History of the United States, 2nd Edition

Course No. 8500
Taught By Multiple Professors
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Course No. 8500
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Survey the American revolution and the politics of our nation up until the Civil War.
  • numbers Track the lead up to the Civil War, experience the Civil War itself, and follow the reconstruction of the nation.
  • numbers Explore the rapid ascendance of our nation into a world power during the late 19th and 20th centuries.
  • numbers Put the scope of U.S. history in a more visual context with over 1,500 historical photos and illustrations.

Course Overview

This is the story of a country in which immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries huddled in cramped tenement apartments lit by hazardous kerosene lamps. And a country that, little more than a half-century later, renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith described as "The Affluent Society."

This is the chronicle of a nation that enslaved a race of people. And of a nation that fought a Civil War that freed its slaves, and outlawed segregation and discrimination.

This is history shaped by Revolutionary War and Vietnam, Thomas Jefferson and William Jefferson Clinton, Puritanism and Feminism, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jamestown and Disneyland, Harpers Ferry and Henry Ford, oil wells and Orson Welles.

This is a review of the extraordinary blend of people, ideas, inventions, and events that comprise The History of the United States. In this seven-part, 84-lecture series, three noted historians and lecturers—two of whom teach other popular Teaching Company courses—present the nation's past through their areas of special interest.

Three Outstanding Instructors in this Sweeping Series

This comprehensive presentation is provided by three award-winning professors:

  • Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era, Professor of History at Gettysburg College, and former Dean of Templeton Honors College at Eastern University. He examines the beginnings of European settlement through the Great Compromise of 1850. His teaching awards include the Dean's Award for Distinguished Graduate Teaching from the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President , won the Lincoln Prize and the Book Prize of the Abraham Lincoln Institute of the Mid-Atlantic.
  • Dr. Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia and a top Civil War expert. He presents the pre-Civil War period through Reconstruction. His teaching, which includes personal guided tours of major battlefields, has consistently won high praise from students, and he is a frequent lecturer and author. He also teaches the Great Course The American Civil War.
  • Dr. Patrick N. Allitt, Professor of History at Emory University, discusses 19th-century industrialization through the early 21st century. In 2000 he was appointed to the National Endowment for the Humanities/Arthur Blank Professorship of Teaching in the Humanities, and recently received the Emory Center for Teaching and Curriculum's Excellence in Teaching Award. He also teaches The Great Courses Victorian Britain and American Religious History.

With their guidance you will follow, as they unfold over time, the factors that have enabled the United States to become the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful democratic republic in history. These factors include its:

  • Sense of confidence, national destiny, and exceptionalism
  • Religiosity and belief in virtue
  • Abundance of natural resources and entrepreneurial talent
  • Ability to accept a diverse array of immigrants
  • Success in turning the theory of democracy into reality.

What You Will Learn: A Voyage of Discovery

In the opening lecture, Professor Guelzo describes the course as "a voyage of discovery. Not a voyage to another continent or another hemisphere or even a trip to another planet, but to something which may be even stranger, and that is the history of the United States."

You will explore a past America often very different from what you were taught about or have imagined.

You will understand historical fact versus fiction when it comes to figures as diverse as:

Jacques Cartier. As early as 1534, he was "surprised to sight Indians, along what he thought was an unexplored Atlantic coastline, waving furs on sticks as an invitation for the Europeans to come down to the beach and trade."

James Monroe and Robert Livingston . They made the Louisiana Purchase, the greatest real estate deal in history, without approval from then-President Thomas Jefferson (they had no time to tell him). Jefferson, in turn, had no constitutional authority to make the treaty of cession that finalized the purchase. He sent the document to the Senate with the comment, "The less we say about Constitutional difficulties the better."

Carrie Nation. The savvy temperance advocate hired a publicity manager to arrange media coverage before she invaded and smashed up a saloon. She even sold autographed copies of the axes she used.

Isaac Singer. The sewing machine magnate pioneered now universal business techniques such as installment plan payments and nationwide advertising.

You will learn:

  • The most influential novel in U.S. history (hint: its female author once met Abraham Lincoln)
  • Why the west side became the best place to live in many older U.S. cities (prevailing winds blew smoke and fumes away from you)
  • What the book The Wizard of Oz was really about (the election of 1896).

Reading History "Forward"

An additional benefit of this course is that, as they present U.S. history, Professors Guelzo, Gallagher, and Allitt also provide a mini-course on teaching and learning history in general.

They convey a variety of highly useful lessons on how to think about history, place it in a proper perspective, and understand it accurately. These include an emphasis on the social and political context in which vital decisions were made and events took place, and an ability to take both the short-term and long-term views of issues.

In his lectures on the Civil War and Reconstruction, Professor Gallagher warns that the fact that we know how history turned out, that we "read history backward," often distorts our understanding. Repeatedly, he reminds you to "read forward, not backward" to try to understand how people of the times experienced events as they unfolded.

Successes too Often Taken for Granted

Professor Allitt reflects on the aspects of U.S. history that make it unique and noteworthy, and that indicate the degree the nation has lived up to its ideals. He notes that America may fall short of its own high standards, "but compared to the other nations of the world, America was far more impressive for its successes than for its failings."

Some of these successes, Professor Allitt adds, are so obvious that we often fail to recognize them. The United States has achieved an exceptional degree of political stability and internal civil peace for a very long time. "We're so familiar with it that it's easy to forget how rare it is," Professor Allitt notes.

This is one of the many vital and often overlooked aspects of U.S. history that this course will help you to appreciate. Throughout the nation's existence, even during the Civil War, democracy has always worked. Elections have always taken place, the losers have always accepted that they have lost and left office, and the military has never tried to overthrow the civilian government.

Perhaps this is a legacy of the most popular and revered American ever, George Washington.

At the end of the Revolutionary War, some of Washington's officers suggested that the Continental Army should take over the country and make him the first King of America. Washington flatly rejected the offer, resigned his commission, and rode off to his home in Mount Vernon.

The notion that anyone could refuse power in this manner shocked Britain's King George III. "If this is true," the king said, "then he is the greatest man of the age."

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84 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Living Bravely
    Columbus's discovery of a New World allowed Europeans to, first, exploit natural and human resources, and later, to write new social, economic, and political scripts for their lives in a place where European ideas of society no longer applied. x
  • 2
    Spain, France, and the Netherlands
    The Spanish tapped sources of wealth in the Americas, displaying the most wanton cruelty in obtaining it. By 1600 they had evolved from an extraction society to a settler society. The French attempted extraction incursions and to settle in North America but did not succeed as the Spanish had in the South. x
  • 3
    Gentlemen in the Wilderness
    The English joined the great game of extraction and settlement last of all the major European nations. By 1680 settlements around the Chesapeake Bay achieved success with tobacco and the forced recruitment of a workforce of African slaves. Virginia worked its way through what became a typical English pattern: from company colony, to unstable free-for-all, to stable aristocracy. x
  • 4
    Radicals in the Wilderness
    If the southern English colonies were motivated by economic self-interest—be it piracy, tobacco, or slaves—the northern settlements were motivated by ideas. In New England's case, the ideas were religious. The "godly commonwealth" of the first Puritans was succeeded by the same slow tendency toward aristocracy, based on transatlantic commerce rather than commodities, that characterized Virginia. x
  • 5
    Traders in the Wilderness
    The broad stretch of coastal territory between the Chesapeake and Long Island had been settled by the Swedes along the Delaware Bay and the Dutch along the Hudson River. Dutch settlements (renamed New York) developed into a major commercial center. Quaker William Penn's Pennsylvania emerged, by the 1750s, with a commercial aristocracy similar to that of New England, centered around its principal city. x
  • 6
    An Economy of Slaves
    The transition of these settlements to stable commercial success would not have been possible without a source of cheap labor. America's immensity of land and lack of labor to develop it required forced migration of laborers: convicts, indentured servants, beggars. But a less expensive and more permanent source of labor was the 11 million Africans who were torn from their homes to be slaves. x
  • 7
    Printers, Painters, and Preachers
    Americans developed cultural forms in both music and art that were uniquely American. The most important cultural transition, part of the European Enlightenment, was from a religious to a scientific and secular understanding of the world. Three illustrative figures of this transition are Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, and Jonathan Edwards. x
  • 8
    The Great Awakening
    The stresses of Colonial life—natural, social, economic, religious, and political— produced unusual social eruptions that were aimed at regaining some sense of control. The Great Awakening, a revival of radical Protestant religion across New England, helped people recover a sense of spiritual significance and moral direction; it also touched off violent religious controversy. x
  • 9
    The Great War for Empire
    By the mid-1700s, Britain and France were the two rivals for dominance of America. The war for empire, the French and Indian War, broke out in 1754, and at first went badly for England—but the British Empire had greater resources to draw on. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 forced the French to withdraw entirely from North America. x
  • 10
    The Rejection of Empire
    The Great War for Empire beggared the British economy. In 1765 Parliament moved to levy direct taxes on the colonies and to regulate colonial trade so that it profited Britain. The legislatures of the North American colonies protested. Americans insisted on "no taxation without representation." More protests led to outright conflict, the suspension of colonial governments by Parliament, the creation of a Continental Congress to speak for North America, and finally, an organized military confrontation at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. x
  • 11
    The American Revolution—Politics and People
    Parliament's responses to American protests increasingly alienated Americans. By the spring of 1776, the determination of the British and the agitation of pro-independence thinkers wore down resistance to independence in the colonies. In the second Continental Congress of July 1776, a resolution declaring independence was adopted by the Congress and framed by a Declaration of Independence composed by Thomas Jefferson. In the Articles of Confederation of 1781 a joint government for the United States was created. x
  • 12
    The American Revolution—Howe's War
    From a military viewpoint, the Revolution started well and spiraled downward. The Continental Army, under the command of George Washington, faced humiliating defeats, abandoning all of New York and New Jersey to the British. Lost more by British incompetence than won by American planning, victory at Saratoga in the summer of 1777 salvaged American hopes. x
  • 13
    The American Revolution—Washington's War
    The Saratoga victory and the diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin in Paris persuaded France ally itself with the United States. The money, credit, weapons, and French naval and military resources forced the British to shift the focus of their war. Field forces fell under a combined land-and-sea campaign conducted by Washington and the French at Yorktown, where the British surrendered. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 reluctantly conceded American independence. x
  • 14
    Creating the Constitution
    The Revolution was not even over before the ramshackle nature of the Articles of Confederation began to show at the seams. A convention assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to construct a constitution, which proposed a single executive president, a bicameral Congress, and a judiciary. The Constitution was ratified by the states, and George Washington was inaugurated as the first president in New York City in March 1789. x
  • 15
    Hamilton's Republic
    For Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury, the republic depended on keeping the jealous interests of the individual states at bay, and on developing the republic's systems of finance, manufacturing, and commerce. Opposing him were Thomas Jefferson in the cabinet and the southern agricultural interests in Congress, both of whom believed that the future of America lay in independent domestic agriculture. x
  • 16
    Republicans and Federalists
    The surprise development in the new republic's political life was the formation of political parties. The threat this posed to the Founders was that parties might thrive on sanctioning and perpetuating disagreements and disunion. James Madison became the organizer of the Democratic-Republicans, and Hamilton recruited his Congressional supporters into the Federalist Party. The Federalists only barely managed to elect their candidate, John Adams, as Washington's successor in 1796. x
  • 17
    Adams and Liberty
    Few people liked John Adams, so it was fortunate that the first major challenge of his administration involved a foreign policy problem, where few had more expertise than he. But Adams squandered all the political capital he accumulated. By persuading the Federalists to dump Adams before the election of 1800, Hamilton succeeded in dividing his party and guaranteeing that Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans would win. x
  • 18
    The Jeffersonian Reaction
    Thomas Jefferson proved incapable of creating a practical set of alternatives to Hamilton's hard-headed fiscal policies, particularly in defense and in foreign trade. He was also surprised by the activism of the federal judiciary, which under Chief Justice John Marshall, began to operate as a serious restraint on the scope of Jefferson's actions. x
  • 19
    Territory and Treason
    With renewed war in Europe on the horizon, Napoleon needed cash more than he needed Louisiana. In 1803, he offered to sell the entire Louisiana province—830,000 square miles—for $15 million. Jefferson asked Congress to finance a secret scouting party under Lewis and Clark. Vice President Aaron Burr, who attempted to set up his own independent republic, was thwarted and saved from a treason indictment only by Chief Justice John Marshall. x
  • 20
    The Agrarian Republic
    Jefferson was committed to keeping the American Republic an agrarian society, a culture of independence, nonmarket agriculture, and community. No regard was paid to the claims of the North American Indians. As Americans poured West in search of cheap land, disheartened Indians either accommodated, as with the Seneca and Cherokees, or resisted, as in the revolt of Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh. x
  • 21
    The Disastrous War of 1812
    In 1812, Madison sent a request to Congress for a declaration of war. The War of 1812 was a debacle. In October 1814, the Massachusetts legislature passed a peace resolution and threatened secession from the Union. Only the signing of the Treaty of Ghent at the end of 1814 ended talk of a New England separatist movement. x
  • 22
    The "American System"
    The War of 1812 collapsed the U.S. Treasury, bankrupted hundreds of businesses, and soaked up the tiny hoard of American financial capital by government borrowing. Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun became the principal spokesmen for rebuilding the infrastructure of the American economy after 15 years of Jeffersonianism. x
  • 23
    A Nation Announcing Itself
    By the 1820s, immigrants flowed through America's seaports from Europe; and with the clearance of Indian resistance, the Northwest Territory was opened by massive government land sales. Many emigrants chose to stay in the cities they first entered, and their numbers soon swelled the size of the American urban population. x
  • 24
    National Republican Follies
    The year 1819 blew up in the faces of the bankers, brokers, National Republicans, and everyone else who had leveraged themselves to the market system. It was the year of the Great Panic. The United States had to learn that committing itself to the world market system exacted a price in the form of the unpredictable cycle of boom and bust. Ultimately, the Supreme Court sat squarely in the path of an angered democracy. x
  • 25
    The Second Great Awakening
    Three factors played a role in creating a Christian America: the resiliency of revival, the absorption of virtue, and the substitution of millennialism. x
  • 26
    Dark Satanic Mills
    The Industrial Revolution involved the invention or reinvention of machines, power, labor, and capital. But industrial growth could not go on forever without serious social consequences, manifested in the first labor strikes, union organizations, and workingmen's political parties in the 1830s. x
  • 27
    The Military Chieftain
    By 1824 Jefferson's Republican Party was, in fact, becoming two parties, the National Republicans and the Democratic-Republicans. John Quincy Adams, the heir apparent, was unmistakably a National Republican. The most unpredictable candidate was Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Jackson swept the popular vote, but his 99 electoral votes did not constitute a majority of the 216 electoral votes cast. x
  • 28
    The Politics of Distrust
    Starting in 1824, Adams's presidency was one of the worst political disasters in the history of the American presidency. Jackson gathered his forces for 1828, and won by a staggering landslide in the first popular election of a president. It showed a shift in American political consciousness and the movement of the United States from its original shape as a republic toward the newer shape of popular democracy. x
  • 29
    The Monster Bank
    The Second Bank of the United States regulated the economy by controlling the money supply and by promoting national investment. In 1831, Second Bank director Nicholas Biddle applied to Congress for rechartering; Jackson vetoed the bill. Clay believed that the veto would help elect him president in 1832 on an anti-Jackson backlash, but he was badly defeated by Jackson. Biddle now began shortening credit and triggered a major economic depression. x
  • 30
    Whigs and Democrats
    The Whigs were committed to economic dynamism, social moralism, and national union. Jackson's Democrats thought of freedom as the privilege to be wealthy, and that liberty was a negative, not positive, idea. Blaming Martin van Buren for the depression, voters elected William Henry Harrison as the first Whig president. But Harrison died a month after inauguration; his vice president, John Tyler, was an old-line Democrat who promptly reinstalled the Jackson agenda. x
  • 31
    American Romanticism
    From the 1820s, Americans embraced the appeal of Romanticism. In literature, it was manifested in the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville; in religion, it was illustrated by the Mercersburg theology; and in politics, it was reflected in the rhetoric of Whigs and Democrats and the argument over passion. x
  • 32
    The Age of Reform
    The sense that the American Republic represented the vanguard of a new age of freedom spawned campaigns to advance American perfection and freedom. Their common message was one of optimism, but it carried the threat that a democracy would find itself incapable of achieving stability. The French observer Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, gave a favorable reading to the American future, perfectionism and all. x
  • 33
    Southern Society and the Defense of Slavery
    Declining profitability before 1800 suggested that slavery would gradually die out, as it did in northern states where immigrant labor made slave labor unprofitable. But the success of cotton agriculture and the labor needed to sustain it resurrected slavery. Northern abolitionists gathered force in the 1830s; southern demands for protection and extradition of runaways led to mob violence and aggressive antislavery organizing in the North. x
  • 34
    Whose Manifest Destiny?
    Americans swarmed into the Louisiana Purchase territories triggering three major conflicts: with the Plains Indian tribes, with Mexico over the province of Texas, and the third over the admission of slavery into the Louisiana Purchase. x
  • 35
    The Mexican War
    James K. Polk's election was the signal for the renewal of Jacksonian expansionism and the use of expansionism to serve the interests of slavery. Polk aggressively pushed American claims to territory along the southern border with Mexico and the Canadian border with Great Britain. The latter was resolved diplomatically; the former started war against Mexico. The United States gained all of what is now the American Southwest, from the Rio Grande River westward to the Pacific. x
  • 36
    The Great Compromise
    The wrangling over whether to allow slavery in the territories gained from the Mexican Cession led to southern threats of disunion and was aggravated by the sudden death of President Taylor. Henry Clay took the floor of the Senate to shape his last Union-saving compromise, which looked as if it would permanently dampen the slavery agitation. x
  • 37
    Sectional Tensions Escalate
    This lecture surveys manifestations of sectional animosity, especially regarding slavery, and gives attention to the brief history of the American, or Know-Nothing, Party. The lecture also stresses the idea that, whatever the real divisions between them, Northerners and Southerners increasingly proved willing to believe the worst about the other. x
  • 38
    Drifting Toward Disaster
    This lecture continues with the story of sectional turbulence. It highlights the failure of national institutions to push compromise on slavery and its extension into the territories. The lecture also emphasizes the Dred Scott case of 1857, debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, and the impact of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. These controversies helped set the stage for the breakup of the Union in 1860–1861. x
  • 39
    The Coming of War
    This lecture discusses the impact of Lincoln's election. Deep South states seceded in response to the Republican victory, but only the crisis at Fort Sumter in April 1861 convinced the Upper South to secede. A range of opinion existed in most slaveholding states regarding secession. It describes the formation of the Confederate States of America. x
  • 40
    The First Year of Fighting
    This lecture stresses that either side could have won the war and offers a careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses each brought to the conflict. There was early strategic planning on both sides; the lecture discusses some crucial battles of the first year's fighting. The conflict mushroomed from a limited military contest at the time of First Bull Run in July 1861 into a massive struggle by the time of Shiloh and the Seven Days battles in the spring and early summer of 1862. x
  • 41
    Shifting Tides of Battle
    The year between the summer of 1862 and the summer of 1863 convinced Americans on both sides that the war would be long and bitter. This lecture traces some of the major military campaigns of this year, underscoring the enormous swings of morale behind the lines in the North and South as each side won victories and suffered defeats. x
  • 42
    Diplomatic Clashes and Sustaining the War
    This lecture shifts from the battlefield to the home front. We look at diplomacy and the blockade. The lecture examines the difficulty and cost of fielding and maintaining large armies. We discuss Union and Confederate conscription, the ways each side raised money, and the production and delivery of military supplies. x
  • 43
    Behind the Lines—Politics and Economies
    This lecture compares politics and economics in the United States and the Confederacy. Almost all military campaigning occurred in the Confederacy, dealing severe blows to industrial and agricultural production and material hardships to its population. The North proved able to produce guns and butter, and the Republican-dominated Congress passed legislation designed to make the nation a great industrial and commercial power. x
  • 44
    African Americans in Wartime
    The war brought seismic changes for African Americans. Slavery—under which more than 4 million black people lived and suffered when the war erupted—ended. This lecture examines the experiences of African Americans on both sides, addressing, among other topics, black soldiers in U.S. military forces, the experience of hundreds of thousands of black refugees in the South, the weakening of the bonds of slavery in much of the Confederacy, and Confederate debates over emancipation late in the conflict. x
  • 45
    The Union Drive to Victory
    The outcome of the war remained uncertain as late as the summer of 1864. Successes turned the tide decisively in favor of the Union. This lecture examines the final year of military action, highlighting the roles of Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Grant and Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. The lecture also describes Lincoln's assassination and gives a reckoning of the war's cost. x
  • 46
    Presidential Reconstruction
    Debates in the North over how best to bring the Confederate states back into the Union began while the war still raged. This lecture examines the wartime context and continues through Johnson's early presidency. By the end of 1866, the stage was set for a final showdown between the president and Congress in the fight over Reconstruction in the South. x
  • 47
    Congress Takes Command
    Congress took control of Reconstruction policy in early 1867. Ulysses S. Grant, who supported Congress, won the presidency as the Republican candidate in 1868. This lecture examines the struggle between Johnson and Congress, analyzes Reconstruction legislation, describes the state governments set up under that legislation in former Confederate states, and assesses the meaning of the election of 1868. x
  • 48
    Reconstruction Ends
    Reconstruction improved many aspects of black Southerners' lives, at least for a number of years, and left deep scars on a white South that labored diligently to project an image of Northern oppression. The lecture closes with an assessment of whether Reconstruction should be judged a success or a moment of lost opportunity for African Americans in the United States. x
  • 49
    In the late 19th century, the scale of American industry increased dramatically. John D. Rockefeller in the oil industry and Andrew Carnegie in iron and steel built massive corporations and dominated entire sectors of the economy. With brilliant inventors, including Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, and a succession of improvements in manufacturing, the United States became one of the three world leaders in industry by 1890, rivaling Britain and Germany. x
  • 50
    Transcontinental Railroads
    The first transcontinental railroad was finished in 1869. Builders had to overcome horrific obstacles; tunneling through the Sierra Nevada Mountains took three years. Completion cut travel time from the Mississippi to the West Coast from three months to about one week. The line was joined by other transcontinentals; a national network facilitated settlement in the plains and mountain states that had been too remote. x
  • 51
    The Last Indian Wars
    The coming of settlers with the railroads made continuation of the Indians' independent life impossible, in addition to the near extinction of the buffalo and gold rushes. Plains tribes were warrior societies that lived to fight and ought not to be romanticized. After the Battle at Little Bighorn in 1876, the U.S. Army intensified its campaign against them and broke all resistance within a year. x
  • 52
    Farming the Great Plains
    The Homestead Act encouraged farmers to acquire land at almost no cost, and those who could overcome the loneliness, prairie fires, insect infestations, extremes of climate, and incessant winds were able to build prosperous lives. By 1890 they were growing massive annual surpluses, driving down the cost of food throughout the Western world and eliminating the danger of famine in America once and for all. x
  • 53
    African Americans after Reconstruction
    When Reconstruction ended in 1876, southern "Redeemers" took political control of the South, passing legislation enforcing racial segregation. There were periodic lynchings. The federal government's decision to withdraw from the area meant that the white elite ruled unchallenged for much of the next 80 years. Most African Americans lived by sharecropping, condemning many of them to a cycle of debt and dependency. x
  • 54
    Men and Women
    Middle-class American men and women emphasized differences between the two sexes and believed that each had its proper sphere of activity. Doctors said rigorous education for women would lead to hysteria and that political rights would make them mannish, threatening differences embedded in nature itself. Early advocates of suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, argued that women, with their nurturing virtues, would purify and ennoble the political world. x
  • 55
    Religion in Victorian America
    Victorian religion in America was less doctrinal and more sentimental than its Puritan antecedents. Traveling revivalists and preachers tried to help the poor and reform grim urban conditions and worked to outlaw alcohol. America's principle of religious freedom and church-state separation allowed other religions to flourish and showed doubters the nation could accommodate religious pluralism. x
  • 56
    The Populists
    Southern cotton sharecroppers, black and white, and Midwestern farmers were falling into debt. They tried cooperative marketing schemes but decided to turn to politics to legislate for better conditions. The Populist Party enjoyed local and state-level successes in the early 1890s, but were unable to build a stable party structure nationally. x
  • 57
    The New Immigration
    Late 19th-century Europe was full of stories about America, and bad conditions for farmers prompted many of them to emigrate. Parents found that, with hard work, they, or their children, could climb to American prosperity and respectability. Fears of "race suicide" in the 1920s gave rise to an immigration restriction policy. x
  • 58
    City Life
    American cities grew rapidly. They were often badly planned and became overcrowded with ethnic and linguistic neighborhoods. Cities were severely polluted with smoke and ash; contaminated water supplies, poor sanitation, and large numbers of horses worsened public health conditions and shortened life expectancy. Reformers tried to Americanize urban immigrants and campaigned for city government reform. x
  • 59
    Labor and Capital
    Hoping to improve their wages, job security, and working conditions, many workers turned to trade unionism. The great railroad strike of 1877 showed that strikes could succeed if they enjoyed community support but would fail if business owners used their political influence and court injunctions against the unions. Bitter union-management confrontations punctuated the 1890s. Railroad leader Eugene Debs and others created the American Socialist Party in 1900. x
  • 60
    Theodore Roosevelt and Progressivism
    Progressive reformers in the early 1900s tried to increase honesty and efficiency in business and government, to forestall monopolies, and to Americanize immigrants. Theodore Roosevelt, the first president to embrace the Progressive outlook, established the principle of presidential initiative in progressive legislative programs. He created the National Forest Service and led a trust-busting campaign against abusive monopolists. He created a template for his successors, notably Woodrow Wilson, who continued to increase federal government power over the states. x
  • 61
    Mass Production
    Manufacturers began to mass-produce products they could sell cheaply and in large numbers through nationwide advertising campaigns. In Chicago slaughterhouses, animals on overhead conveyors were systematically killed and dismembered, which gave Henry Ford the idea for a moving line on which automobiles could be assembled. He perfected the line in 1914, reduced the price of cars, and raised his workers' wages, which increased their loyalty and made them potential buyers. x
  • 62
    World War I—The Road to Intervention
    When Europe went to war in 1914, America stayed aloof. But sympathy for Britain was strong among President Wilson and his cabinet. The German decision to declare unrestricted submarine warfare against American ships in the Atlantic led him to declare war against Germany. America's previously small army grew rapidly in 1917 and trained hard, taking the field in large numbers in 1918 under the leadership of General Pershing to forestall a German assault on the western front. x
  • 63
    World War I—Versailles and Wilson's Gambit
    German military successes helped precipitate the Russian Revolution of 1917. President Wilson traveled to Versailles for the 1919 peace talks to discover that victorious English and French leaders wanted vindictive reparations. Hoping to rectify the treaty's worst features through the League of Nations, Wilson was thwarted by the Senate's refusal to join the League. The Russian Revolution prompted a Red Scare, and many Socialists, anarchists, and Communists were deported. x
  • 64
    The 1920s
    In the 1920s, Protestants' hopes for the Prohibition Amendment soon soured. Prohibition created ideal conditions for organized crime; the alcohol ban became unenforceable. The revival of the Ku Klux Klan targeted Catholics and Jews as much as African Americans. A brighter side: high levels of employment; rising real wages; improving city conditions; the rapid spread of cars, refrigerators, and radios among ordinary families; and the maturing of the movie industry (silent until 1927). x
  • 65
    The Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression
    Minimal government regulation of the stock exchange and unsound financial practices created unrealistic expectations among speculators. The collapse of share prices on Wall Street in the fall of 1929 ruined many and destroyed the savings of thousands more. From 1929–1933 a downward spiral of economic shrinkage, bankruptcies, factory closings, and rapidly worsening unemployment occurred. Drought in the Great Plains states added the Dust Bowl to this catalogue of woe. President Hoover, elected in 1928, became the scapegoat for these disasters. x
  • 66
    The New Deal
    President Franklin Roosevelt, elected in 1932, experimented with political reforms immediately after his inauguration. His efforts to prevent cutthroat competition among businesses, and his creation of federal agencies to oversee relief and regulatory tasks, marked a dramatic shift of power out of the states and into the federal government. Roosevelt, re-elected in 1936, tried to safeguard his political innovations by enlarging the Supreme Court with pro-New Deal justices. Widespread resistance to the plan showed that, for all his popularity, he had overstepped his mandate. x
  • 67
    World War II—The Road to Pearl Harbor
    Hitler's rise to power in Germany caused growing alarm in America. His successful attacks on his European neighbors in 1939 and 1940 and his vicious anti-Jewish policies caused many Americans to seek intervention on behalf of Britain. Roosevelt committed America to full-scale war only after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. America's military forces, small and unprepared, expanded rapidly, but victory appeared remote in early 1942. x
  • 68
    World War II—The European Theater
    Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin determined how to engage their forces over Europe and North Africa. A year of hard campaigning led to the defeat of Germany, a junction with Soviet forces in central Europe, and discovery of the Holocaust's full horror. America itself was transformed into a high-wage, high-employment economy, with women taking on jobs previously reserved for men. x
  • 69
    World War II—The Pacific Theater
    Aircraft carriers became the crucial weapon of the Pacific war. American seaborne forces seized a succession of Pacific islands from which aircraft could bomb the Japanese mainland. By mid-1945, Allied victory in the Pacific was assured. Japanese refusal to surrender and the prospect of a costly and difficult invasion of Japan prompted the new president, Harry Truman, to approve the use of the war's greatest secret weapon, the atomic bomb. x
  • 70
    The Cold War
    World War II did not end with a general peace treaty. The principal victors, America and the Soviet Union, disagreed over the future of eastern Europe. A temporary dividing line drawn through Europe became permanent. Soviet possession of nuclear weapons by 1949 created a geopolitical stalemate. The proliferation of nuclear weapons to a point of mutual assured destruction caused anxiety and an intense moral debate about their legitimacy inside the United States. x
  • 71
    The Korean War and McCarthyism
    Espionage cases in the late 1940s heightened fears of Communism. The Truman administration began to investigate the loyalty of federal employees. Many businesses, including the Hollywood film industry, conducted anti-Communist purges. Anti-Communist fears allowed Senator Joseph McCarthy to exploit irrational public fears. Post-war Korea and Berlin remained potential flash-points. x
  • 72
    The Affluent Society
    World War II caused a dramatic redistribution of income throughout society. Consumer-goods manufacturers and advertisers took advantage of steady rises in available discretionary income. America sprawled in the 1950s and became the wealthiest society in the history of the world. The Soviet Union's surprise victory in the space race led to a new American dedication to education in science and technology. x
  • 73
    The Civil Rights Movement
    The Supreme Court's decisions in the Brown case (1954) and the Montgomery bus boycott (1955–1956) inaugurated the activist phase of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other movement leaders used the style and idiom of evangelical clergy. Disputes over busing and affirmative action clouded bitter political disagreements. The interracial civil rights coalition broke up in the face of militant Black Power. x
  • 74
    The New Frontier and the Great Society
    President John F. Kennedy brought charisma to the White House in 1961. His escalation of the Cold War, apparent in the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, and expansion of the American role in Vietnam, was offset by a new concern for legislating on behalf of the poor and minorities. After his assassination in November 1963 his successor, Lyndon Johnson, pursued antipoverty, antidiscrimination legislation and further expanded the federal government. x
  • 75
    The Rise of Mass Media
    Thousands of newspapers in 20th-century America, with radio stations, television, and the world's strongest movie industry, informed citizens well about their surroundings and about political and social questions. The computer revolution added further sophistication to this process, while the Internet of the 1990s created a "global village." Media power transformed the nature of politics, lobbying, and even the military, as the armed forces discovered to its detriment in Vietnam. x
  • 76
    The Vietnam War
    The French Empire in Vietnam ended in 1955. In support of the non-Communist southern half of the country resisting reunification, by 1968 half a million American soldiers were fighting there. Casualties and TV footage of troops persecuting villagers or accidentally bombing children with napalm turned public opinion against the war. President Johnson abandoned his re-election plans because of it. The last Americans withdrew only in 1973. The Vietnam syndrome constrained American military actions for decades. x
  • 77
    The Women's Movement
    In the late 1960s, as an outgrowth to the Civil Rights and antiwar movements, women's liberation movement came into being. The National Organization for Women campaigned successfully for the abolition of gender discrimination in employment. Attacks on sexism in advertising and media, and criticism of gender bias in society and law gave rise to radical feminism. Women campaigned in vain for the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. x
  • 78
    Nixon and Watergate
    In 1968 President Richard Nixon, accepting the largely bipartisan Cold War consensus, continued the American role in Vietnam. By the standards of his later Republican successors, Nixon was a center or even liberal Republican. Nixon won easily in 1972 against George McGovern, but was ruined by revelations over the next two years that he had known of a break-in of McGovern's campaign headquarters and had tried to orchestrate a cover-up. He resigned in disgrace in 1974. x
  • 79
    The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, the year the Environmental Protection Agency was created. Endangered species, wild rivers, and scarce water resources all became issues of government concern, as did the cleanup of toxic chemical sites. Environmentalists in the 1980s and 1990s alerted the nation to further resource shortages and potential threats to Earth's welfare. x
  • 80
    Religion in Twentieth-Century America
    America is a far more religious society than other Western industrial nations—another example of its exceptionalism. It also tolerated an exotic array of sects and cults, from hippies to the followers of Jim Jones who committed mass suicide in 1978. Religious groups also played a role in the moral-political debates over civil rights, feminism, abortion, homosexuality, and nuclear weapons. x
  • 81
    Carter and the Reagan Revolution
    Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential race but was presented with an ugly combination of economic stagnation and inflation (stagflation), the Iranian revolution, and the Teheran hostage crisis. He lost to a right-wing Republican, Ronald Reagan, in 1980. Reagan escalated the Cold War by planning space-based weapons, and aimed to diminish the reach of the federal government. His masterful use of the media made him a popular president, even when sordid aspects of his foreign policy were exposed during his second administration. x
  • 82
    The New World Order
    When the Soviet Union went through a peaceful transition to democracy, the United States was left as the world's one great superpower, able to preside over the creation of numerous new nations with more or less democratic and America-inspired political systems. In the 1990s the absence of Communist repression permitted old ethnic and religious animosities in Eastern Europe to resurface. In spite of hideous "ethnic cleansing" campaigns, America was reluctant to become involved for fear that Bosnia would become another Vietnam. x
  • 83
    Clinton's America and the Millennium
    Bill Clinton's eight-year administration was a period of economic growth, but his failure to create a national healthcare system underlined the difference between America and other Western nations that had created cradle-to-grave social welfare states. Continued turbulence in the Middle East made America a devil-nation to the Arab world. This judgment confronted America in the starkest possible way in September 2001 with the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. x
  • 84
    The immense vitality and diversity of American life have been sustained by several recurrent themes. Compared to its high ideals, America always fell short. Compared to the other nations of the world, however, America was far more impressive for its successes than for its failings. x

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Your professors

Gary W. Gallagher Patrick N. Allitt Allen C. Guelzo

Professor 1 of 3

Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D.
University of Virginia

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Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University

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Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Princeton University
Dr. Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. He graduated from Adams State College of Colorado and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to teaching at UVA, he was Professor of History at The Pennsylvania State University. Professor Gallagher is one of the leading historians of the Civil War. His...
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Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Among garnering other honors, he has received the Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He is a member of the National Council on...
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History of the United States, 2nd Edition is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 134.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must Buy - Absolutely Relevant Today The first 36 lectures are by Allen Guelzo whose strengths are factual reporting and a Walter Cronkite speaking style that keeps his audience attentive. This is important as he covers from the colonial period through the Great Compromise of 1850, the periods and political intrigues most distant to our own. For me, he has always been a favorite. Although the 408-page Guidebook is generous, I recommend purchasing the 1400+ page transcript, as it has proven valuable in this age of "the 1619 project", etc. The second 12 lectures by Gary Gallagher cover the Civil War & are more deliberate and faster paced. Though I have less avidity for Civil War studies than a true aficionado, Gallagher held my interest very well. The last 36 lectures by Patrick Allitt cover subsequent history until 2003. His work is a bit “hit and miss". As the course progresses, his subjects seem increasingly "grabbed from newspaper headlines” rather than from academic distillation like Guelzo or sound historical summation like Gallagher. PROS: Allitt often builds a theme over many lectures. His discussion of the 2nd Industrial Revolution (L61) celebrates the mass production of consumer goods, but shows where consumerism leads. The rise of advertising begins the chain of events by "…inducing artificial need or using celebrity endorsements" (as far back as 1910s) and "buying on credit”. By L64, Sinclair Lewis' fiction criticized "... the new consumerism and the conformity it bred”. Women were in the WW2 workplace (L68): “"It's not something we want to become normal. After all, what’s going to happen to the children…?” By L72 children have become the targets for marketers: “Disneyland (1955) is a prime example” / “...a tendency to excessive conformity" while “individualism was in decline" / “advertising now obscured Americans' view of reality" / juvenile delinquency increased / "…public education did not seem equal to the era's technical...challenges”. Allitt has nicely connected the dots. He also provides a kind of insight into historical similarities: L60 speaks of early Progressivism: “Many were racial supremacists and eugenicists via abortion advocacy…racial segregation intensified.” T. Roosevelt embodied Progressivism and "believed in purification through violence." Progressive Wilson raised taxes by creating the federal income tax. L66 discusses FDR's 1930s attempt at Supreme Court packing that gave us the quip: “A switch in time saves 9". Given our current headlines, Allitt shows that the targets may change, but the theme is old. CONS: Allitt tends towards colorful, dramatic, and sometimes lurid detail such as the horrific Plains Indian's mutilating rituals of manhood. This leads to a Hasty Generalization Logical Fallacy (a conclusion based on a small sample set) when he concludes (L51): "...the Plains tribes were warrior societies who lived to fight and ought not to be romanticized”. His conclusion may be a correct statement but his sample set was too small to justify it. Allitt commits a Genetic Logical Fallacy (an explanation for belief is confused with the actual belief) when negating the Bible (L55) based on "...the age of the Earth”. His argument refers to the 17th century genealogical dating of the earth by James Usher (Primate of Ireland) that was rejected by the 19th century. He neglects the statement of the relativity of a "Day" in 2 Peter 3:8: "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and thousand years are like a day." Both Usher (and Allitt) SHOULD have been aware of this. He also ignores the Bible’s origin of the universe "from nothing " that was historically anti-scientific until Georges Lemaitre in the 1920s. Relativity was not science until Einstein. Given these facts, the Bible has been more accurate about the origins of the universe than Usher or Allitt. I do not address the Biblical ordering of the Days (for brevity & because Allitt did not), except to note Lighthill’s historical apology for misleading the public about the determinism of systems satisfying Newtonian dynamics (TGC’s “Chaos" by Strogatz). SUMMARY: While Allitt is “cheesy" compared to Guelzo and Gallagher, he does provide a lot of information. All in all, this course is an extremely valuable resource. Thank you, TGC
Date published: 2020-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from this is why the Great Courses are great US history is one of those things i've avoided because A - I live here and B - it didn't excite me back in high school. But I've been following politics since 1961 so I needed a bigger dose of names, dates, places and events. More info on Manifest destiny...westward expansion, etc. This fit the bill. I will never forget the conclusion, where the professor says what makes the US exceptional (a contentious comment to some) is that every 4 years we select new leadership, at which point the vanquished do not revolt but accept defeat, and go back to planning for the next election cycle. Considering what has occurred since 2000, it seems one party has abandoned that and contests elections and the election process as often as it can, a particularly ominous sign I think for the health of the nation.
Date published: 2020-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A solid overview of a vast history. I found this course to be a very solid overview of a long (and getting longer) historical period filled with an endless array of facts, opinions and great unknowables. A fine refresher for those wanting to recall what they may have forgotten or missed as the years pass. This is NOT a "deep dive" study of any one topic.
Date published: 2020-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is a truly outstanding survey of American history. Whether you are an avid historian or not, there is something to learn from this class. The team approach works well with one professor covering early American history, another covering the Civil War era, and the last covering from the end of Reconstruction through the dawn of the current century. The pacing and balance of the course is very good. This is definitely worthwhile.
Date published: 2020-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Grand Canyon of American History I compare this course to the Grand Canyon, not because the Grand Canyon identifies America, but because the Grand Canyon serves as a wonderful metaphor for this Great Course on the History of the United States. The length of this course – even at 84 lectures – cannot, as professor Allitt says in the summary lecture, do anything but scrape the surface of American history, in much the way that the Grand Canyon reveals the geologic history of but one area of the North American continent. Both are great starting points for further study, but neither can give the full picture. The strength of this course parallels that of the Grand Canyon with its panoramic breadth and depth. From the vantage point of each lecture, our eyes are opened to another vista of American history – a new perspective for understanding the amazing creation before us. Three wonderful professors – Allen Guelzo, Gary Gallagher, and Patrick Allitt – each serves as a tour guide on that metaphorical platform, pointing out the important features of the expanses that lay before us. The Grand Canyon is not a simple, easily-defined entity; rather, it has been excavated by many many tributaries. Each of these three professors has dug down into some of the historical tributaries of American history to shed a little light on what the various strata can tell us about what underlies modern America and how each of those tributaries has affected the ultimate course America has taken. No single tributary has sculpted the Grand Canyon into the magnificent wonder it is today, and no single historical tributary has made America what it is today. Professors Guelzo, Gallagher and Allitt give us many different viewpoints which serve as excellent foundations for our own future excavations into understanding the United States of America.
Date published: 2020-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Why constantly show the professor talking. Show pictures of historical figures, maps, documents etc in stead.
Date published: 2019-12-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Skip Professor Allit's lectures. Professor Allit may have the degrees, but he is not a scholar. A true scholar would not deal in rumor (FDR's alleged "multiple affairs," Joe Kennedy's alleged bootlegging during the Prohibition era [widely believed to be true, but there is not a scintilla of evidence for it], John Kennedy's alleged venereal disease, MLK's alleged preference for Nixon over JFK, and on and on. A true scholar lectures in such a way that his listeners find it difficult to discern his personal political orientation. Professor Allit wears his political feelings on his sleaze, and demonstrates an appalling delight in tossing out unsubstantiated slurs against dead Americans.
Date published: 2019-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extensive overview of American History I enjoyed the content of the course. I have an MA in History with post graduate work in military history. The content of the course covered essential facts in the chronology of US History. The first two Professors covering the first 2/3 of the course demonstrated a balanced objectivity in their approach to their subject. The last third of the course taught by Professor Allitt seemed rather compressed. The quoting of Dinesh D' Souza without identifying his extreme right wing status I found disturbing. The professor seemed particularly harsh on President Clinton without identifying his successes, but only his scandals and failures. Despite these criticisms, the overall course was excellent and deserved a 5 star rating.
Date published: 2019-04-29
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