Archive for May 7th, 2009

Presidencies that were major turning points

Washington- (1789-1797) established the first cabinet offices of treasury (Hamilton), war (Knox), and state (Jefferson), and later included attorney general (Randolph); the Judiciary Act of 1789 created the Supreme Court and lower federal courts; the first treaties with foreign powers under the Constitution- Jay’s Treaty of 1794 with Britain was considered ineffectual, although the Pinckney treaty of 1795 with Spain opened up the Mississippi as a trade route and allowed the tax free right of deposit of American goods in New Orleans; Washington’s crushing of the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania in 1794; the unfortunate development of political parties around the personalities of Hamilton and Jefferson; the Neutrality Proclamation which guided US foreign relations for over a century; establishing the (then unofficial) precedent of two terms that would be maintained until FDR.

Jefferson (1801-1809)- sought to reduce the size of government and the use of excise taxes; the Louisiana Purchase doubled US territory and furthered Jefferson’s dream of creating an “Empire for Liberty” rooted in self-sufficient yeoman farmers even while he questioned the constitutionality of the action according to strict interpretation of the Constitution; sent out Lewis and Clark to explore that territory, gather scientific information, and make friendly overtures to the Native Americans there; was challenged by piracy off the north-central coast of Africa in the Barbary states and was forced to pay tribute since our navy was too small to protect the merchant fleet; tried to avoid war with France or England or be sucked into the war between them by declaring an embargo of trade on bth sides that had the effect of promoting manufacturing.

Jackson (1829- 1836)- Known as Jacksonian Democracy or the Era of the Common Man, the right to vote was extended to nearly all white males, removing property restrictions that became meaningless due to westward expansion; the Indian Removal Act sought to clear the south and southwest of the Five Civilized Tribes, resulting in th Trail of Tears; as the representative of the people, he vetoed more bills than all of the previous presidents put together; supported “rotation in office,” or the spoils system to reward political supporters with government jobs; killed the Bank of the US as a bastion of privilege and wealth, which in the long term led to the collapse of hundreds of banks as speculation ran wild causing the depression or panic of 1837; advocated a policy of states’ rights until South Carolina threatened secession over the Tariff of 1828. The Age of Reform and the Second Great Awakening began during Jackson’s presidency.

Lincoln (1861-1865)- directed the response of the federal government to the secession of the Confederate States; defined the Civil War as a war over the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence (see Gettysburg Address); ended slavery; established a plan for Reconstruction; first federal draft law; first federal income tax; establishment of  a national bank to regulate currency.

Wilson (1912-1919)- addition of four (Progressive) amendments to the Constitution (16- income tax, 17-direct election of Senators, 18-Prohibition, 19-woman suffrage); Clayton Act strengthening anti-trust legislation and exempting unions from that legislation; creation of Federal Reserve System; lowering tariffs; intervention in World War I; development of Fourteen Points based upon self-determination, freedom of the seas, and creating a world body to settle disputes among nations, although the US did not join this body.

FDR (1933-1945)- New Deal intervention in economy based on relief, reform, and recovery; two amendments to the Constitution (20- changing start of terms for federal elective offices, 21- ending Prohibition); deficit spending under Keynesian economic theory to prime the pump of the economy; Social Security; supplying the Allies with weaponry and then joining the fight in World War II; dramatically altered the size and scope of government and citizens; expectations of what the federal government’s role was; ended isolationism as a foreign policy option.

Truman (1945- 1953)-  continuation of New Deal philosophy in Fair Deal; desegregation of the US military and federal government;  created Committee on Civil Rights; 22nd Amendment passed limiting presidential terms to two; involvement in Korean War; containment; development of atomic and nuclear weapons; Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe; Truman Doctrine attempts to contain communism and prevent spread to Greece and Turkey; massive peacetime military spending; Berlin airlift in response to Soviet blockade; creation of NATO.

LBJ (1963-1968)- Civil Rights Act of 1964 ends segregation in public accommodations; Voting Rights Act  forbids literacy tests and enforcement of 15th Amendment; War on Poverty includes development of Appalachia and Economic Opportunity Act creating Job Corps; creation of Medicare and Medicaid; Elementary and secondary Education Act increases federal spending in schools; increasing involvement in Vietnam; Tonkin Gulf Resolution expands presidential war powers.

Reagan (1981-1989)- Reagan Revolution was a high tide of conservatism with the New Right, neoconservatives, and the Moral Majority becoming powerful; remaking the American electorate through drawing support of “Reagan Democrats;” supply-side economics includes tax breaks and deregulation of economy; nomination of first woman to Supreme Court; passage of balanced budget act but large deficits; cuts in domestic social program spending; massive military spending and program expansion; Iran-contra scandal; strong anti-communism in Latin America and Caribbean (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Granada); pushing Soviet Union near collapse and end of Cold War.