coolidge. Conservative; laissez-faire economics; complacency, despite the increasing economic hardships of U.S. citizens at the approach of the Great Depression.
  31. 1929-1933: Herbert C. Hoover. Hoover was never elected to office prior to election as president. He was an experienced administrator and he led the New Era movement of government-business cooperation; the 1929 stock-market crash damaged his presidency.
  32. 1933-1945: Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  33. 1945-1953: Harry S. Truman.
  34. 1953-1961: Dwight D. Eisenhower. General 'Ike' Eisenhower commanded Allied forces in Europe in World War II and planned the D-Day Normandy invasion. Elected president for two terms.
  35. 1961-1963: John F. Kennedy.
  36. 1963-1969: Lyndon B. Johnson.
  37. 1969-1974: Richard M. Nixon.
  38. 1974-1977: Gerald R. Ford. A Republican congressman from Michigan; replaced Agnew (resigned in 1973) as Vice-president; when President Nixon resigned, Ford became president. Defeated in 1976 election by Democrat Jimmy Carter.
  39. 1977-1981: James Carter.
  40. 1981-1989: Ronald Reagan.
  41. 1989-1993: George H.W. Bush. Served as vice-president, then elected president. More moderate than Reagan. Broke (1990) his pre-election promised of "no new taxes". Invaded Panama (1989) and the Persian Gulf (1991).
  42. 1993-2001: William (Bill) Clinton. Governor of Arkansas; elected president in 1992 and 1996. His two administrations created moderate and flexible domestic policy and noninterventionist foreign policy.
  43. 2001-2009: George W. Bush (the Junior Bush).
  44. 2009-: Barack Obama.

Presidential System [AGBV, 2005].
Representative democracy where political power is vested in separately elected and appointed branches of national government. This system is used in the USA.




Shays Rebellion.
1787: Soldiers of the Revolutionary War were led by Daniel Shays to prevent foreclosure of farms as a result of high interest rates and taxes. This rebellion highlighted the weakness of individual states in such situations and the need for a federation.

Social Security Tax.
An example of a regressive tax.

Supremacy Clause.
The provision in the U.S. Constitution that makes the Constitution and the federal laws superior to any conflicting state and local laws.

Supremacy Doctrine.
Doctrine that asserts the priority of national law over state laws. In the USA, this principle is in Article VI of the Constitution, which provides that the supreme law of the land comprises:


Taft-Hartley Act.
1947 Act mandated:



Vertical integration.
The consolidation within a single company of all of the production functions, from the extraction of the raw materials to the distribution of the finished goods. Example: Carnegie Steel was controlled the extraction and shipping of its ore, coke, and limestone, as well as the production and marketing of steel. Contrast with horizontal integration.

Virginia Plan.
Proposed at Constitutional Convention; recommended three branches of government, and that all state laws would be subject to the veto by national legislature.



X: Malcolm X.
Malcolm X autobiography.



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