Colonial resolve

Steps to independence: AD 1775-1776

Events during 1775 should leave the British government in no doubt as to the strength of the resentment felt by their American colonists. The engagements at Lexington and Bunker hill provide a powerful display of military confidence, while the Second continental congress in Philadelphia demonstrates a strong political resolve. So there are hopes in some quarters that parliament in Britain might now adopt a more conciliatory tone. But any such prospect is dashed by the British declaration, in August 1775, that the American colonies are in a state of rebellion. This is followed in November by a Prohibitory Act instituting a naval blockade of the American coastline.

Meanwhile the congress in Philadelphia is still in session. It is carrying out the practical activities associated with government - organizing public finances, issuing money, running a postal service, placing orders for munitions, even commissioning the first colonial navy.

Increasingly, during these months, colonists are coming to the view that a complete break from Britain may be the only way forward. In May 1776 the revolutionary convention of Virginia votes for independence and instructs the Virginia delegation to present this motion to the Continental Congress. Early in June, in Philadelphia, a small committee is set up to draft a declaration of independence. Its five members include Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. The task of composing the document is left to Jefferson. It is passed on June 12 as the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

This powerful move towards independence comes to a head in early July. In the month between July 2 and August 2 the final break is proposed, proclaimed and eventually signed as the Declaration of Independence.

Declaration of Independence: AD 1776

The real date of American independence from Britain is 2 July 1776 - the day on which Virginia's resolution is put to the congress of thirteen colonies and is passed 'unanimously' (though New York in fact abstains). The resolution states uncompromisingly: 'That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be totally dissolved.'

Jefferson's document is already to hand, expressing this stark political fact in more philosophical terms. It is presented to the congress two days later.

In his Declaration of Independence Jefferson affirms political theories which have been current since Locke argued (in support of the Revolution of 1688) that the legitimacy of government is based on the consent of the governed. In Jefferson's resounding words: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness' and that 'to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed'.

Congress accepts this document on July 4. Its inspirational quality rightly makes that the date of America's Independence Day.

On July 9 the text of the Declaration of Independence is declaimed in public before George Washington's army, now defending New York. Taking this as the necessary act of public proclamation, the congress orders on July 19 that an appropriate document shall now be prepared. The text begins to be written on a large piece of parchment.

By August 2 it is ready to be signed. The signing is fairly haphazard. Those who happen to be at the congress on that day sign it, though several of them were not present when it was voted through on July 4. Signatures of absent delegates continue to be added into 1777.

The first to sign the Declaration is John Hancock (causing his name later to become a slang term for a signature). While the delegates sign, Benjamin Franklin makes a famous observation - as alarmingly true as it is witty. He points out that they are putting their names to a document which, if they lose the war, will be deemed highly seditious. 'We must indeed all hang together,' says Franklin. 'Or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately'.

Within a few months of Franklin's remark the prospects look very bleak indeed. George Washington loses New York to the British and retreats towards Philadelphia with a severely depleted army.

New York Philadelphia and Saratoga: AD 1776-1777

George Washington's defence of New York in 1776 and subsequently of Philadelphia in 1777 do not rank among his successes. In a series of engagements between August and November 1776 he is driven first from Long Island and then from Manhattan Island with heavy losses of men (mainly captured rather than killed).

On his retreat southwards in midwinter, with an army of only about 6000, he achieves two psychologically important victories by surprise attacks on isolated sections of the British army at Trenton and then at Princeton. These successes raise the colonial morale, and help Washington to recruit more forces. But they are followed by a further disaster in 1777.

Philadelphia, as the first city of America and the seat of the Continental Congress, has great symbolic importance. Intent on capturing it, Howe brings his army down from New York by sea in the summer of 1777, landing them at the head of Chesapeake Bay. Washington attempts to block their progress to Philadelphia but is severely defeated in a battle at Brandywine (in which the 20-year-old Lafayette fights bravely and is wounded, marking the first appearance of the hero of two revolutions). The congress delegates make a hurried escape from Philadelphia, which the British enter in triumph in September.

Yet the triumph proves hollow. In the same month another British army, under John Burgoyne, is in trouble north of Albany.

Burgoyne has made a difficult march south from Quebec as part of a strategy to join up with Howe, moving north from New York. The plan is to isolate the New England colonies. But Howe has instead gone south to Philadelphia. Burgoyne is unsupported, short of food and ammunition. After defeat in two battles near Saratoga, in September and October 1777, he surrenders to a larger American force under Horatio Gates.

Less than 6000 men are involved, but the propaganda benefit to the colonial cause is incalculable. Indeed Saratoga can be seen as the turning point in the war. The surrender of an entire British army to rebellious colonists attracts the serious attention of a nation with no love for Britain. France begins to negotiate an American alliance.

The international phase: AD 1778-1781

A French treaty with the colonists is agreed in February 1778 and two months later a large French fleet sails for America. In the following year, in the established tradition of Bourbon Family compacts, France persuades a reluctant Spain to join the fray (as the major colonial power in America, Spain is understandably wary of taking up arms on behalf of rebels).

These developments transform the war between Britain and the colonists. Up to this point the British have been able to ship troops and supplies across the Atlantic with no obstacle other than the elements. Now there are hostile French and Spanish fleets to contend with.

There is even the unexpected affront of warships from the infant American navy sailing from French ports to carry out raids on the coastal regions of Britain. The first American naval hero, John Paul Jones, makes successful sorties in the spring of 1778 and the autumn of 1779, seizing British vessels and launching sudden raids inland. The second voyage ends with the dramatic encounter between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis off Flamborough Head.

But the new French alliance has its greatest effect on military strategy in America. The main strategic aim of both sides, from 1778 to the end of the war, is to ensure that armies are well placed to receive naval support.

The first dramatic example of this is the sudden British departure from Philadelphia in 1778. Advance news of the expected arrival of the French fleet in the Chesapeake is enough to terrify the British, facing the possible prospect of being cut off in hostile territory without any source of supplies. They leave the city and march northeast to greater safety in New York.

This setback, combined with stalemate in the northern colonies, prompts a new British strategy - that of moving troops south by sea to attack the weaker southern colonies. But, after some striking initial successes, this is the campaign which eventually loses the war for Britain.

In December 1778 a British expeditionary force of 3500 men from New York lands in Georgia and captures Savannah. During 1779 the British win control of the whole of Georgia. In 1780, after shipping more troops to the region, they move into South Carolina. Charleston is taken in May 1780, and some 5000 American troops are captured in the city, after a siege of more than a month by both land and sea.

From this point the British, under the command now of Charles Cornwallis, face increasingly strong opposition as they press on into North Carolina. There are numerous bitterly fought skirmishes, often in the nature of civil war, because the Loyalists in this region are very active in support of the British.

Yorktown: AD 1781

The final result of the campaigns of 1780 and 1781 is that Cornwallis presses too far north, deep into Virginia, and finds himself isolated. He moves his army to Yorktown, at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, and sets about fortifying this position as one where he can survive until relieved by a fleet from New York.

Meanwhile George Washington has been waiting to mount a joint operation with the French navy. Seeing his chance in the plight of Cornwallis, he arranges a rendezvous in the Chesapeake with the admiral commanding a French fleet in the West Indies. He then marches an army south through New Jersey and embarks them on ships in Delaware Bay for transport to Williamsburg, a few miles west of Yorktown.

By the end of September 1781 Washington is besieging Yorktown with an army of about 14,000 men (including 5000 French troops) and the French fleet is completing the blockade by sea. With no practical hope of any relief from New York, Cornwallis surrenders on October 19.

This effectively brings to an end the war of the American Revolution. The European nations continue to scrap at sea (Spain takes Minorca back from the British in 1782), but Yorktown is the last engagement of the war in America. The British drag their heels in evacuating their two prizes of the campaign - they remain in Charleston until November 1782 and in New York until October 1783. By then a peace treaty has been signed in Paris.

The new nation

Independence achieved: AD 1783

The treaty signed in Paris on 3 September 1783 brings the American Revolution to its successful conclusion. The American commissioners in the negotiations (Benjamin Franklin and John Adams among their number) win extremely good terms for the new nation. Its independence is acknowledged without reservation, and its agreed frontiers are unexpectedly generous.

To the coastal strip of the thirteen colonies is now added the entire region west as far as the Mississippi and north to the Great Lakes. This was the area bitterly fought over between Britain and France In 1754-60. It now falls to the colonists as an immensely rich area available for westward expansion.

United States of America: AD 1783-1789

The peace Treaty of 1783 establishes the thirteen united colonies as a joint entity whose independence is internationally recognized. The colonies have in recent years more often described themselves as states. The United States of America is therefore formally in existence. But how united is it to be? And in what form?

These crucial questions dominate the 1780s. A first attempt to answer them is ratified by the thirteen states in March 1781 under the title Articles of Confederation. The articles treat each colony as virtually a sovereign state, making the task of Congress - which plays the role of the federal government - almost impossible. It has no real power to demand either troops or funds from individual states.

These problems are exacerbated during the 1780s by economic crisis (in a widespread postwar depression), by inflation resulting from the liberal issue of paper money, and by a mood of unrest and anarchy expressed in extreme form in an uprising of farmers, led by Daniel Shays in 1786 against the state government of Massachusetts (eventually requiring 4000 militiamen to suppress it).

In this atmosphere the success of the revolution seems in danger of being jeopardized. Reluctant though many of the states are to accept any restraint on their powers, it is eventually agreed that there shall be a convention in Philadelphia in May 1787 to consider improvements to the constitution.

When the delegates arrive (from twelve states only, because Rhode Island stays away), George Washington is chosen to preside over the assembly. It is quickly decided that a new constitution is required, rather than a modified version of the Articles of Confederation, but debate soon throws up the first stumbling block. Should the voting power in the proposed two legislative assemblies be equal for each state or vary according to population?

The solution, known as the Great Compromise, is suggested by the Connecticut delegation. They propose that in the lower chamber (the House of Representatives) voting strength will vary. In the upper one (the Senate) each state will have the same representation.

The mood of compromise in this decision, which has held good ever since, is shown in many other areas during four months of deliberation. Much of the dispute is commercially based, in matters of interstate trade. As in any such negotiation, settlements are made.

One topic is both commercial and moral - the question of slavery. Slaves are an important part of the southern economy but are relatively few in the northern states. On the most controversial issue, the Atlantic Slave trade, a temporary compromise is reached; it is agreed that it shall not be the subject of any federal law for the next twenty years.

When the text of the proposed constitution is finally agreed and signed, on 17 September 1787, the delegates share a farewell dinner at the City Tavern in Philadelphia before returning to present the text to the conventions of their own states. It has been agreed that ratification by nine states (two thirds of the total) will be enough to bring the constitution into effect. By the end of July 1788 eleven states have voted in favour (North Carolina and Rhode Island withhold their approval until the federal government is in existence). The constitution has passed formally into law when it is ratified by the ninth state (New Hampshire) on June 21.

The electors from every state choose George Washington as the first president. He is inaugurated in New York, on Wall Street, on 30 April 1789.

Bill of Rights: AD 1791

With the passing of the constitution into law, in 1788, the United States becomes the first nation ever to write, from the start, its own system of law and government. By the same token it is a natural step to alter the model if desirable improvements become evident.

When the state conventions debate the proposed constitution, in 1788, it is argued by many that it does not provide sufficient safeguard for the rights of the individual. In view of this criticism the inaugural congress invites James Madison to draft suitable amendments. He provides twelve, of which ten are adopted.

These first ten amendments to the constitution, ratified in December 1791, become known collectively as the Bill of Rights. The prevailing theme is the protection of the individual against oppressive authority.

Thus the first amendment guarantees freedom of religion and of speech. Others protect citizens from state intrusion on their private property, or specify their rights in a court of law (as, in the fifth amendment, not to have to give evidence against oneself). The second amendment, controversial in the 20th century, guarantees the right to carry arms but backs this up with a specifically 18th-century argument - that the state needs the services of a militia.

Amendments have been added from time to time ever since. Some of them draw the line conclusively between one period of history and another, as in the thirteenth amendment outlawing Slavery after the American Civil War. Some (such as the twenty-first amendment on the question of alcohol) even countermand earlier ones.

In the world's first written constitution, with its system of amendments, the founding fathers of the American state provide an admirably flexible manner in which a nation can adjust to the times while retaining a bedrock of shared and known values.

The Northwest Territory: AD 1787-1795

The area south of the Great Lakes, scene of much of the action in the French and indian war, is the first trouble spot to demand the attention of the newly independent United States. Under the terms of the Treaty of paris, in 1783, Britain has to surrender all the forts in the region. But the British drag their feet in departing from strategic sites such as Detroit.

By doing so, they remain in close contact with the Indian tribes of the Ohio region. The British encourage Indian resistance to American encroachment, hoping to create a buffer zone to the south of British north america, or Canada. But British encouragement of the Indians is misleading. It is not transformed into practical assistance.

Before independence four colonies (Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts) have claims under their original charters to parts of the Ohio region. During the 1780s they cede these claims to the federal government. In 1787 Congress defines the region as the Northwest Territory. All land within it is to be sold in lots, either to individuals or companies.

It is expected that as many as five states will eventually emerge from this area. Meanwhile separate parts of it are to be administered as territories. Once a territory has a population of 60,000 free inhabitants, it will have the right to draw up a state constitution and to enter the union on equal terms with the original thirteen states.

These careful proposals pay scant attention to the interests of the Indians. They rely on disputed treaties, virtually imposed on the tribes by American delegates in 1784-5 and rapidly repudiated by the Indians themselves. In 1789 the government builds Fort Washington (the kernel of the future Cincinnati) on the north bank of the Ohio river. Meanwhile violent Kentucky frontiersmen have been creating mayhem in raids on Indian villages.

The result is equally violent reprisals, led by the chiefs of the Miami and Shawnee tribes who are determined to keep the American intruders south of the Ohio river.

Two expeditions sent by George Washington against the tribes are complete disasters. The second, in 1791, is led by a personal friend of Washington, Arthur St Clair. His 1400 men are surprised by the Indians at dawn in their camp beside the Maumee river. Three hours later more than 600 are dead and nearly 300 seriously wounded. Indian casualties are 21 killed and 40 wounded. It is one of the worst days in US military history.

The Americans have their revenge in 1794, once again in the region of the Maumee, when an army commanded by Anthony Wayne defeats a force of Shawnees and other tribes at a woodland location which becomes known as Fallen Timbers.

In the aftermath of Fallen Timbers, representatives of the defeated tribes assemble for peace talks in Fort Greenville in 1795. Their leaders accept a treaty which cedes to the United States much of present-day Ohio.

This concession, giving the green light to a surge of new land speculation and settlement, is only the first of many in the region. Eventually the Northwest Territory yields five states, joining the union between 1803 and 1848 (Ohio 1803, Indiana 1816, Illinois 1818, Michigan 1837, Wisconsin 1848). In the early years, until 1813, Indian resistance to this encroachment is gallantly continued by Tecumseh. But the beginning of the National Road in 1811 is a powerful sign of American determination to open up the region.

A new capital city: AD 1790-1800

In the early years of the nation the congress is a peripatetic body, meeting in as many as eight different cities of which Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York are merely the best known. But it is already recognised that a fixed seat of government is a necessity, and that a federal authority legislating for all the thirteen states should not be resident in any one of them.

The most appropriate site would be on a navigable waterway, roughly in the middle of the nation's long Atlantic seaboard. By 1790 the Potomac has been agreed upon. In 1791 George Washington selects an area of the specified size (ten miles square) straddling the river. The United States settles down to the task of creating the world's first custom-built capital city.

Washington employs a French architect, Pierre Charles L'Enfant, to choose locations for the main public buildings and to suggest an overall layout for the city. It is L'Enfant who selects what becomes known as Capitol Hill for the site of congress, and a south-facing ridge as the place where the 'presidential palace' will be built.

Competitions are launched to select designs for the two buildings. William Thornton is the winner for the Capitol (of which Washington lays the cornerstone in 1793) and a plan by James Hoban is chosen for the presidential residence.

Both buildings are sufficiently far advanced by 1800 for the seat of government to move in that year from Philadelphia (where congress has led a stable existence since 1790) to the city which has already been named Washington. Only one administrative block is ready, in the form of a red-brick building to house the treasury. The contrast between this and the nearby presidential residence, built in a light-grey limestone, prompts the first informal use of the term White House.

Later the president's dwelling lives more precisely up to its name, when it is rebuilt (to the original design) and is painted white after being severely damaged in the War of 1812.

The emergence of parties: AD 1789-1800

The unanimous election of George Washington in 1789, receiving the vote of every single state elector, is repeated when he stands in 1792 for a second term. But this is the last occasion when there is any such consensus, and in 1796 he resists all pressure to stand for a third term. Instead, on September 19 of that year, he delivers an influential Farewell Address in which he outlines his vision for the nation's future.

Party strife begins to emerge during Washington's first term, and it has its roots within his own small cabinet - in a severe difference of opinion between the secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and the secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson. The issue between them is disagreement over the amount of power which should be wielded by the federal government. Controversy centres in particular on the Bank of the United States, created by Hamilton in 1791.

Hamilton's bank, modelled on the Bank of england, has the power to issue notes and government bonds and thus to manage the national debt. Indeed Hamilton is immediately able to revitalize the economy by redeeming at full value the outstanding bonds of the heavily indebted individual states.

This strengthening of the federal government's power offends the libertarian principles of Jefferson, who is committed to protecting the rights of the separate states of the union. The clash between the two men, which becomes intense from 1791, is reflected also in their views on Foreign policy. Hamilton is pro-British, Jefferson is excited by the ideals of republican France.

The parties which form around the two men acquire appropriate names. The term for Hamilton's faction exists already. He and two colleagues have written a series of eighty-five newspaper essays in 1787-8, during the debate on the constitution, under the title The Federalist. These have argued for a strong central government. Hamilton's followers become the Federalists.

Jefferson's supporters (among whom James Madison is prominent) are by 1792 calling themselves Republicans. This not only reflects their French leaning (which their opponents emphasize by calling them Democratic-Republicans, a name which has stuck). It also consciously implies that President Washington, who likes to wear court dress and to ride in a coach and six, is behaving in too monarchical a fashion.

In the election of 1796, when party organization is in its infancy, the electoral system still has all the candidates running for the post of president and vice-president alike, with the offices going to the first and second in the race. (The 12th amendment to the constitution, in 1804, introduces separate presidential and vice-presidential contests.) The result in 1796 is that a Federalist, John Adams, and a Republican, Thomas Jefferson, become respectively president and vice-president.

Subsequently both offices always go to the same party, and from 1800 it is the Republicans who prevail. Jefferson is president for two terms (1801-9), followed by Madison for two (1809-17) and Monroe for two (1817-25).

The easy transfer of presidential power between the political parties on Jefferson's election proves conclusively that the American republic has pioneered a successful working democracy, very different from the violent upheavals of French politics or the corruption of the Unreformed british model.

This democracy is still based on a restricted franchise, and the leading politicians are all from a small leisured and landed class (the most distinguished among them, Washington and Jefferson, being southern slave owners). But more than anywhere else in the world at this time, the new American system points the way towards a fully democratic future.

Freedom of the seas: AD 1793-1812

The first international crisis to confront the young republic derives from the even newer republic on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1793 France, after executing Louis XVI, is at war with several European powers including Britain. Warfare between the French and the British will continue almost without interruption for the next twenty years.

As close neighbours of the United States in their West indian colonies, and as the two main Atlantic powers of the period, France and Britain inevitably damage neutral America in their struggle. Each warring nation tries to stifle any traffic entering the other's harbours, to the detriment of America's maritime trade.

When it becomes evident that complete neutrality will be hard to maintain, differences of opinion emerge as to which side America should favour. The more conservative leaders, including Alexander Hamilton and George Washington himself, assume that the link with Britain remains strong - in spite of the recent war of independence and Britain's vindictive exclusion of America, since 1783, from the markets of other British colonies.

Others, among them Thomas Jefferson, incline strongly to France, seeing the republic as the beacon of a new Europe liberated from the rule of reactionary monarchs.

In the early years of the war Washington's view prevails. His envoy to London in 1794, John Jay, agrees a treaty which restores the semblance of friendship between America and Britain. In retaliation the French begin to sink merchant ships flying the American flag.

An effort to improve relations with France - made by Washington's successor as president, John Adams, in 1797 - ends disastrously. Adams sends ministers to negotiate a treaty to protect US shipping. On arrival in Paris they are approached by three agents who ask for a bribe of $250,000 dollars for Talleyrand, and a loan of $10 million to France, as a suitable sweetener before discussions begin. The envoys immediately set sail for home.

News of these French proceedings causes outrage in America when made public in 1798 (the incident becomes known as the XYZ Affair, because the report replaces the name of the French agents with those letters). The resulting measures include controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and the recall of Washington from retirement to command a rapidly enlarged army. These steps put the nation almost on a war footing against France. But over the coming years it is the relationship with Britain which fragments.

British control of the seas is steadily tightened in the fight against Napoleon, with no consideration shown to neutral vessels. American shipping in the Atlantic is increasingly harried by the British navy.

Great offence is caused by British insistence on the right to waylay and search any American vessel on suspicion of British deserters being among the crew. An encounter in 1807 between two frigates, the British Leopard and the American Chesapeake, provokes particular outrage. The Chesapeake fires only one shot before surrendering, but suffers twenty-one casualties from a British cannonade.

On this occasion four alleged British deserters are taken off the Chesapeake. But identities are often hard to establish. Frequently American citizens are press-ganged in this way into the British navy (as many as 3800 during these years, it is calculated).

American trade is at the same time damaged by Britain's Orders in council, which impose crippling restrictions on goods carried by neutral shipping (in response to Napoleon's similar Continental system). Thomas Jefferson, president from 1801 to 1809, tries unsuccessfully to use economic pressure on Britain to force a change of policy.

His successor as president, James Madison, goes further. In a mood of exasperation, in 1811, he urges congress to prepare for war unless Britain finally revokes the Orders in council.


War of 1812

The second of the two wars between Britain and America serves little purpose and reveals, in both its beginning and its end, the hazard of conflicts in an age of slow communication. The American declaration of war, travelling east in June 1812, crosses in the Atlantic with the news, coming west, that Britain has made the concession required for peace. And the most costly battle of the entire conflict, fought near New Orleans in January 1815, takes place two weeks after peace has been agreed in Ghent.

The main issue between the contestants is the damage inflicted on American trade by the British Orders in council (it is these which are lifted by the British government in June 1812). But there is also a subsidiary reason for war.

The region south of the Great Lakes has long been a flash point for trouble, between the interests of the indigenous Indian tribes and rival European colonists. Warfare here has in the past involved Indians, British colonists and French colonists. Now the participants are Indians, the United States and British America (or Canada).

The mounting tension between the United States and Britain in the Atlantic coincides with the last great uprising of Indian tribes in the Ohio valley, led by the inspirational figure of Tecumseh. His struggle against the encroachment of American settlers becomes, from 1812, a part of the wider war - which includes naval conflict in several regions.

In the Atlantic, American ships acquit themselves well against British adversaries. This period is the heyday of the US frigate Constitution, affectionately known as 'Old Ironsides', whose heroic reputation derives from successes during 1812.

There is warfare too on the Great Lakes, a particularly sensitive area since the Americans are known to have designs on Canada. In an early encounter, in 1812, the British capture Detroit. Subsequently there are American naval victories on Lake Erie (1813) and Lake Champlain (1814).

In 1813 American forces press far enough north to reach Toronto, established as recently as 1793 to form the capital of the new province of Upper canada. They burn the parliament buildings and the archives, providing the pretext for a very precise act of retaliation in the following year.

In 1814 a British force lands in Chesapeake Bay and enters the new American capital city of Washington, where construction also began in that same year of 1793. The British in their turn burn the Capitol and the president's house. By this time the superior power of the British navy has imposed a complete blockade on all American ports. An unnecessary war has reached the point of a necessary peace.

Negotiations begin in Ghent in August 1814 and are completed just before Christmas. The agreement makes no change in any existing border or previous treaty. The war has been in a very real sense for nothing, though the result leaves the United States with a renewed sense of confidence.

That confidence is reinforced by the most tragically pointless of battles. On 8 January 1815, two weeks after the agreement at Ghent, an army of 7000 British regulars attacks the same number of American volunteers under Andrew jackson at New Orleans. The casualties, in a half-hour engagement, are 2000 British and just 71 Americans - a second patriotic victory in two years to boost Andrew jackson's reputation.

Doubling the American nation: AD 1803-1819

During the Napoleonic wars, and as an indirect result of them, the territory of the United States is doubled. The immediate reason is Napoleon's half-hearted efforts to re-establish a French empire in the west, remembering the heady times half a century earlier when France laid claim to the entire vast region either side of the Mississippi.

The land to the east of the great river has been lost to Britain (and therefore subsequently to the United States) in the Treaty of paris in 1763. At the same time the unexplored and seemingly less valuable territory to the west of the river has been ceded by France to Spain. Though only half of the original French territory, it retains the name Louisiana.

In 1800 Napoleon forces an abject Spain to return Louisiana to France. In 1801 he takes a similarly resolute stance against the rebellion of Toussaint L'Ouverture in Haiti, sending out an army to restore order in this valuable French suguar-exporting colony. But by 1803 circumstances have diminished his appetite for western adventures.

In two years yellow fever reduces the French army in Haiti from 25,000 to 3000 men. At the same time the fragile Peace of amiens looks like breaking down. Needing money for a renewal of war against Britain, and fearing perhaps that the British might seize Lousiana for their own empire, Napoleon sells the entire region in 1803 to Thomas Jefferson's envoys in Paris.

The Louisiana Purchase has often and rightly been described as the greatest bargain in American history. The price for 828,000 square miles, more than doubling the previous size of the United States, is $15 million dollars. With interest, until the final settlement, the sum paid amounts in all to $27,267,622 - or thirty-three dollars a square mile.

Coincidentally preparations have recently been made in Washington for an expedition which will reveal, with a degree of scientific accuracy, just what is being purchased for the nation. Early in 1803 President Jefferson commissions Lewis and Clark to undertake their famous exploration, from the Mississippi to the Pacific and back.

The purchase of Louisiana has the added advantage of securing the port of New Orleans for the trading activities of the American settlers who are now beginning to flourish east of the Mississippi. If the mouth of the river were in hostile hands, these infant territories could easily be throttled.

For the same reason it is greatly in the US interest to win the coastline east from New Orleans. This is achieved in two stages. In 1813 the area known as West Florida is seized (to become the coastal region of Alabama), on the somewhat dubious grounds that it was in fact part of the Louisiana Purchase.

The Florida peninsula itself undoubtedly belongs to Spain, but American acquisition is simplified by the fact that Spain, during the War of 1812, is an ally of Britain in the European conflict against Napoleon. Andrew Jackson marches into Florida in 1812 but on this occasion has to withdraw. In 1818 he finds a reason to return (in pursuit of Indian parties raiding into Alabama). This time he seems set to stay.

The result is the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, by which Spain sells Florida to the USA for $5 million and the waiving of any American claim to Texas. This agreement completes the establishment of new transcontinental borders for the American nation.

Transcontinental borders: AD 1818-1819

The Louisiana purchase, and the rich opportunities suggested by the findings of the Lewis and clark expedition, focus American minds on the west - with the Pacific now the boundary of the nation's ambitions. In this new context continuing struggles against the British in Canada or the Spanish in Mexico can only be a distraction. In both directions demarcation lines are agreed before 1820.

In 1817, just three years after the last hostilities between British and Americans on the Canadian border, the Rush-Bagot agreement establishes very low levels of naval armament as the maximum for either nation on any of the Great Lakes.

This first precautionary peace-keeping measure is followed a year later, in 1818, by the agreement which has held good ever since - that the frontier between the two nations will run west from Lake of the Woods along the 49th parallel.

At this stage the border is drawn only as far as the Rockies. The region west of the continental divide (as yet virtually unsettled at this latitude by Europeans) is regarded for the moment as shared territory between the two nations. In 1846 it is ceded to the USA by Britain, recognizing as a fait accompli the human reality of the Oregon trail. Since then the frontier has continued along the 49th parallel all the way to the Pacific coast.

Meanwhile the Transcontinental treaty of 1819 has established an extensive southern frontier for the USA It looks less logical than the straight line of the 49th parallel in the north, and it will later be subject to considerable adjustment, but for the moment it is a great benefit that it can at least be drawn on a map.

The new border runs from the Gulf of Mexico up the Sabine river, then goes west along the Red river, north up the 100th meridian, west along the Arkansas river, north up the Rockies and west along the 42nd parallel to the Pacific. With the territory north of this line acknowledged as theirs, Americans get down to the absorbing process of Opening up the west. And they now have the confidence to put down an international marker.

Meanwhile the Transcontinental treaty of 1819 has established an extensive southern frontier for the USA. It looks less logical than the straight line of the 49th parallel in the north, and it will later be subject to considerable adjustment, but for the moment it is a great benefit that it can at least be drawn on a map.

The new border runs from the Gulf of Mexico up the Sabine river, then goes west along the Red river, north up the 100th meridian, west along the Arkansas river, north up the Rockies and west along the 42nd parallel to the Pacific. With the territory north of this line acknowledged as theirs, Americans get down to the absorbing process of Opening up the west.

The Monroe doctrine: AD 1823

During the early 1820s European intrusion on the American continent, or the threat of it, raises diplomatic hackles in the USA. In 1821 the Russian tsar issues a decree forbidding foreign vessels from approaching within 100 miles of his colony in Alaska. Two years later it seems very possible that Europe's Holy alliance, an association of reactionary monarchies, will intervene to suppress the independence movements in Latin america.

In response to these circumstances James Monroe, in his message to congress in December 1823, expounds a firm principle of American foreign policy. It has been expressed by other presidents before him, but this is seen as the classic statement of what becomes known as the Monroe doctrine.

The Monroe doctrine is essentially an American communiqué to Europe about non-intervention. It affirms that the United States has no intention of intervening in any European wars, but correspondingly warns the European powers against meddling in America.

Specifically Monroe states that the American continent is no longer to be considered a region in which European nations can establish new colonies; and that the use of force to keep existing colonies in subjection will be taken as 'the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States'.

To some extent, at this early stage in the development of the continent's potential, there is an element of huffing and puffing about all this. It is some decades before the Monroe doctrine acquires its almost sacred character as a central plank of American foreign policy. And, like any such broad principle, its application is subtly modified with the passage of time.

Nevertheless it is a ringing and valid announcement that the United States is now the dominant power in the region. With this established, the Americans devote their energies to increasing their advantage. They do so by bringing under control the vast empty spaces to the west - empty, that is, except for the Indians who at every stage seem to frustrate the ambitions of white settlers.

The Cherokees and acculturation: AD 1796-1828

From the early days of the American nation it is government policy that the Indian tribes should be subjected to a process of 'civilization'. This description, implying improvement, is a highly subjective term for a process more accurately described by the clumsy but neutral word 'acculturation' - meaning the adoption by one group of the customs of another.

In 1796 George Washington selects the Cherokee Indians, living in the western regions of North Carolina and Georgia, for a pilot scheme in integration. He informs their leaders that government policy in relation to other tribes will depend on the success of this experiment.

Funds are provided for Cherokee education. The people of the tribe are shown how to build log cabins. The procedures of western agriculture are demonstrated. Missionaries arrive to explain the mysteries of Christianity.

During the three decades after the introduction of Washington's scheme, the Cherokee people rise magnificently to the challenge. Plantations are established on the southern model. Tribal leaders live on them in elegant two-storied houses. They ride around in carriages. They own slaves. In all this they seem to suggest that they too can be southern gentlemen. From 1819 they have a capital city of their own at New Echota, in northwest Georgia.

1828 is the year in which the Cherokee nation (the Indians' own preferred word for a tribe or people) seems most fully to transform itself into a nation in the western sense. A political constitution is adopted by the tribe. Based on the example of the American republic, it provides for an elected principal chief, a council consisting of two chambers, and a system of courts of law.

In the same year the Cherokees publish the first American Indian newspaper. Using a newly invented alphabet (attributed to Sequoyah), the cherokee phoenix is printed weekly in New Echota with adjacent columns in English and Cherokee.

Yet 1828 is the last good year for the Cherokees. Andrew Jackson, beginning his first term in the White House in 1829, is the first president to come from west of the Appalachians. He knows at first hand the aggressive land hunger of the frontier settlers, who view Indian lands to the immediate west as a present obstacle and future prize. He has little sympathy for the protective paternalism of his aristocratic predecessors in the office of president.

To make matters worse for the Cherokees, gold is discovered on their lands in 1829. Swarms of lawless prospectors arrive in their midst.

These events give added impetus to attempts, already initiated by the state government of Georgia, to annexe territory assigned by federal treaty to the Cherokees. State laws are passed in 1829 making it illegal for Cherokees to mine gold, to testify against a white man and to hold political assemblies (except for the single purpose of ceding land).

It is the ultimate misfortune for the Cherokees, and for other tribes in their position, that the mood of Georgia is now reflected in the White House.

The Indian Removal Act: AD 1830-1839

In 1830 congress passes President Jackson's Indian Removal Act. It provides for treaties to be made with the Indian tribes if they can be persuaded to exchange their land west of the Appalachians for territory beyond the Mississippi.

Persuasian soons blends into coercion, even though the Cherokees - the most developed of the tribes - take their case with considerable success to the Supreme Court in Washington. The chief justice, John Marshall, rules that the Indian tribes are a federal responsiblity, meaning that any appropriation of Cherokee land by the state of Georgia is illegal. But President Jackson takes no steps to impose this interpretation of the law upon Georgia.

During the 1830s the situation worsens. In 1833 the state of Georgia raises funds by holding a lottery of seized Cherokee property, including even the government buildings of New Echota. Eventually one faction of the Cherokee leadership signs a treaty selling the Cherokee lands to Georgia and agreeing to move west by 1838. The Cherokee council unanimously rejects the treaty, but the senate in Washington ratifies it.

By 1838 the Cherokees have not moved. In that year federal troops are sent to Georgia to enforce the removal of the Indians. The Cherokees are rounded up into camps and are then despatched under guard on a long march to the west.

Of 18,000 Cherokees displaced from their traditional lands in this way, it is calculated that as many as 4000 fail to survive what becomes known as the Trail of Tears to the area now designated as Indian Territory.

Neighbours of the Cherokee are moved at the same time. The chief victims are four other southeastern tribes (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Creek) who have also adopted many of the white man's customs. They are described by American settlers, together with the Cherokee, as the Five Civilized Tribes. Their enforced migration in the late 1830s becomes known as the Great Removal. It is calculated that about 100,000 are driven from their land, and that more than 20,000 die on the journey west.

The broad plains of the new Indian Territory are promised to the tribes as their own land 'as long as the grass grows and the rivers run'. But within a few decades the pressure of white settlement sends this agreement the way of earlier treaties. As it turns out, the grass grows and the rivers run only until 1907. By that time so many homesteads have encroached on the Indian Territory that the region is admitted to the union as Oklahoma, the 46th state.

In the Slave trade and the Great Removal, the story of America contains two of the three main instances of large ethnic groups being forcibly resettled thousands of miles from home. (Stalin, in the USSR in the 1930s, provides the third.)

Jacksonian democracy: AD 1829-1837

The eight years of Andrew Jackson's presidency are a turning point in American political history, introducing what is often described as Jacksonian democracy. They also introduce a new kind of president.

In democratic terms the difference is a new electorate. From the start of the republic, the terms of the franchise have been left to each state. Most states, in the early years, have stringent property qualifications. A few even combine these with religious restrictions. But gradually the original states begin to reduce the level of property required of an elector. Meanwhile most of the new states entering the union do so with what passes at the time for universal suffrage.

The result is that by 1828, the year in which Jackson is elected, adult white males have the vote in almost every state without consideration of property. A new kind of American is voting, and the new voters recognize in Jackson a new kind of presidential candidate.

The six presidents up to this point have all come from the small political world of the founding fathers of the republic, even indeed from the two most historic colonies. Virginia is the home state of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, while Adams father and son come from Massachusetts. Such men spend their careers in state and federal politics. They seem born to govern.

By contrast Andrew Jackson is a self-made lawyer and entrepreneur. Born in the western region of North Carolina, he moves further west as a young man to the frontier settlement of Nashville where he makes his name as an attorney. In 1796 he is one of the group drafting a constitution for the new state of Tennessee.

Jackson remains a prominent figure in Tennessee, but only intermittently in a political role. He first makes a wider name for himself as a major general in the Tennessee militia, defeating the Creek Indians at Horseshoe bend in 1814. Less than a year later he far surpasses this achievement with his victory over the British near New orleans.

Jackson's aggressive role in the 1819 acquisition of Florida adds to his stature as a national hero. Yet at the same time his origins make him seem a man of the people, an average American. His success is of a kind with which voters can identify. Although he has only a tenuous connection with politics, he begins to be seen as a presidential candidate.

Jackson nearly wins in 1824 and does so in 1828, after a national campaign of unprecedented vigour and unscrupulous trading of insults and slander between the candidates. With a new style of president, a new kind of politics has emerged in pursuit of the popular vote. It is one requiring well-oiled political machines.

The re-emergence of parties: AD 1828-1854

The dominance of three successive Republican presidents over twenty-four years (Jefferson, madison and monroe, 1801-25) means that party spirit subsides and the Federalists wither away. But the election of 1824 brings bitter factionalism within the Republican party (also known, to avoid subsequent confusion, as the Jeffersonian Republicans).

The party splits. One half, the National Republicans, supports John Quincy Adams, who wins the 1824 presidential election in spite of coming second both in the popular vote and the electoral college (deals made in the House of Representatives bring him the victory). The other half, led by the bitterly resentful loser Andrew Jackson, becomes implacably opposed as the Democratic-Republican party.

Winning in 1828, at his second attempt, Jackson sets about shaping his Democratic-Republican party into an effective campaigning organization. Its first national convention, held in 1832, adopts him as the party's candidate for a second presidential term with Martin Van Buren as his running mate for vice-president.

A national convention of this kind during each presidential campaign becomes a central feature of American political life. In their convention of 1840 the Democratic Republicans simplify their name, calling themselves now the Democratic party. Thus the Democrats emerge from the original Republican party, and survive to this day as the older partner in America's two-party system.

The very first national conventions, also held for the 1832 election, slightly predate the Democratic-Republican gathering. Two groups of Jackson's opponents choose their presidential candidates by this method during 1831. Members of the Antimasonic party convene in September in Baltimore. They are followed in the same city in December by the National Republican party.

Neither of these new parties survives for long. But the opponents of Andrew Jackson combine more effectively from 1834 as a newly created Whig party.

Jackson's strong presidential rule has caused him to become mockingly known as King Andrew, and the name Whig suggests in English history the humbling of monarchy. In this the American Whigs have a certain degree of success (they win the presidential elections of 1840 and 1848), but they splinter on the great issue of Slavery.

In 1854 many Whigs become founder members of a new group which revives the term Republican as a party name. The anti-Slavery ticket makes the new party immediately successful in the north, and its reputation is consolidated during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. America acquires the second of its two modern parties.

Into the Midwest: AD 1803-1848

The steady expansion of American territory to the west can be seen, like squares being occupied in a board game, in the granting of statehood to new regions during the first half of the 19th century.

The first state admitted to the union in the new century is Ohio, in 1803. That leaves the western boundary of the United States as a jagged but continuous line from the southwest tip of Lake Erie to the southwest tip of Georgia, almost on the Gulf of Mexico. But settler families are now constantly bumping along the rough trails in their Conestoga wagons towards a further frontier, seeking somewhere to till the land, to establish recognized new territories, and eventually to prosper to the point where their community can apply for statehood.

During the half-century from 1803 states are admitted to the union in this sequence: Louisiana 1812, Indiana 1816, Mississippi 1817, Illinois 1818, Alabama 1819, Missouri 1821, Arkansas 1836, Michigan 1837, Texas 1845, Iowa 1846, Wisconsin 1848. By now this process of expansion is dignified by a slogan. It is America's 'manifest destiny'.

The frontier of 1848 stretches south, again in a straggly line, from Lake Superior to the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico. Adjacent territories will continue to be claimed as states (Minnesota 1858, Kansas 1861). But this year of 1848 also brings a much more sudden and dramatic increase in US territory. The reason is the Mexican War, a conflict with its origins in Texas.

Texas: AD 1821-1836

From the 16th century Texas, though much neglected, has been a northern region of Spanish Mexico, or New spain. It is formally recognized as such in the border Agreement of 1819, when any US claims to the territory are relinquished. Just two years later Mexico wins independence from Spain.

Later in 1821 a 27-year-old American, Stephen Austin, arrives in Texas with 300 families to establish a settlement. They are the first of many. By the early 1830s there are some 30,000 Americans in Texas and only about 7000 Mexicans. Friction would be inevitable in these circumstances, but it is aggravated by the issue of slavery.

The Americans, from the southern states, bring slaves to work the cotton plantations which they establish. The republican government of Mexico, outlawing slavery, places garrisons in Texas in an attempt to discipline the unruly colonists.

In 1835 the colonists rise in rebellion and capture San Antonio. The town is recovered in March 1836 by the Mexican commander, Santa Anna, apart from one building - the Alamo, an old Franciscan chapel in a walled complex, which is held by fewer than 200 Texans (among them Davy Crockett). In the most famous event of early Texan history, the defenders hold out for twelve days and account for 1000 or more Mexicans before themselves being overwhelmed and killed.

The fall of the Alamo is followed by a massacre at Goliad where 300 Texan soldiers, surrendering after a battle, are killed in cold blood on the orders of Santa Anna. The settlers have recently declared their independence, as the republic of Texas. It is a claim soon sealed by a convincing victory.

In April 1836 Sam Houston surprises Santa Anna's army taking a siesta near the San Jacinto river. In a brief skirmish his men kill 600 and capture another 200, including Santa Anna. With this event the tide turns. Mexico makes no further effort to suppress the Texan rebellion, while nevertheless denying the independence of the self-proclaimed republic - of which Houston is elected president.

In the United States, on the other hand, the new republic is immediately recognized. There is also a widespread feeling that Texas should be included in the union, as the colonists themselves wish. In the 1844 presidential campaign the Democratic candidate, James Polk, is elected on a platform supporting the annexation of Texas. In 1845 congress admits the Texan republic (by now home to 140,000 Americans) as the 28th state of the union, regardless of Mexico's undeniable claim to the region.

This in itself would be sufficient pretext for war. Another likely cause, unadmitted, is President Polk's yearning for yet more of Mexico - rich California. And there is also an unresolved dispute over the boundary of Texas.


American and Mexican War: AD 1846-1848

The Americans in Texas claim that the southern boundary of their province is the Rio Grande. The Mexicans maintain that it is the Nueces river, more than 100 miles to the north. War breaks out in 1846 when President Polk sends an American army under Zachary Taylor into the disputed region, prompting the Mexicans to take the same step in retaliation.

Taylor makes little progress into northern Mexico beyond the city of Monterrey, which he captures in September 1846. During that winter Polk tries another tactic. He sends an American army under Winfield Scott by sea to the Gulf of Mexico.

In March 1847 Scott takes the port of Veracruz after a three-week siege. He then marches inland and defeats Santa Anna (once again serving as Mexico's president) at Cerro Gordo. Though strongly opposed in the mountainous terrain, he reaches Mexico City. He enters the capital in September.

The resulting treaty, signed in Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, gives Polk all that he has hoped for. In return for a payment of $15 million, Mexico cedes to the USA the territory now forming the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California. With suitable forethought, during the course of the war, US forces have already occupied the only developed parts of this vast region, New Mexico and California.

This treaty of 1848 establishes the southern border of the USA along the line which has prevailed ever since. Meanwhile, in the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the northern frontier with British North America has also been agreed. It runs along the 49th parallel to the Pacific coast, acknowledging as US territory the region which will become the states of Oregon (in 1859) and Washington (in 1889).

With these developments the boundaries of the entire continent north of Mexico are settled, except for a somewhat indeterminate one to the northwest of Canada in the remote and inhospitable regions of the Yukon. West of this natural frontier, in Alaska, the landlord in the mid-19th century is still the Russian tsar.

The trail to Oregon California and Utah: AD 1841-1850

The term Great Migration has been applied to two separate movements of people during the 1840s. One is the stream of immigrants drawn across the Atlantic to the Land of liberty, headed by the Irish from 1845. The other is the move westwards by American pioneer families to settle the regions bordering the Pacific. This begins a little earlier. The Great Migration of 1843 establishes the fame of the Oregon Trail.

In the 1840s the most westerly region which can be considered a settled part of the United States is Missouri. It is here, in the aptly-named town of Independence, that brave and optimistic families assemble to prepare for the dangerous journey west.

In the early years Oregon is the destination. American missionaries, working there among the Indians from 1834, send home word of the region's rich potential. The first small group of families attempts the trail in 1841. Thirty-two people complete the journey safely, increasing Oregon's American population by 20%. They join missionaries and trappers who together number only about 150.

The Great Migration of 1843 is more ambitious. As many as 1000 people set off west guided by a Presbyterian missionary, Marcus Whitman. Their wagon wheels begin to mark out the route across the plains which becomes known as the Oregon Trail.

The Conestoga wagons on the open plains provide a romantic image, as the prairie schooners much loved by film directors in the 20th century. Soon there are a great many of them. The trail is about 2000 miles long and in places as much as ten miles wide, with the wagon drivers spreading out to avoid the dust and to find grazing for their horses, mules and cattle. In one summer, that of 1850, as many as 50,000 people make the journey, which lasts from four to six months.

The route goes northwest through the prairie to the Platte river. The wagons then follow the Northern Platte tributary (past Fort Laramie) before making their way to the Sweetwater river. Moving up this towards its source brings them to the South Pass through the Rockies.

Beyond the South Pass there are several alternative routes, but from 1847 only a minority of the wagons coming through the pass are headed for Oregon.

An increasing number of travellers are now Mormons, on their way to a safe haven near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. And from 1849 the trail is used by an unprecedented horde of wagons, moving now in feverish haste. Gold has been found in California. The new immigrants are the famous forty-niners. Of the 50,000 who swarm through the South Pass during 1850, as many as 40,000 are prospectors desperate to find their fortune.

The Mormons and Salt Lake City: AD 1846-1896

The Mormons' great trek to the west could hardly have started in worse circumstances. In February 1846 the first groups begin to cross the Mississippi, which is about a mile wide at Nauvoo. The river is freezing but not yet frozen. Several craft capsize, drowning their passengers. A few days later the river is covered in ice and wagons and animals can be driven across.

At last the entire expedition is over the river (they are travelling heavy with all their possessions, including 30,000 head of cattle) but progress is slow through marshy regions even after snow and torrential rain have given way to summer heat. It becomes evident to their leader, Brigham Young, that they must sit out the next winter beside the Missouri.

The place which they call Winter Quarters, on the west bank of the Missouri, becomes an established staging post. Here Mormon parties in later years prepare for the last stretch of the journey. After this first winter, of 1846-7, Brigham Young sets off again. His pioneers join the Oregon trail at the Platte river, but they keep to the north bank - safely separate from the other 'gentile' immigrants moving along south of the stream.

By July 1847 the vanguard is through the South Pass and into Salt Lake valley. Within a few months the rest of the group follow safely, some 1600 people. By 1869, when the Railway arrives, about 80,000 have made the arduous journey in wagons or on foot from Winter Quarters.

Brigham Young selects the site for Salt Lake City before returning to Winter Quarters to bring out another group of Mormons in 1848. Meanwhile the ground is being marked out according to a plan for the city of Zion drawn up by Joseph smith. The Temple is to be built at the centre of a rectangular grid of main streets forming large square lots, each of ten acres.

Founded as a religious community, the new Salt Lake City makes no distinction between church and state (in this respect even going beyond Calvin's Geneva). Districts are administered by leaders who are both bishop and magistrate. The highest executive body is the Council of the Twelve Apostles, of which Brigham Young is senior member for thirty years.

These circumstances give the Mormons of Salt Lake valley a strength unique among settlers. Those who arrive here combine the toughness of pioneers with the discipline and obedience of monks and nuns.

Under the strong leadership of Brigham Young small groups of families are sent into neighbouring regions to establish outposts of the Mormon community (similar to the settling of colonies in the early Roman republic). In these places, extending north into modern Idaho, ambitious programmes of irrigation are carried out. Riches are conjured from the desert. Non-Mormon pioneers, moving on further west, trade with the Saints for fresh produce on their journey.

Salt Lake City thrives and - as Brigham Young intends - becomes the centre of a world-wide community of Latter Day Saints. Brigham Young himself, as early as 1840-1, spends a year in England preaching the message and gathering in converts. As a result of his efforts, and of others after him, many Mormon pioneers on the trail through the Rockies are immigrants from Europe.

Mission work remains a central theme of the Mormon community, with thousands of full-time missionaries today in numerous countries. Many are young men devoting two years of their lives to the cause. In the 1990s there are some 10 million Latter Day Saints around the world.

As early as 1849 Brigham Young applies for his community to be admitted to the union as the state of Deseret (a word from the Book of Mormon meaning 'honeybee', to signify industry). Congress instead grants the status of a territory, under the name Utah.

During the next forty years there are frequent attempts to achieve statehood, but they founder on one issue - polygamy. It becomes public knowledge in 1852 that Joseph smith had many wives and that the Mormons have made a religious principle of this practice. Brigham Young is said at first to have been averse to the idea of polygamy, but he overcomes his scruples quite convincingly. He becomes husband to seventy women and is survived by forty-seven children.

Such information is not well-received in the rest of the United States. Polygamy joins slavery as one of the great moral crusades of the time. Congress passes a succession of polygamy laws from 1862. Prosecutions, leading to fines and gaol sentences, are brought against selected polygamous families in Utah. Meanwhile the Mormon leadership conducts a lengthy legal campaign, arguing that these laws conflict with the religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

Eventually a judgement by the US supreme court in 1890, reinforcing the polygamy laws, persuades the Mormon leadership to abandon both the principle and the practice. Utah is duly admitted to the union in 1896 as the 45th state.

This History is as yet incomplete.

California and the Gold Rush: AD 1849-1850

In 1849, when the Mormons of Salt Lake City first apply for statehood, the region of Utah has recently been Ceded by mexico to the USA. So has California. But while Utah thrives steadily, California does so with a sudden rush.

As the most distant province of New spain, and from 1821 of Mexico, California's main European settlements have been Catholic mission stations. They become local trading centres, and several develop into townships. During the Mexican period the government grants large cattle ranches (some 80 million acres in all) to about 800 recipients. At the same time Russian and Canadian fur traders begin to move into the region from the north, as do Americans from the east.

The small number of foreigners arriving in the area are made welcome (by 1845 there are only about 700 Americans in the whole of California) and they are in many cases given generous grants of land. By far the largest holding belongs to John Sutter, an adventurer of Swiss origin, who arrives in California in 1839. He persuades the Mexican governor to assign him 50,000 acres on the Sacramento river. Here he establishes the town of New Helvetia, protected by Fort Sutter, as a centre of local industry and agriculture.

The Mexican war of 1846-8 delivers California into American hands, and Sutter becomes an American citizen. But in 1848 a chance discovery on his land transforms both his own life and that of California.

On 24 January 1848 James Marshall arrives in Fort Sutter and asks to see Sutter alone. Marshall is a builder, constructing a mill for Sutter at Coloma on a tributary of the Sacramento river. He shows Sutter flakes of gold which he has found at the site.

In spite of the efforts of the two men to keep it secret, news of the discovery leaks out. New Helvetia empties as its citizens scramble the thirty-five miles northeast to Coloma. Soon they are joined by sailors deserting their ships in San Francisco harbour, and by labourers laying down their tools all over California. Sutter gains nothing in the chaos. His cattle are destroyed, his property stolen. The great gold rush is on.

It takes months for news of the find to reach the other side of the American continent, and months more for the first prospectors to arrive along the Oregon Trail. So 1849 becomes the accepted date of the California gold rush, and 'forty-niners' provides an early rhyming name for the miners - though as yet there is no need for mining. Panning is sufficient.

Panning requires no capital. All that is needed is a pan with a mesh, in which river silt is shaken so that any flakes of gold glitter as the water drains away or clumps of earth break up. Every forty-niner stands an equal chance. The gold rush is an irresistible lottery, and many small fortunes are rapidly made.

The sudden growth in population and money supply transforms California into a new kind of society - one of violence, greed and ostentatious consumption, in which new ventures are recklessly undertaken and frequently fail.

The numbers arriving are extraordinary. The population of California is 14,000 in 1848, 100,000 in 1850 and 250,000 in 1852. And this increase is by immigration alone, for hardly anyone is being born here. In 1850 just 8% of the population is female. In the mining towns that figure falls to 2%. Forty-niners do not arrive with women.

Yet this new California is a place of extraordinary vigour, and of great potential once some sort of normality is restored. The miners themselves hurry on elsewhere when the supply of easy surface gold is exhausted (there are subsequent gold rushes before the end of the century in Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, the Klondike and Alaska). Those remaining in California get on with the process of establishing a stable community.

The first step is very early application for statehood. By September 1850 congress has passed a bill admitting California as the thirty-first state of the union. It is specifically admitted as a free state, meaning one from which slavery is excluded. This is now, more than ever, a controversial topic.

The political issue of slavery: AD 1819-1850

Slavery has been a major area of disagreement between the northern and southern states ever since the first compromise is achieved on the issue at the constitutional Convention of 1787. It becomes a particularly hot political issue in 1819 during congressional debates on the application of Missouri for statehood.

Settled largely from neighbouring Kentucky, Missouri contains many slaves on the plantations. In 1819 a New York congressman, James Tallmadge, proposes an amendment to the Missouri bill to the effect that no further slaves shall be brought into the state and that children of existing slaves shall be freed at the age of twenty-five.

The house of representatives, with a preponderance of congressmen from the more populous north, passes the Tallmadge amendment. In the senate, where eleven southern and eleven northern states have two senators each, the amendment fails to win a majority. It is an issue of great importance since the two new senators of a 'free' or a 'slave' state will tip the existing balance one way or the other.

The impasse is broken by another in the series of practical compromises on this contentious issue. It is agreed in 1820 that the district of Maine will be separated from Massachusetts to become an independent free state, the 23rd in the union. Missouri, with its slaves, follows in 1821 as the 24th. The balance is kept in the senate.

The Missouri Compromise, as the measures of 1820 become known, includes one other clause passed separately by congress. This legislates in advance for the territory beyond Missouri, stating that no more slave states shall be admitted to the union north of latitude 36.30 (the continuation of the southern boundary of Missouri).

The compromise holds good for the next thirty years, during which an equal number of new slave and free states enter the union (Arkansas, Florida and Texas in the south, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin in the north). But in 1849 the issue returns. California applies to join the union as a free state. For the first time since 1820 the southern states are in danger of being outvoted in the senate.

This time the compromise patched together is more complex, consisting of five separate agreements passed during 1850. Concessions to the north include the key issue of Californian admission to the union as a free state; and the banning of the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the nation's capital city, Washington, and the surrounding district of Columbia.

Concessions to the south are the promise that when New Mexico and Utah are ready for statehood, they may enter the union either with or without slavery; the federal payment of $10 million dollars of Texan debt; and new and more stringent Fugitive Slave Laws.

The Fugitive Slave Laws, passed in 1793, have been a continuing cause of local friction. They allow southern slave owners to reclaim escaped slaves found in northern states. Northern magistrates have often made a policy of deliberately frustrating the slave owners' legal rights in this respect. The Fugitive Slave Laws of 1850 attempt to prevent this (though in practice they have the opposite effect, prompting northern states to pass new laws safeguarding liberty).

It is believed by many that the Compromise of 1850 will resolve the thorny issue. It does nothing of the kind. Within four years the question of Kansas escalates the crisis.

Kansas and the Republican party: AD 1854-1860

During the 1840s the regions west of Missouri and Iowa are used by Americans for only two purposes. One is to travel through, either on the largely one-way Oregon trail or on the great trading route, known as the Sante Fe Trail, which carries heavily laden wagons to and fro between Independence in Missouri and Sante Fe in New Mexico.

The other use of these open spaces, already home territory to many Indian tribes, is the removal here by federal authorities of Indians from the eastern states. Almost twenty tribes are relocated here in 1850 alone. A quarter of present-day Kansas is designated as Indian land - but not, as it turns out, for long. In the 1850s pressure from white settlers causes the situation to be reassessed.

By 1852 there are enough settlers in Kansas to request the official status of a US territory. The issue is the concern of Stephen Douglas, an ambitious senator who chairs the senate committee on territories. Needing southern votes for other undertakings with which he is involved (in particular a transcontinental railway), he devises a scheme which he believes will appeal to the south without having much practical significance.

He proposes the creation of two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, in which (as in New Mexico and Utah in the recent Compromise of 1850) the settlers themselves will exercise 'popular sovereignty' in deciding whether to allow slavery.

Douglas's proposal becomes law in May 1854 as the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It has several immediate and inflammatory consequences. Since it supersedes the Missouri compromise of 1820 (by which congress has guaranteed that future states in this region will be free), it inflames the anti-slavery political factions of the north - who see it as a perfidious encroachment by the slave owners of the south, widely reviled as the 'slavocracy'.

Moreover by allowing the people of the new territory to decide, the act effectively invites both sides to send in their partisans. Heavily armed new settlers pour into the region. Within months Kansas is in a virtual state of civil war.

On the political front there is an even more lasting result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Northern outrage is so immediate and so intense that opposition groups from within all the Existing parties begin to organize 'anti-Nebraska' rallies.

By early July 1854, a mere six weeks after the act has become law, the new movement is strong enough for a mass meeting at Jackson, Michigan, to adopt the resonant name Republican party (recently dropped by the Democratic-republicans). In the congressional elections of 1854 the new party sweeps the north. In February 1856 the Republicans hold their first national convention, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Their candidate fails to win the presidential election of that year, but the party platform is now clear on the anti-slavery issue. Republicans are not abolitionist. They do not argue that congress should attempt to abolish slavery in the existing slave states. Instead they say that in any territory (a region still aspiring to statehood) congress has the right and obligation to ban slavery on moral grounds.

The passion with which this view is held is heightened by the Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the supreme court declares that congress has no such right. Slavery is the central theme when the Republicans gather for their national convention in Chicago in 1860. They nominate a local candidate, Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln: to AD 1860

Even more than Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln provides a stirring image of a new kind of president - a man of the people, representing the vigorous self-improving ideals of the American frontier.

He is born in a poor Kentucky family in 1809. His parents move west into Indiana in 1816 (the year in which Indiana becomes the nineteenth state). The family become squatters on public land, where the 7-year-old boy helps his father build the proverbial log cabin. The land is gradually hacked and tilled into shape to become a farm. When the family moves on again, in 1830, Abraham is a 21-year-old driving a team of oxen and one of the family wagons. The destination this time is Illinois.

Although as yet entirely uneducated, Lincoln now settles down to study law. He also develops political ambitions. By 1834 he is a member of the state assembly in Springfield, representing the new Whig party. In 1836 he passes his bar exams, and over the next twenty years builds up one of the state's leading practices.

Lincoln is therefore a well-known figure in Illinois when, in 1856, another new political group emerges dramatically and with unprecedented speed. He becomes an early member of the Republican party. In 1858 he is the Republican candidate for an Illinois seat in the senate. His opponent, another Springfield lawyer, is Stephen Douglas. But Douglas is already a national figure.

Douglas, senator for Illinois since 1847, is the man whose Kansas-nebraska act of 1854 brought the Republican party into existence on the issue of slavery in the territories. This more than any other is the question of the moment in 1858. Lincoln, as the Republican candidate challenging Douglas, finds himself at the centre of the nation's attention. He makes the most of it.

Since Douglas draws much bigger crowds than him, he adopts the very practical strategy of going to the same towns at the same time as his opponent. And he challenges him to public debate. Douglas accepts. It is agreed that they will share a platform in seven districts where they have not previously canvassed.

Douglas is brave in accepting this challenge since his position, if probed, is likely to alienate both wings of the national electorate. His support of 'popular sovereignty' means that congress should not legislate to ban slavery in the territories; yet on the same basis he argues against legislation to protect slave owners, expecting any existing slave plantations to be unworkable if there is popular hostility. This is too moderate a stance for anti-slavery and slavery factions alike.

Lincoln's position by contrast is clear. He does not propose to attack slavery in the south (he disapproves strongly of John Brown's adventure in the following year), but he would ban it in the new territories.

Though Lincoln badgers Douglas mercilessly on this issue in their famous series of debates, Douglas retains his senate seat. But Lincoln has publicly exposed the flaw which fragments the Democratic party in the presidential campaign of 1860.

The split results in two Democratic presidential candidates - Douglas for the northern wing of the party, and John Breckinridge for the south. Lincoln wins the Republican nomination at their convention in Chicago in May and goes on to win the presidential election in November, carrying the entire north and not a state in the south. The national divide is painfully evident, and is about to become more so.

Civil War, Commonwealth

South Carolina and Fort Sumter: AD 1860-1861

The news of Lincoln's election has immediate repercussions in the south. Within days a state convention is summoned in South Carolina to confront what is seen as a crisis in the fortunes of the slave-owning cotton states. On December 20 the convention assembles. It unanimously passes a resolution to dissolve 'the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states, under the name of the United States of America'.

Before the election the governor of South Carolina has sounded out his colleagues in other southern states. He has received words of support for independent action. Now, within six weeks, South Carolina is followed out of the union by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

The seceding states meet in February 1861 in Montgomery, Alabama, and set about appointing a provisional president (Jefferson Davis), establishing the necessary government departments, mustering an army and navy, and writing a constitution for what is to be called the Confederate States of America.

The constitution is very much like that of the United States, except that it places greater emphasis on the sovereignty of invidual states; and it guarantees government protection for the institution of slavery in any new territories.

These developments happen to occur during the hiatus which is a feature of American political life whenever there is a new president. The election is in November but the president elect does not take office until the early months of the new year.

By the time Lincoln enters office, several peace-keeping initiatives by congress have failed. And there is already a likely flashpoint for war in Fort Sumter. This is a military post in Charleston harbour. It is garrisoned by federal troops, but South Carolina now lays claim to it. In his inaugural address Lincoln warns that he will hold on to government property, but he tells the southern states: 'You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.'

With the nation poised on the brink of possible war every step has to be delicate, because there is a double-tier belt of uncommitted states between north and south. In the lower tier North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas border the states which have already seceded. Above them Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri border the free states in the north. If it comes to war, the frontier will run somewhere through this belt.

Eager to avoid alienating these states, Lincoln proceeds cautiously. With the garrison in Fort Sumter on the verge of being starved into submission, he sends word to the governor of South Carolina. He will be sending relief to the fort, but only food - no men, arms or ammunition.

The Confederate authorities disregard this conciliatory message, fearing that prevarication can only harm their cause. They send a demand to the commander of the fort that he evacuate it immediately. He refuses. On 12 April 1861 Confederate guns from the shore open fire on the island fort, which is protected mainly against attack from the sea. The commander surrenders on the following day and Confederate troops move in.

This is clearly an act either of insurrection or war. Lincoln responds by calling for 75,000 volunteers to sign up for three months of service. He expects the governors of the states to muster these men - a demand which has the effect of conclusively drawing the frontier between the warring sides.

Wherever states' rights have been an important theme in local politics (going back to Jefferson's opposition to the Federalists), Lincoln's demand is rejected. It has the effect of driving those areas into the Confederate camp.

Four states declare themselves for the Confederacy: the southern trio of North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, and above them Virginia. However the western regions of Virginia vote against seceding and subsequently join the union as West Virginia (the thirty-fifth state, in 1863). The four slave states to the north (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri) remain loyal to the union, though only after a period of turmoil in Missouri. The federal capital, Washington, is poised on the frontier between Maryland and Virginia.

Civil War: AD 1861

Both north and south are ill prepared for a war which few want but which has come to seem inevitable. On paper the advantages all seem to be on the side of the north. Twenty-three northern states, with 22 million free citizens, confront eleven states in which the total population of 12 million includes 4 million slaves - a group whom their owners would not willingly risk arming for military service, but whose labour will nevertheless contribute to the war effort.

In addition to this already uneven balance, the north is the rich industrial area, more capable of manufacturing the necessities of war. Moreover it is the rump of an existing nation, whereas the south is a newcomer on the world stage seeking recognition.

But the Confederate states have certain advantages too. Many senior officers in the federal army are southern aristocrats who now, often with grave misgivings (as in the case of the brilliant general Robert E. Lee), resign their commissions to fight for their home states.

The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, has himself been a distinguished soldier. He knows personally many of his likely commanders. By contrast Lincoln is a lawyer from distant Illinois, virtually a stranger in Washington, with no personal knowledge of military affairs or of northern generals. It is impossible to overestimate the task facing such a man who finds himself, within weeks of arriving in the White House, playing the role of commander-in-chief in a major war.

The final advantage for the Confederate states is that they will win if they are not defeated. Survival will equal independence. There is every chance that the north will grow weary of trying to dominate the vast region of their combined states. Jefferson Davis's natural strategy is defensive. Lincoln requires a more aggressive policy.

Both sides probably expect the conflict to be short. Lincoln enlists the volunteers in April 1861 for just three months' duty (though this is likely to be good politics as much as optimism). When Jefferson Davis at the same period places an order for English Rifles, he sends for only 10,000. But this war will turn out to be a long and brutal one, making great demands on both men and munitions.

Campaigns of 1861

Virginia is the most powerful of the Confederate states and its state capital, Richmond, is capital of the Confederacy from May 1861. The capture of Richmond, and the squeezing of Virginia, becomes a central part of northern or Union strategy. Economic pressure is also to be applied by a blockade of all southern ports, proclaimed by Lincoln on April 19 (a week after the attack on Fort sumter).

The first full-scale engagement of the war is a clear Confederate victory. A Union army, moving south towards Richmond, is defeated on July 21 near Bull Run Creek. The battle is known as First Bull Run in the north and as Manassas (the nearest town) in the south.

This is the occasion on which the Confederate general Thomas Jackson wins his nickname 'Stonewall' from his resolute holding of his position. Jackson's mere presence at First Bull Run provides early evidence that this is a different kind of war. Indeed it is often described as the first modern war. His brigade arrives after being rushed to the battlefield in trains from the Shenandoah valley.

New forms of transport (the railway), of communication (the telegraph) and of warship (the ironclad and even the submarine) introduce in the American Civil War techniques of warfare which will not be much altered until the arrival of aeroplane and tank. And thanks to Mathew Brady, it is also the first war of which a full photographic record survives (see Brady's men).

Campaigns of 1862: in the west

While attempting to isolate Virginia, it is important also for Union forces to gain control of the great river system to the west of the Confederate states. There is a successful campaign to this end during 1862.

It begins when a Union general, Ulysses S. Grant, and naval officer, Andrew Foote, combine forces to seize two river forts recently built by the Confederates to defend Tennessee. Fort Henry and Fort Donelson are both taken during February, with a loss to the Confederate cause of 12,000 men, mainly as prisoners.

This success is rapidly followed by a surprise raid at the mouth of the Mississippi. On April 18 Flag Officer David Farragut boldly navigates a small fleet of Union warships through a bombardment from shore batteries downstream of New Orleans. By April 25 he is anchored close to the city itself. Union marines go ashore and occupy New Orleans on May 1.

This leaves the Confederates in control only of the middle section of the Mississippi. This region has been the scene on April 6-7 of one of the most fiercely fought battles of the war, at Shiloh, where Grant secures with difficulty a Union victory but wins no significant strategic advantage. That must await his success at Vicksburg in the following year.

Campaigns of 1862: in the east

The Union strategy against Richmond in this second year of the war is to approach the Confederate capital from the sea. A large army, under the command of George B. McLellan, is to be shipped through Chesapeake Bay and is to land near Yorktown. The intention is then to march up the peninsula between the York and James rivers towards Richmond.

Before the army even begins embarkation, there is a scare that its landing may be prevented by a terrifying new naval vessel. The Merrimack, a Confederate ship resembling a floating metal hut, appears at the mouth of the James river and sinks some federal vessels. But the very next day, the balance is redressed by another equally ungainly metal boat, the Monitor (see Monitor and Merrimack).

With the threat of the Confederate ironclad removed, McClellan successfully lands 100,000 men, takes Yorktown on May 2, and moves on up the peninsula. By late June he is within a few miles of Richmond. But during a week's fighting he is confronted by a Confederate army of 85,000 men under General Lee.

The Seven Days Battle (June 26 to July 2) brings heavy casualties to both sides. It ends in stalemate, but the event is sufficient to persuade McClellan to withdraw. Thus the great Peninsular Campaign ends in failure. So does a second major Union attempt in this same summer to advance against Richmond.

A Union army crosses the Potomac in July to march south towards Richmond, repeating the invasion tactic of the previous year. As on that occasion, the adventure ends in disaster at Bull run Creek. The second battle of Bull run or Manassas (August 29-30) is a joint victory for Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Under Lee's command they drive the Union forces back across the Potomac.

Virginia is now virtually clear of Union intruders. This autumn the Confederates take the offensive, pressing north into Kentucky and Maryland. But they fail to make progress, and Lee is forced back into Virginia after a reversal at Antietam (September 17). This Union success prompts Lincoln to take a different kind of initiative.

Emancipation Proclamation: AD 1862-1863

President Lincoln has undertaken the Civil War intending only to preserve the Union. His purpose, and that of the Republican party, has never been to end slavery in the southern states. But two costly and inconclusive years of war begin to alter his opinion.

There are several reasons. The abolitionist lobby in the north is passionate and vocal. Increasing resentment at the southern states, begetters of this painful conflict, lessens any inclination to protect their supposed rights as slave-owners. And a new moral dimension added to the Union war aims is likely to bring its own diplomatic and political benefits.

Liberal opinion in Britain, where the government often seems inclined to support the south, will be impressed by an anti-slavery crusade. And flagging domestic acceptance of the war will be refreshed by an injection of idealism, particularly in the cause with which Americans identify most powerfully - that of liberty.

Lincoln decides, in the summer of 1862, to make the emancipation of the slaves a central plank of his policy. But this summer, bringing successive Defeats in virginia of Union armies, seems not the right moment. It is important that such an important announcement shall not seem to be made in desperation.

The president is given his opportunity when the engagement at Antietam, in September 1862, can be presented as a Union success on the battlefield. Five days later he issues a preliminary proclamation. It states that if the Confederate states have not laid down their arms by the end of the year, he will declare their slaves to be free.

Naturally the states fail to respond, so on 1 January 1863 Lincoln issues his Emancipation Proclamation. It declares that all people held in slavery in the rebel states are now free; it urges them to refrain from violence; and it announces that freed slaves will be welcome to serve in the US army and navy.

Most of this is as yet only of symbolic relevance. No slaves are formally freed anywhere, since the proclamation does not apply to slave states fighting on the Union side (where Lincoln cannot as yet afford to offend their owners). Nevertheless many southern slaves take the opportunity to flee to the north. By the end of the war about 180,000 African-Americans have joined the armed forces, greatly boosting Union military strength.

And the symbolic effect is enormous. The struggle now has a high moral purpose. The attitude of the slaves is transformed, whether in Union or Confederate states, by the knowledge that a Union victory will be followed by freedom.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Campaigns of 1863

By the end of the Independence Day celebrations on 4 July 1863 the north has news of victories on two fronts. They can later be seen as the major turning point in the four-year war.

One, in the west, ends a long struggle over the Mississippi. In spite of all his efforts during 1862, Ulysses S. Grant has not been able to dislodge Confederate forces from the middle section of the great river. Their main stronghold is at Vicksburg. During the winter and spring of 1862-3 he has made many different attempts (including the use of ironclads on the river) to attack Vicksburg, but always without success. However by May 1863 Grant is at last in a position to besiege the city.

Six weeks later, on July 4, by which time the town is short of ammunition and almost out of food, the Confederate commander surrenders with his garrison of 30,000 men. The entire Mississippi is now in Union hands. With his instinct for a solemn but telling phrase, Lincoln declares: 'The Father of Waters flows once more unvexed to the sea.'

The three previous days have seen another more unexpected victory. It arises out of what is virtually a chance encounter.

In June Robert E. Lee moves north into Pennsylvania with an army of about 75,000 men. He has several motives for carrying the campaign once again into the north. He hopes to build on growing popular hostility to the war, which has been fanned by Lincoln's introduction of Conscription. Lee is also eager to move the scene of hostilities away from war-ravaged Virginia. And he intends to gather at Union expense some much needed supplies of food and clothing for his men.

On June 30 a brigade of Confederate soldiers is approaching the small town of Gettysburg, where they have heard there is a supply of boots. A squadron of Union troopers unexpectedly comes across them. The result, over the next three days, is the battle of Gettysburg.

By July 2 the Union forces have taken up a strong defensive position on Cemetery Hill south of the town. The Confederates fling themselves against this hillside, with massive losses and to no avail. The final encounter, on July 3, is the famous Pickett's Charge, in which 15,000 Confederate infantrymen from General George Pickett's division march, as if on parade, across 1400 yards of open fields towards the Union artillery and muskets. Only 5000 survive this reckless endeavour (a statistic which makes the Charge of the light brigade seem trivial), and the total casualties for both sides exceed 50,000.

General Lee and his army are allowed to limp back across the Potomac. They are not conclusively defeated, but the tide has turned.

Four months later, in November, President Lincoln comes to Gettysburg to dedicate a national cemetery for those who fell in this most bloody of all the Civil War encounters (the estimated figures for dead and wounded are 23,000 Union soldiers and 28,000 Confederates).

The audience first must suffer a two-hour high-flown oration by a distinguished clergyman and statesman, Edward Everett. Lincoln then speaks for two minutes and produces, in what becomes famous as the Gettysburg Address, a ringing statement of the ideals for which he believes this war is being fought: 'that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth'.

Not everyone in the north shares the president's idealism. In particular there is much resentment over his Union Enrollment Act, passed in March 1863. This drafts into the army all able-bodied males between the ages of twenty and forty-five, but it allows exemption on payment of $300.

This is the clause which causes outrage among the poorer classes, prompting riots in many places. The most violent protest is by Irish immigrants in New York, where disturbances last for four days in July 1863 and cause more than 100 deaths.

Grant and Sherman: AD 1864-1865

The campaigns of 1863 at last bring President Lincoln the generals he needs for victory. While Lee has been from the start the leading Confederate general, and remains so to the end, those in command of the Union forces have changed with bewildering speed. Each in turn disappoints Lincoln, usually by failing to press a military advantage after a victory. The commander at Gettysburg, George G. Meade, seems to fall into precisely this category.

By contrast Lincoln is impressed by the tenacity with which Grant has conducted the long campaign against Vicksburg. In March 1864 Grant is appointed general in chief of all the Union forces.

Grant's closest colleague in the Vicksburg campaign has been William T. Sherman. Grant now secures Sherman's appointment as commander of the army of the Mississippi in the west, while himself overseeing the operations of the Potomac army in the east.

In the hands of these two generals a consistent Union strategy is ruthlessly carried out over the next twelve months, regardless of cost, until victory is achieved. The policy is for Grant and the Potomac army to press through Virginia once again towards the Confederate capital of Richmond. Meanwhile Sherman is to cripple the south by marching southeast through Georgia, the state in which most of the south's grain is grown.

Grant's advance across the Potomac in 1864 succeeds largely because he is willing to accept more casualties than his predecessors. Pressing south in early May, he loses (dead or wounded) a third of his army of 100,000 men in a series of engagements against Lee, whose forces are only about 60,000. But by mid-June Grant has progressed far enough to threaten Petersburg.

This town, only a few miles south of Richmond, controls the main railway link to the Confederate capital. From midsummer, through the winter of 1864-5, Grant pins down Lee at Petersburg while Sherman creates havoc further south.

The march to the sea: AD 1864

With about the same number of troops as Grant's Potomac army (100,000 men), Sherman marches into Georgia from Chattanooga in May 1864. Against constant skirmishing from a smaller Confederate force, he makes slow but steady progress until July. He then wins three battles in quick succession. As a result, in early September, the Confederates abandon Atlanta, the capital of Georgia and a crucial railway junction.

It is the first southern city of importance to fall into Union hands, and the news is well timed to help Lincoln win a second term in the presidential election in November (an outcome which seemed much in doubt a few months earlier, with his Democratic opponent campaigning on a peace platform).

At Atlanta Sherman is already dangerously far from his sources of supply in the west. He decides to abandon caution and to bring terror to the south. In mid-November, with 60,000 men, he sets off on his famous 'march to the sea'. Living off the land, and then ensuring that no one else can do so, Sherman's army leaves a trail of destruction some fifty miles wide. Railways are smashed, bridges are blown up, the great houses of the plantations are burnt; and slaves are liberated.

300 miles of this violent progress brings Sherman to the coast. On December 21 he captures Savannah. Then he turns north to cut a similar swathe through South Carolina. By April 14 he is in Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina.

The Appomattox Court House: AD 1865

In pressing north through the Carolinas, Sherman's intention is to join up with Grant's army in Virginia. But by April 1865 this is no longer necessary.

Grant and Lee have faced each other through the winter in front of Petersburg in what is almost trench warfare, but Grant steadily extends his lines to threaten the vital railway connections. On April 1 the railway is captured. On April 2 the Confederate government flees from Richmond and Lee begins a retreat to the west. His army is starving. Grant's men, in pursuit, find muskets abandoned by the roadside. Lee, recognizing that any further resistance is futile, offers to surrender.

The two generals meet on April 9 at the Appomattox Court House, situated at a country crossroads. It is one of the few civilized moments of the Civil War. Lee hands over his sword and Grant offers conciliatory terms, as he knows Lincoln would wish.

The Confederate soldiers, on laying down their arms, are to be given an issue of rations before dispersing. They are to be allowed to keep their horses, to enable them to plough the fields when they reach home. No one, from Lee to the humblest soldier, is to be penalized as long as today's parole terms are observed.

Five days earlier, on April 4, Lincoln has paid a visit to Richmond, the fallen Confederate capital and target for so long of Union military campaigns. He is surrounded in the streets by a jubilant crowd of African-Americans, and is accompanied on his departure by a troop of black cavalry.

Everything looks ready for the start of the difficult process of peace and reconciliation, or in the phrase of the time 'reconstruction'. The surrender of the other Confederate army is a foregone conclusion after Sherman's occupation of Raleigh on April 13. On April 14 the opposing general, Joseph E. Johnston, asks for an armistice. But an event elsewhere, on this same day, shatters the prospects for a constructive peace.

Ford's Theatre: AD 1865

In the first relaxing days of peace President Lincoln and his wife decide to spend an evening at Ford's Theatre in Washington. On Good Friday, April 14, they go to a performance of a popular comedy, Our American Cousin. During the third act a Shakespearian actor, John Wilkes Booth, member of a Confederate conspiracy, succeeds in making his way to the president's box.

The intruder shoots Lincoln in the head and then jumps down on to the stage. Playing his role to the hilt, he shouts to the audience 'Sic semper tyrannis ("thus always to tyrants"), the south is revenged' before escaping into the night.

At almost the same moment a fellow-conspirator breaks into the house where the secretary of state, William H. Seward, is ill in bed being tended by his daughter. He wounds Seward severely but fails to kill him.

Lincoln lives on for a few hours, unconscious in a small house near the theatre, until he dies in the morning of April 15. How much America may have lost through his violent end remains one of the most absorbing speculations of history. The two splintered halves of the United States have been rejoined by war. The urgent question now is how to reunite them also in peace. Perhaps Lincoln might have been capable of doing so. His successors in Washington prove inadequate for a daunting task.


The shattered south: AD 1865

The cost of four years of war has been massive on both sides, in men and money alike. The north has more of each and loses more of each: about 360,000 Union soldiers killed compared to 260,000 Confederates; some $5 billion spent as opposed to $3 billion.

But this is money spent on the war, not the cost of the destruction of buildings and of industrial and agricultural capacity. These other costs fall almost entirely on the south, where nearly all the fighting takes place (even before the devastation caused by Sherman in 1864). By contrast the industries of the north go through a boom period, servicing the war effort at government expense.

Both sides introduce income tax for the first time to pay for the war. Other forms of tax, tariff and duty are raised to unprecedented heights. Government bonds are issued to bring in money.

But there is more private wealth in the north for the government to borrow. The south has to resort more recklessly to printing money. The result is crippling inflation. By the end of the war a Confederate dollar is worth 1.5 cents in Union money. To buy a pair of boots in Richmond in 1864 costs $200. Butter is $15 a pound.

Inflation, starvation and physical ruin are frequently the aftermath of a major war. But in the south in 1865 there are other unprecedented problems. The whole economic basis of southern life has been transformed.

Some four million slaves have been freed. For the small minority of the white population who owned slaves (less than 5% of the total) this represents a major financial loss; in 1860 the price of a healthy young male African American in New Orleans was $1800. In addition the planters now have to pay wages to the former slaves working their plantations, and the amount of work which can be extracted from them is much reduced. Previously they slaved from dawn to dusk. Now they work a labourer's day of nine or ten hours.

This change in itself reduces by as much as a third the productivity of the great cotton plantations. Meanwhile the world price of cotton has been falling, with rival supplies from India and elsewhere undercutting the southern product. For all these reasons 'king cotton' no longer reigns. The riches which once supported the life style of the southern planters are no longer available.

The rest of the whites, many of them poor, suffer in the economic depression. For them a large free black labour force also represents an economic threat. Add deeply ingrained racial prejudice and an enhanced resentment of the north, and it is clear that the south is a somewhat intractable problem for the federal government.

Reconstruction: AD 1865-1867

At the political level the immediate problem is the return of southern representives to Washington. On what terms and with what status are the secessionist states to be readmitted to congress?

President Lincoln, more concerned with reconstructing the union than reforming the south, proposes as early as 1863 that states should be readmitted as soon as 10% of the 1860 electorate takes an oath of loyalty to the union, accepts the emancipation of the slaves and elects a like-minded state government. Congress considers this too lenient and passes in 1864 the Wade-Davis bill, setting the necessary threshold at 50% of the electorate. Lincoln refuses to accept this. At the time of his death the issue is unresolved.

The vice-president, Andrew Johnson, succeeding to the office of president on Lincoln's assassination, is immediately confronted with the problems of peace. He accepts the Wade-Davis level of 50% for the oath of loyalty and says that state governments elected on this basis will be recognized once they repudiate all debts run up by their predecessors and accept the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment, passed by congresss early in 1865, outlaws slavery in the USA.

By the end of the year nearly all the southern states have fulfilled these terms. On paper the situation looks promising. But a crisis erupts when congress reconvenes, in December 1865, with the newly elected southern representatives.

The immediate shock for the Republicans of the northern states is seeing the delegates now returned to congress from the south. They look very much like the old guard from before the war, and are described derisively as 'Confederate Brigadiers'. The Republican majority in congress refuses to let them take their seats and immediately sets up a Joint Committee on Reconstruction - in a direct challenge to the president's management of the process.

If there is moral outrage in the section of the party known as the Radical Republicans, there is also sound political sense. The Republicans have no support as yet in the south. After winning the war, they do not now intend to lose their control of congress to southern Democrats.

The moral element in the Republican response has considerable justification. To protect white supremacy, southern state governments have been passing measures which negate in almost every practical sense the emancipation of the slaves.

These measures, known as the Black Codes, are designed to keep African-Americans in a state of servitude as close as is legally possible to slavery. Laws are passed which apply only to African-Americans in relation to employment, possession of alcohol or firearms, penalties for vagrancy or insolence, and even the imposition of curfews. Terror to reinforce the message is never far away. The first branch of the Ku Klux Klan is founded in Tennessee on Christmas Eve 1865.

There are corresponding moves by congress on behalf of the African-Americans. The Freedmen's Bureau is set up in 1865, at first to support slaves escaping from the south and then to protect the interests of the freed slaves in the southern states. To counter the Black Codes, a Civil Rights Act is passed in 1866 guaranteeing the legal rights of African-Americans. In the same year congress proposes the 14th Amendment (ratified in 1868) which declares that all people born or naturalized in the United States have equal rights as citizens.

By this time the Radical Republicans in congress are at loggerheads with their Republican president. To try and keep members of their faction in the administration, they pass in 1867 a Tenure of Office Act.

This act (declared unconstitutional in 1926) states that a president needs senate approval to dismiss certain senior office-holders. When President Johnson defies congress in 1868 by sacking his secretary of war (Edwin M. Stanton), the house of representatives votes within three days to impeach him.

Johnson escapes impeachment by just one vote in the senate, where a two-thirds majority is required, but he is by now completely at odds with his own Republican party. In the 1868 presidential election the Republican candidate is the north's military hero of the Civil War, Ulysses s. grant. (He wins and is president for two terms, from 1869 to 1877.)

Congressional Reconstruction: AD 1867-1877

A significant step in the worsening relation between congress and President Johnson is the passing by congress, in March 1867 and against the presidential veto, of the first of the Reconstruction Acts. The effect of these acts is to impose belated military rule on the defeated south, in marked contrast to the mood of reconciliation offered by Johnson in 1865. The secessionist states are divided into five military districts, each commanded by a major-general from the federal army.

The political aim of the Radical Republicans, who push through these measures, is to keep control of congress by ensuring a sufficiently strong Republican vote in the south. Crucial to this scheme is the African American franchise.

From the first drafting of the Constitution it has been an accepted principle that the extent of the franchise is the concern of each individual state. Originally this meant setting the property qualification to become an elector. From the early 19th century new states admitted to the union have tended to opt for universal White male suffrage. But no state, including even northern states during the Civil War with a significant population of free African-Americans, has shown any inclination to extend the suffrage beyond the white electorate.

Now, in the hope of creating a Republican south, congress alters this situation at a stroke.

In any southern state, now seeking admission to the union, African-Americans are to be eligible to vote (a condition applied to the whole nation from 1870, when the 15th Amendment is added to the Constitution decreeing that no male citizen shall be denied a vote 'on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude'). In addition, in the south, anyone who voluntarily took up arms in the Confederate cause during the Civil War is now disenfranchised.

The resulting state governments during the 1870s are made up of three groups: leaders of the African-American community; northerners who have moved south to take part in reconstruction; and southerners loyal to the union.

The southern establishment, deeply resentful of what is happening, quickly finds abusive names for the two white groups in this new power structure. The northerners become known as 'carpetbaggers', implying that they are adventurers with no more stake in the south than the contents of the light bag made of carpet with which they arrive. And the collaborating southerners are abused as 'scalawags' or 'scallywags', a general term for a ruffian of which the origin is not known.

During the 1870s African-Americans play for the first time a part in US politics, though not yet a large one. For a while in South Carolina they have a majority in the lower house. And sixteen serve in congress in Washington, two of them as senators.

Segregation: from the 1870s

The overall effect of reconstruction in the south is precisely the opposite of what the Radical Republicans of the north intend. Economic power remains in the hands of disenfranchised Confederate planters, burning with resentment at the artificial Republican state governments foisted upon them by congressional measures. They continue to do everything they can to ensure that the freed slaves remain in what they consider their proper place, regardless of the contrary efforts made in the north.

In 1870 a Massachusetts senator introduces a bill in congress to outlaw segregation in public transport, in public places such as hotels and restaurants, and in schools. After much opposition it is passed in 1875, but without the provision concerning schools.

This act is largely ignored in the south, particularly after 1877 when the last federal troops of the military occupation are withdrawn. The experiment in radical reconstruction is over. Democrats regain control of every southern state government. Far from the Republicans establishing a strong presence in the region, the south becomes an area of one-party politics until the second half of the 20th century.

With power back in traditional hands, steps are soon taken to restore as far as possible the old status quo. To supplement the illicit methods of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, legal restrictions are enacted to keep the African-American in his place.

In 1883 the US Supreme Court declares the 1875 act against segregation to be unconstitutional. This gives state governments in the south all they need.

By the end of the century legislation has been passed requiring segregation of African-Americans and whites in hospitals, gaols and cemeteries, on public transport and in nearly all places of public assembly. Even the 15th amendment is cunningly subverted. Each state can set its own requirements for the franchise, but the Amendment outlaws discrimination by colour or race. A device introduced in Louisiana in 1898 achieves the difficult task of giving the vote even to illiterate whites while denying it to all who are black.

Literacy tests have by this time been introduced in several states. A typical example requires would-be voters to be able to read and explain any part of the state constitution. But this has the effect of also excluding large sections of the white population.

Louisiana's subtle ploy is the 'grandfather clause'. Anyone whose grandfather was on the electoral register in January 1867 is now excused the literary test. This simple device enfranchises many illiterate whites. But no African-American anywhere, and therefore no black citizen's grandfather, had the vote by the start of 1867.

Whether a less racially divided south could be achieved after the trauma of the Civil War is debatable. But the policy of radical reconstruction during the 1870s, followed by the effective abandonment of the southern African-Americans to their fate, plunges the American south into a century of resentful misery and poverty - and stokes up the fires of the civil rights and desegregation struggles of the later 20th century.

Martin Luther King, when his time comes, is a martyr to the dark history of the southern states.

Land of liberty: AD 1845-1900

From the mid-19th century the population of the United States has been increased by unprecedented numbers of immigrants arriving across the Atlantic. In times of famine, political unrest, pogrom or persecution, America seems to shine like a beacon of liberty - a place in which Europe's oppressed and unfortunate can start a new life. And this large-scale movement of people is of an entirely new kind.

It is not only that the reason now is primarily economic. When ethnic groups have migrated in the past, whether they be Celts or Goths or Huns, the underlying motive has also been economic; they are looking for places where food or wealth is more easily available. But for the most part they have moved as a group rather than on individual impulse.

The difference in the 19th century is that the migration is an economic decision made separately by thousands of young men or married couples, seeking a better life for themselves or their families in another place. (A founding father in this tradition is surely the Viking who sets off with his family in874 to settle in Iceland.)

The Irish are the first in this new stream of people across the Atlantic, escaping the devastation of the Great famine of 1845-7. They are soon followed by large numbers of migrants from Germany, where reactionary regimes threatened by revolution (as seen in the turmoil of 1848) give the ambitious and the prudent a double motive to leave.

Once the first wave of immigrant families is established, their success encourages others to follow them. So the Irish and the Germans soon become a significant proportion of the American population. The figures are striking. In 1860 approximately 4 million residents in the United States have been born elsewhere - some 1.6 million in Ireland and 1.3 million in Germany (compared to about half a million in England, Scotland and Wales).

When combined with their children born in the States, these figures suggest that the new Irish and German communities are each already about 3 million strong - perhaps as much as 10% of the population (31 million in 1860). And these figures are in addition to older Irish and German groups already present in colonial times.

These statistics are from the period just before the Civil war which finally frees America's slaves. The beacon of liberty encouraging the immigrants is thereafter untarnished, and it soon stands as a physical symbol to greet the shiploads arriving from Europe.

Victory for the north in the Civil war prompts a French historian, Edouard de Laboulaye, to propose that France (much associated with Liberté) should present an appropriate statue to the American nation. Paid for by the contributions of the French people, and sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the gigantic copper-sheathed lady with a lamp is first assembled in Paris in 1885.

The statue, just over 150 feet high, is then dismantled and is shipped across the Atlantic (like so many other immigrants). Reassembled on Bedloe's Island, in the channel approaching New York harbour, the statue is ready to be dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. Its official title is Liberty Enlightening the World, but it soon becomes known simply as the Statue of Liberty.

Close to Bedloe's Island is Ellis Island, used from 1892 to 1943 as the immigration station for ships arriving from Europe. So Liberty herself becomes the first glimpse of a new life for the swelling stream of immigrants. In a census of 1900 as many as 1.7 million Americans have been born in Ireland, and 2.7 million in Germany.

The railways and the west: AD 1862-1887

While the Irish are arriving on the east coast, Chinese immigrants are landing in much smaller numbers from the Pacific (some 36,000 of them by 1860). Their presence in California prompts a mounting clamour of indignation from settlers of European origin. In 1882 congress passes a Chinese Exclusion Act, banning any further Chinese immigration for ten years. Renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902, this is the first retreat from America's policy of extending a warm welcome to all.

By the mid-1860s the Chinese are sufficiently numerous to play a crucial part - together with the Irish - in the most dramatic project of the decade.

During the Civil War, in 1862, the federal government passes legislation to set up two great railway ventures - the Union Pacific building westwards from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific, pressing east from Sacramento, California.

To encourage investment, grants of valuable land on either side of the route are made to the railway companies. Speculation and profiteering is rife, but there is also a great boost to northern industry in the manufacture of so much railway track. About 12,000 labourers on each side (mainly Irish in the east and Chinese in the west) work steadily towards a meeting point. There are financial bonuses for whichever railway company moves faster.

The lines finally meet, in May 1869, west of the Rockies at Promontory in Utah. It is a moment of vast symbolic significance. With this transcontinental link completed, the nation is in a real sense now a single unit from coast to coast.

Railway building continues apace (in one year alone, 1882, more than 11,000 miles of track are laid), bringing ever greater prosperity to the midwest. Among the first to benefit are the cowboys, on plains being cleared of buffalo (or bison in their scientific name) by hunters more efficient and more ruthless than the Indians. Buffalo Bill, employed in 1867-8 to feed workers building the railways, personally shoots 4280 of these splendid wild animals in eight months.

The Indians too, deprived of their buffalo prey, are steadily pushed off the plains (often in violent clashes). In their place come the cowboys, with the great herds of cattle which they drive to the nearest point on a railway for transport to the slaughter houses of Kansas City and Chicago.

Soon the cowboys themselves are under pressure, from settlers in Kansas and Nebraska who fence in the plains for their own cattle (using the recent American invention of barbed wire for this purpose, first patented in 1867), and who discover that the earth here can also be made to yield vast crops of wheat. Whatever the particular source of the wealth, and whoever the beneficiary, money abounds in the midwest thanks to the railways during the 1870s and early 1880s.

There are several results of this western boom. One is that the railway companies begin to make shameless use of their economic power in the region, using it unscrupulously for both political and commercial ends. Their actions prompt a significant new step on the part of the federal government. Congress passes in 1887 the Interstate Commerce Act, regulating the prices charged by the companies and thus intervening for the first time to avoid the excesses of unrestrained capitalism.

The other result of the boom years, which have seemed as if they need never end, is an inability to cope with anything different. In the year of the Interstate Commerce Act, 1887, boom turns very suddenly to bust.

Boom and bust: AD 1877-1893

The pattern of boom and bust in late 19th-century America is a dramatic example of what has since come to seem an endemic aspect of capitalism. This pattern is different from speculative mania of a purely financial kind (as in the South sea bubble, where investors are the only losers).

An almost invariable ingredient in each cycle is too much credit extended by banks. Sometimes a sudden collapse in market prices triggers the panic which ends the boom (a drop in the price of cotton has this effect in the USA in 1819 and 1837). A natural disaster can have the same result. So can a single event of mainly symbolic importance in the financial markets. All these characteristics are seen in America between 1877 and 1893, in a saga beginning in the midwest.

It is a misfortune that during the boom years in the midwest, from 1877, there is an unusually high level of rainfall on the plains. Growing crops here seems easy. And land on which to grow them is easily come by, thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862 (granting 160 acres of public land in the west to any family farming it for five years) and the lavish allocations of territory to the railway companies.

In practice land is often acquired from middlemen and speculators, but this does not deter the streams of immigrants coming west on the railways (among them now Scandinavians, Germans, Hungarians and Poles). In this mood of optimism mortgages are easily available. Financiers on Wall Street also see profit in the west.

Loans are needed too for the livestock and seeds and implements and rolls of barbed wire which a pioneer farmer needs before he can get to work (the family house is a lesser priority - the 'sod cabin', cut from turf, becomes a feature of the plains). Agents of eastern banks travel through Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and western Texas offering attractive terms.

The new towns borrow money too, for streets and buildings appropriate to their growing wealth. Next year's crop will enable the pioneer families to pay their local taxes and to service their debts, while the value of their land goes steadily up. And for the ten years of good rainfall, from 1877, the crop duly plays its part.

A double disaster strikes in 1887. In January an unprecedented blizzard sweeps the plains, piling up vast snowdrifts against the barbed wire fences. Cattle perish in their thousands. In the spring the open range seems empty of life.

This is followed by a summer of drought, which proves to be the pattern for the next ten years. The harvest is a fraction of its usual amount, at a time when the international price of wheat is falling (by 30% during the 1880s). Interest on loans cannot be met. With confidence gone, the supply of easy credit dries up. For the first time convoys of Conestoga wagons head eastwards, bearing slogans such as 'In God We Trusted, In Kansas We Busted'.

Though money has been lost, these faraway events are as yet more painful on the plains than in the offices of Wall Street (established by now as the nation's main financial centre). Recognizing a potential crisis, financiers and politicians focus their concern on whether the nation's currency is sound. This soon develops into a disagreement about the relative roles of gold and silver in the management of the economy. But there is a general consensus that the government must hold a minimum reserve of $100 million in gold.

In April 1893, shortly after President Cleveland enters office for the second time, the reserve falls below this magic figure. This turns out to be the symbolic moment which provokes the crash.

Investors rush to turn their assets into gold, and panic feeds on panic. By the end of 1893 the federal gold reserve is $80 million and the shutters have come down on 600 banks, 74 railway companies and more than 15,000 other commercial enterprises. The collapse in the economy brings widespread unemployment and hardship. In 1895 the banker J.P. Morgan provides the government with $62,000 to bring the still falling reserves back to $100,000.

The next presidential election, in 1896, is fought on the issue of gold versus silver. The Republican candidate, William McKinley, is on the side of gold. He wins, but the tide is probably turning anyway. In the summer of 1896 gold is found in the Klondike. Confidence slowly recovers.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The Indian Territory and Oklahoma: AD 1872-1907

The midwestern gloom of the late 1880s has not dampened everyone's enthusiasm, as is shown in what becomes Oklahoma. This is reserved territory for Indians, but the arrival of the railway in 1872 brings a rush of would-be settlers known as 'boomers'. The government in Washington prevents their establishing homesteads until Indian rights have been formally removed from the part of the territory as yet unassigned to any particular tribe. This is achieved by 1889.

There is then launched the first example of an extraordinary method by which settlers are allowed to compete for homesteads in the newly opened region. This is the dramatic event known as the 'run'.

The starting time for the first run is declared to be noon on 22 April 1889. The competing settlers line up on horseback. When the gun is fired at noon, they gallop into the territory to seek out the best plot of land on which to stake their claim for a homestead. Thousands select their site in this way on this opening day. By nightfall, arriving to register their claim at a government office in a railway siding, they establish the tented town which develops into Oklahoma City.

The success of this first run soon prompts others, but now there remain only regions already allocated to tribes - most of whom have recently been moved here. This is not allowed to dampen enthusiasm for this new form of settlement.

There are runs in 1891, 1893 and 1895. Subsequently it is considered better to adopt a less chaotic method of distributing the land. Homestead plots of 160 acres are marked out and are assigned to owners by lottery in 1901 and by auction in 1906. By now the only part of the original territory still reserved for Indians is the east, an area occupied ever since the Great removal by the Cherokees and others of the Five Civilized Tribes.

In 1907 the entire region, including the diminished Indian territory in the east, is admitted to the union as Oklahoma, the forty-sixth state.

An American empire: AD 1867-1900

By the time the first Rail link to the Pacific is completed (in 1869), with America's 'manifest destiny' now assured, a start has already been made in acquiring territories far removed from the central slice of the continent which now forms the nation.

The first such acquisition is Alaska in 1867. It is bought from Russia for $7.2 million largely on the initiative of the secretary of state William H. Seward (a purchase sufficiently unpopular at the time to be mocked as Seward's Folly). At first its tiny American population is limited to fur traders and missionaries. But the discovery of gold in Juneau in 1880 brings prospectors. And they arrive in great numbers after the far larger finds on the Klondike.

Gold is first reported in 1896 in a tributary of the Klondike river (Rabbit Creek, soon renamed Bonanza Creek). Other finds in the region lead to a massive gold rush in 1897-8. The precious grains of dust are nearly all in Canada's part of the Yukon territory, east of the 141° meridian, but the easiest routes to this inaccessible region are from the Alaskan coast. The majority of the gold-diggers come from the USA, and much of the $100 million panned in 1897-1904 returns there with them.

During this same period the USA has almost accidentally been acquiring extensive overseas responsibilities, transforming a nation into something more akin to an empire.

Part of this is the culmination of a long and gradual American involvement with Hawaii, which is annexed as a US territory in 1900. But a far more dramatic increase in the US presence overseas is a result of the brief Spanish-American war of 1898.

This conflict, undertaken with extreme reluctance by the American government, is prompted by popular outrage at reports of Spanish atrocities in Cuba. But it results in Spain ceding Puerto Rico and the Philippines, together with responsibility for guiding Cuba to independence. With these new territories, and a navy which has excelled in the war, the USA. is now clearly a world power. And it soon has a president in keeping with this new role.

Men of action: AD 1898-1899

Theodore Roosevelt, the key figure in American history during the first decade of the 20th century, has much in common with another charismatic leader of our combative era, Winston Churchill.

Both men love the excitement of dramatic physical action. Both are prolific writers with a vivid style (a valuable gift in spreading news of their achievements). Roosevelt compares himself to a Bull moose; Churchill is admired by his countrymen for his bulldog qualities. By an extraordinary coincidence, both charge into battle on foreign soil during 1898 - and both publish books about their experiences during 1899.

Roosevelt is in Cuba that summer with the Rough Riders, the regiment of volunteer cavalrymen which he has helped to form. Many of them have to fight on foot in Cuba because their horses have not been embarked in Florida. But Roosevelt's impetuous charge against a Spanish hill post defending Santiago is the stuff of heroism. His illustrated book about the regiment's exploits is on sale in 1899, entitled The Rough Riders.

In October 1898 Churchill gallops with the 21st Lancers against the dervishes at Omdurman, brandishing a pistol rather than a lance because of a wound to his arm. The River War, his dramatic two-volume account of these events, is also on the book stalls in 1899.

At the time of these adventures Churchill is in his early twenties with his political career still ahead of him. But Roosevelt, just turning forty, has already made a name for himself as a reforming Republican in the often corrupt world of New York politics.

On his return as a war hero in November 1898 Roosevelt is elected governor of New York. His policies prove so irksome to the local party bosses that they get rid of him by securing his nomination as vice-presidential candidate in the election of 1900.

President McKinley wins a second term and Roosevelt is elevated to vice-presidential inactivity. He is bored and frustrated, and talks even of seeking a post as a university professor. But in September 1901 the situation is dramatically transformed.

McKinley is visiting the Pan-American exhibition in Buffalo, NY. Unusual security precautions have been taken as he walks among the crowd, because there are reports that anarchists plan to assassinate heads of state. One such anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, gets near to the president. The scarf around his hand conceals a revolver with which he shoots McKinley. Roosevelt, the bored vice-president, suddenly has a more interesting job.


Theodore Roosevelt at home: AD 1901-1909

Roosevelt continues at a national level the hands-on approach which he has earlier used in New York politics. Following several decades in which congress has had the upper hand over a succession of relatively weak presidents, Roosevelt's example restores to the White House the leading role which characterized the early years of the American republic and which becomes again the pattern for the 20th century.

Roosevelt achieves his pre-eminence by a sure sense of what will play well with the voters. The nation has recently experienced the buccaneering decades of the Railway era, in which corruption and commercial cartels seemed to carry all before them. The public is ready for action on these issues.

The president shows his talent for the unexpected twice during 1902. The earlier occasion is in February when Roosevelt uses the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (passed by congress in 1890, but until now ineffective) to break up the Northern Securities Company, a railway monopoly put together by J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and other almost equally powerful representatives of American big business.

If this seems a blow struck for the ordinary man (the paying customer), Roosevelt takes an even more surprising step in the autumn of this year. A cold winter is in prospect for the public because miners are threatening to strike for better pay.

Roosevelt, intervening to a degree unusual for a president at this time, invites the mine owners to the White House and demands that they accept arbitration. When they refuse, he announces that he will send federal troops to extract coal for the nation. Under this duress the owners accept the decision of an arbitration board, which recommends an increase in the miners' pay.

Two other famous examples of presidential intervention concern food standards and the nation's national resources. The initiative on food follows sensational press exposés of unhygienic practices in the meat-packing and canning factories. The result is the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, both passed in 1906.

The Pure Food and Drug Act introduces a clause which still has a modern ring to it. It stipulates that any substance added to food must be listed on the label.

Equally modern-seeming is the initiative of which Roosevelt later claims to be most proud. This is his policy for conserving the nation's natural resources. The continent has been opened up by large and often indiscriminate grants of territory to railway companies and other commercial interests. Now the public conceives an essentially 20th-century concern that the riches of nature are being irreversibly squandered.

Roosevelt (a keen outdoor man and hunter, whose enthusiastic slaughter of bears would put him on the wrong side of later conservationists) responds vigorously to this public mood. During his presidency 150 million acres of new national forest are planted. Money from the sale of public land in the west is earmarked for irrigation schemes (the great Roosevelt Dam in Arizona, opened in 1911, is the outstanding example). In 1908 a National Conservation Commission is established.

Such measures reflect a characteristic American belief - that free enterprise should be encouraged, but not beyond the point at which it threatens public interest. On the international scene Roosevelt also puts in place lasting American policies.

Theodore Roosevelt abroad: AD 1901-1909

Even before his presidential career, as assistant secretary to the navy (from 1896, in McKinley's first administration), Roosevelt has been a hawk in military terms, agitating always for a stronger American fleet. As president he can now achieve this aim. Demanding increased funds every year from congress, he commissions ten new battleships during his first term in office. In 1907 he sends a Great White Fleet of warships on a cruise round the world to show any potential enemies that America is not to be lightly meddled with.

This semi-peaceful gesture follows a series of incidents in which Roosevelt has staked out a new version of the US sphere of interest.

The Monroe Doctrine, in existence by now for eighty years, states that renewed European colonial interference in the American continent will not be tolerated. Roosevelt extends this principle (in what becomes known as his corollary to the doctrine) in response to crises in 1902-3 in Venezuela and the Dominican republic.

These are caused by a new version of economic imperialism - one that might be called gunboat banking. In 1902 the Venezuelan government defaults on its interest payments to Britain, Germany and Italy. All three send warships to bombard the Venezuelan coast. In 1903 Germany threatens to collect a debt in the same way from the Dominican republic.

Both issues are resolved diplomatically, but they prompt Roosevelt to formulate his Monroe corollary in 1904. His purpose is to prevent European interference by avoiding any pretext for it. In practice his corollary appoints the USA as policeman to the American continent. It states that intervention may be required if a region is in chaos, but that only the USA may take the necessary steps.

America, with new possessions from Hawaii to the Philippines, is now also a major power in the Pacific. This new role is reflected in Roosevelt's involvement in the Russo-japanese war of 1904-5. He hosts armistice negotiations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and wins in 1906 one of the first Nobel Peace Prizes.

The two regions in which these various events take place, the Caribbean and the Pacific, point up one urgent American problem. They are extremely close, across the narrow isthmus of Panama, but very far apart by sea. This has been painfully clear in 1898 when the US battleship Oregon is in the Pacific but is urgently needed in the brief War against spain in the Caribbean. She eventually makes it to the war zone, but her dash into action takes more than two months.

Plans for a canal between Atlantic and Pacific have been under discussion for decades. They suddenly come to fruition during Roosevelt's presidency in what can be seen as a somewhat underhand application of his Monroe corollary.

The isthmus at Panama is within the republic of Colombia, but the Colombian senate (distracted by a recent civil war) rejects a very reasonable treaty negotiated by the Colombian chargé d'affaires in Washington. The issue is then resolved by a coup which has tacit American support.

The US warship Nashville arrives off Colón on 2 November 1903. On the next day an uprising occurs in Panama and an independent republic is proclaimed. It is immediately recognized by the United States. This is followed by a treaty with the new republic on most advantageous terms. The USA is granted in perpetuity the exclusive control of a zone through the middle of Panama - in which, during the next ten years, The canal is finally built.

Republican and Bull Moose: AD 1908-1912

Roosevelt's prestige is such that he is virtually able to select the Republican candidate for the presidential election at the end of his second term in 1908. His choice falls on a loyal assistant, William Howard Taft. Taft wins, but only narrowly, against a Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, who is fighting his third presidential campaign.

It is typical of Roosevelt that on leaving the White House he sets off on a tenth-month trip hunting big game in Africa. But he has left his successor a difficult legacy. During Roosevelt's time in office his reforming policies have caused increasing resentment among conservative Republicans. He can resist their pressure. But word now reaches him that Taft is tending to yield.

On Roosevelt's return, it is plain to him that a rift in the party is deepening. He campaigns vigorously to heal it, but the Republicans do badly in the mid-term elections of 1910. By the time of the party convention in 1912, Roosevelt is back at the centre of things and the conservatives and progressives are at loggerheads. Taft, the sitting president, is the preferred candidate of the conservatives. Roosevelt, the former president, has accepted the nomination of the progressives.

With the party machine under his control, Taft wins - whereupon the Roosevelt faction withdraws and forms a new party. It is to be called the Progressive party, but it soon acquires a more memorable name.

During the campaign, a reporter asks Roosevelt about his health. He replies that he feels 'like a bull moose'. So the Bull Moose party it becomes. But no catchy name can disguise the disadvantage of two Republican candidates fighting against a single Democrat. Roosevelt and Taft split the majority of the popular vote.

About 4 million votes are cast for Roosevelt, and some 3.5 million for Taft. But more than 6 million voters support the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson is liberal and idealistic, a Princeton professor who has made a great success of his only previous political post (as governor of New Jersey since 1910). It is his misfortune that events in Europe will dominate his presidency. World War I straddles his first and second terms in office.

US involvement: AD 1915-1917

World war i, involving Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and Britain as the main contestants, begins in Europe in August 1914. From the start public opinion and the majority of political leaders in the USA have been of one mind - America's best interest lies in remaining a neutral nation, uninvolved in the European conflict. Yet from the very first months this conviction already tends to be undermined by the maritime strategy of the two main combatants.

Britain is busy using her navy to blockade Germany, preventing even neutral ships from trading with continental ports. In doing so, she harms America's trade (and even seizes a few US ships for breaking the terms of the blockade). Meanwhile Germany, relying on Submarine warfare to frustrate the blockade, represents a threat to the actual lives of American citizens on the high seas.

The sinking of the lusitania in May 1915 provides the first crisis. Later in 1915, under US pressure, the Germans modify their submarine campaign. But there are regular demands from the military to revive it, and in February 1916 Germany announces a renewal of activity. On March 24 an unarmed Channel steamer, the Sussex, is sunk with the loss of many lives, among them US citizens.

The US president, Woodrow Wilson, is facing a presidential election later in the year. One plank in his campaign is that he has kept America out of the war. He demands and receives new assurances from the Germans that they will not attack other merchant ships without warning, while behind the scenes he tries to get himself accepted as a mediator between the warring parties.

His good offices are not entirely welcome, particularly when - after his re-election in November 1916 - he intrusively demands that both sides state the terms on which they would be willing to end the war. In subsequent months he develops his own plans for a lasting settlement, based on the concept that it must be a 'peace without victory' (meaning no recriminations if either side is perceived as the loser). But for the moment harsh reality is overtaking Wilson's idealism.

In January 1917 the German high command decides to resort once again to all-out Submarine warfare. President Wilson is informed on January 31 that this will begin on the following day. Since this announcement breaks the pledge given to him after the Sussex incident, he severs diplomatic relations with Germany. And he persuades Congress to pass a bill allowing US merchant ships to be armed. Germany refrains from attacks on US ships during February, but three are sunk on March 18 with many lives lost. There is public outrage against Germany, and not for the first time this month. The previous occasion has been the publication, on March 1, of an intercepted German telegram.

The telegram, destined for Mexico, was sent by the German foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmermann. Intercepted, decoded and passed to President Wilson by the British admiralty, its content proves to be highly inflammatory. Zimmermann suggests that in the event of the USA entering the war, Mexico should side with Germany. Germany will in return back Mexican recovery of Texas, New mexico and arizona.

Wilson therefore has widespread public support when he asks approval for a declaration of war on Germany, assuring Congress that the citizens of the USA will be privileged to make the necessary sacrifices to safeguard democracy. War is declared on 6 April 1917.

The USA can provide immediate support for the Allies in two areas. Credit and loans can be rapidly arranged (by the end of war, eighteen months later, these amount to as much as $9.5 billion). And the powerful US navy is in a state of readiness. But manpower is more problematical. The armed services number only 378,000 men when war is declared. Conscription is immediately introduced, in May 1917, and by November 1918 the number enlisted will amount to 4.8 million.

But it takes time to get the conscripts trained and ready for service in Europe. The Germans can rely on a breathing space on the western front before the arrival of the Americans. For a while they make exceptionally good use of this brief opportunity. In the spring of 1918, under the overall command of Erich Ludendorf, they launch three massive assaults against different parts of the line. They succeed as no such offensive has done in the past three years. Indeed the first, pushing towards Amiens, brings the Germans forty miles into France within a few days. The other two create similar great bulges into French territory. But it is too late. US troops are in action on the western front in large numbers from May 1918, and many more divisions are on their way.

In the second battle of the Marne (from July 18) and in the battle of Amiens (from August 8) the German forces are driven back. With these German defeats the psychological tide of the war finally turns.The German decision to seek an armistice comes with surprising speed after the start of a new Allied push in the west. The war ends with the signing of an armistice in France on November 11. In the peace talks that begin in Paris in January 1919 Woodrow Wilson's vision of the future plays an influential role.

The Fourteen Points: 1918

On 8 January 1918 President Wilson has addressed a joint session of the Congress in Washington. He uses the occasion to outline his concept of a future European peace, presented as a group of Fourteen Points. Some are general, some very specific (in particular nos. 6-13, which deal with the requirements of individual nations).

The first five points, idealistic and possibly utopian, outline the conditions for lasting international peace: - fully transparent peace treaties; freedom of navigation on the seas at all times; freedom and equality of trade for all; reliable guarantees put in place that national levels of armament will be reduced; and the rights of local people influence decisions in a colonial setting. There follow solutions to the particular problems brought about by the war. The 14th and final point is central to Wilson's personal idealism. In it he envisages a 'general association of nations' to guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of all nations. In his 'Four Ends' speech on 4 July 1918 he enlarges upon this, calling for the establishment of an 'organization of peace' to ensure that the 'combined power of free nations' will guarantee international justice for all.

The Fourteen Points are widely discussed during 1918. When Germany asks Wilson for an armistice, in October, it is on the basis of this document. Not all the clauses are met (Britain and France immediately reject freedom of the seas in wartime), but much of the peace agreed in Paris and signed at Versailles in 1919 follows Wilson's blueprint. Wilson has insisted that his fourteenth point be high on the agenda of the Paris conference, and it brings an early result. Within weeks the delegates agree to the establishment of an international peace-keeping administration, the League of Nations.

But the League of Nations also brings Wilson a major disappointment. The mood in the US public is deeply isolationist and this feeling is largely shared by their representatives in Washington. It is Wilson's personal tragedy that he fails to persuade the Congress to accept the treaty. No US president ever signs the treaty, and to the end of the League's existence the US seat remains empty.


Prohibition: 1920-33

From the early nineteenth-century the Temperance Movement has grown steadily in strength in the USA, as also in Britain and in parts of the British empire. During the First World War it benefits from a new and practical reason to limit alcohol production. Resources used to produce alcohol can more usefully be applied to the war effort. In December 1917, nine months after the USA declares war on Germany, Congress drafts an amendment to the Constitution declaring the sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors anywhere in the country to be illegal. Thirteen months later, in January 1919, sufficient states have ratified the act for it to be passed into law as the Eighteenth Amendment. It is to take effect a year later, in January 1920.

The Act does not prohibit the drinking of alcohol, but with the sale of it now outlawed people have no way of procuring it legally. With customers eager to buy it at inflated prices and to drink it in clandestine bars (the speakeasies), prohibition proves a godsend to well-organized criminal syndicates such as the Mafia or Al Capone's Chicago Mob. The most infamous of all the violent crimes of the era is the St Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, in which seven members of Bugs Moran's gang are slaughtered with machine guns by gangsters in police uniforms. It is widely assumed, but has never been proved, that the gangsters have taken their instructions from Al Capone. Prohibition is not ended until December 1933, when the Twenty-First Amendment repeals the Eighteenth.

Votes for women: 1848-1920

Until the mid-19th-century the idea that women might vote in elections had occurred to very few men and probably not many more women. But from that period the campaign for female suffrage becomes an increasingly passionate one, particularly in the United States and Britain. In the United States many women are actively involved in the campaign to end slavery in America, and the notion of women's rights first creeps on to the agenda in tandem with the rights of African-American slaves. The issue surfaces first in one of the more unusual revolutionary gatherings of 1848, the great Year of revolutions. In July of that year two anti-slavery campaigners, Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott, invite colleagues to a two-day convention on women's rights in Mrs Stanton's home in New York state (at Seneca Falls). It is the first of many such gatherings which lead, in 1869, to the formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association. That same year sees the movement's first triumph. The newly established territory of Wyoming, in its first charter, gives women in 1869 the right to vote in all elections. But the good citizens of Wyoming are ahead of their time.
In the next year, 1870, normality is restored with a decisive thump. In the aftermath of the Civil War and the emancipation of the southern slaves, the 16th amendment to the Constitution glaringly omits any mention of women. It states that the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied 'on account of race, colour or previous condition of servitude'. Over the following decades steady progress is made in persuading individual states to give women equal franchise with men, but it is not until the levelling experience of World War I that the aim is achieved at a federal level. The 19th amendment, in 1920, finally states that the right to vote shall not be denied 'on account of sex'.

The Harding and Cleveland years: 1921-29

In September 1919 Woodrow Wilson suffers a severe stroke that leaves him incapable of making constructive use of his final months in office. The election in the following year is won by Warren Harding with a popular vote of exceptional size, 60% as opposed to 34% for his Democrat opponent, James M. Cox.

Warren Harding has long had a reputation as one of the worst US presidents, but his record in his very short presidency is far from bad. He supports and often fights hard for socially enlightened measures such as civil rights for African Americans, including political, educational and economic equality. But frequently progress on issues such as these is frustrated by pressure groups or politicians. Even a federal anti-lynching bill, passed by the House of Representatives in 1922, is blocked by southern Democrats in the Senate. In that same year Harding convenes a conference in the White House between manufacturers and unions to try and limit the length of the working day. Very little progress is made. Only one group of employers, those in the steel industry, agree to reduce the working day from twelve hours to eight. Bills more obviously in step with the public mood pass easily into law, such as the Per Centum Act of 1921, restricting immigration on a percentage basis.

Harding also plays a role on the international stage, even though refusing to follow his predecessor's policy on the League of Nations. He convenes a global commission in Washington with the purpose of ending the naval arms race and improving safety in several other aspects of seafaring. The USA provides the lead, offering to decommission 30 of its warships if Britain will follow suit with a reduction of 17 ships and Japan of 13. The conference results in six treaties and twelve resolutions between the nations involved.

The issues which have tarnished Harding's reputation are cronyism and corruption. His administration includes in positions of power, with some even in the cabinet, his colleagues and friends from his days as a politician in Ohio. They become known as the Ohio Gang, and several of them are notorious for corruption. The most damaging is Albert B. Fall, the Secretary of the Interior, who leases valuable oil reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming at much reduced rates and without competitive tendering. He is later proved to have accepted large bribes from the oil companies and in 1929 is sentenced to a year in prison, becoming the first former US cabinet member to find himself in that position. The scandal greatly damages Harding's reputation, but only posthumously. The details only become known in 1924, and Harding has died of a heart attack in August 1923. He is succeeded by his vice-president, Calvin Coolidge.

In his first speech to Congress in December of that year (incidentally the first speech by a president to be broadcast over the radio) Coolidge makes it plain that in general he will be following Harding's policies, including his position on immigration and on civil rights for all Americans. Known as a man of few words, Coolidge becomes a minimalist president, believing in the least possible regulation of the activities of American citizens and the least possible presidential intrusion in their lives. This attitude, verging on idleness, has always been the main criticism of his administration until, more recently, a considerable success has been achieved by the not dissimilar approach of the far more congenial Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, Coolidge becomes a popular president, after initial bewilderment by the public because he has had until now so little profile nation-wide. What most wins him approval is his obvious and total probity after the scandals of the Harding era. But he also happens to head the nation at a time of sudden and exceptional prosperity and cultural vitality.

Coolidge's best-known statement sums up very well his belief in non-interference in the creative daily activities of the average citizen: 'The chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing, prospering in the world.' And the society over which he presides seems to prove him right. Business does prosper greatly, and the great technological achievements of recent times (such as automobiles, movies, telephones, gramophones and radios) become cheaper and more widely available, improving the lives of many. For all these reasons the period becomes known as the Roaring Twenties; and the craze for a new and exhilarating style of music gives it its other title, the Jazz Age.

None of this derives from any action taken by Coolidge, and the mood of the times could hardly be further from his own puritanical life style. His terse manner is displayed in extreme form when he makes a surprise announcement while on holiday in the summer of 1927: 'I do not choose to run for President in 1928'. He later explains his decision as being caused by a feeling that no-one should spend too long in Washington or continue in a task which they feel it is beyond their strength to accomplish.

Hoover and the Great Depression: 1929-33

The Republican candidate in the 1928 election is the man who has been an extremely successful Secretary of Commerce, greatly improving the efficiency and potential of American business, in the cabinets of both Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. He is Herbert Hoover. His reputation after eight years in office guarantees him the Republican nomination, and makes him an easy winner of the presidential election, though aided also by prejudice in many Protestant communities against his Democrat opponent, a Roman Catholic, Alfred E. Smith.

When Hoover enters the White House, in January 1929, the economy is booming, for which he can justifiably be given much of the credit. This promising situation lasts for only a few months. The great misfortune and defining moment of Hoover's presidency is the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. In August and September the national GDP has declined, causing a gradual acceleration in the number of shares sold each day on Wall Street. This suddenly accelerates on October 24, when the market loses 11% of its value when trading opens. The slide is halted when the major banks buy a lot of blue-chip shares at over their market value, resulting in the loss for the day of only 6%.

But the recovery is temporary. Massive selling continues, with the greatest number of transactions on October 29 – known as Black Tuesday. On that Monday and Tuesday combined the market loses 25% of its value. Over the next two and a half years it fluctuates, with several recoveries but in an overall downward direction. The lowest point is in June 1932, when the Dow Jones index reaches 41. This represents an 89% loss since the Wall Street Crash of 1929. During that time the financial crisis turns into a major international recession characterized by the familiar combination of the public's withdrawal of funds, bank failures, shortage in the money supply, deflation and rising unemployment. This disaster becomes known as the Great Depression.

There are many conflicting economic theories as to the precise reasons for the crisis of 1929-32, but the statistics tell the story. During that period in the USA industrial production falls by 46%, wholesale prices by 32%, foreign trade by 70%, and unemployment rises by a factor of six (607%). The figures are similar in the other major industrial nations. The largest percentage loss, in foreign trade, is triggered by the Smoot Hawley Act, passed by Congress in March 1930. Its purpose is to protect all US products, both agricultural and industrial, by raising the tariffs on imported goods to exceptionally high levels.

It differs in a very important respect from the legislation proposed by President Hoover, who has asked Congress for an act raising tariffs only on agricultural products. He is known to be strongly opposed to the new levels being applied to industry, because he is a firm believer in international competition. In May a petition reaches him, signed by more than 1000 US economists, begging him to use his power of veto to prevent the bill becoming law, and leading industrialists agree. Henry Ford spends an evening at the White House, strongly putting the same case. But Hoover is persuaded by pressure from within his own party and, reluctantly, signs.

The opponents of the bill are soon proved right. Other nations retaliate, raising their own tariff levels on imports from the USA, and international trade declines dramatically. Many economists have argued that without the Smoot-Hawley Act the slide into deep recession could have been modified or even halted. Meanwhile Hoover is taking a strong Keynesian line in response to the depression, spending large sums on infrastructure projects to provide employment and stimulate the economy. The most expensive of these interventions is the $915 million public works programme launched in July 1930. The largest single element in the programme is the construction of a massive dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, which forms at that point the border between Arizona and Nevada. It has several purposes: the provision of hydro-electricity, the distribution of water for irrigation, and flood control. Its summit is used to carry U.S. Route 93, a major new north-south highway being constructed at the same time (this is replaced by a bypass for security reasons after ). The dam, originally known as the Boulder Dam, also becomes known as the Hoover Dam. The two are used indiscriminately, with some objecting to the implied tribute to Hoover, until in 1947 Congress decrees that Hoover Dam is the official name.

The economic and employment benefits from these initiatives are increased by new labour legislation, the Davis-Bacon Act, signed by Hoover in 1931. It limits the working day on public projects to eight hours and makes it federal law that the workers on such projects must be paid at least the local wage prevailing in the district. Many of Hoover's measures prefigure quite closely, though on a smaller scale, the much better-known projects of the New Deal introduced by his successor as president, the Democrat F.D. Roosevelt. In the election of 1932 Hoover, massively unpopular because of his association with the Depression, stands little chance. On his campaign trips he meets a very hostile reception, with people pelting the presidential train and car with eggs and rotten fruit. He receives death threats and on occasion the police prevent attempts on his life during his meetings. It is little surprise that he receives only 40% of the popular vote to Roosevelt's 57%.

F.D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1933

Roosevelt's victory launches one of the most unusual and successful presidencies in US history. His ambition and attention to detail has been vividly shown already, but not seen, in his response to the polio that disables him at the age of thirty-nine in 1921, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He is already a successful politician, as a state senator in New York from 1910 and as Assistant Secretary to the Navy in Woodrow Wilson's administration during the First World War. In the previous election he has been the Democrats' candidate for the vice-presidency, and his sights are clearly set on the presidency itself.

With this in mind he is well aware of the disadvantage his disability could bring. He is determined as far as possible to conceal it. He uses a wheelchair in private but in public is only seen seated in a chair, most often behind a desk, or in a car. With his legs in metal braces up to his hips he is able to stand, with someone beside him for balance, and he learns to walk short distances with an awkward rolling gait, again only in private. Word obviously gets out that he has some difficulty but he ensures, with astonishing success in his subsequent very high-profile life, that the American people are never reminded of this and never see what it is. Only two photographs are known to exist of him in his wheelchair and there are only four seconds of film of him walking.

His flair for publicity is immediately evident in his first days in office as president. The nation is desperate for decisive action and he seizes the moment, saying that he intends to work closely with Congress for a hundred days from March 9 and describing the reforms he aims to pass into law during that time. He is the first politician to offer 100 days as a yardstick for the success of a new administration or government: it has been often imitated since. In the new mood of the times Congress accepts and passes every proposal that the president makes in that period. These cover the regulation of banks, the legalizing and taxing of wine and beer (a popular step towards the ending of Prohibition), and the creation of agencies charged with achieving specific policies: they include finding work for three million young men in projects such as road building and forestry, immediately distributing $500 million for relief (an agency that eventually pays out $3 billion), and raising farm prices and thus the income of farmers by ending over-production

These measures and others based on Keynesian economics (using a temporarily raised deficit to fund measures to revitalize the economy) become known as the New Deal, from a phrase used by Roosevelt in his acceptance of the Democratic nomination for president: 'I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.'

By far the largest step taken in the 100 days, and subsequently the best known, is the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the TVA. This body is charged with using a very large supply of federal money to improve infrastructure and standards of living in Tennessee, one of the areas worst affected by the depression. The land in rural Tennessee provides extremely low levels of income due to years without crop rotation and steadily depleted forests. Many of the TVA projects are educational but the main aim of the project is the building of dams to control flooding and provide the communities with electricity, very much as with the scheme's predecessor the Hoover Dam. The project continues its work into the 21st century, but the Obama administration has declared a wish to reduce or eliminate the federal government's role in enterprises of this kind, eighty years after TVA's creation as a government project in the New Deal.

Another New Deal project is the Soil Erosion Service, formed in 1933 to cope with an aspect of the Depression caused by nature. A period of unprecedented drought has become a disaster in the grain-growing plains of the Midwest. Severe lack of rain causes the already crumbling topsoil, the result of deep-ploughing over too many years, to degrade into light dust. Whenever the wind blows this causes appalling dust storms, reducing visibility to almost nothing and removing yet more of the earth's surface. In 1933 it has to be tackled urgently. It is seen as a major but temporary crisis. In the event the drought lasts to the end of the decade. Many people from rural communities, reduced to poverty, make a desperate journey westwards to the state known for its great promise, California. But in the circumstances of the Depression there is very little work there either. This is the scenario vividly and bleakly described in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, following the setbacks and suffering of one family, the Joads, on their journey west and then their desperate attempt to survive in California.

In 1933 Roosevelt pioneers a new way for a president to communicate with the electorate. When something needs explaining, or when persuasion is needed to win people's support for a policy, he goes on the radio and talks in an entirely relaxed and informal manner. This is not a speech or address of any kind. It is essentially a chat, a communication between himself and an individual or a family, and these occasions rapidly become known as his 'fireside chats'. Between 1933 and the last full year of his presidency, in 1944, there are roughly three fireside chats in each year. The first is on the banking crisis in March 1933; in the second, two months later, he outlines the New Deal programme; there is one in 1936 on drought conditions. On 3 September 1939 his subject is the European War – the very day on which France and Britain have declared war on Germany. The subject is a difficult one for Roosevelt.

The USA and World War II: 1939-41

The American public is deeply isolationist and Congress reflects this when it passes in 1937 a strict Neutrality Act forbidding military aid or the supply of arms to any nation at war. Roosevelt, for sound political reasons, emphasizes at the time of the Munich crisis in 1938 he emphasizes that the USA will not join a coalition to stop Hitler and in the event of a German invasion of Czechoslovakia will remain neutral. Nevertheless, privately, he is very well aware of the danger, even to the USA, if Hitler succeeds in controlling the whole of Europe. In the first month of the war he begins a secret correspondence with Winston Churchill. Both men share a past in being active in a naval department during the First World War, Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary to the Navy. Their relationship, by telegram and letter, becomes closer in 1940 when France has fallen and they are president and prime minister. In a fireside chat to the nation in December of that year Roosevelt hopes to persuade the people that their great country is necessarily 'the agent of democracy'.

Meanwhile he exerts pressure on the members of Congress to relax the Neutrality Act so that he may support Britain. Reluctantly they pass the Lend-lease Act enabling the president to provide aid to any nation whose defence he believes to be vital to US interests. The first recipient is Britain, but by the end of the war thirty-eight nations have received aid and materials amounting in value to some $50 billion. Some of this is given, some is in the form of long-term loans (not until 1972 do repayments finally come to an end). This support is gratefully received. But the more urgent aim of Winston Churchill is to involve the USA as a combatant.

In July 1941 Roosevelt invites Churchill to cross the Atlantic for a secret conference. The two men have established an increasingly warm personal relationship in correspondence over the past year, but they have not as yet met. Churchill eagerly accepts and travels in Britain's most modern battleship, the Prince of Wales, to the rendezvous - in Placentia Bay, off Newfoundland. Churchill's aim at this stage is to extract the strongest possible public commitment of the president to the Allied cause. Roosevelt, on the other hand, has to tread a cautious line. He has been re-elected for a third term, in November 1940, on the platform of keeping the USA out of Europe's war, pledging that he will 'not send American boys into any foreign wars'. Nevertheless he is profoundly committed to an Allied victory.

As a result of these conflicting requirements the document emerging from the talks, published on 14 August 1941 as the Atlantic Charter, is a very general statement of the basic principles of democracy, free trade and international law. Indeed its clauses are subsequently made part of the Declaration of the United Nations. But there is one phrase, strikingly different in tone, which serves Churchill's purpose admirably. The two leaders state that they will together seek a peace which will 'for ever cast down the Nazi tyranny'. With this made known to the world, there is no doubting where the USA stands. Churchill can press no further at this stage. And in the event it is something entirely beyond his control that achieves his purpose - in December 1941 at Pearl Harbor.


Pearl Harbor and after: from 1941

Japan enters World War II with a ruthlessness unmatched by any other combatant, and achieves in a few months a blitzkrieg to rival anything achieved by the Germans. Even Hitler is not informed of the secret strike being prepared. It comes, literally, out of a clear sky.

In the early hours of Sunday, 7 December 1941, nearly 400 Japanese planes take off from aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Their target is the American fleet at anchor, with the crews asleep, in Pearl Harbor - the deep-water port stretching inland from Honolulu, in Hawaii. All eight US battleships in the harbour are hit and five are sunk. Eleven other warships sink, 188 planes are destroyed on the ground. More than 2400 Americans die in the sudden attack.

On this same day the Japanese launch air attacks on American and British airfields in the Philippines, Guam, Midway, Hong Kong and Singapore, destroying numerous planes on the tarmac. It is a dramatic beginning to a campaign that for the next few months continues at almost the same intensity, by sea and land as well as air. Within six months the Japanese have captured all the numerous British and American possessions in southeast Asia.

In the summer of 1942 the Japanese turn their attention to Midway Island, a coral atoll some 1300 miles northwest of Honolulu which the US is developing as an air and submarine base. In early June 1942 a large Japanese fleet, including their four largest aircraft carriers, moves towards Midway. The Americans, anticipating the attack, await them with their own carriers. And for the first time, the tide begins to turn.

The assault from both sides is by planes launched at sea. On 4 June US planes succeed in sinking all four of the Japanese heavy aircraft carriers. The Americans have losses too, including one carrier. But the Japanese fleet, suffering a major reverse for the first time in this war, sails for home this same night without even coming close to the mid-Pacific atoll. From this day on, until the end of the war against Japan in August 1945, US forces conduct a persistent assault, one by one, on the many Pacific islands strongly armed by the Japanese as a protective curtain against an attack from the sea. The method of the assault is a new one, combining the actions of the navy, the air force and the army in a concerted operation. It becomes known as amphibious warfare and characterizes this campaign to its very end in 1945.

The US navy has been able to go into action immediately after Pearl Harbor. It inevitably takes longer to get sufficient troops across the Atlantic to make a significant contribution to the battle against Germany in the west. But by November 1942 a US army is ready for a major involvement. An allied army of British, Free French and American troops comes ashore at three locations in northwest Africa to begin a pincer movement against Rommel in Tunisia. The commander of the combined force is the US general Dwight Eisenhower. The Americans, with their far greater resources, are now from a military point of view in charge of the campaign against German forces in Europe and north Africa (at this stage the outstanding effort against the Germans is that of the Red army in the Soviet Union). Two years later, on the occasion of the Normandy landings on D-Day in June 1944 (by far the biggest push from the west), Eisenhower is again in overall command of the operation. It leads, eventually, to the capture of Berlin in April 1945 and, on May 7, the unconditional surrender of all Germany forces.

Meanwhile the vitally important campaign by sea against the Japanese has been an almost entirely US operation.The first selected target is the island of Guadalcanal, to the northeast of Australia, where the Japanese are building a strong base. From August 1942, just two months after the US victory at Midway, there is continuous fighting here on land, at sea and in the air, until at last in February 1943 US forces secure the island. Large numbers of ships have been destroyed on both sides in this six-month engagement, but in terms of manpower the Japanese losses greatly outnumber those of the Americans. A pattern is set, of painful Allied progress (mainly American, sometimes Australian) through the islands towards Japan, with every step bitterly and bravely contested by the Japanese.

A significant step in the slow move north towards Japan is the US assault, in February 1944, of a strong naval base in the volcanic cluster of the Truk Islands. Eleven Japanese warships and more than 300 planes are destroyed here, in the first radar-guided night attack. After this it is clear that the next target must be the Marianas, a group of islands which the Japanese rightly regard as a crucial line of defence. From here US planes will be within bombing range of Japan herself. On 15 June 1944 American marines land on Saipan, one of the Marianas. 30,000 Japanese defenders are in secure positions in bunkers and caves. After three weeks of fierce fighting the two Japanese commanders commit suicide (an example immediately followed by hundreds of Japanese civilians, some of them by jumping off cliffs).

The capture of Saipan, soon followed by the other Marianas, is of crucial significance. The first large B-29 bombers, developed specifically for this purpose, take off from Saipan on 24 November 1944 on the long trip to bomb Tokyo.

With the process of battering the Japanese people into submission now under way, American attention turns also to a nearer target and one closely involved with American history - the Philippines. The campaign to recover them is close to the heart of the US commander, Douglas MacArthur. It was he who had to relinquish them to the Japanese in 1942, after a heroic struggle against superior forces. This time he has the greater might, but the Japanese resist with their usual tenacity. The first US landing is on Leyte on 20 October 1944. Within days sea and air battles are raging in the area (including the first kamikaze attack. Leyte is not secured until Christmas Day. The capital of the Philippines, Manila, withstands a four-week siege before MacArthur enters it in March 1945.

Six months to Nagasaki: 1945

The final stage in the US advance towards Japan has begun in February 1945. At this time the B-29 bombers heading for targets in Japan are flying a round trip of some 3000 miles from the Marianas. This distance will be halved if the small island of Iwo Jima, midway along the route, can be captured. The island's obvious strategic importance means that it is defended by numerous heavily armed Japanese troops in a network of fortified rock shelters and caves. US marines meet fierce resistance when they land on February 19. With every yard of the US advance hotly contested, more than 20,000 men are dead or injured on each side before the island is finally in US hands on March 16.

On the second day of the engagement a US light carrier is sunk by a desperate new Japanese method of warfare - a suicide attack by pilots flying planes full of explosives into the side of the ship. This technique, called Kamikaze from a famous event in Japanese history, has been pioneered in an attack on a US fleet in the Pacific on 25 October 1944. During the intervening four months it has become a familiar danger, with an apparently unlimited supply of Japanese pilots willing to sacrifice their lives. The largest Kamikaze attack awaits the Americans as they take the next step towards Japan. With Iwo Jima secure, attention turns to the island of Okinawa - at a distance of only about 300 miles from Japan.

US troops land on Okinawa on 1 April 1945. Five days later no fewer than 355 Kamikaze planes are launched against them, while on April 12 the US destroyer Abele is sunk by a further development of the Kamikaze weapon. This is the baka, in effect a human guided missile. It takes the form of a glider, packed with explosives and powered by rockets, which is carried by a bomber to near its target. When released, the rockets ignite and the pilot of the baka steers it to the appointed site of his death. Okinawa is in US hands by the end of June, after the most costly battle in the entire Pacific campaign. US deaths are in the region of 12,000, and the Japanese equivalent is possibly more than 100,000.

The intended target for the next wave of invasion has been Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands of Japan. But Japanese defence of such courage and ferocity at every stage makes it more attractive to contemplate bombing Japan into submission. In this context there have been devastating successes, partly thanks to a new US weapon first used in the assault on Iwo Jima - napalm. On 9 March 1945 napalm is used in a raid on a crowded part of Tokyo where the buildings are of timber. In the resulting fire storm some 80,000 people die and a million are made homeless, with a quarter of Tokyo's buildings burnt. In the next few weeks there are similarly heavy raids on all the major cities of Japan. But as with the Blitz on Britain, there is no sign that these horrors increase the likelihood of Japan surrendering.

Yalta and Potsdam: 1945

During 1945 there are two conferences between the leaders of the three main countries in alliance against Germany. In February Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin meet at Yalta [QMO], a Soviet port on the Black Sea. With future victory over Germany now certain, the discussion is mainly about what to do in Europe after the war. Soviet forces are already occupying Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Reluctantly but inevitably Roosevelt and Churchill accept that eastern Europe will be within the Russian sphere of influence.

The meeting at Potsdam is held in July and August. Harry S. Truman, vice-president at the time of Yalta, now takes the place of Roosevelt as US president; Roosevelt has died in April. The main discussion this time is on hastening the defeat of Japan. Truman confides to the others that the USA has developed, and in the past few days has successfully tested, a new weapon – the atom bomb. A declaration is sent to Japan, on July 26, demanding immediate unconditional surrender. No response to the declaration is received from Japan (it is later discovered that the emperor, Hirohito, has pressed the case for surrender but has failed to persuade his generals). So President Truman authorizes the dropping of the new bomb.

On 6 August 1945 a specially adapted B-29 takes off from Tinian Island, in the Marianas, with the bomb on board. It explodes over Hiroshima at 8.15 a.m., demolishing some four square miles of the city and bringing instant death to about 80,000 people (many more die later from the effects of radiation). Even this does not bring immediate surrender, partly through the rigidity of the Japanese imperial system and partly because the scale of the horror is not immediately realized in Tokyo. A mere three days later a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. On August 10 Japan announces that the surrender terms specified at Potsdam are accepted. The Second World War is finally over.


Post-war problems: 1945-60

With the war over, there are two problems inherited by President Truman as the leader of the western or 'free' world. The first and most immediate is the rebuilding of the economies that have been devastated by Nazi occupation or, in the case of Britain, by the struggle against the aggressors. This can potentially be achieved quite quickly if the USA adopts a policy of subsidizing the relevant countries by large and immediate loans. The second issue, likely to prove a longer-term problem, is how to prevent Stalin implementing a known political objective of the Soviet Union – to install Communist governments in as many parts of the world as possible, thus greatly extending Russia's power in the world.

The rebuilding of nations is the purpose of a post-war plan developed by the US state department under the guidance of the secretary of state, George Marshall. He announces it in 1947; it soon becomes known by his name and wins him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.The economic support is offered at first to all the European nations that are in distress, including the Soviet Union and those in eastern Europe liberated at the end of the war by Soviet troops. But Stalin refuses to allow them to accept any Marshall Plan money, since it will give the USA a degree of influence within each nation.

The US fight against the spread of Soviet influence around the world, soon to become known as the Cold War, is largely achieved by a proactive policy of similarly involving nations, particularly in central and south America, in close relationships with the USA. But there are two crises during Truman' s presidency when more specific action becomes necessary – in keeping with a policy declared by him in 1947, known subsequently as the Truman Doctrine. He tells Congress that the principle involved is that the USA will 'support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures'. The implication is that the pressures will be Communist. The immediate reason for the doctrine is Truman's decision to support Greece and Turkey with economic and if necessary military aid to prevent them falling into the Soviet sphere.

The first crisis concerns Berlin. The agreement at Potsdam has provided for four zones of occupation within Germany except that Berlin itself, deep inside the Russian zone, will similarly be divided between the four powers. [qob if needed] Friction between the three other powers and the USSR escalates until in March 1948, in an effort to impose their will, the Russians block the access corridor from the western zones to Berlin. The Allies respond with the Berlin airlift, bringing in by air (from June 25) everything required, from food to medicine, coal and gasoline. This lasts for a year before the corridor is opened again to traffic in June 1949.

The other provocative event requiring a fast reaction is the sudden invasion of south Korea, on 25 June 1950, by Communist north Korea. The response is immediate. On 27 June the Security Council passes a resolution asking member states to provide military assistance to the republic of Korea. On the same day Truman gives the order for the US navy and air force to intervene. The three-year Korean War has begun.

An equally immediate but more controversial response by Truman in an important foreign context is his very rapid recognition of Israel in 1948 (just eleven minutes after the Declaration of the territory held by the Jews in Palestine as a new independent state). This action is strongly opposed by his secretary of state, George Marshall, who fears that the gesture will look like an attempt to gain the Jewish vote in the US presidential election due later that year. More significantly he argues that the creation of the state of Israel will lead to war in the Middle East. This does indeed happen on the following day, but not as a result of Truman's gesture of support.

Communism within the USA: from 1948

In these tense post-war years there is as much fear of Communism at home as in foreign affairs. It is not new. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) has been created in Washington in 1938 as a committee to seek out subversive activities by anyone with links to Communism.

HUAC's activities acquire a much higher profile after the war, particularly when it investigates Hollywood on the premise that many Hollywood films contain subtle Communist propaganda. Scriptwriters are particularly suspect and membership of the Communist party at any time is now in itself regarded as subversive. For many of them an honest answer to the question posed to all, 'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?' would in itself end their career in Hollywood. Those who refuse to answer on the basis of the First Amendment (freedom of speech and assembly) or the Fifth (no compulsion to give evidence against oneself) are then convicted of contempt of Congress. Some escape this fate, but ruin their reputation, by admitting membership and then 'naming names' – providing details of colleagues who they know to be Communists. The investigations lead to an ever-growing 'Hollywood blacklist', making employment impossible and including eventually more than 400 actors, authors and directors, many of them well known – examples include Charlie Chaplin, Paul Robeson and Orson Welles.

The witch-hunt becomes even more extreme and alarmist in the hands of a little-known Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy comes to sudden national attention when, at an obscure meeting in 1950 of the Republican Women's Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, he produces a piece of paper that he claims is a list of Communists working in the State Department. He adds that the Secretary of State has been given the names and the proof that they are Communists, yet they are still employed and helping to shape national foreign policy.

The nation-wide press response to this gives McCarthy an opening to develop a strong personal characteristic, that of a demagogue. He is soon making wild accusations that both fascinate and alarm the public. His most frequent target is the much respected George Marshall, former Secretary of State and now Secretary of Defence in Truman's administration. A good example of McCarthy's wild hyperbole is his declaration in a Senate speech that Marshall is the perpetrator of 'a conspiracy so immense and infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man'.

In 1953 McCarthy, by now one of the best-known members of the Senate, is made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, of which one of the roles is responsibility for 'investigations'. His enquiries now have official status, and he spreads his net wider. In addition to his main target so far, the media, he begins in autumn 1953 investigations of the United States Army. But the army fights back and in April 1954 the Senate holds what are now known as the Army-McCarthy hearings, to be shown live on television. McCarthy is greatly popular with the public and he must have been delighted at the level of interest about to be shown in him, with a television audience estimated at about 20 million. But the two-month hearings turn out to be the beginning of his downfall. His approval ratings have grown from 15% in 1951 to 50% in January 1954, shortly before the hearings. Five months later, after his frequent appearances on television, they have fallen to 34%. The public have been appalled by his arrogance and his bullying technique, and before the end of 1954 the Senate votes to censure McCarthy. He continues his obsessional anti-Communist campaign until his death in 1957, but he is widely regarded by now as a dangerous clown and as an embarrassment both to the Senate and to the nation.

Many of those accused by either HUAC or McCarthy, indeed probably the majority, have at one time been members of the Communist party. The flaw in their persecutors' arguments is the failure to acknowledge that membership of a party is, in itself, a political act rather than a subversive one.

Dwight Eisenhower: 1953-61

Eisenhower, an immensely popular national hero from World War II, has no known party affiliation and both Republicans and Democrats want him as their candidate in the 1952 presidential election. Truman approaches him for the Democrats, but he decides to stand for the other side. He easily defeats the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson, ending a twenty-year term with a Democrat in the White House. His vice-president is Richard Nixon.

One of his campaign promises has been to end the Korean War. Visiting the US army there between his election victory and inauguration, he decides that the situation has become stalemate – neither side can win the war. Using a nuclear threat if China and Korea refuse to negotiate, Eisenhower succeeds in starting discussions of an armistice. An end to the fighting is agreed and takes place in June 1953. Inevitably the leader of North Korea, Kim il-Sung, claims that his country has won the war, but in fact the armistice is a capitulation on both sides (the border between the two countries remains where it was before the war, at the 38th parallel). This early diplomatic success in Eisenhower's presidency differs in approach from his later policy in relation to Communist states, as expressed in the 'Eisenhower Doctrine' announced in 1956. This declares that the United States is prepared to use military force to counter 'aggression from any state controlled by international communism' and, if necessary, to 'stop the spread of communism in the Middle East'.

This is in tone more aggressive than the Truman Doctrine of 1947, which had a less specific emphasis on military intervention. But in practice Eisenhower, the experienced general, is extremely cautious about getting into military engagements. A good example is South Vietnam, a previous French colony in which France is fighting to defend the non-Communist south against the Communist north in a conflict that will develop into the Vietnam War. In 1953 the French ask the USA for assistance. Eisenhower provides them with aircraft and civilian non-combat advisers. In 1954, when the capital of the south Dien Bien Phu falls to the Communists, he resists strong pressure from the US chiefs of staff and the vice-president to escalate the US response to military intervention. In 1955, as the French situation gets worse, he sends US soldiers but again only in advisory roles. By the end of his presidency, in 1961, the total strength of US military personnel in south Vietnam is still only 900 advisers. He had stated as early as 1953 that war in Vietnam 'would absorb our troops by divisions'.

By contrast Eisenhower reacts extremely quickly when success looks possible in the short term. In Lebanon in 1958 a pro-western government is in danger of being replaced by a hostile alternative, inspired by Nasser's example in the Suez crisis of 1956. A US non-combat peace-keeping mission is immediately despatched, but this time it consists of 15,000 troops of which the first to arrive are marines, landing suddenly and dramatically on the beaches of Beirut. The point is effectively made, and the troops leave again after three peaceful months.

There is in the USA a long history of legislation for civil rights, beginning after the victory of the north in the American Civil War. The first Civil rights act, guaranteeing the legal rights of African Americans, is passed in 1866. In the same year Congress proposes the 14th Amendment, declaring that all people born or naturalized in the USA have equal rights as citizens. These measures are increasingly disregarded in the south, where aggressive segregation and even lynching will survive into modern times.

A symbolic moment, a concert by the famous African-American contralto Marian Anderson in 1939, is often quoted as the start of the modern civil rights movement. The reactionary Daughters of the American Revolution had refused permission for a concert featuring Anderson to be heard by an integrated audience. Instead, with the strong support of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson sings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. She attracts an open-air audience of more than 75,000 people and millions hear the concert on radio.

The issue of civil rights remains very much alive in subsequent US politics. President Truman passes legislation outlawing segregation in areas under government control, the army and the civil service. But the first two pieces of legislation since the Civil War period specifically called Civil Rights Acts are proposed to Congress by Eisenhower in 1957 and 1960, and he is determined to enforce them. In 1957, in a situation receiving wide publicity, the state of Arkansas disregards a federal court order to integrate the classes in their public schools. Eisenhower sends in the 101st Airborne Division. They escort nine black children into an all-white public school in Little Rock. His action is in keeping with a strong developing movement at this time against racial inequality.

The most prominent figure is a black Baptist minister, Martin Luther King. He takes a leading role in the bus boycott of 1955-6 in Montgomery, Alabama. It begins with a dramatic incident. Rosa Parks is a passenger in the black section at the back of a bus. When the bus is full a white passenger enters. Under the prevailing system in this situation the front row of black passengers has to stand to make available a new white row. Rosa Parks refuses to do so, is arrested, appears in court four days later and is fined $10. The black community rapidly agree on a boycott of the buses, costing the company a great deal of money as they are 75% of the passengers. The boycott lasts a little more than a year, ending with a Supreme Court ruling against Alabama's racial segregation law for buses. The city of Montgomery authorizes black passengers henceforth to sit anywhere they choose.

The most dramatic event in the campaign for civil rights is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in which more than 200,000 people, about 75% of them black, assemble peacefully on 28 August 1963 between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument demanding civil and economic rights for African Americans. It is notable above all for the famous speech by Martin Luther King, standing in front of the highly significant Lincoln Memorial. Beginning with a reference to the past and to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, he ends with a vision of the future enshrined within the repeated phrase 'I Have a Dream'.

Gradual steps towards eliminating the barriers to King's dreams are achieved in a series of acts passed during the 1960s, outlawing in turn different aspects of discrimination. The most significant is the Civil rights act of 1964, signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson, with Martin Luther King at the centre of the group watching him. But the pace is too slow for some activists, to whom the aims of the broader civil rights seem tame and even misguided. This results in the emergence in the mid-1960s of the Black Power movement, arguing that the African-American community should be more self-sufficient, not so much integrating as creating a powerful different group within society. The most famous moment in their campaign is when two medal-winners in the 1968 Olympic 200-metres event, standing side by side on the podium, perform a Black Power salute, each raising one arm with the hand in a black glove.

Civil rights: from 1955

There is in the USA a long history of legislation for civil rights, beginning after the victory of the north in the American Civil War. The first Civil rights act, guaranteeing the legal rights of African Americans, is passed in 1866. In the same year Congress proposes the 14th Amendment, declaring that all people born or naturalized in the USA have equal rights as citizens. These measures are increasingly disregarded in the south, where aggressive segregation and even lynching will survive into modern times.

A symbolic moment, a concert by the famous African-American contralto Marian Anderson in 1939, is often quoted as the start of the modern civil rights movement. The reactionary Daughters of the American Revolution had refused permission for a concert featuring Anderson to be heard by an integrated audience. Instead, with the strong support of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson sings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. She attracts an open-air audience of more than 75,000 people and millions hear the concert on radio.

The issue of civil rights remains very much alive in subsequent US politics. President Truman passes legislation outlawing segregation in areas under government control, the army and the civil service. But the first two pieces of legislation since the Civil War period specifically called Civil Rights Acts are proposed to Congress by Eisenhower in 1957 and 1960, and he is determined to enforce them. In 1957, in a situation receiving wide publicity, the state of Arkansas disregards a federal court order to integrate the classes in their public schools. Eisenhower sends in the 101st Airborne Division. They escort nine black children into an all-white public school in Little Rock. His action is in keeping with a strong developing movement at this time against racial inequality.

The most prominent figure is a black Baptist minister, Martin Luther King. He takes a leading role in the bus boycott of 1955-6 in Montgomery, Alabama. It begins with a dramatic incident. Rosa Parks is a passenger in the black section at the back of a bus. When the bus is full a white passenger enters. Under the prevailing system in this situation the front row of black passengers has to stand to make available a new white row. Rosa Parks refuses to do so, is arrested, appears in court four days later and is fined $10. The black community rapidly agree on a boycott of the buses, costing the company a great deal of money as they are 75% of the passengers. The boycott lasts a little more than a year, ending with a Supreme Court ruling against Alabama's racial segregation law for buses. The city of Montgomery authorizes black passengers henceforth to sit anywhere they choose.

The most dramatic event in the campaign for civil rights is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in which more than 200,000 people, about 75% of them black, assemble peacefully on 28 August 1963 between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument demanding civil and economic rights for African Americans. It is notable above all for the famous speech by Martin Luther King, standing in front of the highly significant Lincoln Memorial. Beginning with a reference to the past and to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, he ends with a vision of the future enshrined within the repeated phrase 'I Have a Dream'.

Gradual steps towards eliminating the barriers to King's dreams are achieved in a series of acts passed during the 1960s, outlawing in turn different aspects of discrimination. The most significant is the Civil rights act of 1964, signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson, with Martin Luther King at the centre of the group watching him. But the pace is too slow for some activists, to whom the aims of the broader civil rights seem tame and even misguided. This results in the emergence in the mid-1960s of the Black Power movement, arguing that the African-American community should be more self-sufficient, not so much integrating as creating a powerful different group within society. The most famous moment in their campaign is when two medal-winners in the 1968 Olympic 200-metres event, standing side by side on the podium, perform a Black Power salute, each raising one arm with the hand in a black glove.


John F. Kennedy: 1960-63

In the presidential election in 1960 Senator Kennedy (junior senator for Massachussetts since 1953) is the Democratic candidate. His Republican rival is Richard Nixon who for the past eight years has been vice-president to Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy wins, but by an extraordinarily small margin in the popular vote – just two tenths of one percent (49.7% to 49.5%). A deciding factor may well have been the first televised debate in the USA between presidential contenders. It is widely agreed that Kennedy seems relaxed and confident whereas Nixon appears nervous. The likely importance of such details in debates of this kind in the future seems evident. Kennedy becomes, at the same time, both the first Catholic president and the youngest to be elected.

In his inaugural address in January his skill in the choice of a brief inspiring headline phrase is immediately evident. Urging Americans to take an active part in society he says: 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country'. In just the third month of his presidency two crises confront him. One is an embarrassing presidential fiasco in Cuba. The other is a dramatic new challenge in the space race.

The aggressively anti-west attitude and extreme left-wing policies of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, in control of the country since 1959, are a thorn in the side of the US administration. Castro has expropriated US properties, causing numerous right-wing Cubans to flee the country and seek refuge in Florida, the nearest part of the USA, and he has developed close links with the Soviet Union, He is too close a neighbour for this to be tolerated, and in March 1960 Eisenhower has given the CIA $13 million to devise a coup against him. The scheme is ready by the time Kennedy becomes president and he gives it the go-ahead. It is for a paramilitary group of 1500 Cuban refugees, trained by the CiA, to land in the Bay of Pigs on Cuba's south coast.

The invasion force arrives during the night of 16 April 1961 and rapidly overwhelms a local militia. They have support ships and planes hired by the CIA, displaying no national identity, but in spite of this the brigade of exiles soon has to surrender after an onslaught by tanks, artillery and troops of the Cuban army. About 1200 of them are taken prisoner. Some are executed but the majority are used as bargaining pawns. In March 1962 they are convicted of treason and sentenced to thirty years in prison. In December of that year an agreement Is reached; 1113 prisoners will be returned to the USA in return for $53 milion in food and medicine.

This fiasco is highly embarrassing for Kennedy's young administration, but the other major event in April 1961 gives him an opportunity which he makes the most of in the developing space race between the two superpowers.

One of the most dramatic and unexpected events in Eisenhower's presidency has been the launch of the Russian spacecraft Sputnik into orbit round the earth on 4 October 1957 – the first space satellite. The world is astonished by this great technical achievement by the USSR and it prompts a rapid response in the USA. Eisenhower speeds up the nation's somewhat lethargic space programme and creates NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) as a new agency to run it.

Two more shocks follow soon after. In 1957 the Soviet dog Laika becomes the first animal in space; and on 12 April 1961, by now within Kennedy's administration, Yuri Gagarin follows as the first human in space, completing a single orbit in his spacecraft Vostok 1 and, perhaps even more impressively, returning safely to earth.

Clearly the US space programme needs a newsworthy achievement if the country's superpower reputation Is not to suffer, and Kennedy's solution could hardly be more bold. He tells a Joint Session of Congress, just six weeks after Gagarin's success, that he is setting a new challenge for NASA – to land an American on the moon by the end of the decade, just eight and a half years away. He glorifies the ambition by admitting the scale of the challenge: 'No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult to accomplish.' He does not live to see the result of his bold challenge to the nation. It is achieved when Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon on 20 July 1969, with just four months to go before the end of the decade.

The Cuban missile crisis: 1962

Challenges are coming unusually fast in what will be an unusually short presidency. The next is by far the most alarming in the short term, indeed probably the most alarming for any US president since the Second World War. It is a significant moment in the dangerous arms race between the USA and USSR, each striving to achieve a nuclear advantage over the other or at least restore equality.

In the early 1960s the USA has installed nuclear weapons in Turkey aimed at Moscow, but the USSR at the time only has the ability to launch a nuclear attack against anywhere in Europe. The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, sees a solution to this problem; he can match the American advantage if he has nuclear weapons in Communist Cuba. The stated purpose, a year after the Bay of Pigs, will be to deter any repeated US attempt to invade Cuba. Construction work begins and is soon evident to the Kennedy administration in photographs taken by a U-2 spy plane, constantly monitoring developments on the ground from a very high altitude. The photographs are shown to Kennedy on October 15. He decides on a blockade of Cuba by US ships and planes and demands that the Russians dismantle all the sites being constructed and return any nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union. Khrushchev replies that the blockade is an act of aggression and one likely to 'propel humanity into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war'. The alarm, from a public point of view, is that Soviet ships are already approaching Cuba. Kennedy orders that if they try and break through the blockade the navy is to fire warning shots and then open fire.

However, behind the scenes, negotiations are under way. The eventual solution will be part public and part secret. The public will know that the USSR has agreed to dismantle the Cuban sites and return any weapons to Russia, both actions being verified by the United Nations, and that in return the USA will guarantee never to invade Cuba. What the public does not know is that the USA also guarantees to dismantle and remove the nuclear weapons installed in Turkey.

The agreement is signed on October 28. It has very nearly been derailed at the last moment by a sudden act of aggression by the USSR on October 27, when a U-2 plane is shot down. Kennedy decides not to react.

Assassinations: 1960s

For those in their teens or older in the early 1960s the death of President Kennedy has been a defining moment: 'Where were you when you heard?' is a question frequently asked and almost invariably answered. On the day in question in 1963, Friday November 22, President Kennedy is sitting with his wife Jacqueline in an open car in a motorcade through Dallas in Texas. Suddenly he slumps in his seat. He has been hit by three bullets, one in the upper back, one in the throat and one in the head. The governor of Texas, John Connally, sitting in front of the president, has also been wounded.

The police arrest only one suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, who is accused of firing the shots from the 6th floor of the nearby Texas School Book Depository, where he is an employee. He is arrested that same afternoon. He denies entirely the police accusations. Two days later, before he has been charged, he emerges from the Dallas police headquarters to be transferred to the country jail. A man steps from the crowd and shoots him. Oswald is pronounced dead in hospital two hours later. His assassin is Jack Ruby, a nightclub operator, who is subsequently found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. He appeals and is granted a new trial but before the date is set he dies of lung cancer, in 1967.

In 1968, five years after the death of Kennedy, the nation is shocked by the assassination of two other high-profile figures in political life. On 4 April Martin Luther King is shot in Memphis, Tennessee, by an escaped convict, James Earl Ray. And on June 6 Robert Kennedy (brother of President Kennedy and Attorney General in his administration) is shot by a 24-year-old Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan, while campaigning as a presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination in the forthcoming election.

Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president, on Air Force One, on the evening of Kennedy's death and a month later he sets up the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination. Its conclusion, presented to Johnson in September 1964, is that Oswald fired all three bullets and was a lone assassin, unconnected with any wider group. This conclusion has remained controversial, and conspiracy theories about Kennedy's death have abounded ever since

Lyndon B. Johnson: 1963-69

Johnson begins his unexpected presidency with plans for a range of social and welfare measures that are exceptional in the fiercely individualistic American political scene where welfare has often been regarded as not the business of the state. He groups them under the title the Great Society Programme, and the speed with which he accomplishes most of them is extraordinary. Two of his first legislative achievements are economic, part of a War on Poverty declared by him in his 1964 State of the Union Address. Both develop projects initiated by President Kennedy. The Revenue Act reduces taxes and the Equal Opportunity Act authorizes the creation round the country of Community Action Agencies, controlled by the federal government and tasked with reducing poverty. A third major achievement in 1964, also deriving from Kennedy's time, is the Civil rights act.

But it is in the next year that Johnson has a truly astonishing range of achievements. In this he is greatly helped by his overwhelming victory over the ultra-conservative Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, in the presidential election of 1964. He wins 61% of the popular vote and carries 46 of the country's 50 states. Equally important is the large swing in votes for the House of Representatives and the Senate, giving the Democrats a two-thirds majority in each. With the freedom that this gives a president from the same party, Johnson is able to sign in 1965 legislation on many of the Great Society themes.

The numerous Acts dating from that year share one primary purpose, to help the poor in society in essential areas of life – education, medical aid and household income. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act allocates for the first time large amounts of federal money to the nations' public schools. The Higher Education Act provides support for poorer students in postsecondary and university education. In medicine two very important schemes are launched, both still in use today. Medicare is a national programme guaranteeing medical insurance to Americans aged sixty-five or more and to younger people with disabilities. Medicaid, by contrast, is means-tested rather than age-related. It supports people of any age who are unable to pay for commercial health care. In addition there is support provided in the field of culture. The National Endowment for the Humanities gives grants to institutions such as museums and libraries, colleges and universities, television and radio stations.

Every one of these Acts is still, in revised and updated form, in use today. It is an impressive record for a single presidential year. During Johnson's presidency the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line falls by almost half, from 23% to 12%.

Vietnam and civil unrest: 1964-68

Johnson is a passionate believer in the domino theory and the need to contain the expansionist efforts of Soviet Communism anywhere in the globe. The obvious region of maximum danger at this time is Vietnam, and he inherits a major increase in US involvement during the early 1960s. The growing commitment of American military personnel in the region is largely unseen because all of them are acting in advisory roles. But the increase in the number seconded there during Kennedy's presidency has been startling – from 900 inherited from Eisenhower's administration in 1961 to 15,000 when Johnson becomes president in 1963.

Two mysterious incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 lead to Johnson having increased power to take action in Vietnam. They are mysterious in the sense that subsequent government investigations have discovered that the reality at sea was rather different from what the Johnson administration puts out. The story at the time is that three north Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US destroyer Maddox on 2 August 1964, but it turns out that the Maddox seems to have fired first. A second intended attack, this time on two US destroyers, seemed to have been identified on August 4, and it was claimed at first that they had sunk two torpedo boats. But one of the captains soon suggests that there were no north Vietnamese boats anywhere near the US ships that day, and that they were probably firing at non-existent targets wrongly identified from radar signals.

President Johnson is unaware of this when he makes a speech to the American people about the incidents and asks Congress to reply with a military response. Congress grants him the Southeast Asia Resolution, giving him the power to conduct military operations in the region without the need for a declaration of war, which would normally be required from Congress.

This gives him an entirely free hand. He uses it to escalate the conflict in Vietnam. The first US combat troops arrive in March 1965, By the end of 1968 there are 550,000 US troops in Vietnam. In that year and the previous one they are being killed at the rate of about 1000 a month. The Vietnam War has begun in earnest.

From 1966 Lyndon Johnson's previously very high rating with the public declines steadily. One reason is the nation's increasing dislike for the Vietnam War. The other is a mounting number of urban riots during long hot summers, with extensive looting and arson and violent clashes with the police. Two of the first riots, attracting a lot of coverage, are in Harlem in 1964 and in the Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965. Far more violent than either are the riots in Newark, New Jersey, and in Detroit, both in 1967. In Newark the riots last six days, leaving the city devastated by fire with 26 dead and about 1500 injured. Detroit is even more dramatic. Troops sent in by the governor of Michigan fail to stop the violence, which is not ended until President Johnson sends federal troops with machine guns and tanks. In the following year there is rioting nation-wide in more than a hundred cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

By this time President Johnson is a spent force. He declares in March 1968 that he will not seek re-election. He knows how low his stock is with the electorate and it may be that he fears his health may not see him through another four-year term. If so, his fear was uncannily close to what happens– even without the pressures of office, he dies in 1973 just two days after his term would have ended.


Richard Nixon and foreign relations: 1969-72

To be published soon.

Watergate: 1972

On 17 June 1972, five months before the presidential election in November, five men are caught breaking into the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. The Washington Post puts on to the case two of its leading reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They immediately suspect that the event has something to do with the Republican party but they have no firm evidence until they are approached by an anonymous source who becomes known as Deep Throat. He is subsequently revealed to be Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI. He reveals that cash found on the burglars had been to be linked to a slush fund at the disposal of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Gradually the story unravels, revealing numerous illegal activities carried on by the top level of the Republican party, including bugging the offices of political rivals and ordering the FBI and the tax authority, the Internal Revenue Service, to harass opponents of the Republican cause.

As evidence of new criminal activities emerges, Nixon denies ever having had any knowledge of them. An attempt at an elaborate cover-up inevitably makes matters worse. Eventually prosecutions follow and forty-eight Nixon aides, government officials and others are convicted of crimes including obstruction of justice, perjury, illegal campaigning, conspiracy, wire-tapping and burglary. John M. Mitchell, Attorney-General of the United States in the first three years of Nixon's administration, receives the longest sentence, four years in prison.

The investigation gradually creeps nearer to Nixon, particularly when it is discovered that he has taped all conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. He strongly resists instructions from Congress to release them. When he is finally compelled to do so it is discovered that eighteen minutes of one tape have been erased – accidentally, he thinks. In May 1974 the House of Representatives opens impeachment proceedings against him (only one president has previously been impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868, and he was acquitted in the Senate by a single vote).

Nixon is advised by colleagues that his political support has drained away and that he is almost certain to be impeached. He resigns on 9 August 1974 and is succeeded in office by his vice-president, Gerald Ford. One of Ford's first actions, in September, is controversial - an unconditional pardon for his predecessor for any crimes he might have committed against the United States as President, thus saving Nixon from the danger of prosecution. The major event of Ford's presidency is the end of the Vietnam War. He has little more than two years in office before the presidential election of 1976, which he loses narrowly to Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter: 1977-81

Carter's years as president are difficult ones in the USA. He inherits an economy at a low ebb, with high unemployment and high inflation, and the exceptionally cold winter of his inauguration has confronted the USA with an unprecedented energy crisis. In his first address to the nation, just two weeks into his term of office, he puts energy at the top of the problems of the moment and emphasizes that this will be an ongoing difficulty that can only be solved by the combined efforts of everyone. In a message that has become familiar in all countries since then, he suggests ways in which power can be saved in the home and asks American citizens to set their thermostats as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter.

Two or three years later Carter has to deal with two disasters on a closely related theme, again increasingly common since that time. They relate to the difficult disposal of toxic waste. The first is known as the Love Canal disaster. In 1942 a firm called Hooker Chemical and Plastics begins disposing of chemical waste in the Love Canal region of northern New York state, close to the Niagara Falls. In 1953 they sell it to the Niagara Falls School Board with full disclosure of where the waste is. Two schools and about 500 houses are built on the site. What is not known until much later is that the foundations have broken through the thick layer of clay sealing off the waste. In 1976 the local press begin investigating an unusually high percentage of birth defects and miscarriages in the district. By 1978 it has become plain that this is the result of poisoning. It is discovered only then how large the amount of buried waste is (about 21,000 tons) and that it contains the extremely toxic substance dioxin. President Carter releases a large amount of federal money, the Love Canal Superfund, to rehouse the inhabitants, demolish all the buildings, take measures to seal off the waste, and provide compensation ahead of a law suit against the company, now part of Occidental Petroleum Corporation. The president describes Love Canal as 'one of the grimmest discoveries of our modern era' and warns that several other such sites undoubtedly exist across the nation.

The other disaster, or in this case happily a near disaster, is a partial meltdown in 1979 of a nuclear reactor on Three Mile island in Pennsylvania. It is brought under control while the release of radioactive substances is still relatively small, making the local health hazards minimal, but again it prefigures the future and such catastrophic events as the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986 and at Fukushima in Japan in 2011.

International affairs: 1977-80

Carter shares with Nixon the desire to be a peacemaker. His first achievement in this context solves a dispute with Panama that has been rumbling on for decades. It is about the terms of a treaty signed in 1903 between Panama and the USA. It gives the USA the right to administer and defend the Panama Canal region in perpetuity. By the time of the 1930s this is understandably seen as an affront to Panama. A new treaty is finally signed in 1977 by Carter, starting a gradual US withdrawal and guaranteeing its completion by the end of 1999. This schedule is peacefully achieved.

Carter's other and greater success is the revival of earlier but now faded attempts at a peace agreement of sorts between Egypt and Israel. In 1978 he invites the leaders of both countries, Anwar Sadat for Egypt and Menachem Begin for Israel, to a conference at Camp David, the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, with himself acting as mediator. After nearly two weeks of difficult negotiations the seemingly impossible is achieved. Significant concessions are made and a treaty is signed by Begin, Carter and Sadat. It becomes known as the Camp David Accords. Within weeks Sadat and Begin have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Twenty-four years later, in 2002, Carter joins them in his own right as a Nobel laureate both for the Camp David Accords and for another related achievement. After his presidency his reputation as a peacemaker has steadily grown, with a climax in the Carter Centre which he sets up in Atlanta in 2002. Its purposes include the defence of human rights, the improvement of global health and the resolution of conflicts.

Unfortunately there is one conflict, between Iran and the USA, that is his most pressing problem during the last two years of his presidency and on which he can make no progress.

Iran hostage crisis: 1979-81

On 4 November 1979 a group of students in Tehran, inspired to a passionate hatred of the USA by the inflammatory rhetoric of Ayatollah Khomeini, gain access to the American embassy. They bind and blindfold the embassy staff and parade them in front of photographers as hostages. It is a very popular move in the new revolutionary spirit of Iran, where the oppressive shah has been deposed in a coup earlier this year, enabling Khomeini to return to Iran amid scenes of wild enthusiasm after more than fourteen years in exile.

Within a week or so thirteen women and blacks among the hostages are released, to be followed a few months later by someone with multiple sclerosis. This leaves 52 hostages who remain prisoners, often mistreated, for the full fourteen months of the crisis. Negotiations are soon under way, but any progress is always cancelled by Khomeini. The situation suits him as it is.

Powerless and exasperated, President Carter authorizes the launch of an exceedingly bold and risky rescue plan, known as Operation Eagle Claw. On 22 April 1980 eight helicopters take off from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz stationed in the Indian Ocean. They are carrying troops from Delta Force, a specialist anti-terrorist unit, with supporting aircraft. There are disasters from the start. By the time of arrival at the staging post, in a remote corner of the desert, only five of the eight helicopters are still operational – the other three have developed technical faults. In planning the operation it has been agreed that the mission should only go ahead with a minimum of six helicopters, though if necessary it should be possible with only four. Carter is asked for permission to abort and return to base with five helicopters. In what is later seen as a controversial decision he authorizes the cancellation of the mission.

But the troubles are only beginning. Before leaving, one of the helicopters crashes into a transport aircraft on the ground containing servicemen and a spare supply of fuel. In the resulting fire eight men die and both aircraft are destroyed. The fiasco makes the US a laughing stock in hostile circles and severely damages President Carter's reputation.

By the time of the presidential election in November 1980 negotiations have been revived, with Khomeini by now less hostile to a solution. He has fully reaped the benefit of the hostage situation, sanctions are beginning to hurt and in September the country has been invaded by Iraq. Carter loses the election by a wide margin to Ronald Reagan, and two months later the degree of personal spite in the Iranian intransigence is dramatically emphasized. On 20 January 1981, minutes after Reagan has been sworn in as president, the hostages are released. They have been in captivity for 444 days.


Ronald Reagan: 1981-89

The election of Ronald Reagan brings many changes to the American political and social scene. Well known already to the public as a Hollywood and television actor in the 1940s and 50s and then as a successful governor of California (1967-75), he brings a new mood to the White House as a relaxed and charming personality, seeming to have plenty of leisure time as a result of being brilliant at delegation. He has an alarming start. A mere two months after his inauguration, on 30 March 1981, an assassination attempt is made on his life by John Hinkley. Reagan suffers heavy internal bleeding and a punctured lung but recovers quickly.

His economic and social policies, which become known as Reaganomics, are based on the premise that companies and individuals will thrive, adding wealth to the economy, if they are freed from government restrictions and are enabled to get maximum reward for their achievements. The chief means of rewarding them is to reduce taxes on personal incomes, company receipts and capital appreciation. The policy is defined as monetarism, very much in fashion in the 1980s. Its name is based on the central principle that too much money in the economy is the basic cause of inflation, leaving the control of the money supply as almost the only important economic role for government. The same policy is applied in a similar shake-up in Britain by Margaret Thatcher, and she and Reagan become close friends. The idea of redistribution of income plays no part. This is strongly displayed in Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986, which reduces the top rate of income tax from 50% to 28% while raising the bottom rate from 11% to 15%. However tax revenues increase overall in Reagan's period in office because of broadening the base of what is taxable and efficient closing of loopholes.

Reagan is by any standards a hawk on issues relating to Communism, the Soviet Union and the Cold War. His eagerness to take action against the spread of Communism has been evident since his early days in Hollywood, when he regularly passes to the FBI the names of actors whom he suspects of being members of the Communist party. During his presidency a more aggressive attitude to the Soviet Union becomes national policy after some years of détente attempted by previous administrations. Reagan spends very large sums on increasing the size and capabilities of the armed services, thus escalating the arms race and the Cold War. The most expensive and very controversial part of this programme is his Strategic Defence Initiative. Introduced as a government project in 1983, its purpose is to develop missiles, some on the ground and some in space, that can identify any incoming rockets and destroy them before they reach their target. Many believe that it is technologically impossible, but if it is achieved it would make useless the Soviet Union's large stockpile of nuclear missiles and give the USA great freedom of action as the only superpower in the world. It has never been put in place, though some of the technologies developed in the research for it are valuable parts of other projects.

The Reagan policy also involves more proactive support for anti-Communists groups anywhere in the world and prompt unilateral military action to that end when necessary. The two main examples in Reagan's time are the invasion of Grenada and the bombing of Libya. Grenada, a small island nation in the Caribbean, has been very much afflicted by military coups. One, in 1979, brings to power a Communist leader, Maurice Bishop. Another, in 1983, is organized by his deputy prime-minister, Bernard Coard. He in turn is ousted by the army. Meanwhile Grenada is building a new airfield and US aerial photos reveal that the runway is unusually long. The response of the Reagan administration is that a runway of this length can only be the intended for the use of Soviet military aircraft (an interpretation widely disputed at the time and since). Reagan warns of the threat posed to the nation by the 'Soviet-Cuban militarization' of the Caribbean. And an invasion is planned.

The invasion begins on 25 October 1983 and is far from easy. It takes several days for nearly 8000 US soldiers, sailors and airmen to subdue a force of some 1500 Grenadian and 700 Cuban troops. There is some international approval but mainly condemnation, including by Britain's Margaret Thatcher (Grenada is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations). A resolution passed by the United Nations condemns it as 'a flagrant violation of international law'. There is a brief campaign by African Americans in the House of Representatives to impeach President Reagan.

Libya Iran and Nicaragua: 1985-6

Reagan's bombing of Libya 15 April 1986 is a response to the track record of the Libyan leader, Muhammad Gaddafi, in sponsoring terrorist attacks against western targets, often with a major loss of life. The event that makes Reagan take action is an attack earlier in April on a discothèque in Berlin frequented by US soldiers. Three people are killed and 229 injured. On previous occasions the indications of Gaddafi's involvement have been circumstantial,, but this time there is proof when the USA and West Germany gain access to cables sent to Libyan agents in East Berlin. Over the next few days Reagan has discussions with European and Arab allies before ordering an air strike. A large number of US aircraft take off from sites in Britain and from three US carriers stationed off the north coast of Libya. The targets are airfields and military barracks, of which the most important is Bab al-Azizia in the capital, Tripoli. It is in this compound that Gaddafi has his headquarters.

Gaddafi and his family, forewarned just before the attack, rapidly leave his residence, thus presumably depriving the raid of its main target. Later the body of a dead infant girl is shown to the press, with the announcement that it is Hana, a recently adopted daughter of Gaddafi's. This easy bid for international sympathy is unlikely to be true. Gaddafi soon puts out a message that a spectacular victory has been won over the USA by the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Republic.

Reagan's best-known intervention in a foreign country is less successful and results in a major scandal. It involves, in a complex web of deceit, the USA and two widely separated nations, Iran and Nicaragua, in what becomes known as the Iran-Contra Affair. The story involves three separate elements. First, seven American citizens have been taken hostage by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization based in Lebanon and sponsored by Iran. The USA has no way of putting pressure on Lebanon to release them. Secondly, Iran is in the middle of the costly and protracted Iran-Iraq War and is known to be desperately short of arms. The official policy of the US State Department, endorsed by Reagan, is a ban on the sale of arms to Iran becomes of their links with terrorists. Thirdly, one of the anti-Communist groups Reagan is keen to support is the Contras, a right-wing coalition of opponents of the Marxist but elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The Contras, in effect a terrorist group with an appalling civil rights record, mount guerrilla raids from neighbouring Guatemala with the aim of toppling the Sandinista regime headed by Daniel Ortega. Their purpose is secretly supported by the USA but they are always short of funds. Reagan would like to help.

Among high officials in Reagan's administration a subtle plan is hatched – it is a matter of dispute how much Reagan is aware of it. Iran may be willing to intervene with Hezbollah to release the hostages if arms are sold to them. The USA is unable to do this, but Israel can secretly smuggle them into Iran as a sale from them. The USA can then give Israel the same quantity of arms and receive the money paid by Iran. This can then be given, via the CIA, to the Contras.

Two steps in this process are illegal and have to remain secret – the provision of arms to Iran and the provision of funds to the Contras. Measures passed in Congress between 1982 and 1984 (the Boland Amendment) have made it illegal for the federal government to provide support to any group aiming to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. The deception, rapidly becoming a scandal, is first revealed in 1986. It is compounded by the discovery that Oliver North, a member of the National Security Council and in charge of the secret delivery of cash to the Contras , has shredded government documents relating to the Iran-Contra affair. He and several other high officials involved are subsequently indicted and convicted.

George H.W. Bush: 1989-93

Reagan's enlargement of America's military power early in his term of office has had the effect of raising the defence budget by more than 40% between 1981 and 1985. As a result the national debt triples during his presidency, from $997 billion to $2.85 trillion. Reagan describes this as his 'greatest disappointment'. It is also the greatest problem confronting his successor, George H.W. Bush, who has been vice-president throughout the eight years of the Reagan era. At the 1988 Republican convention he has made what becomes the most famous statement of his political career: 'Read my lips; no new taxes'.

When Bush enters office the Democrats control Congress, limiting the new president's options. The Republican viewpoint is that the deficit can only be reduced by a major cut in government spending. The Democrats insist that it must be done by raising taxes. To get any legislation on the issue through Congress Bush has to follow the Democratic line, breaking In his first year in office his famous pledge on tax. It immediately loses him a lot of Republican support.

The pledge has been made in a speech that becomes known as the 'thousand points of light'. The points of light are volunteers doing work in the community, and Bush passionately believes in the value of their contribution to society. He frequently lectures and campaigns on the theme and in 1989 establishes the Daily Point of Light Award, profiling each day a volunteer in any of the states of the nation. In 1990 he creates the Point of Light Foundation to promote the theme. In 2012, with affiliated organizations in more than twenty countries, the foundation mobilizes more than four million volunteers.

During Bush's period in office there are two occasions when he needs to send US forces on active service abroad. One is relatively local, in Panama in Central America. Since 1983 Panama has been ruled by a gangster and drugs baron, Manuel noriega, who operates as a middleman between Colombia, a major producer of illegal drugs, and America, the largest market. Several unsuccesful attempts have been made by the Reagan administration to remove him. But the last straw comes in 1989 when Noriega declares his nation to be at war with the USA and the next day Panamanian soldiers kill a US marine officer.

President Bush reacts promptly in December 1989 with 'Operation Just Cause', sending 24,000 troops to occupy Panama City and to seize Noriega. For four days Noriega avoids capture. He then seeks asylum in the Vatican embassy in Panama City, but soon gives himself up to the US forces. He is taken under arrest to Miami. In 1992 he is tried and convicted in a US court for drug trafficking and money laundering. Since his removal Panama has had a succession of fully democratic elections for the presidency.

The other occasion when force is required follows just a few months after the invasion of Panama. In August 1990 Operation Desert Storm is launched by a multi-national army charged by the UN Security Council with the task of driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The US plays the leading role in what becomes known as the Gulf War

By the time of the 1992 election Bush's popularity rating, mainly because of the economy, is as low as 37% (it has at times in his presidency been extremely high). The election is complicated by the considerable appeal of a third candidate, Ross Perot. In the event the exit polls suggest that Perot has taken votes equally from the Democrats and the Republicans. Bush is defeated by the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton: 1993-2001

Clinton has an extremely impressive record in moving fast to promote, and in most cases pass into law, a series of liberal reforms. In his first year in office, 1993, these include an Act requiring large companies to allow all employees unpaid leave in circumstances such as pregnancy or serious illness (Family and Medical Leave Act); an Act cutting taxes for fifteen million low income families and for a majority of small businesses, while raising taxes for the wealthiest 1.2% section of the population (Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act); and one minor but nevertheless significant step against the powerful gun lobby, with an act preventing instant over-the-counter purchase of hand guns by imposing a five-day waiting period before receipt of the gun, during which a federal background check is to be made on the purchaser (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act). The Brady Act is named after James Brady, President Reagan's press secretary, who was permanently disabled in the failed assassination attempt on the president in 1981.

On one of his liberal initiatives during the first year Clinton has to make a serious compromise. He has proposed a change in the law to enable openly gay men and women to serve in the military, but this meets strong opposition from conservatives of both parties in Congress. The compromise is that gays can serve, and are protected from bullying or discrimination, as long as they don't reveal or admit their sexuality. By the same token others in the service are banned from asking about it. The resulting directive to the military authorities is known as 'Don't ask, don't tell'.

The most challenging initiative by Clinton during 1993, a central feature of his presidential campaign and the one most important to him, is his attempt to achieve a transformation of the American health system, providing universal coverage though a national health care plan. Meeting strong opposition this effort collapses. But Clinton achieves a partial success in this context with his Children's Health Insurance Programme in 1997.

If 1993 has demonstrated clearly the legislative aims and successes that will characterize Clinton's presidency, it also reveals another element that will remain constant over the next eight years – the involvement of his name, justified or not, in scandals.

Scandals: 1993-2001

In 1993 David Hale, an Arkansas banker who has served time in prison for fraud, claims that Clinton while governor of Arkansas pressurized him to lend $300,000 dollars to Susan McDougal, a partner of Clinton's in a project to build holiday homes along the White River in Arkansas. The issue rumbles on for years, and after several investigations fifteen people are convicted of frauds connected with the case. Clinton and Hillary, both shareholders in the Whitewater company, have throughout protested their innocence and neither is charged.

The scandal that becomes known as Troopergate also surfaces in 1993. Two Arkansas state troopers claim that they arranged sexual relations for Clinton when governor of Arkansas. The investigations bring up the name of Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee who accuses Clinton of sexual harassment in 1991 and subsequently sues him, demanding $750,000 in damages. After years of litigation Clinton settles out of court with Jones and in 1998 pays her $850,000 to cover damages and her costs in return for her dropping the case.

The greater significance of the Jones v. Clinton case has been that it introduces the name of Monica Lewinski, an unpaid internee in the White House working for the Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta. In this role she comes into contact with Clinton. She confides to a colleague that at Clinton's request she has performed oral sex on him in the Oval Office. The colleague, Linda Tripp, betrays her trust and records telephone conversations in which she asks Lewinsky for intimate details. Tripp then makes these tapes available in the Jones v. Clinton case. Clinton is called to give evidence and under oath denies having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and repeats this very specifically in a televised White House news conference in January 1998 using the categorical phrase 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky'. Later, when this position becomes untenable in view of the evidence, he admits that his relationship with her had been 'inappropriate'.

A charge of perjury relating to this evidence is the main charge in an impeachment of Clinton by the House of Representatives. He becomes only the second president in the history of the USA to undergo impeachment. The first to be impeached has been Andrew Johnson, cleared by one vote in the Senate in 1868. Richard Nixon, confronted with the likelihood of impeachment in 1974, has resigned before the charge is placed. Clinton, with characteristic nonchalance and courage, decides to brazen it out. In February, after a trial lasting nearly a month, he is acquitted in the Senate.

This escape, in his second term of office, is characteristic of Clinton's extraordinary presidency. In spite of having his private affairs constantly scrutinized in the press he completes two very successful terms. His Gallup Poll rating on leaving office is higher than that of any president since F.D. Roosevelt. ABC News summed up the public's attitude to Clinton as 'You can't trust him, he's got weak morals and ethics – and he's done a heck of a good job'. Clinton has had the good fortune for his presidency to coincide with a period of prosperity and increasing wealth in most western nations, but he has also administered the economy skilfully. In each of his last three fiscal years in office there are surpluses in the government's finances (an extremely unusual circumstance), with the surplus in 2000 being the largest ever, at $237 billion.

At the end of Clinton's eight years in the White House George W. Bush wins the 2000 presidential elections by the narrowest of margins against the Democratic candidate, Al Gore. Florida, where the vote between them is on a knife edge, becomes the state on which the result depends. Whichever of them gains Florida's twenty-five electoral votes will win the election and become president. The issue is complicated by the fact Florida's voting machines have malfunctioned. They are meant to cut a neat square hole in the ballot paper beside the name of the preferred candidate. Instead some of the ballot papers have been left with one corner of the square still attached, a situation known as a 'hanging chad'. Does this count as a vote or not? The issue is decided by the Supreme Court which awards the victory to Bush.

Eight months into the new president's term of office an event occurs which profoundly affects the rest of his presidency. The most destructive of all terrorist attacks is launched against New York and Washington.

Since 2001

9/11:: 11 September 2001

On 11 September 2001 four civil airliners taking off from US airports are hijacked by terrorists on a suicide mission. Two of them are flown into a world-famous symbol of capitalist achievement, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in downtown Manhattan. A third is deliberately crashed into the Pentagon, the US military command post in Washington. A fourth, destined perhaps for the White House, crashes in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers attempt to overwhelm the hijackers.

The deaths in New York number nearly 3000 (the eventual official figure is 2823), with travellers in the planes and the victims in the Pentagon adding several hundred more. It soon becomes evident that the hijackers were Arab Muslims, making it probable that the horrors are linked with the al-qaeda terrorist network set up and funded by the rich Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden. [link to sc] Documentary and video evidence is subsequently found, confirming his involvement and his pleasure at the outcome. Bin Laden's base is in Afghanistan where he first went in 1982 to fight with the Taliban and other mujaheddin in their campaign to end the Soviet occupation of their country. It is there that he has created camps to train al-qaeda terrorists to attack his more recent targets, the capitalist and infidel nations of the west.

A few days after 9/11 President Bush tells the American people that the country is now engaged in a War on Terror. The first aim of the war is to demolish bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan. To this end the Bush administration is able to form a coalition with the United Kingdom and subsequently convince sufficient leaders of other nations to join an alliance (crucial is neighbouring Pakistan, which has previously supported the Taliban).

On September 20, less than two weeks after 9/11, a demand is sent to the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist group at this time in control of Afghanistan, to hand over bin Laden and close down his training camps. The response of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, is that he is unable to do this - pleading ignorance of where bin Laden is, but also no doubt reluctant to surrender a guest who shares his fundamentalist views and has provided financial support to the Taliban, and whose forces are probably as powerful as the Taliban army.

On October 7 missile attacks are launched against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets (in an operation code-named Enduring Freedom). It is the start of a bombing campaign which lasts into the early weeks of 2002. There are inevitably civilian casualties (known in the jargon of modern war as 'collateral damage') when missiles and bombs go astray, but in general the bombardment is extraordinarily accurate. The training camps are rapidly destroyed, as are many Taliban military installations. And the Taliban infantry dug in on the ground endure an unrelenting bombardment with massive explosives. The Taliban base, the city of Kandahar, is taken on 7 December 2011 but the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, escapes the net. The whereabouts of this second-most-wanted man become unknown, as do those of the prime target, Osama bin Laden.

It is widely believed that bin Laden has withdrawn, with many of his fighters, to the Tora Bora mountains on the eastern border with Pakistan where he has earlier tunnelled out a range of well-equipped caves as a safe haven against the Russians. The next wave of US bombing is therefore directed against these mountains. One by one the caves are taken by Afghan forces, now working with a few US forces on the ground. Large numbers of al-qaeda troops are killed or captured. But their leader proves as elusive as Mullah Omar. When the war fizzles out, early in 2002, there are two evident benefits. The brutal Taliban regime has been toppled. And the network of training camps in Afghanistan has been destroyed. But the additional purpose of bringing bin Laden to justice remains unfulfilled.

In 2002 the US army establishes on US territory in Cuba the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to imprison and interrogate suspected terrorists captured in the War on Terror. It becomes one of the most controversial aspects of US policy in terms of mistreatment of the inmates, the secrecy of army interrogation rather than of a civil trial, and the detention of the majority for years without being charged or convicted.

Taliban insurgency: from 2004

Within two years of their eviction in 2002 the Taliban are back in Afghanistan, this time as an insurgent force. The renewed war against them, led by the USA and UK, demonstrates the familiar problem of a conventional army confronted by guerrilla tactics. It proves extremely costly in lives and money. By 2013 the allied nations are making plans to withdraw as soon as possible, after taking steps for several years to train the Afghan security forces to fend for themselves.

The reason why the Taliban have been able to return to the country is because the western allies have regarded the war as being won in 2002, and in 2003 they are distracted by another war – in Iraq. This has been a dangerous possibility ever since Saddam Hussein was enabled to remain in power after the Gulf War of 1990-91 . A condition of this has been that he destroys all his Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD, covering nuclear, chemical and biological examples). Saddam regularly puts difficulties in the way of the UN inspectors charged with checking that this has happened. This apparent refusal to cooperate convinces Bush, and subsequently the British prime minister Tony Blair that Saddam has WMD. Together they present a case justifying an invasion to destroy the weapons.

Their evidence is weak and not fully in keeping with the details submitted to them by their security services. Failing to persuade the United Nations to authorize invasion, they decide to take military action without authority but at the head of a coalition of other nations. The Iraq War [link to section in Iraq] begins in March 2003. It seems to many that the main purpose of the two western leaders is regime change, the removal of Saddam Hussein, a step which Bush's father, President George H. W. Bush, had refrained from taking in 1991. They insist however that their purpose is solely the finding and destruction of his WMD. No such weapons have ever subsequently been found but Saddam is driven from Baghdad and eventually captured and executed. Victory in the brief war followed by successful regime change plunges Iraq into a cycle of violence, terror and anarchy similar to the long-term situation in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama: since 2009

The presidential election of 2008 brings to the fore two powerful new figures in the American political scene. One is someone who has already been prominent as the wife of President Clinton and America's First Lady. During her husband's presidency Hillary Clinton has been the main architect of his health care reform proposal and in 2000 she enters mainstream politics, becoming the first former First Lady to stand for an elected public office. She becomes one of the two senators for the state of New York. In 2007 she takes another major step, declaring her candidacy for adoption as the Democratic presidential contender in the election of 2008.

In her campaign she comes up against a relatively new face in Washington, Barack Obama. He has been in the city since 2004 as a senator for Illinois, but has not had a high profile until in 2007 he joins the group of Democrats competing to be the presidential candidate. He immediately attracts attention by his relaxed manner and his brilliantly powerful oratory (his way with words has already been evident in his account of his early life published in 2004, Dreams from My Father).

The contest is close and at times bitter but Obama prevails, partly because of his introduction of a new modern campaigning technique, the building up of support through the efficient use of social media such as Facebook. This also stands him in good stead in the presidential campaign, leading to his defeat of his Republican rival John Cain. He becomes the first African American to be elected president. Obama invites Hillary Clinton to join his administration and she becomes an extremely successful Secretary of State during his first term. She decides not to continue if he is re-elected in 2012, saying she is looking forward to a return to private life. Since then she has consistently denied that she has any intention to run for the presidency in 2016, but polls indicate that she is by far the most popular choice among Democrats for the presidential nomination.

In his first year in office Obama signs into law an impressive succession of liberal policies. These include child health insurance, gay rights, greenhouse gases and global warming, hate crimes against victims on the basis of their sexual orientation, the early withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and the relaxing of existing restrictions on stem cell research and on a woman's right to have an abortion. His only disappointment, a major one, is the implementation of his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. This results from opposition in Congress to the moving of detainees into the USA to be dealt with by the normal judicial process.

One major initiative during his first month is the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This is part of his response to the crisis that has erupted a few months before his presidency and will to a large extent overshadow it – the global recession. Obama immediately makes it clear that his response to the disaster is on the Keynesian side, putting federal money into the economy to stimulate recovery. The Act authorizes the use of $787 billion of public money for this purpose, to be distributed over several years. Its measures include increased government spending on health care, education and infrastructure projects, together with various tax breaks and incentives. When combined with other similar interventions in the economy the system seems to work.

The nation is considered by many economists to be in recession when Barack Obama enters the White House in 2009. A few years later the situation seems greatly improved. The annual GDP in 2008 is $13961 billion; in 2012 it is $14991 billion, with predictions in mid-2013 that the figure for this year will be $15684 billion. Wall Street is buoyant. In March 2009, at the height of the crisis, the Dow-Jones index dips below 7500; in August 2013 it is at the record level of 15,500. And unemployment is falling. On the other hand, at the same time, the annual growth rate of the GDP is only 1.7%.

Obama is at this point less than a year into his second term, having defeated the Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
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