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Glossary of American History





























Sagebrush Rebellion

Failed movement led by conservative Western politicians to cede federal control of western land to individual states, promoting private ownership and commercial development.

Salisbury, Lord

Imperious British prime minister who rejected American intervention in an 1895 border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, prompting an American threat of military involvement. Salisbury ultimately reversed his position and allowed a commission to arbitrate the dispute.

Salutary Neglect

This term signifies England's relatively benign neglect of its American colonies from about 1690 to 1760. During these years King and Parliament rarely legislated constraints of any kind and allowed the colonists much autonomy in provincial and local matters. In turn, the colonists supported the parent nation's economic political objectives. This harmonious period came to an end after the Seven Year's War when King and Parliament began asserting more control over the American colonists through taxes and trade regulations.

Santa Anna, General Antonio Lopez de

The Mexican general and president whose defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 permitted Texas to gain its independence.


Southern white Republicans during Reconstruction, they came from every class and had a variety of motives but were pictured by their opponents as ignorant and degraded.

Scopes Trial

The 1925 trial of John Scopes for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in a Tennessee public school; also called the "Monkey Trial."

Scott, Dred

A Missouri slave, Scott sued for his freedom on the grounds that his master had taken him onto free soil. The Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that Scott was not a citizen and that Congress had no power to exclude slavery from the federal territories.

Second Bank of the United States

A national bank chartered in 1816 to hold government funds, ease the transfer of money across state lines, and regulate private banks. Its federal charter expired in 1836. See Bank of the United States

Second Continental Congress

This body gathered in Philadelphia during May 1775 after the shooting war with Great Britain had started. The second Congress functioned as a coordinating government for the colonies and states in providing overall direction for the patriot war effort. It continued as a central legislative body under the Articles of Confederation until 1789 when a new national legislature, the federal Congress as established under the Constitution of 1787, first convened.

Second Great Awakening

A wave of religious fervor and revivalism that swept the United States from the early nineteenth century through the Civil War.

Second New Deal

The second stage of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's economic recovery and reform program, launched January 4, 1935.


Religious dissenters from England who believed that the state-supported Anglican church, or Church of England, was too corrupt to be reformed. Thus, like the Pilgrims, they often migrated elsewhere to form their own religious communities. See nonseparatists.

Settlement House Movement

A reform movement growing out of Jane Addams' Hull House in the late nineteenth century, it led to the formation of community centers in which mainly middle-class women sought to meet the needs of recent immigrants to urban centers.

Seward, William Henry

Secretary of State for Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, and advocate of a vigorous expansionism. He is perhaps best known for the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, an act labeled "Seward's Folly."


A system of labor to replace slavery that allowed landless farmers to work the land of others for a share of the crops they produced. It was favored by freed people over gang labor but often resulted in virtual peonage.

Shays Rebellion

Beset by a hard-hitting economic depression after the War of American Independence, these farmers from western Massachusetts finally rose up in rebellion against their state government in 1786 because they had failed to obtain tax relief. One leader of the uprising was Daniel Shays, from whom the Shaysites derived their name.

Sherman Antitrust Act

A law passed in 1890 to break up trusts and monopolies, it was rarely enforced except against labor unions and most of its power was stripped away by the Supreme Court, but it began federal attempts to prevent unfair, anti-competitive business practices.


A form of nonviolent protest in which civil rights activists occupy seats in a segregated establishment.

Slave Codes

Legal codes that defined the slaveholders' power and the slaves' status as property.

Smith, Joseph, Jr.

The founder of the Mormon Church, Smith was murdered in Illinois in 1844.


The chemical-laden fog caused by automobile engines, a serious problem in southern California. Like nuclear waste and the shrinking water supply, it reflects the problems associated with the rapid demographic shift to the West in modem times.

Social Darwinism

An ideology based upon the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, it justified the concentration of wealth and lack of governmental protection of the weak through the ideas of natural selection and survival of the fittest.

Social Gospel

A movement among Christian theologians, it applied Christian doctrines to social problems and advocated creating living conditions conducive to saving souls by tackling the problems of the poor.

Southern Strategy

Once France formally entered the War for Independence in 1778 on the American side, the British had to concern themselves with protecting such vital holdings as their sugar islands in the Caribbean region. Needing to disperse their troop strength, the idea of the Southern strategy was to tap into a perceived reservoir of loyalist numbers in the southern colonies. Reduced British forces could employ these loyalists as troops in subduing the rebels and as civil officials in reestablishing royal governments. The plan failed for many reasons, including a shortfall of loyalist support and an inability to hold ground once conquered in places like South Carolina.


A term for hard coin, such as gold or silver, that can also back and give a fixed point of valuation to paper currencies.


Religious songs composed by enslaved African Americans.

Spoils System

The policy of awarding political or financial help with a government job. Abuses of the spoils system led to the passage in 1883 of the Pendleton Act, which created the Civil Service Commission to award government jobs on the basis of merit.


Russian satellite that successfully orbited the earth in 1957, prompting Americans to question their own values and educational system. The hysteria over Soviet technological superiority led to the 1958 National Defense Education Act.


The economic conditions of slow economic growth, rising inflation, and flagging productivity that characterized the American economy during the 1970s.

Stalin, Joseph

Soviet premier in the 1930s and 1940s, known for his violent purges of internal political enemies and his suspicion of Western leaders, an ideology guided by two major German invasions into Russia.

Stamp Act Congress

This intercolonial body of political leaders from nine colonies met for a few days in October 1765 to consider ways to protest the Stamp Act. The delegates drafted a petition declaring that Parliament should not tax Americans, since they were not represented in that legislative body. The Congress showed that the colonies, when aggrieved, could act in unity, an important precedent for further intercolonial resistance efforts in years to come.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady

Organizer of the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, Stanton led the struggle for woman suffrage.

Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty of 1972 (SALT I)

Arms control treaty signed by President Nixon and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev. Although it only froze the deployment of relatively inconsequential intercontinental ballistic missiles, this first treaty would lead to more comprehensive arms reduction treaties in the future.

Strict Construction

The view that the powers of the national government are limited to those described in the U.S. Constitution.

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

Founded in Port Huron, Michigan in 1962, the radical organization aimed to rid American society of poverty, racism, and violence through an individually oriented approach called participatory democracy. By 1968, the organization had over 100,000 followers and was responsible for demonstrations at nearly 1000 colleges.

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Taft-Hartley Act

Legislation in 1947 that reflected the conservative post-war mood. It outlawed the closed shop, gave presidential power to delay strikes with a "cooling-off" period, and curtailed the political and economic power of organized labor.

Tariff of Abominations

An 1828 protective tariff opposed by many Southerners.


The pre-Civil War reform movement which sought to curb the drinking of hard liquor.

Tet Offensive

As American military and political leaders suggested victory in Vietnam was in sight, North Vietnam launched an offensive in January 1968 against every major South Vietnamese target. Although the United States repelled the Tet Offensive, it prompted waves of criticism from those who felt the government had been misleading the American people.

Thoreau, Henry David

A pencilmaker, poet, and author of the influential essay "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau sought to realize transcendentalist ideals in his personal life.


In England during the eighteenth century the Tory Party was closely identified with the king's interests and monarchism, or in the minds of many American patriots, with tyrannical government. As the Revolution dawned, Tory became a term of derision applied to those colonists who sought to maintain their allegiance to the British crown. They preferred to think of themselves as loyalists, since they were not rebelling against but were still supporting British imperial authority in America.

Total War

As opposed to limited war, total war usually denotes a military conflict in which warfare ultimately affects the entire population, civilian as well as military. The American Civil War, at least in its latter stages, might serve as an example of total war because of the destruction of both military and civilian resources in the South by Union armies operating under General Grant and especially General Sherman during 1864 and 1865.


A group of New England intellectuals who glorified nature and believed that each person contains god-like potentialities.

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

The peace treaty ending the Mexican War gave the United States California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming in exchange for $15 million and assumption of $3.25 million in debts owed to Americans by Mexico.

Treaty of Versailles

The treaty that ended World War I.

Truman Doctrine

A speech by President Truman in March 1947 that set the course of U.S. foreign policy for the next generation, painting international affairs as a struggle between free democratic governments and tyrannical communist governments, and advocating American intervention to protect democratic governments.


A form of business organization that created a single board to trustees to oversee competing firms, the term came to apply when any single entity had the power to control competition within a given industry, such as oil production.

Truth, Sojoumer

A leading orator in the abolitionist and women's rights movements, Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York's Hudson River Valley and escaped in 1826.

Turner, Nat

A black Baptist preacher who led a revolt against slavery in Southampton County in southern Virginia in 1831.

Twenty-Fourth Amendment

This amendment, adopted in 1964, barred a poll tax in federal elections.

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Vertical Integration

The practice of controlling every phase of production by owning the sources of raw materials and often the transportation facilities needed to distribute the product, it was a means of gaining a competitive edge over rival companies.

Vesey, Denmark

A former West Indian slave who organized an attempted rebellion against slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1822.

Vice-Admiralty Courts

The English government established these courts in its North American colonies to deal with issues of maritime law, including smuggling. If judges condemned vessels for smuggling, they would share in profits from the sale of such craft and their cargoes. Judges made all rulings without juries and thus could clearly benefit from their own decisions, which caused many colonists to view these courts as centers of despotic imperial power. The Stamp Act of 1765 stated that colonists who did not pay stamp duties could be tried in vice-admiralty courts, which became another colonial grievance about the prospect of being convicted and sent to jail without a jury trial, a violation of fundamental English liberties.

Virtual Representation

King George III's chief minister, George Grenville, employed this concept in 1765 in relation to the Stamp Act. He insisted that all colonists were represented in Parliament by virtue of being English subjects, regardless of where they lived. Grenville was attempting to counter the colonists' position that King and Parliament had no authority to tax them, since the Americans had no duly elected representatives serving in Parliament.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

This law prohibited literacy tests and sent federal examiners to the South to register voters.

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Walker, David

The free black author of An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, which threatened violence if slavery was not abolished.

Wallace, George

Alabama governor who ran for president in 1968 as a third-party candidate on the American Independent ticket. His message rejecting forced racial integration, the activities of radical college students, and the perceived national drift toward the left appealed to many working class Americans, and he received 13.5 percent of that election's vote.

War of 1812

War between Britain and the United States. Causes included British interference with American shipping, impressment of seamen, a desire to end British aid to Indians, and an American desire for expansion.

War Powers Act

This 1973 law required presidents to win specific authorization from Congress to engage U.S. forces in foreign combat for more than 90 days.

War Production Board

The board established in January 1942 to help mobilize the U.S. economy for war production.

Washington, George

As the nation's first president, Washington helped define the powers of the presidency, demonstrated in the Whiskey Rebellion that the national government would enforce federal law, cleared the Ohio country of Indians, and attempted to preserve American neutrality during the war between Britain and France.

Watergate Break-In

During the 1972 presidential campaign, burglars, tied to the Nixon White House, were caught installing eavesdropping devices in Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. Revelations of White House efforts to obstruct the investigation of the break-in, of financial irregularities, and the use of government agencies for partisan purposes led President Nixon to resign in 1974.

Webster, Daniel

A noted orator, Webster opposed the War of 1812 and the protectionist tariff of 1816 after his election to the House of Representatives. He later became a staunch nationalist and defender of tariff protection.

Whig Party

During the eighteenth century in England the Whig Party was a loosely organized coalition of political leaders that opposed any hint of arbitrary authority that might emanate from the monarchy and royally appointed officials in government. Like the radical Whig pamphleteers, they also viewed themselves as defenders of liberty, which is one reason why many American leaders, even though not organized as a political party, called themselves whigs. During the 1830s and 1840s in the United States, there was a Whig party that opposed the policies of Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and other members of the Democratic Party.

Whitney, Eli

The inventor of the cotton gin, Whitney pioneered a system of mass production of interchangeable parts. Whitney's cotton gin, which separated cotton from its seeds, met the growing demand for cotton from the textile industry and breathed new life into the institution of slavery.

Wilmot Proviso

An amendment to an 1846 appropriations bill that would have forbade slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico. The amendment passed the House twice but was defeated in the Senate.

Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)

An organization led by Frances Willard to stop the abuse of alcohol, it joined forces with other groups in the movement for the prohibition of alcohol to reduce such problems as wife abuse.

Women's Army Corps (WAC)

The auxiliary women's unit to the U.S. army.

Workmen's Compensation Laws

Legislation establishing mandatory insurance to be carried by employers to cover on-the-job injuries to their workers, it was a reform that provided protection to workers while also lowering the risk to employers.

Writs of Assistance

Blanket search warrants used by English customs collectors in the colonies to try to catch suspected smugglers. These writs did not require any form of prior evidence to justify searches, which the colonies viewed as yet another imperial violation of fundamental English liberties.

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X, Y, Z

Yalta Conference

The meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin at Yalta in the Russian Crimea in February 1945 to determine the post-World War II world order.

Yellow Journalism

Sensationalistic press accounts of the volatile Cuban situation in the 1890s, led by William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. Helped mobilize pro-interventionist public opinion prior to the Spanish-American war.

Young, Brigham

The leader of the Mormon church following Joseph Smith's murder, Young led the Mormon exodus from Illinois to the Great Salt Lake.

Zimmermann Telegram

Telegram from German Foreign Minister Arnold Zimmermann to the German ambassador to Mexico pledging a Mexican-German alliance against the United States, which brought the United States into World War I.

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