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Glossary of American History





























National Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)

An organization formed in 1890 from two factions of the suffrage movement, it sought a constitutional amendment to grant women the right to vote throughout the nation, eventually leading to the Nineteenth Amendment.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Organization established in 1909 to fight for African-American civil rights through legal action.

National Origins Act of 1924

Law that restricted immigration to 2 percent for any given nationality, based on the total amounts from the 1890 census. Use of the 1890 census effectively restricted immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.

National Recovery Administration (NRA)

The federal government's plan to revive industry during the Great Depression through rational planning.

National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act

1956 legislation creating national highway system of 41,000 miles, costing $26 billion and taking 13 years to construct. It solidified the central role of the automobile in American culture.


These revolutionary leaders favored a stronger national government than the one provided for in the Articles of Confederation. They believed that only a powerful national government, rather than self-serving states, could deal effectively with the many vexing problems besetting the new nation. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison were prominent nationalists.


A backlash against immigration by white native-born Protestants. Nativism could be based on racial prejudice (professors and scientists sometimes classified Eastern Europeans as innately inferior), religion (Protestants distrusted Catholics and Jews), politics (immigrants were often associated with radical political philosophies), and economics (labor leaders resented competition).


Literary style of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, where the individual was seen as a helpless victim in a world in which biological, social, and psychological forces determined his or her fate.

Navigation System

To effect mercantilist goals, King and Parliament legislated a series of Navigation Acts (1651, 1660,1663, 1673, 1696) that established England as the central hub of trade in its emerging empire. Various rules of trade, as embodied in the Navigation Acts, made it clear that England's colonies in the Americas existed first and foremost to serve the parent nation's economic interests, regardless of what was best for the colonists.


U.S. policy of impartiality during World Wars I and II.

New Deal

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's program designed to bring about economic recovery and reform during the Great Depression.

New Lights

As the Great Awakening spread during the 1730s and 1740s, various religious groups fractured into two camps, sometimes known as the New Lights and Old Lights. The New Lights placed emphasis on a "new birth" conversion experience--gaining God's saving grace. They also demanded ministers who had clearly experienced conversions themselves. See Old Lights.

The New Look

President Eisenhower's adjustment to the doctrine of containment. He advocated saving money by emphasizing nuclear over conventional weapons, on the premise that the next major world conflict would be nuclear.

New South

The ideology following Reconstruction that the South could be restored to its previous glory through a diversified economy, it was used to rally Southerners and convince outside investors to underwrite regional industrialization by extolling the resources, labor supply, and racial harmony of the South.

Nineteenth Amendment

Passed in 1920, the Constitutional guarantee of women's right to vote.

Nixon Doctrine

President Nixon argued for "Vietnamization," the notion that the South Vietnamese would carry more of the war's combat burden. This plan never reached full realization because of the South Vietnamese inability to carry on the war effort without American troops.

Non-Intercourse Act

An 1809 statute which replaced the Embargo of 1807. It forbade trade with Britain, France, and their possessions, but reopened trade with other countries.


Religious dissenters from England who wanted to purify, rather than separate from, what they viewed as the corrupted, state-supported Anglican church, or Church of England. By and large, the Puritans were nonseparatists,and some of them banded together to form a utopian community of believers in America. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was to be a model society that would show how godly societies and churches were to be properly organized. See separatists.

Northwest Passage

During the Age of Exploration, adventurers from England, France, and the Netherlands kept seeking an all-water route across North America. The goal was to gain access to Oriental material goods and riches while avoiding contact with the developing Spanish empire farther to the south in Central and South America.


Influential National Security Council document arguing communism was a monolithic world movement directed from the Kremlin and advocating a massive military buildup to counteract the encroachment of communism.


The doctrine, devised by John C. Calhoun, that a state has the power to nullify a federal legislation within its borders.

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Oil Crisis

Oil supply disruptions and soaring oil prices that the United States experienced in 1973 and 1979. In 1973, Middle Eastern nations imposed an embargo on oil shipments to punish the West for supporting Israel in that year's Arab-Israeli war. A second oil shock occurred when the Iranian Revolution disrupted oil shipments to the western nations.

Old Lights

As the Great Awakening spread during the 1730s and 1740s, various religious groups fractured into two camps, sometimes known as the Old Lights and the New Lights. The Old Lights were not very enthusiastic about the Awakening, particularly in terms of what they viewed as popular excesses in seeking after God's grace. Old Light ministers emphasized formal schooling in theology as a source of their religious authority, and they emphasized good order in their churches. See New Lights.

O'Malley, Walter

Penny-pinching owner of baseball's Dodgers who oversaw their 1958 move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Unhappy with the deterioration of Brooklyn's neighborhoods and lured by the economic promise of California, the Dodgers' move west illustrated the profound westward - demographic shift in modern America.

Open Door Note

Policy set forth in 1899 by Secretary of State John Hay preventing further partitioning of China by European powers, and protecting the principle of free trade.

Operation Just Cause

An American military intervention in Panama in December 1989, which was launched after Panama's leader, Manuel Noriega, who was indicted on drug-related charges, invalidated civilian elections and declared a state of war with the United States.

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Panic of 1837

A financial depression that lasted until the early 1840s.

Parks, Rosa

African-American seamstress and active NAACP member arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white patron in Montgomery, Alabama, prompting a huge bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr.


Patriarchal social and political systems are denoted by power and authority residing in males, such as in the father of the family. Such authority then passes from father to son through the generations, and males, in general, control decision making. See coverture.

Patrons of Husbandry

An organization founded in 1867 to aid farmers through its local granges, it was responsible for state laws regulating railroads, established cooperatives to help with marketing problems, and provided a social outlet for rural areas.

Pearl Harbor

The main base of the U.S. Pacific fleet, which Japan attacked on December 7, 1941, forcing the United States to enter World War II.

Pendleton Act

A law passed in 1883 to eliminate political corruption in the federal government, it outlawed political contributions by appointed officeholders and established the Civil Service Commission to administer competitive examinations for covered government jobs.

Permanent Immigrants

Immigrants coming to America to settle permanently, often due to ethnic and religious persecution at home.

Perpetual Servitude

Indentured servitude represented temporary service for a specified period, usually from four to seven years, to a legally designated owner. Perpetual servitude meant being owned by some other person for life--and ultimately, even through the generations. In the early days of Virginia, both English subjects and African Americans were indentured servants, but over time blacks would be subjected to perpetual servitude as chattels, defined as the movable property of their all-powerful masters and without legal rights of any kind.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Communist China's chairman Mao Tse-tung sent a table tennis team to the world championships in Nagoya, Japan, and then invited an American team to compete in Japan in 1971. This small gesture paved the way for President Nixon's visit to China in February 1972.

Plantation Legend

A stereotype created by popular pre-Civil War writers, that depicted the South as a region of aristocratic planters, beautiful Southern belles, poor white trash, and faithful household slaves.

Platt Amendment

1901 amendment to the Army Appropriation Bill, limiting Cuban independence by giving the United States two naval bases on Cuba and the right to intervene in Cuban affairs if the American government felt Cuban independence was threatened.

Plessy v. Ferguson

A Supreme Court decision in 1896 that ruled "separate but equal" facilities for African Americans were constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, it had the effect of legalizing segregation and led to the passage of much discriminatory legislation known as Jim Crow laws.

Political Slavery

During the 1760s and 1770s many colonial leaders believed that if they did not keep resisting unwanted British policies, they would fall into a state of political slavery in which they had no liberties. As such, they would be akin to chattel slaves in their midst. Comprehending how potentially tyrannical chattel slavery was spurred on many colonists to defend American liberties, even to the point of open rebellion.

Polk, James K.

As president of the United States during the Mexican War, Polk increased American territory by a third.

Popular Sovereignty

The principle, incorporated into the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, that the people living in the western territories should decide whether or not to permit slavery.

Populist (People's) Party

A political party established in 1892 primarily by remnants of the Farrners' Alliance and Greenback party, it sought to inflate the currency with silver dollars and to establish an income tax but some of its platform was adopted by the Democrats in 1896 and it died out after the defeat of joint candidate William Jennings Bryan.


A distinctly American philosophy proposed by William James, it contends that any concept should be tested and its validity determined by its outcome and that the truth of an idea is found in the conduct it dictates or inspires.

Price Revolution

The large influx of gold and silver into Europe from Spanish America during the sixteenth century, along with increased demand for limited supplies of goods, set off a three-fold rise in prices (the "great inflation") that caused profound economic turmoil, social disruption, and political instability among European peoples and nations.

Progressive (Bull Moose) Party

A political party established in 1912 by supporters of Theodore Roosevelt after William H. Taft won the Republican presidential nomination. The party proposed a broad program of reform but Bull Moose candidate Roosevelt and Republican nominee lost to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.


The ban of the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1919, established prohibition. The amendment was repealed in 1933, with adoption of the Twenty-first Amendment.

Protestant Reformation

A religious reform movement formally begun in 1517 when the German friar Martin Luther openly attacked abuses of Roman Catholic doctrine. Luther contended that the people could read scripture for themselves in seeking God's grace and that the Bible, not church doctrine, was the ultimate authority in human relationships. Luther's complaints helped foster a variety of dissenting religious groups, some of which would settle in America to get away from various forms of oppression in Europe.

Public Virtue

A cornerstone of good citizenship in republican states, public virtue involved the subordination of individual self-interest to serving the greater good of the whole community. Revolutionary leaders believed that public virtue was essential for a republic to survive and thrive. If absent, governments would be torn apart by competing private interests and succumb to anarchy, at which point tyrants would emerge to offer political stability but with the loss of dearly won political liberties.

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Radical Republicans

A faction of the Republican party during Reconstruction, they favored forcing the South to make fundamental changes before readmission to the Union. Eventually they won control because of Southerners' refusal to accept more lenient plans for Reconstruction.

Radical Revolutionaries

At the time of the American Revolution, they argued in favor of establishing more democratic forms of government. Radical revolutionaries had a strong trust in the people, viewed them as inherently virtuous (see public virtue), and believed that citizens could govern themselves. Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine might be described as radical revolutionaries. See cautious revolutionaries.

Rage Militaire

Meaning a passion for arms, the rage militaire characterized the attitudes of American colonists as the war with Great Britain began in 1775. When the ravages and deprivations of warfare became more self-evident, however, this early enthusiasm gave out. In 1776 Thomas Paine criticized the "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots" among the colonists who seemed so eager to fight at the beginning of the War for Independence but who so quickly dropped out as the dangers of engaging in warfare increased.


A main tenet of the Enlightenment era, meaning a firm trust in the ability of the human mind to solve earthly problems, thereby lessening the role of--and reliance on God as an active force in the ordering of human affairs.

Reagan Doctrine

President Ronald Reagan's 1985 pledge of American aid to insurgent movements attempting to overthrow Soviet-back regimes in the Third World.


The redemptioner labor system was similar to that of indentured servitude in providing a way for persons without financial means to get to America. Normally, the family had to locate someone to pay for its passage in return for a set number of years of labor. If no buyer could be found, then ships captains could sell the family's labor, most likely on less desirable terms for the family, to recoup the costs of passage. Thousands of Germans migrated to America as redemptioners in the eighteenth century.


See Initiative and Referendum

Reform Darwinists

Sociologists who rejected the determinism of the Social Darwinists, they accepted evolutionary theory but held that people could shape their environment rather than only be shaped by it and accepted human intervention in society.

Religious Liberalism

A religious viewpoint that rejected the Calvinist doctrines of original sin and predestination and stressed the basic goodness of human nature.

Remember the Maine!

A national catch phrase following the mysterious 1898 explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor, inflamed public opinion, leading to the Spanish-American War.

Removal (Indian Removal Policy)

A policy of resettling eastern Indian tribes on lands west of the Mississippi River.


Beginning in the 1400s, the European Renaissance represented an intellectual and cultural flowering in the arts, literature, philosophy, and the sciences. One of the most important tenets of the Renaissance was the belief in human progress, or the betterment of society.

Republican Motherhood

This definition of motherhood, emanating from the American Revolution, assigned mothers the task of raising dutiful children, especially sons, who would be prepared to serve the nation in disinterested fashion (see public virtue). Mothers thus acquired the special charge of assuring that future generations could uphold the tenets of republicanism. This expanded role for mothers meant that women, not men, would be responsible for the domestic sphere of life.


At the time of the American Revolution, republicanism referred to the concept that sovereignty, or ultimate political authority, is vested in the people--the citizens of the nation. As such, republican governments not only derive their authority from the consent of the governed but also predicate themselves on the principles of rule by law and legislation by elected representatives.


A political party founded by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to combat Alexander Hamilton's fiscal policies.

Rock and Roll

Musical style new to the 1950s, combining black rhythm and blues with white country music. Listened to mostly by young Americans and embodied by Elvis Presley, the music softly challenged notions of sexual propriety and racial division.

Roderigue Hortalez & Cie.

Prior to its formal involvement in the War for Independence, the French government supplied the American rebels with critically needed war goods through a bogus private trading firm known as Roderigue Hortalez & Cie. French officials did so because they hoped to see the power of Great Britain reduced but without becoming directly engaged in the war itself. Once the Franco-American alliance came into being in 1778, the French could abandon such ruses in favor of open support of their rebel allies.

Rosenberg, Julius and Ethel

American radicals accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets during World War II. Although the death penalty was not mandatory for their crime, their 1953 execution reflected the national anti-communist hysteria.

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