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The USA: its history, geography and political system


|A brief history of the USA                    |       |
|The colonial era                              |1      |
|A new nation                                  |2      |
|Slavery and The Civil War                     |2      |
|The late 19th century                         |3      |
|The progressive moment                        |4      |
|War and peace                                 |4      |
|The great depression                          |5      |
|World War II                                  |5      |
|The Cold War                                  |6      |
|Decades of change                             |7      |
|Geography and regional characteristics        |       |
|Short facts                                   |8      |
|Regional Variety                              |10     |
|New England                                   |10     |
|Middle Atlantic                               |11     |
|The South                                     |11     |
|The Midwest                                   |12     |
|The Southwest                                 |12     |
|The West                                      |13     |
|The Frontier Spirit                           |13     |
|A responsive government                       |       |
|The constitution                              |14     |
|Bill of Rights                                |15     |
|Legislative Branch                            |16     |
|Executive Branch                              |16     |
|Juridical Branch                              |16     |
|The court of last resort                      |17     |
|Political parties and elections               |17     |

A brief history of the United States.
 The first Europeans to reach North America were Icelandic Vikings, led  by
Leif Ericson, about the year 1000. Traces of their visit have been found  in
the Canadian province of Newfoundland, but the Vikings failed  to  establish
a permanent settlement and soon lost contact with the new continent.
 Five centuries later, the demand for  Asian  spices,  textiles,  and  dyes
spurred European navigators to dream of  shorter  routes  between  East  and
West. Acting on behalf of the Spanish crown, in 1492 the  Italian  navigator
Christopher Columbus sailed west from  Europe  and  landed  on  one  of  the
Bahama Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Within 40  years,  Spanish  adventurers
had carved out a huge empire in Central and South America.

 The first successful English colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in
1607. A few  years  later,  English  Puritans  came  to  America  to  escape
religious persecution for their opposition to  the  Church  of  England.  In
1620,  the  Puritans  founded  Plymouth  Colony   in   what   later   became
Massachusetts. Plymouth was  the  second  permanent  British  settlement  in
North America and the first in New England.
 In New England the Puritans hoped to build a "city  upon  a  hill"  --  an
ideal community. Ever since, Americans have viewed their country as a  great
experiment, a worthy  model  for  other  nations  to  follow.  The  Puritans
believed that government should enforce God's morality,  and  they  strictly
punished heretics, adulterers, drunks, and  violators  of  the  Sabbath.  In
spite of their own quest for religious freedom,  the  Puritans  practiced  a
form of intolerant moralism.  In  1636  an  English  clergyman  named  Roger
Williams left Massachusetts and founded the colony of  Rhode  Island,  based
on the principles of religious freedom and separation of church  and  state,
two ideals that were later adopted by framers of the U.S. Constitution.
 Colonists arrived from other European countries, but the English were  far
better established in America. By  1733  English  settlers  had  founded  13
colonies along the Atlantic Coast,  from  New  Hampshire  in  the  North  to
Georgia in the South. Elsewhere in  North  America,  the  French  controlled
Canada and Louisiana, which included the vast Mississippi  River  watershed.
France and England fought several wars during the 18th century,  with  North
America being drawn into every one. The end of the Seven Years' War in  1763
left England in control of Canada and all  of  North  America  east  of  the
 Soon afterwards England and its colonies  were  in  conflict.  The  mother
country imposed new taxes, in part to defray the cost of fighting the  Seven
Years' War, and expected  Americans  to  lodge  British  soldiers  in  their
homes. The colonists resented the  taxes  and  resisted  the  quartering  of
soldiers. Insisting that they could be taxed  only  by  their  own  colonial
assemblies, the colonists rallied behind the  slogan  "no  taxation  without
 All the taxes, except one on tea, were removed, but in  1773  a  group  of
patriots responded by staging the Boston Tea Party.  Disguised  as  Indians,
they boarded British merchant ships  and  dumped  342  crates  of  tea  into
Boston  harbor.  This  provoked  a  crackdown  by  the  British  Parliament,
including the  closing  of  Boston  harbor  to  shipping.  Colonial  leaders
convened the First Continental Congress in 1774  to  discuss  the  colonies'
opposition to British rule. War broke out on April 19,  1775,  when  British
soldiers confronted colonial rebels in Lexington, Massachusetts. On July  4,
1776, the Continental Congress adopted a Declaration of Independence.

 At first the Revolutionary War went badly  for  the  Americans.  With  few
provisions and little training, American troops generally fought  well,  but
were outnumbered and overpowered by the British. The turning  point  in  the
war came in 1777  when  American  soldiers  defeated  the  British  Army  at
Saratoga, New York. France had secretly been aiding the Americans,  but  was
reluctant to ally itself openly until they had proved themselves in  battle.
Following the Americans' victory at  Saratoga,  France  and  America  signed
treaties of alliance, and France provided  the  Americans  with  troops  and
 The last major battle of the American Revolution took place  at  Yorktown,
Virginia,  in  1781.  A  combined  force  of  American  and  French   troops
surrounded the British and forced their  surrender.  Fighting  continued  in
some areas for two more years, and the war officially ended with the  Treaty
of Paris in 1783, by which England recognized American independence.

 The framing of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of the United States
are covered in more detail  in  chapter  4.  In  essence,  the  Constitution
alleviated  Americans'  fear  of  excessive  central   power   by   dividing
government into three branches --  legislative  (Congress),  executive  (the
president and the federal agencies), and judicial (the  federal  courts)  --
and by including 10 amendments known as the  Bill  of  Rights  to  safeguard
individual liberties. Continued uneasiness about the accumulation  of  power
manifested itself in the differing political philosophies  of  two  towering
figures  from  the  Revolutionary  period.  George  Washington,  the   war's
military hero and the first  U.S.  president,  headed  a  party  favoring  a
strong president and central government;  Thomas  Jefferson,  the  principal
author of the Declaration of Independence,  headed  a  party  preferring  to
allot more power to the states, on  the  theory  that  they  would  be  more
accountable to the people.
 Jefferson became the third president in 1801. Although he had intended  to
limit the president's power, political realities dictated  otherwise.  Among
other forceful actions, in 1803 he purchased the  vast  Louisiana  Territory
from France, almost doubling the size of the United  States.  The  Louisiana
Purchase added more than  2  million  square  kilometers  of  territory  and
extended the country's borders  as  far  west  as  the  Rocky  Mountains  in

 In the first quarter of the 19th century, the frontier of settlement moved
west to the Mississippi River and beyond. In 1828 Andrew Jackson became  the
first "outsider" elected  president:  a  man  from  the  frontier  state  of
Tennessee, born into a poor family and outside the  cultural  traditions  of
the Atlantic seaboard.
 Although on the surface the Jacksonian Era was one of optimism and energy,
the young nation was entangled in a contradiction. The ringing words of  the
Declaration of Independence, "all men are created equal,"  were  meaningless
for 1.5 million  slaves.  (For  more  on  slavery  and  its  aftermath,  see
chapters 1 and 4.)
 In 1820 southern and northern politicians debated the question of  whether
slavery would be legal  in  the  western  territories.  Congress  reached  a
compromise: Slavery was permitted in the  new  state  of  Missouri  and  the
Arkansas Territory but barred everywhere west and  north  of  Missouri.  The
outcome of the Mexican War of 1846-48 brought more territory  into  American
hands -- and with it  the  issue  of  whether  to  extend  slavery.  Another
compromise, in 1850, admitted California as a free state, with the  citizens
of Utah and New Mexico being allowed to decide whether they  wanted  slavery
within their borders or not (they did not).
 But the issue continued  to  rankle.  After  Abraham  Lincoln,  a  foe  of
slavery, was elected president  in  1860,  11  states  left  the  Union  and
proclaimed themselves an  independent  nation,  the  Confederate  States  of
America: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia,  Louisiana,
Texas, Virginia, Arkansas,  Tennessee,  and  North  Carolina.  The  American
Civil War had begun.
 The Confederate Army did well in the early part of the war,  and  some  of
its  commanders,  especially  General  Robert   E.   Lee,   were   brilliant
tacticians. But the Union had superior manpower and resources to draw  upon.
In the summer of 1863 Lee took a gamble by marching his  troops  north  into
Pennsylvania. He met a Union army at  Gettysburg,  and  the  largest  battle
ever  fought  on  American  soil  ensued.  After  three  days  of  desperate
fighting,  the  Confederates  were  defeated.  At  the  same  time,  on  the
Mississippi River, Union General Ulysses  S.  Grant  captured  the  city  of
Vicksburg, giving the North control of the  entire  Mississippi  Valley  and
splitting the Confederacy in two.
 Two years later, after a long campaign involving forces commanded  by  Lee
and Grant,  the  Confederates  surrendered.  The  Civil  War  was  the  most
traumatic episode in American history. But it resolved two matters that  had
vexed Americans since 1776. It put an end to slavery, and  it  decided  that
the  country  was  not  a  collection  of  semi-independent  states  but  an
indivisible whole.

 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, depriving America  of  a  leader
uniquely qualified by background and temperament to heal the wounds left  by
the Civil War. His successor, Andrew  Johnson,  was  a  southerner  who  had
remained loyal to the Union during the war. Northern  members  of  Johnson's
own party (Republican) set in motion a process to  remove  him  from  office
for allegedly acting too leniently  toward  former  Confederates.  Johnson's
acquittal was an important  victory  for  the  principle  of  separation  of
powers: A president should not  be  removed  from  office  because  Congress
disagrees with his policies, but only if he has committed, in the  words  of
the  Constitution,   "treason,   bribery,   or   other   high   crimes   and
 Within a few years after the end of  the  Civil  War,  the  United  States
became a  leading  industrial  power,  and  shrewd  businessmen  made  great
fortunes. The first transcontinental railroad  was  completed  in  1869;  by
1900 the United States had  more  rail  mileage  than  all  of  Europe.  The
petroleum industry prospered, and John D. Rockefeller of  the  Standard  Oil
Company became one of the richest  men  in  America.  Andrew  Carnegie,  who
started out as a poor Scottish immigrant,  built  a  vast  empire  of  steel
mills. Textile mills  multiplied  in  the  South,  and  meat-packing  plants
sprang up  in  Chicago,  Illinois.  An  electrical  industry  flourished  as
Americans made use of a series  of  inventions:  the  telephone,  the  light
bulb, the phonograph, the alternating-current motor and transformer,  motion
pictures.  In   Chicago,   architect   Louis   Sullivan   used   steel-frame
construction to fashion America's distinctive  contribution  to  the  modern
city: the skyscraper.
 But unrestrained economic growth brought dangers.  To  limit  competition,
railroads merged  and  set  standardized  shipping  rates.  Trusts  --  huge
combinations of corporations -- tried to  establish  monopoly  control  over
some industries, notably oil. These giant enterprises  could  produce  goods
efficiently and sell them cheaply,  but  they  could  also  fix  prices  and
destroy  competitors.  To  counteract  them,  the  federal  government  took
action. The Interstate Commerce Commission was created in  1887  to  control
railroad rates. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890  banned  trusts,  mergers,
and business agreements "in restraint of trade."
 Industrialization brought  with  it  the  rise  of  organized  labor.  The
American Federation of Labor, founded in 1886,  was  a  coalition  of  trade
unions for skilled laborers. The late 19th century was  a  period  of  heavy
immigration, and many of the workers in the  new  industries  were  foreign-
born. For American farmers, however,  times  were  hard.  Food  prices  were
falling, and  farmers  had  to  bear  the  costs  of  high  shipping  rates,
expensive mortgages, high taxes, and tariffs on consumer goods.
 With the exception of the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, American
territory had remained fixed since 1848.  In  the  1890s  a  new  spirit  of
expansion took hold.  The  United  States  followed  the  lead  of  northern
European nations in asserting a duty to  "civilize"  the  peoples  of  Asia,
Africa,  and  Latin  America.  After  American  newspapers  published  lurid
accounts of atrocities in the Spanish colony of Cuba, the United States  and
Spain went to war in 1898. When the war was  over,  the  United  States  had
gained a number of possessions from Spain:  Cuba,  the  Philippines,  Puerto
Rico, and Guam. In an unrelated action, the United States also acquired  the
Hawaiian Islands.
 Yet Americans, who had themselves thrown off the shackles of empire,  were
not comfortable with administering one. In 1902 American troops  left  Cuba,
although the new republic was required to grant naval bases  to  the  United
States.  The  Philippines  obtained  limited  self-government  in  1907  and
complete  independence  in  1946.  Puerto  Rico  became   a   self-governing
commonwealth within the United States, and Hawaii became  a  state  in  1959
(as did Alaska).

 While Americans were venturing abroad, they were also taking a fresh  look
at social problems at home. Despite the signs of prosperity, up to  half  of
all industrial workers still lived in poverty. New  York,  Boston,  Chicago,
and San Francisco could be proud of their museums, universities, and  public
libraries -- and ashamed of their slums. The prevailing economic  dogma  had
been laissez faire: let the government interfere with commerce as little  as
possible. About 1900 the Progressive Movement arose to  reform  society  and
individuals  through  government  action.  The  movement's  supporters  were
primarily economists, sociologists,  technicians,  and  civil  servants  who
sought scientific, cost-effective solutions to political problems.
 Social workers went into the slums to establish settlement  houses,  which
provided the poor  with  health  services  and  recreation.  Prohibitionists
demanded an end to the sale of liquor, partly to prevent the suffering  that
alcoholic husbands inflicted on their wives and  children.  In  the  cities,
reform politicians fought corruption, regulated public  transportation,  and
built municipally owned utilities.  States  passed  laws  restricting  child
labor, limiting workdays, and providing compensation for injured workers.
 Some Americans favored more radical ideologies. The Socialist  Party,  led
by Eugene V. Debs, advocated a peaceful, democratic transition to  a  state-
run economy. But socialism never found a solid footing in the United  States
-- the party's best showing in a presidential race  was  6  percent  of  the
vote in 1912.

 When World War I erupted in Europe in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson urged
a  policy  of  strict  American   neutrality.   Germany's   declaration   of
unrestricted submarine warfare against all  ships  bound  for  Allied  ports
undermined that position. When Congress declared war  on  Germany  in  1917,
the American army was a force of only 200,000 soldiers. Millions of men  had
to be drafted, trained, and shipped across the submarine-infested  Atlantic.
A full year passed before the U.S. Army was  ready  to  make  a  significant
contribution to the war effort.
 By the fall of 1918, Germany's position had become  hopeless.  Its  armies
were retreating in the face of a relentless  American  buildup.  In  October
Germany asked for peace, and an armistice was declared on  November  11.  In
1919 Wilson himself went to Versailles  to  help  draft  the  peace  treaty.
Although he was cheered by crowds  in  the  Allied  capitals,  at  home  his
international outlook was less popular. His idea of a League of Nations  was
included in the Treaty of Versailles, but the U.S.  Senate  did  not  ratify
the treaty, and the United States did not participate in the league.
 The majority of Americans did not mourn the defeated treaty.  They  turned
inward, and the United States withdrew from European affairs.  At  the  same
time, Americans were becoming hostile to foreigners in their midst. In  1919
a  series  of  terrorist  bombings  produced  the  "Red  Scare."  Under  the
authority of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer,  political  meetings  were
raided and several hundred foreign-born political  radicals  were  deported,
even though most of them were innocent of any crime. In  1921  two  Italian-
born anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo  Vanzetti,  were  convicted  of
murder on the basis of shaky evidence. Intellectuals protested, but in  1927
the two men were electrocuted. Congress enacted immigration limits  in  1921
and tightened them further in 1924  and  1929.  These  restrictions  favored
immigrants from Anglo-Saxon and Nordic countries.
 The  1920s  were  an  extraordinary  and  confusing  time,  when  hedonism
coexisted with puritanical conservatism. It was the age of  Prohibition:  In
1920 a constitutional amendment outlawed the sale  of  alcoholic  beverages.
Yet drinkers  cheerfully  evaded  the  law  in  thousands  of  "speakeasies"
(illegal bars), and gangsters made illicit fortunes in liquor. It  was  also
the Roaring Twenties, the age of jazz  and  spectacular  silent  movies  and
such fads as flagpole-sitting and goldfish-swallowing. The Ku Klux  Klan,  a
racist organization born in the South after the  Civil  War,  attracted  new
followers and terrorized blacks, Catholics, Jews,  and  immigrants.  At  the
same time, a Catholic, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, was  a  Democratic
candidate for president.
 For big business, the 1920s were golden years. The United States was now a
consumer  society,  with  booming  markets  for  radios,  home   appliances,
synthetic textiles, and plastics. One of the most admired men of the  decade
was Henry Ford,  who  had  introduced  the  assembly  line  into  automobile
factories. Ford could pay high wages and  still  earn  enormous  profits  by
mass-producing the Model T, a car that millions of buyers could afford.  For
a moment, it seemed that Americans had the Midas touch.
 But the superficial prosperity masked deep problems. With profits  soaring
and interest rates low, plenty of money was available for  investment.  Much
of it, however, went into reckless speculation in the stock market.  Frantic
bidding pushed prices far above stock shares' real value.  Investors  bought
stocks "on margin," borrowing up to 90 percent of the  purchase  price.  The
bubble burst in 1929. The  stock  market  crashed,  triggering  a  worldwide

 By 1932 thousands of  American  banks  and  over  100,000  businesses  had
failed. Industrial production was  cut  in  half,  wages  had  decreased  60
percent, and one out  of  every  four  workers  was  unemployed.  That  year
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president on the platform of "a  New  Deal
for the American people."
 Roosevelt's jaunty self-confidence galvanized the nation. "The only  thing
we have to fear is fear itself," he said at his  inauguration.  He  followed
up these words with decisive action. Within three  months  --  the  historic
"Hundred Days" -- Roosevelt had rushed through Congress a  great  number  of
laws to help  the  economy  recover.  Such  new  agencies  as  the  Civilian
Conservation Corps and the Works Progress  Administration  created  millions
of jobs by undertaking the construction of roads, bridges, airports,  parks,
and public buildings. Later the Social Security Act set up contributory old-
age and survivors' pensions.
 Roosevelt's New Deal programs did not end  the  Depression.  Although  the
economy improved, full recovery had to await the defense  buildup  preceding
America's entry into World War II.

 Again neutrality was the initial American response to the outbreak of  war
in Europe in 1939. But the bombing of Pearl Harbor naval base in  Hawaii  by
the Japanese in December 1941 brought the United States into the war,  first
against Japan and then against its allies, Germany and Italy.
 American, British, and  Soviet  war  planners  agreed  to  concentrate  on
defeating Germany first. British and American forces landed in North  Africa
in November 1942, proceeded to Sicily and the Italian mainland in 1943,  and
liberated Rome on June 4, 1944. Two days later --  D-Day  --  Allied  forces
landed in Normandy. Paris was liberated  on  August  24,  and  by  September
American  units  had  crossed  the  German  border.  The   Germans   finally
surrendered on May 5, 1945.
 The war against Japan came  to  a  swift  end  in  August  of  1945,  when
President Harry Truman ordered the use of atomic bombs  against  the  cities
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nearly 200,000 civilians  were  killed.  Although
the matter can still provoke heated discussion, the  argument  in  favor  of
dropping the bombs was  that  casualties  on  both  sides  would  have  been
greater if the Allies had been forced to invade Japan.

 A new international congress, the United Nations, came  into  being  after
the war, and this time the United States  joined.  Soon  tensions  developed
between the United States and its wartime ally the  Soviet  Union.  Although
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had promised to support free  elections  in  all
the  liberated  nations  of  Europe,   Soviet   forces   imposed   Communist
dictatorships in eastern Europe. Germany became a divided  country,  with  a
western zone under joint British, French, and  American  occupation  and  an
eastern zone under Soviet occupation. In the  spring  of  1948  the  Soviets
sealed off West Berlin in an  attempt  to  starve  the  isolated  city  into
submission. The western powers responded with a massive airlift of food  and
fuel until the Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949. A month earlier  the
United States had allied with Belgium,  Canada,  Denmark,  France,  Iceland,
Italy,  Luxembourg,  the  Netherlands,  Norway,  Portugal,  and  the  United
Kingdom to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
 On June 25, 1950, armed with  Soviet  weapons  and  acting  with  Stalin's
approval,  North  Korea's  army  invaded  South  Korea.  Truman  immediately
secured a commitment from the United Nations to defend South Korea. The  war
lasted three years, and the final settlement left Korea divided.
 Soviet  control  of  eastern  Europe,  the  Korean  War,  and  the  Soviet
development of atomic and hydrogen bombs instilled fear in  Americans.  Some
believed that the nation's new vulnerability was the work of  traitors  from
within. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy asserted in the early 1950s  that
the State Department  and  the  U.S.  Army  were  riddled  with  Communists.
McCarthy was eventually discredited. In the meantime, however,  careers  had
been destroyed, and the  American  people  had  all  but  lost  sight  of  a
cardinal American virtue: toleration of political dissent.
 From 1945 until 1970 the United States enjoyed a long period  of  economic
growth, interrupted only by mild and brief recessions. For the first time  a
majority of Americans enjoyed a comfortable standard of living. In 1960,  55
percent of all households owned washing machines, 77 percent owned cars,  90
percent had television sets, and nearly all had refrigerators. At  the  same
time, the nation was moving slowly to establish racial justice.
 In 1960 John F. Kennedy  was  elected  president.  Young,  energetic,  and
handsome, he promised to "get the country moving  again"  after  the  eight-
year presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the aging World War II general.  In
October 1962 Kennedy was faced with what turned out to be the  most  drastic
crisis of the Cold War. The Soviet Union had been caught installing  nuclear
missiles in Cuba, close enough to reach  American  cities  in  a  matter  of
minutes. Kennedy imposed a naval blockade  on  the  island.  Soviet  Premier
Nikita Khrushschev ultimately agreed to remove the missiles, in  return  for
an American promise not to invade Cuba.
 In April 1961 the Soviets capped a series of triumphs in space by  sending
the first man into orbit around the Earth. President Kennedy responded  with
a promise that Americans would walk on the moon before the decade was  over.
This promise was fulfilled in July of 1969, when  astronaut  Neil  Armstrong
stepped out of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and onto the moon's surface.
 Kennedy did not live to see this culmination. He had been assassinated  in
1963. He was not a universally  popular  president,  but  his  death  was  a
terrible shock to the American people. His  successor,  Lyndon  B.  Johnson,
managed to push through Congress a number of new  laws  establishing  social
programs. Johnson's "War on Poverty" included preschool education  for  poor
children, vocational  training  for  dropouts  from  school,  and  community
service for slum youths.
 During his six years  in  office,  Johnson  became  preoccupied  with  the
Vietnam War. By 1968, 500,000 American troops were fighting  in  that  small
country, previously little known  to  most  of  them.  Although  politicians
tended to view the war as part of a necessary effort to check  communism  on
all fronts, a growing number of Americans saw no vital American interest  in
what happened to Vietnam.  Demonstrations  protesting  American  involvement
broke out on college  campuses,  and  there  were  violent  clashes  between
students and police. Antiwar sentiment spilled over into  a  wide  range  of
protests against injustice and discrimination.
 Stung by his increasing unpopularity, Johnson decided not  to  run  for  a
second full term. Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968. He pursued  a
policy  of  Vietnamization,  gradually  replacing  American  soldiers   with
Vietnamese. In 1973 he signed a peace treaty with North Vietnam and  brought
American soldiers home. Nixon achieved two other  diplomatic  breakthroughs:
re-establishing U.S. relations with  the  People's  Republic  of  China  and
negotiating the first Strategic  Arms  Limitation  Treaty  with  the  Soviet
Union. In 1972 he easily won re-election.
 During that presidential campaign, however, five men had been arrested for
breaking  into  Democratic  Party  headquarters  at  the  Watergate   office
building  in  Washington,  D.C.  Journalists  investigating   the   incident
discovered that the  burglars  had  been  employed  by  Nixon's  re-election
committee. The White House made matters  worse  by  trying  to  conceal  its
connection with the  break-in.  Eventually,  tape  recordings  made  by  the
president himself revealed that he had been involved  in  the  cover-up.  By
the summer of 1974, it was clear that Congress  was  about  to  impeach  and
convict him. On August 9, Richard Nixon became the only  U.S.  president  to
resign from office.

 After World War II the presidency had  alternated  between  Democrats  and
Republicans, but, for the most part, Democrats had held  majorities  in  the
Congress -- in both the House of Representatives and the  Senate.  A  string
of 26 consecutive years of Democratic control was broken in 1980,  when  the
Republicans gained a majority in the Senate; at the  same  time,  Republican
Ronald Reagan was elected president. This  change  marked  the  onset  of  a
volatility that has characterized American voting patterns ever since.
 Whatever their attitudes toward Reagan's policies, most Americans credited
him with a capacity for instilling pride in their country  and  a  sense  of
optimism about the future. If there was a  central  theme  to  his  domestic
policies, it was that the federal government had become too big and  federal
taxes too high.
 Despite a growing federal budget deficit, in 1983 the U.S. economy entered
into one of the longest periods of sustained growth since World War II.  The
Reagan administration suffered a defeat  in  the  1986  elections,  however,
when Democrats regained control of the Senate. The  most  serious  issue  of
the day was the revelation that the United States had secretly sold arms  to
Iran in an attempt to win freedom for American hostages held in Lebanon  and
to finance antigovernment forces in Nicaragua at a time  when  Congress  had
prohibited such aid. Despite these revelations, Reagan  continued  to  enjoy
strong popularity throughout his second term in office.
 His successor in 1988, Republican George  Bush,  benefited  from  Reagan's
popularity and continued many of his policies. When  Iraq  invaded  oil-rich
Kuwait in 1990, Bush put together a multinational coalition  that  liberated
Kuwait early in 1991.
 By 1992, however, the  American  electorate  had  become  restless  again.
Voters elected Bill Clinton, a Democrat, president, only to turn around  two
years later and give Republicans their first majority in both the House  and
Senate in 40 years. Meanwhile, several  perennial  debates  had  broken  out
anew -- between advocates of a strong federal government  and  believers  in
decentralization of power, between advocates of  prayer  in  public  schools
and  defenders  of  separation  of  church  and  state,  between  those  who
emphasize swift and sure punishment of  criminals  and  those  who  seek  to
address the underlying causes of crime. Complaints about  the  influence  of
money on political campaigns inspired a movement  to  limit  the  number  of
terms elected officials could serve. This and  other  discontents  with  the
system led to  the  formation  of  the  strongest  Third-Party  movement  in
generations, led by Texas businessman H. Ross Perot.
 Although the economy was strong  in  the  mid-1990s,  two  phenomena  were
troubling many Americans. Corporations were resorting more  and  more  to  a
process known as downsizing: trimming the work force to  cut  costs  despite
the hardships this inflicted on workers. And  in  many  industries  the  gap
between  the  annual  compensations  of  corporate  executives  and   common
laborers had become enormous. Even  the  majority  of  Americans  who  enjoy
material comfort worry about a perceived decline in the quality of life,  in
the strength of  the  family,  in  neighborliness  and  civility.  Americans
probably remain the most optimistic  people  in  the  world,  but  with  the
century drawing to a close, opinion  polls  showed  that  trait  in  shorter
supply than usual.

                   Geography and regional characteristics.
 The USA stretches from the heavily industrialized,  metropolitan  Atlantic
coast, across the rich farms of the Great Plains, over the  Appalachian  and
the Rocky Mountains to the densely populated  West  coast.  Alaska  and  the
island state of Hawaii are detached from the main mid-continental  group  of
48 states.  America  is  the  land  of  physical  contrasts,  including  the
weather. Most of the USA is the temperate zone with four  distinct  seasons,
while the northern states and Alaska have extremely cold  winters,  and  the
southern parts of Florida, Texas, California have warm weather year round.
 The area of the United States is 9 629 091 square km.
 The United States is the land of bountiful rivers and lakes. Minnesota  is
the land of 10.000 lakes. The Mississippi River runs nearly  6  thousand  km
from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The  St.  Lawrence  Seaway  connects  the
Great lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.
 Underground, a wealth of minerals  provides  a  solid  base  for  American
industry. History has glamorized the gold rushes of  California  and  Alaska
and the silver finds in Nevada.

North America, bordering both the North Atlantic Ocean and the North
Pacific Ocean, between Canada and Mexico
Map references: North America
total area: 9,372,610 sq km
land area:  9,166,600 sq km
comparative area: about half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the
size of Africa; about one-half the size of South America (or slightly
larger than Brazil); slightly smaller than China; about two and one-half
times the size of Western Europe
note: includes only the 50 states and District of Columbia
Land boundaries: total 12,248 km, Canada 8,893 km (including 2,477 km with
Alaska), Cuba 29 km (US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay), Mexico 3,326 km
Coastline: 19,924 km
Climate: mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida and arctic in
Alaska, semiarid in the great plains west of the Mississippi River and arid
in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the
northwest are ameliorated occasionally in January and February by warm
chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains
Terrain: vast central plain, mountains in west, hills and low mountains in
east; rugged mountains and broad river valleys in Alaska; rugged, volcanic
topography in Hawaii
Natural resources: coal, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, uranium,
bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, potash, silver, tungsten, zinc,
petroleum, natural gas, timber
Land use: arable land: 20%, permanent crops: 0%, meadows and pastures: 26%,
forest and woodland: 29%, other: 25%, irrigated land: 181,020 sq km (1989
current issues: air pollution resulting in acid rain in both the US and
Canada; the US is the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the
burning of fossil fuels; water pollution from runoff of pesticides and
fertilizers; very limited natural fresh water resources in much of the
western part of the country require careful management; desertification.
natural hazards: tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquake activity around
Pacific Basin; hurricanes along the Atlantic coast; tornadoes in the
midwest; mudslides in California; forest fires in the west; flooding;
permafrost in northern Alaska is a major impediment to development
international agreements: party to - Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen
Oxides, Antarctic Treaty, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Environmental
Modification, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban,
Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Wetlands,
Whaling; signed, but not ratified - Air Pollution-Volatile Organic
Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Biodiversity, Desertification,
Hazardous Wastes, Tropical Timber 94
Note: world's fourth-largest country (after Russia, Canada, and China)

Traditionally the USA is divided into several regions:
   2. New England, made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts,
      Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
   3. The Middle Atlantic, comprising New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
      Delaware, and Maryland.
   4. The South, which runs from Virginia south to Florida and west as far
      as central Texas. This region also includes West Virginia, Kentucky,
      Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama,
      Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and parts of Missouri and Oklahoma.
   5. The Midwest, a broad collection of states sweeping westward from Ohio
      to Nebraska and including Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois,
      Minnesota, Iowa, parts of Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota,
      Kansas, and eastern Colorado.
   6. The Southwest, made up of western Texas, portions of Oklahoma, New
      Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and the southern interior part of California.

   7. The West, comprising Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, California,
      Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Note that there is nothing official about these regions; many other lineups
are possible. These groupings are offered simply as a way to begin the
otherwise daunting task of getting acquainted with the United States.

How much sense does it make to talk about American regions when practically
all Americans can watch the same television shows and go to the same fast-
food restaurants for dinner? One way to answer the question is by giving
examples of lingering regional differences.
Consider the food Americans eat. Most of it is standard wherever you go. A
person can buy packages of frozen peas bearing the same label in Idaho,
Missouri, and Virginia. Cereals, candy bars, and many other items also come
in identical packages from Alaska to Florida. Generally, the quality of
fresh fruits and vegetables does not vary much from one state to the next.
On the other hand, it would be unusual to be served hush puppies (a kind of
fried dough) or grits (boiled and ground corn prepared in a variety of
ways) in Massachusetts or Illinois, but normal to get them in Georgia.
Other regions have similar favorites that are hard to find elsewhere.
While American English is generally standard, American speech often differs
according to what part of the country you are in. Southerners tend to speak
slowly, in what is referred to as a "Southern drawl." Midwesterners use
"flat" a's (as in "bad" or "cat"), and the New York City patois features a
number of Yiddish words ("schlepp," "nosh," "nebbish") contributed by the
city's large Jewish population.
Regional differences also make themselves felt in less tangible ways, such
as attitudes and outlooks. An example is the attention paid to foreign
events in newspapers. In the East, where people look out across the
Atlantic Ocean, papers tend to show greatest concern with what is happening
in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and western Asia. On the West Coast,
news editors give more attention to events in East Asia and Australia.
To understand regional differences more fully, let's take a closer look at
the regions themselves.

The smallest region, New England has not been blessed with large expanses
of rich farmland or a mild climate. Yet it played a dominant role in
American development. From the 17th century until well into the 19th, New
England was the country's cultural and economic center.
The earliest European settlers of New England were English Protestants of
firm and settled doctrine. Many of them came in search of religious
liberty. They gave the region its distinctive political format -- the town
meeting (an outgrowth of meetings held by church elders) in which citizens
gathered to discuss issues of the day. Only men of property could vote.
Nonetheless, town meetings afforded New Englanders an unusually high level
of participation in government. Such meetings still function in many New
England communities today.
New Englanders found it difficult to farm the land in large lots, as was
common in the South. By 1750, many settlers had turned to other pursuits.
The mainstays of the region became shipbuilding, fishing, and trade. In
their business dealings, New Englanders gained a reputation for hard work,
shrewdness, thrift, and ingenuity.
These traits came in handy as the Industrial Revolution reached America in
the first half of the 19th century. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, and
Rhode Island, new factories sprang up to manufacture such goods as
clothing, rifles, and clocks. Most of the money to run these businesses
came from Boston, which was the financial heart of the nation.
New England also supported a vibrant cultural life. The critic Van Wyck
Brooks called the creation of a distinctive American literature in the
first half of the 19th century "the flowering of New England." Education is
another of the region's strongest legacies. Its cluster of top-ranking
universities and colleges -- including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth,
Wellesley, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Williams, Amherst, and Wesleyan -- is
unequaled by any other region.
As some of the original New England settlers migrated westward, immigrants
from Canada, Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe moved into the region.
Despite a changing population, much of the original spirit of New England
remains. It can be seen in the simple, woodframe houses and white church
steeples that are features of many small towns, and in the traditional
lighthouses that dot the Atlantic coast.
In the 20th century, most of New England's traditional industries have
relocated to states or foreign countries where goods can be made more
cheaply. In more than a few factory towns, skilled workers have been left
without jobs. The gap has been partly filled by the microelectronics and
computer industries.

If New England provided the brains and dollars for 19th-century American
expansion, the Middle Atlantic states provided the muscle. The region's
largest states, New York and Pennsylvania, became centers of heavy industry
(iron, glass, and steel).
The Middle Atlantic region was settled by a wider range of people than New
England. Dutch immigrants moved into the lower Hudson River Valley in what
is now New York State. Swedes went to Delaware. English Catholics founded
Maryland, and an English Protestant sect, the Friends (Quakers), settled
Pennsylvania. In time, all these settlements fell under English control,
but the region continued to be a magnet for people of diverse
Early settlers were mostly farmers and traders, and the region served as a
bridge between North and South. Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, midway
between the northern and southern colonies, was home to the Continental
Congress, the convention of delegates from the original colonies that
organized the American Revolution. The same city was the birthplace of the
Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
As heavy industry spread throughout the region, rivers such as the Hudson
and Delaware were transformed into vital shipping lanes. Cities on
waterways -- New York on the Hudson, Philadelphia on the Delaware,
Baltimore on Chesapeake Bay -- grew dramatically. New York is still the
nation's largest city, its financial hub, and its cultural center.
Like New England, the Middle Atlantic region has seen much of its heavy
industry relocate elsewhere. Other industries, such as drug manufacturing
and communications, have taken up the slack.

The South is perhaps the most distinctive and colorful American region. The
American Civil War (1861-65) devastated the South socially and
economically. Nevertheless, it retained its unmistakable identity.
Like New England, the South was first settled by English Protestants. But
whereas New Englanders tended to stress their differences from the old
country, Southerners tended to emulate the English. Even so, Southerners
were prominent among the leaders of the American Revolution, and four of
America's first five presidents were Virginians. After 1800, however, the
interests of the manufacturing North and the agrarian South began to
Especially in coastal areas, southern settlers grew wealthy by raising and
selling cotton and tobacco. The most economical way to raise these crops
was on large farms, called plantations, which required the work of many
laborers. To supply this need, plantation owners relied on slaves brought
from Africa, and slavery spread throughout the South.
Slavery was the most contentious issue dividing North and South. To
northerners it was immoral; to southerners it was integral to their way of
life. In 1860, 11 southern states left the Union intending to form a
separate nation, the Confederate States of America. This rupture led to the
Civil War, the Confederacy's defeat, and the end of slavery. (For more on
the Civil War, see chapter 3.) The scars left by the war took decades to
heal. The abolition of slavery failed to provide African Americans with
political or economic equality: Southern towns and cities legalized and
refined the practice of racial segregation.
It took a long, concerted effort by African Americans and their supporters
to end segregation. In the meantime, however, the South could point with
pride to a 20th-century regional outpouring of literature by, among others,
William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Robert Penn Warren, Katherine Anne Porter,
Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor.
As southerners, black and white, shook off the effects of slavery and
racial division, a new regional pride expressed itself under the banner of
"the New South" and in such events as the annual Spoleto Music Festival in
Charleston, South Carolina, and the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta,
Georgia. Today the South has evolved into a manufacturing region, and high-
rise buildings crowd the skylines of such cities as Atlanta and Little
Rock, Arkansas. Owing to its mild weather, the South has become a mecca for
retirees from other U.S. regions and from Canada.

The Midwest is a cultural crossroads. Starting in the early 1800s
easterners moved there in search of better farmland, and soon Europeans
bypassed the East Coast to migrate directly to the interior: Germans to
eastern Missouri, Swedes and Norwegians to Wisconsin and Minnesota. The
region's fertile soil made it possible for farmers to produce abundant
harvests of cereal crops such as wheat, oats, and corn. The region was soon
known as the nation's "breadbasket."
Most of the Midwest is flat. The Mississippi River has acted as a regional
lifeline, moving settlers to new homes and foodstuffs to market. The river
inspired two classic American books, both written by a native Missourian,
Samuel Clemens, who took the pseudonym Mark Twain: Life on the Mississippi
and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Midwesterners are praised as being open, friendly, and straightforward.
Their politics tend to be cautious, but the caution is sometimes peppered
with protest. The Midwest gave birth to one of America's two major
political parties, the Republican Party, which was formed in the 1850s to
oppose the spread of slavery into new states. At the turn of the century,
the region also spawned the Progressive Movement, which largely consisted
of farmers and merchants intent on making government less corrupt and more
receptive to the will of the people. Perhaps because of their geographic
location, many midwesterners have been strong adherents of isolationism,
the belief that Americans should not concern themselves with foreign wars
and problems.
The region's hub is Chicago, Illinois, the nation's third largest city.
This major Great Lakes port is a connecting point for rail lines and air
traffic to far-flung parts of the nation and the world. At its heart stands
the Sears Tower, at 447 meters, the world's tallest building.

The Southwest differs from the adjoining Midwest in weather (drier),
population (less dense), and ethnicity (strong Spanish-American and Native-
American components). Outside the cities, the region is a land of open
spaces, much of which is desert. The magnificent Grand Canyon is located in
this region, as is Monument Valley, the starkly beautiful backdrop for many
western movies. Monument Valley is within the Navajo Reservation, home of
the most populous American Indian tribe. To the south and east lie dozens
of other Indian reservations, including those of the Hopi, Zuni, and Apache
Parts of the Southwest once belonged to Mexico. The United States obtained
this land following the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. Its Mexican
heritage continues to exert a strong influence on the region, which is a
convenient place to settle for immigrants (legal or illegal) from farther
south. The regional population is growing rapidly, with Arizona in
particular rivaling the southern states as a destination for retired
Americans in search of a warm climate.
Population growth in the hot, arid Southwest has depended on two human
artifacts: the dam and the air conditioner. Dams on the Colorado and other
rivers and aqueducts such as those of the Central Arizona Project have
brought water to once-small towns such as Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix,
Arizona; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, allowing them to become metropolises.
Las Vegas is renowned as one of the world's centers for gambling, while
Santa Fe, New Mexico, is famous as a center for the arts, especially
painting, sculpture, and opera. Another system of dams and irrigation
projects waters the Central Valley of California, which is noted for
producing large harvests of fruits and vegetables.

Americans have long regarded the West as the last frontier. Yet California
has a history of European settlement older than that of most midwestern
states. Spanish priests founded missions along the California coast a few
years before the outbreak of the American Revolution. In the 19th century,
California and Oregon entered the Union ahead of many states to the east.
The West is a region of scenic beauty on a grand scale. All of its 11
states are partly mountainous, and the ranges are the sources of startling
contrasts. To the west of the peaks, winds from the Pacific Ocean carry
enough moisture to keep the land well-watered. To the east, however, the
land is very dry. Parts of western Washington State, for example, receive
20 times the amount of rain that falls on the eastern side of the state's
Cascade Range.
In much of the West the population is sparse, and the federal government
owns and manages millions of hectares of undeveloped land. Americans use
these areas for recreational and commercial activities, such as fishing,
camping, hiking, boating, grazing, lumbering, and mining. In recent years
some local residents who earn their livelihoods on federal land have come
into conflict with the land's managers, who are required to keep land use
within environmentally acceptable limits.
Alaska, the northernmost state in the Union, is a vast land of few, but
hardy, people and great stretches of wilderness, protected in national
parks and wildlife refuges. Hawaii is the only state in the union in which
Asian Americans outnumber residents of European stock. Beginning in the
1980s large numbers of Asians have also settled in California, mainly
around Los Angeles.
Los Angeles -- and Southern California as a whole -- bears the stamp of its
large Mexican-American population. Now the second largest city in the
nation, Los Angeles is best known as the home of the Hollywood film
industry. Fueled by the growth of Los Angeles and the "Silicon Valley" area
near San Jose, California has become the most populous of all the states.
Western cities are known for their tolerance. Perhaps because so many
westerners have moved there from other regions to make a new start, as a
rule interpersonal relations are marked by a live-and-let-live attitude.
The western economy is varied. California, for example, is both an
agricultural state and a high-technology manufacturing state.

One final American region deserves mention. It is not a fixed place but a
moving zone, as well as a state of mind: the border between settlements and
wilderness known as the frontier. Writing in the 1890s, historian Frederick
Jackson Turner claimed that the availability of vacant land throughout much
of the nation's history has shaped American attitudes and institutions.
"This perennial rebirth," he wrote, "this expansion westward with its new
opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive
society, furnish the forces dominating American character."
Numerous present-day American values and attitudes can be traced to the
frontier past: self-reliance, resourcefulness, comradeship, a strong sense
of equality. After the Civil War a large number of black Americans moved
west in search of equal opportunities, and many of them gained some fame
and fortune as cowboys, miners, and prairie settlers. In 1869 the western
territory of Wyoming became the first place that allowed women to vote and
to hold elected office.
Because the resources of the West seemed limitless, people developed
wasteful attitudes and practices. The great herds of buffalo (American
bison) were slaughtered until only fragments remained, and many other
species were driven to the brink of extinction. Rivers were dammed and
their natural communities disrupted. Forests were destroyed by excess
logging, and landscapes were scarred by careless mining.
A counterweight to the abuse of natural resources took form in the American
conservation movement, which owes much of its success to Americans'
reluctance to see frontier conditions disappear entirely from the
landscape. Conservationists were instrumental in establishing the first
national park, Yellowstone, in 1872, and the first national forests in the
1890s. More recently, the Endangered Species Act has helped stem the tide
of extinctions.
Environmental programs can be controversial; for example, some critics
believe that the Endangered Species Act hampers economic progress. But,
overall, the movement to preserve America's natural endowment continues to
gain strength. Its replication replication in many other countries around
the world is a tribute to the lasting influence of the American frontier.

                          A responsive government.
 Separation of powers and the democratic process.
 The early American way of life encouraged democracy.  The  colonists  were
inhabiting a land of forest and wilderness. They had  to  work  together  to
build shelter, provide food, and clear the land  for  farms  and  dwellings.
This need for cooperation strengthened the belief that, in  the  New  World,
people  should  be  on  an  equal  footing,  with  nobody   having   special
 The urge for equality affected the original 13  colonies'  relations  with
the mother  country,  England.  The  Declaration  of  Independence  in  1776
proclaimed that all men are created  equal,  that  all  have  the  right  to
"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
 The Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution after  it,  combined
America's  colonial  experience  with  the   political   thought   of   such
philosophers as England's John Locke to produce the concept of a  democratic
republic. The government would draw its power  from  the  people  themselves
and  exercise  it  through  their  elected   representatives.   During   the
Revolutionary War, the colonies had formed a national  congress  to  present
England with a united front. Under an agreement known  as  the  Articles  of
Confederation, a postwar congress was allowed to handle only  problems  that
were beyond the capabilities of individual states.

 The Articles of Confederation failed  as  a  governing  document  for  the
United States because the states did not  cooperate  as  expected.  When  it
came time to pay wages to the national army or the war debt to France,  some
states refused to contribute. To cure  this  weakness,  the  congress  asked
each state to send a delegate to a convention. The so-called  Constitutional
Convention met in Philadelphia  in  May  of  1787,  with  George  Washington
 The delegates struck a balance between those who wanted a  strong  central
government  and  those  who  did  not.  The  resulting   master   plan,   or
Constitution, set up a system  in  which  some  powers  were  given  to  the
national, or  federal,  government,  while  others  were  reserved  for  the
states. The Constitution divided the national government into  three  parts,
or branches: the legislative (the Congress, which consists  of  a  House  of
Representatives and a Senate), the executive (headed by the president),  and
the judicial (the federal  courts).  Called  "separation  of  powers,"  this
division gives each branch certain duties and substantial independence  from
the others. It also  gives  each  branch  some  authority  over  the  others
through a system of "checks and balances."
 Here are a few examples of how checks and balances work in practice.
   8. If Congress passes a proposed  law,  or  "bill,"  that  the  president
      considers unwise, he can veto it. That means that  the  bill  is  dead
      unless two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate vote
      to enact it despite the president's veto.
   9. If Congress passes, and the president signs, a law that is  challenged
      in the federal courts as contrary to the Constitution, the courts  can
      nullify that  law.  (The  federal  courts  cannot  issue  advisory  or
      theoretical opinions, however; their jurisdiction is limited to actual
  10. The president has the power to make treaties with other nations and to
      make appointments to  federal  positions,  including  judgeships.  The
      Senate,  however,  must  approve  all   treaties   and   confirm   the
      appointments before they can go into effect.
 Recently some observers have discerned what they see as a weakness in  the
tripartite system of government: a tendency toward  too  much  checking  and
balancing that results in governmental stasis, or "gridlock."

 The Constitution written in Philadelphia in 1787 could not go into  effect
until it was ratified by a majority of citizens in at least 9  of  the  then
13 U.S. states. During this ratification  process,  misgivings  arose.  Many
citizens felt uneasy because the document  failed  to  explicitly  guarantee
the rights of individuals. The desired language was added in  10  amendments
to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights.
 The Bill of Rights guarantees Americans freedom of  speech,  of  religion,
and of the press. They have the right  to  assemble  in  public  places,  to
protest government actions, and to demand change. There is a  right  to  own
firearms. Because of  the  Bill  of  Rights,  neither  police  officers  nor
soldiers can stop and search a person without  good  reason.  Nor  can  they
search a person's home without permission from a court to do  so.  The  Bill
of Rights guarantees a speedy trial to anyone accused of a crime. The  trial
must be by jury if  requested,  and  the  accused  person  must  be  allowed
representation by a lawyer and to call witnesses to speak for  him  or  her.
Cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden. With the addition of the Bill  of
Rights, the Constitution was ratified by all 13 states and went into  effect
in 1789.
 Since then 17 other  amendments  have  been  added  to  the  Constitution.
Perhaps the most important of  these  are  the  Thirteenth  and  Fourteenth,
which outlaw slavery and guarantee all  citizens  equal  protection  of  the
laws, and the Nineteenth, which gives women the right to vote.
 The Constitution can be amended  in  either  of  two  ways.  Congress  can
propose an amendment, provided that two-thirds of the members  of  both  the
House and the Senate vote in favor of it. Or the legislatures of  two-thirds
of the states can call a convention  to  propose  amendments.  (This  second
method has never been used.) In either case a proposed  amendment  does  not
go into effect until ratified by three-fourths of the states.

 The  legislative  branch  --  the  Congress  --  is  made  up  of  elected
representatives from each of the 50 states. It is the only  branch  of  U.S.
government that can make federal laws, levy federal taxes, declare war,  and
put foreign treaties into effect.
 Members of the House of Representatives are  elected  to  two-year  terms.
Each member represents a district in his or her home state.  The  number  of
districts is determined by a census, which is conducted every 10 years.  The
most populous states are  allowed  more  representatives  than  the  smaller
ones, some of which have only one. In all, there are 435 representatives  in
the House.
 Senators are elected to six-year  terms.  Each  state  has  two  senators,
regardless of population. Senators' terms are staggered, so  that  one-third
of the Senate stands for election every two years. There are 100 senators.
 To become a law, a bill must pass both the House and the Senate. After the
bill is introduced in either body, it is studied by one or more  committees,
amended, voted out of committee, and discussed in the chamber of  the  House
or Senate. If passed by one body, it goes to the  other  for  consideration.
When a bill passes the House and the Senate in different forms,  members  of
both bodies meet in a "conference committee" to iron  out  the  differences.
Groups that try to persuade members of Congress to vote  for  or  against  a
bill are called "lobbies." They may try to exert their influence  at  almost
any stage of the legislative process. Once both bodies have passed the  same
version of a bill, it goes to the president for approval.

 The chief executive of the United States is the  president,  who  together
with the vice president is elected to a four-year term. As  a  result  of  a
constitutional amendment that went into effect in 1951, a president  may  be
elected to only two terms. Other than succeeding a president who dies or  is
disabled, the vice president's only official  duty  is  presiding  over  the
Senate. The vice president may vote in the Senate only to break a tie.
 The president's powers are formidable but  not  unlimited.  As  the  chief
formulator  of  national  policy,  the  president  proposes  legislation  to
Congress. As mentioned previously, the president may veto  any  bill  passed
by Congress. The president is commander-in-chief of the  armed  forces.  The
president has the authority to appoint federal judges  as  vacancies  occur,
including justices of the Supreme Court. As head  of  his  political  party,
with ready access to the news media,  the  president  can  easily  influence
public opinion.
 Within the executive branch, the  president  has  broad  powers  to  issue
regulations  and  directives  carrying  out  the   work   of   the   federal
government's departments and agencies. The president appoints the heads  and
senior officials of those departments  and  agencies.  Heads  of  the  major
departments, called "secretaries," are part of the president's cabinet.  The
majority of federal workers, however, are selected on the  basis  of  merit,
not politics.

 The judicial branch is headed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the only
court specifically created by the Constitution. In  addition,  Congress  has
established 13 federal courts of appeals and, below them, about  95  federal
district courts. The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., and the  other
federal courts are located in cities throughout the United  States.  Federal
judges are appointed for life or until they retire voluntarily; they can  be
removed from office only via a laborious process of  impeachment  and  trial
in the Congress.
 The federal courts hear cases arising out of the Constitution and  federal
laws and treaties, maritime  cases,  cases  involving  foreign  citizens  or
governments, and cases in which the federal government is itself a party.
 The Supreme  Court  consists  of  a  chief  justice  and  eight  associate
justices. With minor exceptions, cases come to the Supreme Court  on  appeal
from lower federal or state courts. Most of  these  cases  involve  disputes
over the interpretation  and  constitutionality  of  actions  taken  by  the
executive branch and of laws passed by Congress or the states (like  federal
laws, state laws must be consistent with the U.S. Constitution).

 Although the three branches are said to be equal, often the Supreme  Court
has the last word on an issue. The courts can rule a  law  unconstitutional,
which makes it void. Most such rulings are appealed to  the  Supreme  Court,
which is thus the final arbiter of what the Constitution  means.  Newspapers
commonly print excerpts from the justices' opinions in important cases,  and
the Court's decisions are often the subject of public debate. This is as  it
should be: The decisions may settle longstanding controversies and can  have
social effects  far  beyond  the  immediate  outcome.  Two  famous,  related
examples are Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board  of  Education  of
Topeka (1954).
 In Plessy the issue was whether  blacks  could  be  required  to  ride  in
separate railroad cars from whites. The Court articulated  a  "separate  but
equal" doctrine as its basis for upholding the practice.  The  case  sent  a
signal that  the  Court  was  interpreting  the  Thirteenth  and  Fourteenth
Amendments narrowly and  that  a  widespread  network  of  laws  and  custom
treating blacks and whites differently would not be disturbed. One  justice,
John Marshall  Harlan,  dissented  from  the  decision,  arguing  that  "the
Constitution is color-blind."
 Almost 60 years later the Court changed its mind. In Brown the court  held
that  deliberately  segregated  public  schools  violated   the   Fourteenth
Amendment's equal protection clause. Although the  Court  did  not  directly
overrule its Plessy decision, Justice Harlan's view of the Constitution  was
vindicated. The 1954 ruling applied directly only to schools in the city  of
Topeka, Kansas, but  the  principle  it  articulated  reached  every  public
school in the nation. More than that, the  case  undermined  segregation  in
all governmental endeavors and set the nation on a new  course  of  treating
all citizens alike.
 The Brown decision caused consternation among some citizens,  particularly
in the South, but was eventually accepted as the  law  of  the  land.  Other
controversial Supreme Court decisions have not received the same  degree  of
acceptance. In several cases between 1962 and 1985, for example,  the  Court
decided that requiring students to  pray  or  listen  to  prayer  in  public
schools violated  the  Constitution's  prohibition  against  establishing  a
religion. Critics of these decisions believe that the absence of  prayer  in
public schools has contributed to a decline in American  morals;  they  have
tried to find ways to restore prayer to the schools  without  violating  the
Constitution. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court guaranteed  women  the  right
to have abortions in certain circumstances -- a decision that  continues  to
offend those Americans who consider abortion to be murder. Because  the  Roe
v. Wade decision  was  based  on  an  interpretation  of  the  Constitution,
opponents have been trying to amend the Constitution to overturn it.

 Americans  regularly  exercise  their  democratic  rights  by  voting   in
elections and by participating in political parties and election  campaigns.
Today, there are two major political  parties  in  the  United  States,  the
Democratic and the Republican. The Democratic Party evolved from  the  party
of  Thomas  Jefferson,  formed  before  1800.  The  Republican   Party   was
established in the 1850s by Abraham  Lincoln  and  others  who  opposed  the
expansion of slavery into new states then being admitted to the Union.
 The Democratic Party is considered to be the more liberal party,  and  the
Republican,  the  more  conservative.  Democrats  generally   believe   that
government has an obligation to provide social  and  economic  programs  for
those who need  them.  Republicans  are  not  necessarily  opposed  to  such
programs but believe they are too costly to taxpayers. Republicans put  more
emphasis on encouraging private enterprise  in  the  belief  that  a  strong
private sector makes citizens less dependent on government.
 Both major parties have supporters among a wide variety of  Americans  and
embrace  a  wide  range  of  political  views.  Members,  and  even  elected
officials, of one party do not necessarily agree with each  other  on  every
issue. Americans do not have to join a political party to vote or  to  be  a
candidate for public office, but running for office without  the  money  and
campaign workers a party can provide is difficult.
 Minor political parties -- generally referred to  as  "third  parties"  --
occasionally form in the United States,  but  their  candidates  are  rarely
elected to office. Minor parties often serve, however, to call attention  to
an issue that is of concern  to  voters,  but  has  been  neglected  in  the
political dialogue. When this happens, one or both of the major parties  may
address the matter, and the third party disappears.
 At the national level, elections  are  held  every  two  years,  in  even-
numbered  years,  on  the  first  Tuesday  following  the  first  Monday  in
November. State and local elections often coincide with national  elections,
but they also are held in other years and can take place at other  times  of
 Americans are free to  determine  how  much  or  how  little  they  become
involved in the political process. Many  citizens  actively  participate  by
working as volunteers for a candidate, by promoting a particular  cause,  or
by running for office themselves. Others  restrict  their  participation  to
voting on election  day,  quietly  letting  their  democratic  system  work,
confident that their freedoms are protected.

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