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Glossary of American History






























A Virginia slave and blacksmith who organized an attempted assault against Richmond in 1800.

Gallaudet, Thomas Hopkins

Founder of the nation's first school to teach deaf mutes to read and write and communicate through hand signals.

Garrison, William Lloyd

The leader of radical abolitionism, Garrison sought immediate freedom for slaves without compensation to their owners.

Goldwater, Barry

Republican residential candidate in 1964, Goldwater spearheaded an emergent conservative drive out of the South and West. Unhappy with the nation's path toward liberalism, Goldwater called for more limited taxes, a reduction in legislation aiding farmers and organized labor, and a reduction of federal spending.

Good Neighbor Policy

During the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of hemispheric neighbors.

Gorbachev, Mikhail

The last leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev adopted policies of glasnost (political liberalization) and stroika (economic reform).

Gospel of Wealth

The belief that God ordains certain people to amass money and use it to further God's purposes, it justified the concentration of wealth as long as the rich used their money responsibly.

Grand Alliance

In World War II, the alliance between the United States, Great Britain, and France.

Great Awakening

Spilling over into the colonies from a wave of revivals in Europe, the Awakening placed renewed emphasis on vital religious faith, partially in reaction to more secular, rationalist thinking characterizing the Enlightenment. Beginning as scattered revivals in the 1720s, the Awakening grew into a fully developed outpouring of rejuvenated faith by the 1740s. Key figures included Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. The Awakening's legacy included more emphasis on personal choice, as opposed to state mandates about worship, in matters of religious faith.

Great Migration

The mass movement of African Americans from the South to the North during World War I.

Great Society

The liberal reform program of President Lyndon Johnson. The program included civil rights legislation, increased public spending to help the poor, Medicare and Medicaid programs, educational legislation, and liberalized immigration policies.

Greenback Party

A political party founded in 1874 to promote the issuance of legal tender paper currency not backed by precious metals in order to inflate the money supply and relieve the suffering of people hurt by the era's deflation, most of its members merged with the Populist party.


To help fund the military forces used against the Confederacy during the Civil War, the federal Congress issued a paper currency known as greenbacks. Even though greenbacks had no backing in specie (hard currency), this currency held its value fairly well because of mounting confidence the Union would prevail in the war. See also specie.

Grimke, Angelina, and Sarah

Born to a wealthy South Carolina slaveholding family, these sisters became leaders in the abolitionist and women's rights movements.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Following two reported attacks on the U.S.S. Maddox in 1964, American president Lyndon B. Johnson asked for and received this authorization from Congress to "take all necessary measures" to repel attacks, prevent aggression, and protect American security. It allowed Johnson to act without Congressional authorization on military matters in Vietnam.

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Halfway Covenant

Realizing that many children of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's first generation were not actively seeking God's saving grace and full church membership, the question was how to keep the next generation of children active in church affairs. The solution, agreed to in 1662, was to permit the baptism of children and grandchildren of professing saints, thereby according them half-way membership. Full church membership still would come only after individuals testified to a conversion experience. This compromise on standards of membership was seen as a sign of declension. See declension.

Hamilton, Alexander

The first secretary of the treasury and a leader of the Federalist party. As secretary of the treasury, he devised a plan for repaying the nation's debts and promoting economic growth. This plan included funding and assumption of the national and state debts at face value, establishment of the Bank of the United States, and tariffs on imported goods. Hamilton died following a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804.

Harlem Renaissance

Self-conscious African American cultural, literary, and artistic movement centered in Harlem in New York City during the 1920s.

Hartford Convention

Convention held in late 1814 and early 1815 by New Englanders opposed to the War of 1812, which recommended Constitutional amendments to weaken the power of the South and to restrict Congress's power to impose embargoes or declare war.

Haymarket Square Riot

A violent encounter between police and protesters in 1886 in Chicago, which led to the execution of four protest leaders, it scared the public with the specter of labor violence and demonstrated governments' support of industrialists over workers.


As an economic incentive to encourage English to settle in Virginia and other English colonies during the seventeenth century, sponsoring parties would offer 50 acres of land per person to those who migrated or who paid for the passage of others willing to migrate to America. Because of Virginia's high death rate and difficult living conditions, headrights functioned as an inducement to help bolster the colony's low settlement rate.

Helper, Hinton Rowan

The North Carolina-born author of The Impending Crisis of the South, a book that argued that slavery was incompatible with economic progress.


Six German principalities provided 30,000 soldiers to Great Britain to fight against the American rebels during the War for Independence. More than half of these troops-for-hire came from Hesse-Cassel. Hessian thus would serve as the generic term for all German mercenaries fighting in the war, whether or not they came from Hesse-Cassel.

Holy Experiment

Tolerance of religious diversity was at the core of William Penn's vision for a colony in America. As such, the colony of Pennsylvania represented a "holy experiment" for Penn. He encouraged people of all faiths to live together in harmony and to maintain harmonious relations with Native Americans in the region. The residents of early Pennsylvania never fully embraced Penn's vision, but the colony was open to religious dissenters and became a model for the diversity that later characterized America.


Herbert Hoover's program as director of the Food Administration to conserve food during World War I.


Shanty towns of the Great Depression, named after President Herbert Hoover.

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

This House of Representatives committee investigated subversive right- and left-wing movements. During the Cold War, it was best known for its two investigations of the American film industry.

Howe, Samuel Gridley

Founder of the nation's first school for the blind.

Hudson Highlands Strategy

The British tried to execute this strategy early in the War for American Independence but never successfully implemented it. The idea was to gain control of the Hudson River-Lake Champlain corridor running north from New York City and south from Montreal, Canada. Had they done so, the effect would have been to cut off New England, the initial center of rebellion, from the rest of the colonies. New England could then have been reconquered in detail. The failure to coordinate the movements of British forces in 1776 and 1777 resulted in the capture of John Burgoyne's army at Saratoga, New York, in October, which ended any attempt to snuff out the rebellion by retaking New England.

Hydraulic Society

Defined by historian Donald Worster as "a social order based on the intensive manipulation of water and its products in an arid setting," it characterized the irrigated societies of the modern West, allowing for agricultural productivity and a massive demographic shift westward.

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Implied Powers

The view that the national government's powers are not limited to those stated explicitly in the U.S. Constitution.


The British practice of seizing seamen from American merchant ships and forcing them to serve in the British navy. Impressment was one of the causes of the War of 1812.

Imprisonment for Debt

During the early nineteenth century, reformers succeeded in restricting imprisonment of debtors.

Indentured Servitude

In an effort to entice English subjects to the colonies, parties would offer legal bonded contracts that would exchange the cost of passage across the Atlantic for up to seven years of labor in America. Indenture contracts also required masters to provide food, clothing, farm tools, and sometimes land when the term of bonded service had expired, thus allowing former servants the opportunity to gain full economic independence in America.


Redemption certificates pardoning persons from punishment in the afterlife that were being sold by the Roman Catholic church. Martin Luther particularly condemned this practice in his Ninety-five Theses, in bringing on the Protestant Reformation.

The Influence of Sea Power Upon History

1890 book by Alfred Thayer Mahan that argued nations expand their world power through foreign commerce and a strong navy. Strongly influenced American politicians who advocated expansion.

Initiative and Referendum

A procedure that allows citizens to propose legislation through petitions, it was passed by numerous states at the turn of the century but rarely used until the 1970s.

Insanity Defense

The legal principle that a criminal act should only be punished if the offender was fully capable of distinguishing right from wrong.

Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)

The first federal regulatory agency, established by passage of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 to regulate the railroads. The ICC's powers were expanded to oversee other forms of transportation and communication.

Iranian Hostage Crisis

In November 1979, Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy compound in Tehran and held 52 Americans inside hostage for 444 days.

Jackson, Andrew

As major general during the War of 1812, he defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and a British army at the Battle of New Orleans. In 1818, he led an American incursion into Spanish-held Florida. He served as seventh president of the United States from 1829 to 1837.

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Musical style based on improvisation within a band format, combining African traditions of repetition, call and response, and strong beat with European structure.

Jefferson, Thomas

The primary author of the Declaration of Independence, the first secretary of state, and the third president of the United States. As president, he was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807, which sought to end British and French interference with American shipping.

Johnny Reb

This appellation was used to refer to common soldiers serving in Confederate armies during the Civil War. See Billy Yank.

Joint Stock Trading Companies

These companies were given the right to develop trade between England and certain geographic regions, such as Russia or India. Investors would pool their capital, in return for shares of stock, to underwrite trading ventures. One such company, the Virginia Company, failed to secure profits for its investors but laid the basis for the first major English colony in the Americas.

Judicial Review

The power of the courts to determine the constitutionality of acts of other branches of government and to declare unconstitutional acts null and void.

Judiciary Act of 1801

Passed by the Federalists after they had lost control of Congress in the election of 1800, the act reduced the size of the Supreme Court, created a new set of circuit courts, and increased the number of district court judges. The Jeffersonian Republicans repealed the act in 1801.

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Kaiser, Henry J.

Industrialist who epitomized the close relationship between government and industry in the West. His shipyards, financed by government loans and bolstered by cost-plus government contracts, employed close to 300,000 Californians.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

Controversial 1854 legislation that opened Kansas and Nebraska to white settlement, repealed the Compromise of 1820, and led opponents to form the Republican party.

Kennedy, Robert

After an early public life as a committed Cold Warrior, Kennedy ran for the Democratic nomination in 1968 as a peace candidate representative of young liberals. His assassination while on the campaign trail helped create the disenchantment of many young Americans with the political process.

Khrushchev, Nikita

Personable Soviet premier during Eisenhower's presidential term. Khrushchev condemned Stalin's purges and welcomed a melting of the Cold War, although he crushed a 1956 democratic uprising in Hungary.

Kissinger, Henry

The national security advisor to President Nixon, the Harvard-educated German Jewish immigrant was a staunch anti-Communist. He was Nixon's closest associate on matters of foreign policy.

Knights of Labor

A labor organization founded in 1869, it called for the unity of all workers, rejected industrial capitalism, and favored cooperatively owned businesses but was discredited by such labor violence as the Haymarket Square riot and did not survive the depression of the 1890s.

Know Nothing Party

An anti-foreign, anti-Catholic political party that arose following massive Irish and Catholic immigration during the late 1840s. The Know Nothing party replaced the Whigs as the second largest party in New England and some other states between 1853 and 1856.

Ku Klux Klan

A secret organization founded in the southern states during Reconstruction to terrorize and intimidate former slaves and prevent them from voting or holding public office. Officially disbanded in 1869, a second anti-black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic Klan emerged in 1915 that aimed to preserve "Americanism."

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An economic theory based upon the ideas of Adam Smith, it contended that in a free economy self-interest would lead individuals to act in ways that benefited society as a whole and therefore government should not intervene.

Large Policy

Bold foreign policy put forth by Henry Cabot Lodge and others, advocating a canal through the Central American isthmus and a strong American naval presence in the Caribbean and Pacific.

League of Nations

Point Fourteen of Wilson's Fourteen Points, the proposal to establish an international organization to guarantee the territorial integrity of independent nations.

Lend-Lease Act

The program by which the United States provided arms and supplies to the Allies in World War II before joining the fighting.

Liberty Party

An antislavery political party founded in 1839.

Liluokalani, Queen

Rising to power in Hawaii in 1891, she initiated a strong anti-American policy. Her overthrow in 1893 by white islanders paved the way for ultimate American annexation in 1897.

Little Rock Crisis

Conflict in 1957 when governor Orval Faubus sent the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the racial integration of Little Rock's Central High School. After a crucial delay, President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard troops and sent in 1000 paratroopers to foster the school's integration.

Loose Interpretation

The view that the national government has the power to create agencies or enact statutes to fulfill the powers granted by the U.S. Constitution.

Louverture, Toussaint

The leader of the Haitian Revolution.

Loyal Nine

This informal group of pro-colonial rights leaders in Boston helped organize resistance against unwanted British policies, such as the Stamp Act. Working with more visible popular leaders like Samuel Adams and street leaders like Ebenezer Mackintosh, the Loyal Nine both planned and gave overall direction to controlled violent protests in defying the imperial will and protecting the community's interests in Boston during the 1760s.


British ship carrying American passengers sunk by a German submarine on May 15, 1915.

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MacArthur, General Douglas

Bold, arrogant American general celebrated for his successful amphibious invasion at Inchon, on North Korean forces' rear. MacArthur's subsequent invasion into North Korea stalled, and President Truman removed him from command after his inflammatory, egomaniacal criticisms of America's containment policy.

Macon's Bill No. 2

An attempt to stop British and French interference with American trade.

Madison, James

The Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and a co-founder of the Jeffersonian Republican party, Madison served as president during the War of 1812.

Malcolm X

Spokesman for the Nation of Islam, a black religious and political organization that advocated black-owned businesses and castigated "white devils." He achieved notoriety as a public speaker and recruiter of boxer Muhammad Ali to the organization. He left the Nation of Islam in 1964 to form the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964, and was assassinated in 1965.

Manhattan Project

The secret government program to develop an atomic bomb during World War II.

Mann, Horace

The early nineteenth century's leading educational reformer, Mann led the fight for government support for public schools in Massachusetts.


The freeing or emancipation of chattel slaves by their owners, which became more common in the upper South in the wake of so much talk during the American Revolution about human liberty. George Washington was among those planters who provided for the manumission of his slaves after the death of his wife Martha.

Marbury v. Madison

This landmark 1803 Supreme Court decision, which established the principle of judicial review, marked the first time that the Court declared an act of Congress unconstitutional.


Escaped slaves who formed communities of runaways.

Marquis of Queensberry Rules

Standardized boxing rules of the late nineteenth century, creating structured three minute rounds with one minute rest periods, outlawing wrestling throws and holds, and specifying the number of rounds.

Marshall Plan

A massive foreign aid program to Western Europe of $17 billion over four years, beginning in 1948. Named after Secretary of State George Marshall, the program restored economic prosperity to the region and stabilized its system of democracy and capitalism.

Marshall, John

Appointed Chief Justice in 1801, Marshall expanded the Supreme Court's power and prestige and established its power to determine the constitutionality of the acts of other branches of government and to declare unconstitutional acts null and void. He defended the supremacy of the federal government over state governments and held that the Constitution should be.construed broadly and flexibly.


Unlike European nations that were male-based, or patrilineal, in organization, many Native American societies structured tribal and family power and authority through women. Quite often use rights to land and personal property passed from mother to daughter, and the eldest women chose male chiefs. Matrilineal societies thus placed great importance on the capacities of women to provide for the long-term welfare of their tribes.

McCullough v. Maryland

A landmark 1819 Supreme Court decision establishing Congress's power to charter a national bank and declaring unconstitutional a tax imposed by Maryland on the bank's Baltimore branch.


An economic system built on the assumption that the world's supply of wealth is fixed and that nations must export more goods than they import to assure a steady supply of gold and silver into national coffers. Mercantile thinkers saw the inflow of such wealth as the key to maintaining and enhancing national power and self-sufficiency. Within this context, the accumulation and development of colonies was of great importance, since colonies could supply scarce raw materials to parent nations and serve as markets for finished goods.

Meredith, James

Black student who courageously sought admission into all-white University of Mississippi in 1962. His enrollment sparked a riot instigated by a white mob that attacked federal marshals and national guard troops, leaving 2 dead and 375 injured. Meredith attended the university and eventually graduated.

Military Reconstruction Act

A law passed after the South's refusal to accept the Fourteenth Amendment in 1867, it nullified existing state governments and divided the South into five military districts - headed by military governors.

Modern Republicanism

Also called "dynamic conservatism," President Eisenhower's domestic agenda advocated conservative spending approaches without drastically cutting back New Deal social programs.

Monroe Doctrine

In this 1823 statement of American foreign policy, President James Monroe declared that the United States would not allow European powers to create new colonies in the Western Hemisphere or to expand the boundaries of existing colonies.

Monroe, James

1758-1831. The fifth President of the United States (1817-1825) during the era of Good Feelings. His administration was marked by the acquisition of Florida (1819), the Missouri Compromise (1820), in which Missouri was declared a slave state, and the profession of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), which declared U.S. opposition to European interference in the Americas.


Investigative journalists during the Progressive Era, they wrote sensational exposes of social and political problems that helped spark the reform movements of their day.


A reform faction of the Republican party in the 1870s and 1880s, they crusaded for honest and effective government and some supported Democratic reform candidates.

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