Choose any ONE question. Please indicate which essay you have chosen (for example, No. 4). Please cite your sources in end notes, so that your documentation will not count as part of your text. Your sources are limited to the materials we used in class – the Foner textbook, your own notes, my lecture notes, the Crossroads essays, and the three supplementary books. Do NOT use any other sources.
ESSAYS: Choose any one.
1. The editor of the British magazine The Economist asks you to assess the historical significance of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945). Discuss FDR’S pivotal role in U.S. history.
2. To mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), the editor of The Economist asks you to assess his significance. Examine the themes of Reagan’s presidency and compare and contrast him with his hero and role model, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
3. How did the Cold War (1945-1991) shape American politics, government and society? Were its effects positive or negative?
4. During the Federal Convention of 1787, Edmund Randolph denounced the presidency as “the foetus of monarchy.” In the twentieth century, presidents sought to expand the presidency’s powers to deal with domestic and international problems, overcoming challenges from the co-equal branches of government. For this question, think about the Presidents between Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) and Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974). After a generation of acceptance of what the late historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., called the “imperial presidency,” how and why did the Watergate crisis of 1973-1974 bring an abrupt end to the presidency of Richard M. Nixon? What doubt, if any, did Nixon’s fall cast on how his predecessors used presidential power?
5. Beginning in the 1950s, leaders of the civil rights movement sought to make the United States live up to the promises embodied in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments (ratified in 1865, 1868, and 1870). In the process, the civil rights movement created a model for other advocates for rights, such as women’s rights and the rights of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people. Discuss how the civil rights movement sought to close the gap between American ideals and the actual state of things in America.
6. For much of its history, the American people considered the United States invulnerable from foreign attack. Two events challenged this complacent belief. The first was the cold war of 1945-1991, when Americans lived with constant fear of a nuclear attack from the U.S.S.R.; the second was the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Consider the consequences of these very different events for American values, including civil liberties; discuss how each event affected the balance between security and liberty in American life.
7. Is government a versatile tool with which to solve the nation’s problems, as most Americans agreed between 1933 and 1981? Or is it government the chief problem, as Ronald Reagan argued and most Americans came to believe since 1981? Or is this stark contrast too stark to be convincing? Discuss the argument over government and its role in American life.
8. A central theme of American history is the changing definition of who counts as part of “We, the People of the United States.” Discuss how, in the twentieth century, the group whom the historian Henry Adams called “the political population” has expanded to include such groups as women, African-Americans, and members of other minorities.
9. Especially in the twentieth century, courts – particularly the Supreme Court – have taken leadership roles in facing such enduring American questions as the meaning of equality under the law and the rights of the individual. Discuss up to three examples of key cases in which the Court has expanded the Constitution’s protection of individual rights and the meaning under the Constitution of the phrase “equal protection of the laws.”
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