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During the 1800s, a British policy whereby the British boarded American ships in search of British naval deserters, whom they would force (impress) back into service. Often naturalized or native-born Americans were also seized, provoking outrage in America. Impressment was one of a string of British violations against U.S. neutrality rights that helped spark the War of 1812.
Indentured servitude
The system by which adult males—usually English—bound themselves to labor on plantations for a fixed number of years in exchange for transport to the colonies and eventual freedom. Some immigrants came willingly, while others were manipulated and kidnapped; often, the indentured servents were never able to secure their release due to debt. The first Africans brought to the colonies were also indentured servants, but in the seventeenth century, as massive, labor-intensive tobacco plantations spread throughout the South, slavery became the preferred means of labor.
Independent Treasury Bill
Signed into law in 1840. The bill established an independent treasury to hold public funds in reserve and prevent excessive lending by state banks, thus guarding against inflation. The Independent Treasury Bill was a response to the panic of 1837, which many blamed on the risky and excessive lending practices of state banks.
Indian Removal Act
Granted Jackson the funds and authority to move Native Americans to assigned lands in the West. Passed in 1830, the Indian Removal Act primarily targeted the Cherokee tribe in Georgia as part of the federal government’s broad plan to claim Native American lands inside the boundaries of the states.
Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies)
A radical labor organization founded in 1905. The IWW advocated revolution and massive societal reorganization. The organization faded away around 1920.
The increase of available paper money and bank credit, leading to higher prices and less-valuable currency.
Interstate Commerce Act
Passed in 1887. The Interstate Commerce Act forbade price discrimination and other monopolistic practices of the railroads.
Intolerable Acts
A combination of the four Coercive Acts—meant to punish the colonists after the 1773 Boston Tea Party—and the unrelated Quebec Act. Passed in 1774, the Intolerable Acts were seen as the blueprints for a British plan to deny the Americans representative government and were the impetus for the convening of the First Continental Congress.
Iran-Contra affair
A series of investigations in 1987 exposed evidence that the U.S. had been selling arms to the anti-American government in Iran and using the profits from these sales to secretly and illegally finance the Contras in Nicaragua. (The Contras were a rebel group fighting against the communist-linked Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.) Oliver North, a member of the National Security Council, had organized the operation from within the White House. There was no proof that Ronald Reagan was aware of North’s actions.
Iron curtain
A term coined by Winston Churchill for the area of Eastern Europe controlled indirectly by the USSR, usually through puppet governments. This area was cut off from noncommunist Europe.
Andrew Jackson
President from 1829 to 1837. A strong-willed and determined leader, Jackson opposed federal support for internal improvements and the Second Bank of the United States and fought for states’ rights and Native American removal. His opponents nicknamed him “King Andrew I” because of his extensive and unprecedented use of the veto power, which they deemed to be tyrannical and against the spirit of democracy. Before becoming president, Jackson gained popularity as a general who launched aggressive military campaigns against Native Americans and led the U.S. to a stunning victory over British forces at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.
John Jay
One of the authors of The Federalist Papers. Jay was instrumental in the drafting of the Constitution.
Jay’s Treaty
1795 treaty which provided for the removal of British troops from American land and opened up limited trade with the British West Indies, but said nothing about British seizure of American ships or the impressment of American sailors. While the American public criticized the treaty for favoring Britain, it was arguably the greatest diplomatic feat of the Washington administration, since it preserved peace with Britain.
Jazz Age
Nickname for the 1920s due to the development and flourishing of jazz music, as well as the highly publicized (if exaggerated) accounts of wild parties, drinking, and dancing.
Thomas Jefferson
Third president of the United States (1801–1809). Jefferson resigned as George Washington’s first secretary of state in opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s continued efforts to centralize power in the national government. Along with James Madison, Jefferson took up the cause of the strict constructionists and the Republican Party, advocating the limitation of federal power. He organized the national government according to Republican ideals, doubled the size of the nation through the Louisiana Purchase, and struggled to maintain American neutrality in foreign affairs.
Andrew Johnson
President from 1865 (after Lincoln’s assassination) until 1869. Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction in the South was considered too lenient by the Radical Republicans in Congress; as a result, Congress fought his initiatives and undertook a more retributive Reconstruction plan. Johnson’s relationship with Congress declined steadily during his presidency, culminating in impeachment proceedings in 1868. He was ultimately acquitted.
Lyndon B. Johnson
John F. Kennedy’s vice president until Kennedy’s assassination made him president in 1963. He stayed in office until 1968, when he declined to seek reelection. Johnson is best known for his attempts to enact his Great Society program at home and his decision to commit troops to Vietnam.
Joint Chiefs of Staff
Created by FDR in February 1942 to oversee the rapidly growing military. The Joint Chiefs included representatives from the army, navy, and air force.
Joint-stock companies
Formed in the absence of support from the British Crown, joint-stock companies accrued funding for colonization through the sale of public stock. These companies dominated English colonization throughout the seventeenth century.
Judicial review
Established by Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison (1803). The principle of judicial review held that the Supreme Court could declare an act of Congress unconstitutional.
Judiciary Act of 1789
Created the American court system. The act established a federal district court in each state and gave the Supreme Court final jurisdiction in all legal matters.
Kansas-Nebraska Act
Passed in 1854. The act divided the Nebraska territory into two parts, Kansas and Nebraska, and left the issue of slavery in the territories to be decided by popular sovereignty. It nullified the prohibition of slavery above the 36º30’ latitude established by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
John F. Kennedy
Democrat, served as president from 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. A young and charismatic leader, Kennedy cultivated a glorified image in the eyes of the American public. His primary achievements came in the realm of international relations, most notably the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
King George III
King of England from 1760–1820. Colonists were torn between loyalty to the king and resistance to acts carried out in his name. After George III rejected the Olive Branch Petition, the colonists considered him a tyrant.
Martin Luther King Jr.
A prominent Civil Rights leader who rose to fame during the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott. Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, King tirelessly led the struggle for integration and equality through nonviolent means. He was assassinated in 1968.
Henry Kissinger
National security adviser and, later, secretary of state under President Nixon. A major proponent of détente, Kissinger often met secretly with communist leaders in efforts to improve East-West cooperation.
Kitchen Cabinet
Jackson’s presidential cabinet, dubbed so because the members were his close political allies and many had questionable political skill. Instead of serving as a policy forum to help shape the president’s agenda, as previous cabinets had done, Jackson’s cabinet assumed a mostly passively supportive role.
Knights of Labor
One of the first major labor organizations in the U.S., founded in 1869. The Knights fell into decline after one of several leaders was executed for killing a policeman in the Haymarket riot of1886.
Know-Nothing Party
The American Party. The Know-Nothings took the place of the Whig Party between 1854 and 1856, after the latter’s demise. They focused on issues of antislavery, anti-Catholicism, nativism, and temperance. The party collapsed during the latter half of the 1850s, in part because of the rise of the Republican Party.
Korean War
On June 24, 1950, troops from the Soviet-supported People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, known as North Korea, invaded the Republic of Korea, known as South Korea. Without asking for a declaration of war, Truman committed U.S. troops as part of a United Nations “police action.” The Korean War was conducted by predominantly American forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Limited fighting continued until June 1953, when an armistice restored the prewar border between North and South Korea.
Korematsu v. U.S.
In this 1944 case, the Supreme Court upheld FDR’s 1942 executive order for the evacuation of all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast into internment camps. The camps operated until March 1946.
Ku Klux Klan (KKK)
A southern vigilante group founded in 1866 in Tennessee. By 1868, the Klan operated in all Southern states. The group often conducted raids and lynchings to intimidate black voters and Republican officials. The Klan faded away in the late nineteenth century, but resurfaced in 1915. Capitalizing on middle-class Protestant dismay at changing social and economic conditions in America, the Klan took root throughout the South as well as in Western and Midwestern cities, and was dominated by white native-born Protestants. Membership and influence declined again in 1925, when corruption among Klan leaders was exposed.
A “hands-off” approach to the economy, allowing markets to regulate themselves. “Laissez-faire” means “let do” in French.
League of Nations
Woodrow Wilson’s idea for a collective security body meant to provide a forum for the resolution of conflict and to prevent future world wars. The League’s covenant was written into the Treaty of Versailles. The U.S. Senate, however, voted against joining the League, making it a weak international force.
Robert E. Lee
The commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. Lee was a brilliant strategist, commander, and fighter. Many historians believe that the Confederacy held out as long as it did only because of Lee’s skill and the loyalty of his troops.
Lend-Lease Act
Passed in March 1941. The act allowed the president to lend or lease supplies to any nation deemed “vital to the defense of the United States,” such as Britain, and was a key move in support of the Allied cause before the U.S. formally entered World War II. Lend-lease was extended to Russia in November 1941 after Germany invaded Russia.
Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer
A series of twelve letters published by John Dickinson. The letters denounced the Townshend Duties by demonstrating that many of the arguments employed against the Stamp Act were valid against the Townshend Duties as well. The letters inspired anti-British sentiment throughout the colonies.
Lewis and Clark
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The two were commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. They traveled 3,000 miles between 1804 and 1806, collecting scientific data and specimens and charting the territory to the west of the Mississippi. Their journey spurred national interest in exploration and settlement of the West.
Liberal Republicans
Formed in 1872 when a faction split from the ranks of the Republican Party in opposition to President Ulysses S. Grant. Many Liberals argued that the task of Reconstruction was complete and should be put aside. Their defection served a major blow to the Republican Party and shattered what congressional enthusiasm remained for Reconstruction.
The Liberator
An influential abolitionist newspaper published by radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison from 1831 to 1865. The Liberator expressed controversial opinions, such as the belief that blacks deserved legal rights equal to those of whites.
Limited Test-Ban Treaty
Agreed to in July 1963 by JFK and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The treaty prohibited undersea and atmospheric testing of nuclear weaponry and was characteristic of a period of lessening tensions—known as détente—between the world’s two superpowers.
Abraham Lincoln
President of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln’s eloquent and forceful performance in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 earned him the Republican nomination for president in 1860. His victory in the election precipitated the secession of the first southern states, paving the way for the Civil War. A moderate Republican, Lincoln’s primary goal during and after the Civil War was to restore the Union. He began planning for a lenient Reconstruction in 1863, but was assassinated before it could be fully implemented.
Lincoln-Douglas Debates
A series of seven debates held from August 21 and October 15, 1858 between senatorial candidates, the debates pitted Abraham Lincoln, a free-soil Republican, against Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat in favor of popular sovereignty. The debates were hard-fought, highly attended, and ultimately inconclusive, but they crystallized the dominant positions of the North in regard to slavery and propelled Lincoln into the national arena.
Henry Cabot Lodge
Leader of a group of senators known as “reservationists” during the 1919 debate over the League of Nations. Lodge and his followers supported U.S. membership in the League of Nations only if major revisions were made to the covenant (part of the Treaty of Versailles). President Wilson, however, refused to compromise, and the treaty was rejected. The U.S. never joined the League of Nations.
Huey Long
A Senator from Louisiana and one of the most vocal critics of FDR’s New Deal. Long’s liberal “Share Our Wealth” program proposed a 100 percent tax on all income over $1 million, and large redistribution measures. His passionate orations won him as many followers as enemies: he was assassinated in September of 1935 at the capitol building in Baton Rouge.
Loose constructionists
The core of the Federalist Pary, led by Alexander Hamilton. They favored a loose reading of the Constitution—especially of the elastic clause—in order to expand the powers of the central government to include implied constitutional powers, not just enumerated ones.
Lost generation
A small but prominent circle of writers, poets, and intellectuals during the 1920s. Artists like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound grew disillusioned with America’s postwar culture, finding it overly materialistic and spiritually void. Many became expatriates, and their writings often expressed their disgust with America.
Louisiana Purchase
Territory purchased from Napolean by the U.S. in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the nation and opened the West to exploration and settlement. But the new aquisition also caused strife: border disputes with foreign powers as well as congressional debates over the admission of new states from the region (whether the states would be slave-holding or free).
A British vessel sunk by a German U-boat in May 1915, killing more than 120 American citizens. The sinking of the Lusitania prompted President Woodrow Wilson to plan for a military buildup, and encouraged American alliance with Britain and France in opposition to Germany.
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