America: Pathways to the Present Analysis

Andrew Cayton

Chapter 1: The Origins of a New Society

The first chapter of the textbook is a review that covers early American history from the time of the early European explorers up through the development of the English colonies on the eastern coast of North America. The chapter is divided into three sections: The Atlantic World, European Colonization of the Americas, and Growth of the American Colonies

Section 1: The Atlantic World

Main Ideas

  • Three different cultures came together to create the Atlantic World: Native American culture, European culture, and West African culture.
  • European exploration of the Americas brought these cultures together and reshaped them into something new.

Summary and Analysis
In the late fifteenth century, three distinct cultures collided to form what the authors refer to as the Atlantic World. The first culture comprised the Native Americans who inhabited the continent of North America. These native peoples had first arrived as part of a migration from Asia, most likely over the Bering Strait off Alaska’s west coast, and eventually worked their way across the continent and evolved into many different societies with distinct languages. Despite their differences, they also had many common characteristics, including their kinship or tribal structure, their animistic religious beliefs, and their concept of respect for the land, all of which would be at odds with the coming Europeans’ beliefs.

The Europeans who came across the ocean in search of riches had a very different culture. Europe was undergoing an unprecedented period of economic and population growth as farming methods increased food supplies. The Renaissance (a French word that means “rebirth”) had brought about a time of great creativity as Europeans strove for knowledge in every field. European social structure was based on wealth and power rather than on kinship relationships and had developed strong nation states that heavily competed with each other. Europeans carried those competitive values with them to their new lands in the West. They also brought with them Christianity and a strong sense of religious superiority. They believed that the Native Americans they encountered in the New World were inferior.

Also contributing to this new Atlantic World was the culture of West Africa. Based on kinship and tribal ties, the culture of West Africa differed significantly from that of Europe, but the two societies traded together peacefully for many years. Slavery, however, changed everything. Early on, slavery was an internal part of African culture. Africans captured other Africans in raids or wars. These captives became slaves and a part of their owners’ tribes. Eventually, some African slaves were sold to European traders. When the Europeans reached the New World and found that Native Americans were unsuited to the work of farming and mining, they insisted on having—and then took—more and more West Africans for slaves. The slave trade had begun.

First Columbus and then other explorers came to the new world. They were seeking a way to reach India, but they soon realized the value of the continent they had found instead. The Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Dutch all became involved in exploiting and settling this rich new land. European explorers brought not only their culture and values, but also their prejudices, diseases, wars, and weapons. Disease alone decimated the native populations, who had little or no resistance to European diseases. Because the native populations were sick and dying, they were not able to satisfy the Europeans enormous need for labor to mine for gold and to establish plantations. Thus the Spanish, and those after them, turned to West Africa for slaves to provide the labor.

Section 2: European Colonization of the Americas

Main Ideas

  • Several European countries established colonies, and each colony was very different.
  • The French established fur trading posts in Canada.
  • The Spanish carved out an empire based on mining and farming that brought them great wealth.
  • The English established the largest and most populated colonies on the Eastern seaboard.

Summary and Analysis
Although there were several European countries that were competing for land in the new world, only a few made a large mark on the continent. The Portuguese settled and created a large colony in what is present-day Brazil. The French established fur trading posts and settlements in present-day Canada. And the Dutch settled in New Amsterdam, which would later become New York. The two main colonial powers—and constant enemies—were England and Spain.

The Spanish conquistadors carved out an empire in Mexico, Central America, South America, and on the islands of the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish were not as focused on settling their lands as they were on exploiting them for gold and crops. They tried to use Native Americans as slaves but found that they were not suitable; they began bringing in West Africans as slaves instead and so ignited the slave trade. Forts were built to help settle and defend Spanish territory in the New World, and missionaries for the Roman Catholic Church established missions throughout Spanish America.

While the Spanish focused on the southern and western areas of the New World, the English established successful colonies along the eastern seaboard. The first truly successful colony was Jamestown, which struggled for years but achieved success and stability with the development of tobacco as a cash crop. Also successful were the colonies planted in New England by the Puritans, beginning with Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans were a splinter group of Protestants who left England to practice their ascetic version of Christianity freely. The Puritans’ belief in hard work and working for the common good paid off. By 1700, nearly 100,000 people lived in the Massachusetts, primarily around the growing city of Boston.

The English established other colonies, including New Jersey, Maryland, and the Carolinas. Many Englishmen came to the New World seeking religious tolerance like the Puritans. Maryland was founded by Catholics seeking relief from persecution in Protestant England. Pennsylvania was settled by the Quakers, also seeking freedom of religion. Rhode Island and Connecticut were founded by Puritans who were dissatisfied with conditions in Massachusetts.

Section 3: Growth of the American Colonies

Main Ideas

  • The English colonies developed diverse economies that resulted in a system of triangular trade.
  • England gave colonies a great deal of self-rule.
  • Tensions developed between the English colonists and the French traders and Indians.

Summary and Analysis
England gave colonies a great deal of freedom to govern themselves. The Pilgrims set the precedent with their Mayflower Compact, which provided a local government. By 1614, Virginia had a House of Burgesses, a legislative body that was in effect a limited form of self-government. England’s relationship with the colonies was based on the economic theory of mercantilism, which held that all countries were in competition for a limited amount of gold. England thus wanted colonies to provide raw materials, a market for finished goods, and loyal colonists. England found that she got what she wanted from her colonies by leaving them alone.

The differences in the geography of the northern and southern colonies saw the growth of divergent economies. Large plantation-style farming worked well in the South for growing rice, indigo, cotton, and tobacco. These labor-intensive crops also necessitated the introduction of slavery. The North’s small farms and more diverse economy were not as well suited for slave labor. By the late 1700s, there were approximately 400,000 African slaves in the southern states and only around 50,000 in the northern states. A system of triangular trade was developed as New England merchants brought finished products such as books and cloth to the West Indies, then brought sugar to New England where it was made into rum, and then finally brought the rum and firearms to the West Indies for more slaves.

By the 1700s, several issues were causing tension in the colonies. First, the colonies’ growing population was coming into conflict with French trappers and Native Americans along the western and northern frontiers. Second, preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield sparked a religious movement called “The Great Awakening,” which revived colonists’ religious convictions. This religious independence led to the formation of two new Christian denominations: Baptism and Methodism. Proponents of each claimed that individuals could act on their own faith and questioned the idea that some people are better than others because of birth or wealth. These new ideas would have grave consequences for the future of the colonies.

Chapter 2: Balancing Liberty and Order (1753–1820)

The second chapter is considered a review and covers key moments in the founding of the United States, the development of its government, and its early political growth up through the War of 1812. It is divided into three sections: The Road to Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Origins of American Politics.

Section 1: The Road to Independence

Main Ideas

  • Grievances against the British government, as well as Enlightenment philosophies of equality and self-government, led to the American Revolutionary War.
  • Ideas put forth in the Declaration of Independence and the colonists’ eventual success in the Revolutionary War irrevocably changed the world.

Summary and Analysis
By 1754, there were already some tensions beginning to show in the American colonists’ relationship with Britain, France, and the Native Americans. This soon erupted into the French and Indian War, which lasted for nine years until 1763. Tempers flared as the British attempted to tax the colonies without representation to help pay for the cost of the war. The British Parliament enacted such legislation as the Stamp act, a tax on printed materials, and the Townsend Acts, a tax on tea and other products. The resulting hostility from the colonies sparked boycotts, the Boston Massacre (in which British soldiers killed five men), and the Boston Tea Party where colonial rebels dumped literally tons of tea into the harbor. Hostilities reached a decisive moment on April 18, 1775, when the British marched to Lexington and Concord and found armed militia waiting for them. The first shot of that battle has been justly called the “Shot Heard Round the World.” The American Revolutionary War had begun.

In 1774, the First Continental Congress tried to take unified action for the colonies, but the time was not yet right. In 1776, the Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia. Taking inspiration from the incendiary work Common Sense by Thomas Paine, the Congress decided that it was time for the colonists to separate from England. Thomas Jefferson led the group of men who produced the Declaration of Independence. The document declared the colony’s freedom and defined the basic principles on which American society and government would be based.

The document was all well and good, but in order to give it true meaning, the new country would need to defeat the strongest army on earth. And in retrospect, the colonists had every chance of doing so: they had superb leadership under George Washington, intimate familiarity with the terrain, small and mobile forces that could disperse at will, and the help of the French. The war not only established American independence but inspired a great patriotism for the country and spread the ideal of liberty to Europe. Jefferson’s assertion that...

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Chapter 3: An Emerging New Nation (1783-1861)

This final review chapter covers social, economic, and religious life in the rapidly growing United States from 1783 to 1861. It focuses on how all aspects of American society contributed to increasing tension between the northern and southern regions of the country. The chapter is divided into four sections: Life in the New Nation, the Market Revolution, Religion and Reform, and the Coming of the Civil War.

Section 1: Life in the New Nation

Main Ideas

  • A rapidly growing and young population spurred tremendous territorial growth.
  • Innovations in industry brought social change as the northeast became more urban and industrial....

(The entire section is 1408 words.)

Chapter 4: The Civil War (1861–1865)

This chapter focuses on the U.S. Civil War, a four-year conflict that almost tore the young nation apart. The chapter is divided into four sections: From Bull Run to Antietam, Life Behind the Lines, The Tide of the War Turns, and Devastation and New Freedom.

Section 1: From Bull Run to Antietam

Main Ideas

  • Bloody battles early in the war made it clear to both sides that the struggle would be a long and difficult one.
  • The North had strong advantages in population, wealth, and transportation.
  • The South had distinct advantages in military leadership and morale.

Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 5: Reconstruction (1865–1877)

The period of Reconstruction stretched from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the year 1877, when control of the South was put back into Southern hands. The chapter is divided into four sections: Presidential Reconstruction, Congressional Reconstruction, Birth of the “New South,” and the End of Reconstruction.

Section 1: Presidential Reconstruction

Main Ideas

  • The Reconstruction plans of Presidents Lincoln and Johnson made it easy for states to rejoin the Union.
  • African Americans began to experience freedom under the protection of Reconstruction laws.

Summary and Analysis
The South was devastated...

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Chapter 6: The Expansion of American Industry (1850–1900)

This chapter focuses on the technological advances and new business practices that transformed American industry in the second half of the nineteenth century. The chapter is divided into four sections: A Technological Revolution, the Growth of Big Business, Industrialization and Workers, and the Great Strikes.

Section 1: A Technological Revolution

Main Idea

  • Technological advances in energy, communication, transportation, and in the processing of steel revolutionized American industry.

Summary and Analysis

The second half of the nineteenth century was a period of great technological innovation. Between 1860 and...

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Chapter 7: Looking to the West (1860–1900)

This chapter focuses on the latter part of the nineteenth century, when the western part of the United States went from being a scarcely populated frontier to a vibrant, growing area that greatly contributed to America’s economy. In order for this transformation to take place, settlers had to move West, and the Native Americans who had first occupied the land were forcibly “resettled.” The chapter is divided into four sections: Moving West, Conflict With Native Americans, Mining, Ranching, and Farming, and Populism.

Section 1: Moving West

Main Ideas

  • There were many factors that encouraged Americans to move West, including high land prices in the East and...

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Chapter 8: Politics, Immigration, and Urban Life (1870–1915)

This chapter discusses the period during which the United States emerged from Reconstruction by greatly increasing its industrial and agricultural production. Some Americans prospered, but many more remained trapped in a cycle of low wages and poor living conditions. The chapter is divided into four sections: Politics in the Gilded Age, People on the Move, the Challenge of the Cities, and Ideas for Reform.

Section 1: Politics in the Gilded Age

Main Ideas

  • National politics was dominated by issues of corruption and reform.
  • Economic pressures also greatly affected the politics of the 1890s.

Summary and...

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Chapter 9: Life at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (1870–1915)

This chapter deals with several different social issues at the turn of the twentieth century, including education, entertainment, life for African Americans under Jim Crow laws, and the changing role of women. The chapter is split into four sections: The Expansion of Education, New Forms of Entertainment, The World of Jim Crow, The Changing Roles of Women.

Section 1: The Expansion of Education

Main Ideas

  • In the nineteenth century, education was out of reach for many Americans, but by the turn of the century more and more Americans were able to take advantage of educational opportunities.
  • Educational opportunities were not available to all...

(The entire section is 1256 words.)

Chapter 10: Becoming a World Power (1890–1915)

This chapter focuses on the period between 1890 and 1915, when the United States became increasingly involved in international affairs, especially in Central America, the Caribbean, and in the Pacific Islands. The chapter is divided into four sections: The Pressure to Expand, the Spanish-American War, a New Foreign Policy, and Debating America’s New Role.

Section 1: The Pressure to Expand

Main Idea

  • In the late 1800s, the United States found itself under pressure to extend American influence abroad.

Summary and Analysis
Beginning in the late 1800s, the United States found itself under increasing pressure to expand...

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Chapter 11: The Progressive Reform Era (1890–1920)

This chapter explores the numerous reform movements of the Progressive Era. The chapter is divided into four sections: The Origins of Progressivism, Progressive Legislation, Progressivism Under Taft and Wilson, and Suffrage at Last.

Section 1: The Origins of Progressivism

Main Ideas

  • At the turn of the century, many of the problems caused by rapid industrialization and urbanization spurred the creation of reform movements that became known as progressivism.
  • Many of the goals of Progressivism came from earlier reform movements.

Summary and Analysis
The Progressives were never a single,...

(The entire section is 1388 words.)

Chapter 12: The World War I Era (1914–1920)

This chapter discusses America’s involvement in World War I. The United States emerged from World War I as an unparalleled world power. The chapter is divided into five sections: The Road to War, the United States Declares War, Americans on the European Front, Americans on the Home Front, and Global Peacemaker.

Section 1: The Road to War

Main Ideas

  • World War I had several long- and short-term causes: imperialism, militarism, nationalism, and a tangled system of alliances that caused the war to expand quickly.
  • The United States tried hard to remain neutral in the early years of the war.

Summary and...

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Chapter 13: Postwar Social Change (1920–1929)

This chapter explores the social changes that caused conflicts in American post-war society. The chapter is divided into three sections: Society in the 1920s, Mass Media and the Jazz Age, and Cultural Conflicts

Section 1: Society in the 1920s

Main Ideas

  • The 1920s were a time of rapid social change.
  • Many young people, particularly women, adopted new lifestyles and attitudes.
  • The United States became an increasingly urban nation, and traditional values were challenged.

Summary and Analysis
Woman stood at the center of much of the social change of the early 1920s. Many women had been in the...

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Chapter 14: Politics and Prosperity (1920–1929)

This chapter explores the effect of World War I on American politics and analyzes the beginnings of the Great Depression. The chapter is divided into three sections: a Republican Decade, a Business Boom, and the Economy in the Late 1920s.

Section 1: A Republican Decade

Main Ideas

  • Americans, heartily sick of war, wanted a “return to normalcy “ in the 1920s.
  • One result of the First World War was to make Americans suspicious and mistrustful of all foreigners, sparking a Red Scare and restrictive immigration legislation.
  • The Republican administrations of the 1920s pursued pro-business and isolationist policies.


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Chapter 15: Crash and Depression (1929–1933)

This chapter focuses on the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. The crash led to a worldwide economic depression that caused much suffering, especially in the United States as millions lost their jobs and homes. The chapter is divided into four sections: the Stock Market Crash, Social Effects of the Depression, Surviving the Great Depression, the Election of 1932.

Section 1: The Stock Market Crash

Main Ideas

  • Overspeculation in the stock market and the overproduction of goods resulted in panic selling that caused the U.S. stock market to crash, leading to severe economic depression in the United States.
  • Because so many other countries...

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Chapter 16: The New Deal (1933–1941)

This chapter discusses Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program, which had both successes and failures and drew both supporters and critics. The chapter is divided into three sections: Forging a New Deal, the New Deal’s Critics, and the Last Days of the New Deal.

Section 1: Forging a New Deal

Main Ideas

  • Roosevelt sought to end the depression through a series of government programs designed to bring relief to suffering Americans, to stimulate the economy, and to provide protection against future crashes.
  • Many key players in New Deal programs were former members of the Progressive party. Roosevelt also appointed many African Americans to...

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Chapter 17: World War II (1931–1941)

This chapter explores the origins of World War II and the United State’s entrance into the conflict. The chapter is divided into four sections: The Rise of Dictators, Europe Goes to War, Japan Builds an Empire, and From Isolationism to War.

Section 1: The Rise of Dictators

Main Ideas

  • Depression-era Europe was a fertile ground for the rise of dictatorships. Four dictators came to power between WWI and WWII: Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler.
  • WWII-era dictatorships were brutal and repressive governments that were only concerned with a desire for power.

Summary and Analysis
During the 1920s and...

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Chapter 18: Americans at War (1941–1945)

This chapter focuses on America’s involvement in World War II. The chapter is divided into five sections: Mobilization, Retaking Europe, the Holocaust, the War in the Pacific, and the Social Impact of the War.

Section 1: Mobilization

Main Ideas

  • The American government needed to quickly mobilize industry as well as the armed forces to fight the Axis Powers.
  • The mobilization effort put Americans back to work and brought about economic recovery from the Great Depression.

Summary and Analysis
As early as December 1940, a full year before the U.S. officially entered WWI, President Roosevelt began to...

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Chapter 19: The Cold War (1945–1960)

This chapter discusses the aftermath of World War II and the development of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The chapter is divided into four sections: Origins of the Cold War, the Cold War Heats Up, the Korean War, and the Continuing Cold War.

Section 1: Origins of the Cold War

Main Ideas

  • The United States and the U.S.S.R. had differing goals at the end of the war. These differences led to increased hostility between the two countries.
  • Joseph Stalin established satellite nations subject to Soviet rule, thus creating an “iron curtain” between Eastern and Western Europe.

Summary and...

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Chapter 20: The Postwar Years at Home (1945–1960)

This chapter explores the period of economic and social prosperity in the United States after World War II. The chapter is divided into three sections: the Postwar Economy, the Mood of the 1950s, and Domestic Politics and Policy.

Section 1: The Postwar Economy

Main Idea

  • The country enjoyed an era of prosperity, and the “American Dream” became a reality for a large portion of the population.

Summary and Analysis
As businesses returned to making consumer goods, Americans flocked to buy them. Americans had a higher per capita income than ever before, and the Gross National Product...

(The entire section is 1030 words.)

Chapter 21: The Civil Rights Movement

This chapter explores the origins and development of the civil rights movement in the United States. The chapter is divided into five sections: Demands for Civil Rights, Leaders and Strategies, the Struggle Intensifies, the Political Response, and the Movement Takes a New Turn.

Section 1: Demands for Civil Rights/

Main Ideas

  • After World War II, many African Americans felt it was time to fight discrimination.
  • Early leaders in the civil rights movement focused on desegregating schools and the transportation system.

Summary and Analysis
In the years following World War II, many African Americans felt the...

(The entire section is 1645 words.)

Chapter 22: The Kennedy and Johnson Years (1961–1965)

This chapter explores the main issues facing the United States during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson: civil rights, the Cold War, nuclear warfare, and the beginning of the Vietnam War. The chapter is divided into three sections: the New Frontier, the Great Society, and Foreign Policy in the Early 1960s.

Section 1: The New Frontier

Main Ideas

  • John F. Kennedy won the presidency by only a narrow margin, and many of the new ideas he proposed thus stalled in Congress.
  • Despite his difficulty in getting legislation passed, Kennedy’s energy and idealism created optimism throughout the country.


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Chapter 23: An Era of Activism (1960–1975)

This chapter discusses the turbulent years of the 1960s and mid-1970s, a time of change and individualism that spurred a vibrant and creative counterculture in America. The chapter is divided into four sections: the Women’s Movement, Ethnic Minorities Seek Equality, the Counterculture, and the Environmental and Consumer Movements.

Section 1: The Women’s Movement

Main Ideas

  • Many women were unhappy with the 1950s stereotype of wife and mother and were ready to change this image.
  • The civil rights movement gave women the inspiration and methods to bring about change.

Summary and Analysis
Many women did...

(The entire section is 1469 words.)

Chapter 24: The Vietnam War (1954–1975)

This chapter discusses and analyzes the Vietnam War, one of the costliest, longest, and most divisive wars in U.S. history. The chapter is divided into four sections: the War Unfolds, Fighting the War, Political Divisions, and the End of the War.

Section 1: The War Unfolds

Main Ideas

  • Pursuing a policy of containment, the United States offered support to anti-Communist South Vietnam.
  • By the time Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency in 1963, it was clear that further U.S. involvement was needed if South Vietnam was to remain independent.

Summary and Analysis
After World War II, the U.S. government...

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Chapter 25: Nixon, Ford, Carter (1969–1981)

This chapter discusses the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. The chapter is divided into five sections: Nixon’s Domestic Policy, Nixon’s Foreign Policy, the Watergate Scandal, the Ford Administration, and the Carter Administration.

Section 1: Nixon’s Domestic Policy

Main Ideas

  • Nixon relied on White House staff rather than cabinet members for advice, thus insulating himself from any who disagreed with him.
  • During his term of office, Nixon dealt with several domestic issues: inflation, an oil shortage, and the ballooning costs of Johnson’s social programs.

Summary and...

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Chapter 26: The Conservative Revolution (1980–1992)

This chapter explores the rise of the conservative movement that had been trying since the FDR administration to cut government growth and preserve traditional values. The chapter is divided into four sections: Roots of the New Conservatism, the Regan Revolution, Regan’s Second Term, and the George H. W. Bush Presidency.

Section 1: The Roots of the New Conservatism

Main Idea

  • The conservative movement begun under FDR gained new strength in the 1970s and brought Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980.

Summary and Analysis
The election of Ronald Reagan marked a significant shift in American domestic policy, but the...

(The entire section is 1561 words.)

Chapter 27: Entering a New Era (1992 to the Present)

This chapter explores the dramatic changes in America as the country approached the twenty-first century: the emergence of a global economy, the computer revolution, and the fear of terrorism. The chapter is divided into three sections: Politics in Recent Years, the United States in a New World, and Americans in the New Millennium.

Section 1: Politics in Recent Years

Main Ideas

  • Bill Clinton was a popular president with many successes, but scandal left a stain on his record.
  • Recent presidential elections have been very close and contentious, reflecting a substantial split in the values of the nation.

Summary and...

(The entire section is 1341 words.)