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America's Political Beliefs Have Been Shaped in Time of Crisis and by Overpassing Critical Events

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A countries’ political culture includes the beliefs, values, and norms that define the relationship between citizens and government, and citizens to one another (ushistory.org). Throughout our nation’s history, events have occurred that have altered its political culture. The sum of these events have created the political culture we see in our country today.

The economic boom that was the roaring twenties, a time when traditional values were challenged by jazz and flappers, and conspicuous consumption was the name of the game, came to a halt on “Black Tuesday”, October 29, 1929. As PBS states “The imbalance between the rich and the poor, with 0.1 percent of society earning the same total income as 42 percent, combined with production of more and more goods and rising personal debt, could not be sustained.”This led into the worst economic downturn in United States history. During this time, unemployment went from 3.2% in 1929 to 24.9% in 1933 (Watkins).

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The Great Depression not only affected the nation economically, but also socially and politically. President Herbert Hoover did not view the decline as a big deal, claiming it would be over in 60 days. Hoover believed in individualism, and thus did not believe the federal government should offer aid to the poverty stricken nation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, offered a New Deal (PBS). “Roosevelt’s New Deal permanently changed the federal government’s relationship to the U.S. populace (History).”

The New Deal created social and economic programs to aid the nation that are still in use today. He created the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), which allowed the public to have faith in the banking system because their deposits would be ensured by the federal government. Today, the majority of Americans use banks. He also created the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), which helped the deforestation in the nation and helped reverse the effects of the Dust Bowl. Although the CCC does not still exist today, it was a forerunner for environmental consideration politically (Hansan).

One of the most prominent systems to come as a consequence of the Great Depression was the federal welfare system. As the constitutional rights foundation states about welfare prior to the New Deal:

A federal welfare system was a radical break from the past. Americans had always prided themselves on having a strong sense of individualism and self-reliance. Many believed that those who couldn’t take care of themselves were to blame for their own misfortunes. During the 19th century, local and state governments as well as charities established institutions such as poorhouses and orphanages for destitute individuals and families. Conditions in these institutions were often deliberately harsh so that only the truly desperate would apply.

When President Roosevelt created a National Welfare System, he also altered the national’s political culture. No longer did people without work due to lack of jobs or lack of ability to work go hungry and homeless. While this program was much needed during the Great Depression, is a federal program still necessary today? Unemployment is down to 5.5%, aid for those in need could be taken care of at either a state level or by local churches and charities. So why hasn’t it? Because our political culture was altered. The citizens of the United States now expect welfare to come from the national government, and no one bats an eye that this is money that could be spent on a local level and the government could be using it in other places. But hey, I’m not dissing the system.

Another event that altered the political culture of America was Reconstruction following the Civil War. During this time three amendments were passed to incorporate African Americans into the flow of democracy in the United States.

The Thirteenth Amendment was adopted in 1865 and abolished slavery formally. President Abraham Lincoln had already ended slavery in all rebellious states in 1863, and it was banned in the District of Colombia in 1862. When originally proposed in 1864, the amendment failed to get adequate votes, but the next year it won with a vote of 119 in favor and 56 opposed. Congress required all rebellious states to ratify the amendment as a condition for regaining federal representation.

The second amendment adopted during reconstruction was the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment provided equal rights and citizenship to every person born in the United States. It was adopted in 1868.

Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870. It prevented the denial of citizens to vote based on color, race, or previous condition of servitude. However, the amendment did not prohibit practices such as literacy tests and poll taxes, which were highly taken advantage of in the southern states (United States Senate).

These amendments brought revolutionary change to our nation’s political culture. For the first time in our nation’s history, African Americans, former slaves, could actively choose and participate in politics and have rights as citizens of the United States. As West Georgia University states:

Congress’ Reconstruction plan dramatically changed politics in the South. More than 700,000 black voters were enfranchised, and about 15% of potential white voters were disqualified. As a result, Republican governments came to power in each southern state. Southern states were considered to be under reconstruction so long as they had Republican governments (the time that Republicans held power varied by state). The new state constitutions brought revolutionary change to the South. They were established on the principle that all men are created equal, and under them for the first time blacks were to be treated as equals before the law. The constitutions also provided social services (hospitals and orphanages, for example), and put money into railroad expansion. Most importantly, for the first time in the South, these constitutions established free statewide public school systems, open to blacks as well as to whites.

Reconstruction was quite tiring for all involved: northerners who were putting money and troops into it, southerners who were fighting it, and the government who was controlling it. In the end, Reconstruction did not last very long, in fact, things got very bad before they got better again because of Jim Crow laws and segregation.

By the fall of 1876, only three states still held a Republican government (Reconstruction was only said to be still occurring in a state if it had a Republican government)-South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. When President Hayes pulled troops from these states, the hand that took over power in them were white-supremacist conservative democrats, which was not too great for the freedmen living there (West Georgia University).

Despite Reconstruction being viewed by some as a failure because many of its accomplishments were stripped away, three amendments came from it, which provided rights to all men. In addition, it greatly altered the political culture of the United States immensely during 1865-1877, but it also had lasting effects on political culture. It provided a foothold for the belief that all men were created equal, and that no matter what race, color, or ethnicity, all men deserve equal rights.

In conclusion, the Great Depression and its aftermath, and Reconstruction following the Civil War greatly altered the political culture of the United States. Reconstruction provided freedoms to newly freed slaves, and The Great Depression formed government programs some of which are still alive today. Although our political culture if often changing, certain events have impacted it eternally.

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