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This sweeping series features three award-winning professors sharing their insights into this nation's past in their own areas of special interest, from European settlement and the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, 19th-century industrialization, and two world wars. Gain a lucid picture of the factors that enabled the United States to become the most powerful democratic republic in history.

The History of the United States, 2nd Edition is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (82 episodes). The series first aired on October 6, 2003.

The History of the United States, 2nd Edition is available for streaming on the website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch The History of the United States, 2nd Edition on demand atAmazon online.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 82 Episodes
October 6, 2003
Documentary & Biography
Cast: Allen C. Guelzo, Gary W. Gallagher
Watch Episodes

The History of the United States, 2nd Edition Full Episode Guide

  • 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.

  • Bill Clinton's eight-year administration 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 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

  • 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.

  • 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 Tehran hostage crisis. Ronald 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.

  • 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.

  • By the standards of his later Republican successors, President Richard 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.

  • In the late 1960s, the 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.

  • By 1968, half a million American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam. 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 finally withdrew in 1973.

  • 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. Media power transformed the nature of politics, lobbying, and even the military, as the armed forces discovered to its detriment in Vietnam.

  • President John F. Kennedy's escalation of the Cold War was offset by a new concern for legislating on behalf of the poor and minorities. After Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, pursued antipoverty and antidiscrimination legislation and further expanded the federal government.

  • 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. Disputes over busing and affirmative action clouded bitter political disagreements. The interracial civil rights coalition broke up in the face of militant Black Power.

  • 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.

  • 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 mutually assured destruction caused anxiety and an intense moral debate about their legitimacy inside the United States.

  • Aircraft carriers became the crucial weapon of the Pacific war. 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.

  • 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.

  • Hitler's 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.

  • President Franklin Roosevelt's 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 showed that he had overstepped his mandate.

  • The collapse of share prices on Wall Street in 1929 ruined many and destroyed the savings of thousands more. From 1929 to 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 became the scapegoat for these disasters.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 army grew rapidly, taking the field in large numbers in 1918 under the leadership of General Pershing.

  • Manufacturers began to mass-produce products they could sell cheaply and in large numbers through nationwide advertising campaigns. Henry Ford perfected the automobile assembly line in 1914, reduced the price of cars, and raised his workers' wages, which increased their loyalty and made them potential buyers.

  • Progressive reformers in the early 1900s tried to increase honesty and efficiency in business and government. Theodore Roosevelt, the first president to embrace the Progressive outlook, established the principle of presidential initiative in progressive legislative programs and created a template for his successors to increase federal government power over the states.

  • 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.

  • American cities 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Middle-class Americans emphasized differences between the two sexes. Doctors said political rights for women would make them mannish, threatening differences embedded in nature itself. Early advocates of suffrage, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, argued that women, with their nurturing virtues, would purify and ennoble the political world.

  • When Reconstruction ended in 1876, southern "Redeemers" took political control of the South, passing legislation enforcing racial segregation. 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.

  • 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.

  • The first transcontinental railroad was finished in 1869. 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.

  • In the late 19th century, the scale of American industry increased dramatically. John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie built massive corporations and dominated entire sectors of the economy. With brilliant inventors, 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.

  • 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 episode 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.

  • Congress took control of Reconstruction policy in early 1867. Ulysses S. Grant, who supported Congress, won the presidency in 1868. This episode 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.

  • Debates in the North over how best to bring the Confederate states back into the Union began while the war still raged. This episode 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.

  • 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 episode 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. It also describes Lincoln's assassination and gives a reckoning of the war's cost.

  • This episode examines the experiences of African Americans on both sides, addressing, among other topics, black soldiers in US 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.

  • 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.

  • This episode shifts from the battlefield to the home front. We look at diplomacy and the blockade. The episode 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.

  • 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 episode 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.

  • This episode stresses that either side could have won the Civil War and offers a careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses each brought to the early stages of the fight. The war 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.

  • Deep South states seceded in response to Lincoln's election, 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. This episode also describes the formation of the Confederate States of America.

  • This episode highlights the failure of national institutions to push compromise on slavery and its extension into the territories. It 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Declining profitability before 1800 suggested that slavery would gradually die out, 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.

  • 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. Alexis de Tocqueville, in "Democracy in America," gave a favorable reading to the American future.

  • 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, 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.

  • 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. Biddle now began shortening credit and triggered a major economic depression.

  • 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.

  • Three factors played a role in creating a Christian America: the resiliency of revival, the absorption of virtue, and the substitution of millennialism.

  • 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.

  • 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, however, chose to stay in the cities they first entered, and their numbers soon swelled the size of the American urban population.

  • The War of 1812 collapsed the US 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.

  • In 1812, Madison sent a request to Congress for a declaration of war, but 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.

  • 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.

  • With renewed war in Europe on the horizon, Napoleon offered to sell the entire Louisiana province 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 guaranteeing the Democratic-Republicans would win.

  • The surprise development in the new republic's political life was the formation of political parties. 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.

  • For Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury, the republic depended on developing the republic's systems of finance, manufacturing, and commerce. Opposing him were Thomas Jefferson and the southern agricultural interests in Congress, both of whom believed that the future of America lay in independent domestic agriculture.

  • The money, credit, weapons, and French naval and military resources forced the British to shift the focus of their war. British 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • In 1765, Parliament moved to levy direct taxes on the colonies and to regulate colonial trade so that it profited Britain. Protests by the legislatures of the North American colonies led to outright conflict, the suspension of colonial governments by Parliament, the creation of a Continental Congress, and, finally, an organized military confrontation at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. #History