The Black Muslims (or the Nation of Islam) were founded by an orthodox Muslim immigrant to America, Wallace Fard Muhammad, in 1931, and made into a powerful movement by Elijah Muhammad. Historically and doctrinally distinct from Islam proper, Black Muslims believed that whites were innately evil and that it was necessary to live apart from them. They also condemned Christianity as a slave religion used to hold blacks in a submissive status and advocated discipline and self-reliance to overcome the demoralizing effect of unemployment, broken families, drug abuse, and white racism. Because of his personal charisma, powerful speaking ability, and organizational talents, Malcolm X (1925-1965) rose quickly in the leadership of the Nation of Islam and was appointed to lead the important Harlem mosque in New York City. But following a trip to Mecca in 1964, he broke with the Nation of Islam and modified his views on whites and separatism, stating that he could now envision the possibility of a world brotherhood. While addressing a crowd in a Harlem ballroom in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by three Black Muslims who were angered by his defection from the Nation of Islam.
The selection included here comes from one of his 1964 speeches warning America that there will be trouble ahead if race issues are ignored. The historical context of the speech is important: the civil rights movement was approaching a climax and about to reach fruition in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislative avalanche. Moreover, the focus of American race relations was shifting from the apartheid-like system of the South to the urban ghettoes of the North, Midwest, and West, where unemployment and alienation were about to erupt in paroxysms of violence and rage in a series of riots known as the “long, hot summers” of 1964 and 1965. It is also important to note that the speech was made after Malcolm had separated from the Nation of Islam, and it explains why he made a distinction between his Islamic faith and his identity as a black nationalist.
Malcolm X, Address to a Meeting in New York, in Two Speeches by Malcolm X, ed. George Breitman, 7–21. Copyright © 1965 Pathfinder Press.
This mound marks the grave of an adolescent boy from the “Maritime Archaic” people of Labrador. Roughly 7,500 years ago, his body was wrapped in a shroud of bark or hide and placed face down in the grave with his head facing to the west. At that point, a large mound of rocks was erected over his burial place.
Courtesy of Brian Bursey
Samuel Huntington (1927–2008) was an influential political scientist who taught for most of his career at Harvard University. He was the author of numerous books and articles on politics and government, including the Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil–Military Relations (1957) and The Political Order in Changing Societies (1968). The latter provided a critique of modernization theory, which had driven much of U.S. policy in the developing world in the prior decade. In Clash of Civilizations, which appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs, Huntington argues that the main drivers of history in this century will not be political or ideological, as they have been in the past, but civilizational. Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world.
From Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996, pp. 209–18.
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) grew up during an economic depression in England that ultimately shifted his intellectual interests from literature to economics. One of his major contributions is the theory of under-consumption, which argues that low consumer demand and high supply of goods will lead to a sluggish economy. Hobson also held that imperialism could be stripped down to economic interests by the mother country: it was no more than a search for new capitalist markets. This selection explores Hobson’s observed relationships among economy, international struggle, imperialism, and nationalism.
From John A. Hobson, Imperialism and the Lower Races. New York: James Pott and Co., 1902, part II, chapter IV.
Thomas Jefferson was born to a distinguished and wealthy family in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1743. After attending the College of William and Mary and studying law, he served six years as a representative in Virginia’s colonial House of Burgesses before his election to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. After passage of the Declaration of Independence, he returned to Virginia, and as a member of the state legislature, he introduced the statute for religious toleration and other liberal measures. After a brief term as governor of Virginia (1779–1781), he returned to national politics in 1783 and served as a member of Congress, minister to France, and secretary of state in the first Washington administration. After a brief retirement at Monticello, he became the presidential candidate of the Democratic-Republican party in 1796. Jefferson narrowly lost the election to the Federalist candidate John Adams, but under the Constitutional provisions then in effect, he became vice president. In 1800, Jefferson again ran for president and was elected third president of the United States. As president, Jefferson reduced the power of the military and federal government, but he also doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase (1803). After completion of his second term in 1809, Jefferson devoted most of the remaining seventeen years of his life to the founding of the University of Virginia.
The Declaration of Independence has three basic sections. It begins with a statement of political ideals, followed by a list of specific grievances against British colonial policies and a concluding final proclamation of independence. In defining the proper relationship between government and the people in the first section, Jefferson borrowed key concepts from the political theories of John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers. But in his affirmation of political ideals, Jefferson was also creating a much broader definition of what it meant to be American. This is what gives the Declaration of Independence its special place in American history: It is a clear statement of values, a blueprint for governmental institutions and laws, and a bond of unity through a common sense of national identity.
The National Archives.
Richard Rorty (1931–2007) was an American philosopher who taught at Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Virginia. Rorty became associated with a form of American philosophy known as pragmatism, which followed the writing of the philosopher John Dewey. He came to believe, following Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, that meaning was a sociolinguistic product and did not exist in and of itself. In Failed Prophecies, Glorious Hopes, Rorty, an avowed atheist, argues that we should not ignore the inspirational qualities of great works such as the gospels, or the Communist Manifesto, simply because their predictions fell short of reality. Christianity and Communism, he wrote, need not be judged for their predictive qualities but for their appeals to what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the “Better Angels of our Nature.” They stirred men and women to good deeds, which arguably benefitted society in general.
From Richard Rorty, Failed Prophecies, Glorious Hopes, 1998.
James Madison (1751–1836) was one of Virginia’s leading patriots during the Revolutionary War, was elected fourth president of United States, and led the nation during the War of 1812 with Britain. But he is probably most remembered for his pivotal role in the crafting and ratification of the United States Constitution (ratified in 1789) and its first ten amendments, more commonly known as the Bill of Rights (1791). Known and respected among his contemporaries for his skilled writing and argumentation, Madison was one of the most influential of the Founding Fathers.
The Federalist Papers are considered one of the most significant collection of documents in American political thought. Written primarily by Madison and Alexander Hamilton in 1787–1788 under the pseudonym Publius the eighty-five essays promoted the provisions and philosophy of the proposed new Constitution. In Federalist Paper No. 10, Madison discussed the threat of “factions” that could undermine the basic rights and liberties of citizens. Distrustful of democracy, he advocated a representative government made up of wise and propertied male citizens who might better discern “the true interests” of the country. Although some critics have charged that Madison and the other Founding Fathers were more concerned with protecting property than they were with liberty or equality, others credit Madison for establishing a stable and responsive government that has survived the test of time.
From The Federalist, A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States, Being a Collection of Essays Written in Support of the Constitution Agreed upon September 17, 1787, by the Federal Convention. From the original text of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. With an introduction by Edward Mead Earle. (New York: The Modern Library), 53–62.
Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), the Republican party candidate from Illinois, won the presidential election without carrying a single southern state. Although he had worked his way up from humble beginnings to a comfortable law practice and even one term in the House of Representatives, before 1858 Lincoln had not earned the political prominence that he burned to achieve. In that year, in a series of debates as part of a campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Lincoln established a national reputation. Although he lost the battle for the Senate, he won the much more important war for national political power. It is important to note that Lincoln had established a much stronger antislavery position than he would present in his First Inaugural Address, as his famous assertion that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” demonstrates. He maintained at that point that America would be all slave or all free. By March 1861, with southern states openly seceding, Lincoln espoused the position of limiting slavery to its existing locales, but not interfering with it there. Although he was willing to compromise on this issue, he would not allow the southern states to secede from the Union. In his view, the Union was perpetual, unless dissolved by the citizens of the whole nation. Unlike Calhoun, who ardently advocated “states’ rights,” Lincoln argued that the Constitution and the sovereignty of the people demanded that he preserve and defend the Union. In his First Inaugural Address, excerpted here, he presented his modified position on slavery but also his own interpretation of the American nation and of the nature of the Union.
Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: Complete Work., ed. John G. Nicolay and John Hay. New York: The Century Co. (1894): 2: 1–7.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four terms as President marked a turning point in American history, establishing the principle of the federal government’s responsibility for public welfare and creating the federal governmental system that continues to the present day. It also established Keynesian economics (named after the British economist John Maynard Keynes), which calls for greater governmental expenditures in times of economic recession to compensate for lower spending by the private sector. FDR would go on to be reelected three times. He led America through most of World War II but died in office in April 1945, just three months before the end of the war. In the selection that follows, FDR lays out the general lines of his vision for America.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. 2 (New York: Random House, 1938), 11–16.
A vision of the “American Century” is powerfully conveyed by this 1930 road map produced by the Gulf Oil Company. The map spins an idealized vision of America just before the Great Depression. Leisure opportunities,—boating, golf, and badminton, an d for both men and women—are all easily accessible by miles of paved roads. There is nowhere an automobile can’t go.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
World Economic Forum
The Global Gender Gap Report was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to analyze disparities between genders in a worldwide context. It assesses national gender gaps in political, economic, health, and education-related areas and ranks countries according to data, allowing comparisons across regions, time, and income groups. According to the report’s introduction, these rankings “are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.” This excerpt looks at women’s impact on economic growth through increased education, participation in the labor force, and women’s role as consumers, or the “power of the purse.”
From “The Global Gender Gap,” World Economic Forum, 2010. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf (downloaded November 20, 2012).
Martin Luther King Jr.
Under the accelerating pressure of the American civil rights movement—and with images of African Americans being attacked and beaten as they demanded equality beaming across television screens—President Kennedy introduced civil rights legislation during his administration. Realizing that advocacy of this position might endanger the position of his Democratic Party, particularly in the South, in the elections of 1964, Kennedy continued to find ways to shape American public opinion while also cajoling Congress to implement this legislation. Civil rights advocates, spearheaded by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), convened in a march on Washington, DC, in August 1963. Marchers explicitly demanded “jobs and freedom.” While the electrifying speech King gave on that day is more remembered for its stirring conclusion about his “dream” and about letting “freedom ring,” the prepared remarks at the beginning of the speech reveal even more of King’s brilliance and the depth of his political thought.
The Jesuit Relations are the most important documents attesting to the encounter between Europeans and native North Americans in the seventeenth century. These annual reports of French missionaries from the Society of Jesus document the conversions—or attempted conversions—of the various indigenous peoples in what is today the St. Lawrence River basin and the Great Lakes region. When they arrived on the banks of the St. Lawrence in 1625, French Jesuits were entering a continent still very much under control of First Nations peoples, who were divided by their own ethnic and linguistic differences. Even the catch-all terms “Huron” and “Iroquois” masked their nature as confederacies, composed of several distinct nations, who had joined together prior to the arrival of Europeans.
When the Jesuits made headway with one group, they usually lost initiative with the group’s rivals—and sometimes found themselves in the midst of a conflict that they could barely understand or appreciate. This section of the Relations concerns the torture and murder of Jean Brébeuf, who had lived among the Hurons at various points from the 1620s through the 1640s, observing their culture and systematically attempting to convert them to Catholicism. However, when an Iroquois raiding party invaded his settlement, the depth of the Hurons’ Christian commitment—and his own—would be tested.
Paul Ragueneau, “Relation of 1648–49,” in Allan Greer, ed., The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin–s, 2000), 112–115.
Anonymous French Missionaries
The Jesuit Relations are the most important set of documents attesting the encounter between Europeans and native North Americans in the 17th century. These annual reports of French missionaries from the Society of Jesus document the conversions—or attempted conversions—of the various native peoples in what is today the St. Lawrence River basin and the Great Lakes region. When they arrived on the banks of the St. Lawrence in 1625, French Jesuits were entering a continent still very much under control of First Nations peoples, who were divided by their own ethnic and linguistic differences. Even the catch-all terms “Huron” and “Iroquois” masked the existence of confederacies, composed of several distinct nations, who had joined together prior to the arrival of Europeans.
When the Jesuits made headway with one group, they usually lost initiative with the group’s rivals—and sometimes found themselves in the midst of a conflict that they could barely understand or appreciate. This section of one of the Relations concerns the torture and murder of Jean Brébeuf, who had lived among the Hurons at various points from the 1620s through the 1640s, observing their culture and systematically attempting to convert them to Catholicism. However, when an Iroquois raiding party invaded his settlement, the depth of the Hurons’ Christian commitment—and his own—would be tested.
Paul Ragueneau, Relation of 1648–49, from Allan Greer, The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America (Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2000), pp. 112–115.
Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 marked the climax, and the most dangerous point, of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. When US spy planes discovered the presence of missile launching pads in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy demanded their immediate destruction and followed up this demand with a naval blockade of the island—and continued reconnaissance missions in Cuban airspace—to prevent the arrival of Russian reinforcements. The world held its breath for several days as Soviet ships, bearing nuclear missiles, sailed steadily for Cuba. The globe teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation, and this exchange of letters reveals, from the Soviet and Cuban side, how very close to that brink the world actually came.
In 1781, while recovering from a fall from his horse, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) penned his Notes on the State of Virginia, a wide-ranging critical assessment of conditions in his home state in the successful aftermath of the American victory at Yorktown. At age thirty-eight, he already had a distinguished career, having served as a colonial legislator, a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, and governor of Virginia. He was also widely known and respected for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. In this document, Jefferson clearly expressed the Enlightenment era’s concern for the natural rights of mankind, which Jefferson identified as the rights of life, liberty, and happiness for all. But in his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson’s views on Africans and slavery seem to conflict with his earlier stated beliefs. This is more understandable when one considers the ambiguities and contradictions within Jefferson’s own life. Although he drafted legislation to end the slave trade in Virginia in 1778, Jefferson remained a slave owner until the day he died. And although he clearly regarded Africans as an inferior people, there is widespread evidence that he had an amorous affair with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves.
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden. University of North Carolina Press (1982): 138–43, 162–63.
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
The 1980s was the final decade of the Cold War. Whereas the period between 1942 and 1962 marked the most hostile stage and 1962 to 1979 was the era of détente, the final stage saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931). The invasion cost the Soviets dearly and taxed their military heavily. Gorbachev exerted efforts (successfully, it turned out) to democratize his country’s political system and decentralize the Soviet economy. His support of reformist Communist leaders in soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe led to their eventual secession from the USSR, and his reforms over several years between 1985 and 1991 led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Gorbachev’s counterpart in the United States, Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), was a former actor who became president in 1981 and presided over American foreign policy during this period, becoming one of the most popular modern presidents. In these excerpts, tension over weapons of mass destruction is still front and center in relations between the two countries, notwithstanding the imminent collapse of the Soviet system.
From Jussi Hanhimäki and Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 307–10.
John C. Calhoun
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the primary exponent of states’ rights and of the idea that ultimate sovereignty lay in the states and not with the federal government was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Born in 1782, he was not of the planter elite, but he made his way to the top by dint of his powerful intellect. He earned a law degree and practiced law in South Carolina before beginning his political career. Calhoun distinguished himself by the tight, forceful logic of his political and legal argumentation. He died in March of 1850 with an impressive record of governmental service to his credit, having served as a congressman, secretary of war, vice president, secretary of state, and senator. An ardent nationalist early on, he became a states’ rights spokesman and bitter political enemy of President Andrew Jackson. The defining contest between Jackson and Calhoun was the battle over the limits of the power of the federal government, which came to be known as the Nullification Controversy.
Register of Debates in Congress, vol. IX. Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton (1833): 532, 534, 535, 537–40.
Josiah Strong (1847–1916) was an eminent Congregationalist minister, head of the influential American Evangelical Alliance, and a leading spokesman of a movement for social activism among white Protestant Christians known as the Social Gospel. In essence, Strong believed that a Protestant America was destined to lead the world to an earthly Christian Kingdom of faith, prosperity, and social justice. He held that American superiority was based on its Anglo-Saxon “race,” its pure, spiritual Protestant Christianity, its love of civil liberty, and its material abundance. Hence he supported a specific ethnic and cultural view of who constitutes a good American, and he combined this with a social Darwinist and imperialist view of America’s racial and cultural superiority and its world mission. The work excerpted here, Our Country, was published in 1885, republished more than once, and translated into numerous languages.
Josiah Strong. Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, rev. ed. New York: American Home Missionary Society (1891): 15, 20, 44–45, 54–61.
J. R. McNeill is an environmental historian at Georgetown University. In Something New Under the Sun (2000), McNeill provides a broad and comprehensive history of environmental change in the twentieth century, which he claims was the most intense period of environmental change in world history, change that was overwhelmingly the result of human action. In the excerpt that follows, McNeill explains why the twentieth century was so peculiar and why a historical understanding is both desirable and crucial for a more complete appreciation of environmental conditions as we enter the new millennium.
From J. R. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World, 3–5, 16–17. Copyright © 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.