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Conservapedia:American History Lecture Ten

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Let’s review the midterm exam results.

Students’ ages differ greatly. Students’ backgrounds differ greatly also. Some students remember history facts better than others. Some have taken history before. Some can think more critically than others. It is not so important how students do compared to others, but whether a student does as well as he or she can.

Three ingredients to a test score:

  • time spent studying
  • how effective your method of studying is
  • how clever you are in taking the exam

On a 30 question exam, each of the above categories is worth a few more correct answers. Add them up and you can boost your score by 6 points or more on a 30-question exam, or 100 points or more on the SAT II.

I will give a prize to the student who improves the most by the end of class. What matters most is how well you can do at the end.

Consider the cartoon question on the midterm exam. Most students answered it too quickly. A cartoon is a mystery, like an unsolved crime. As soon as a cop arrives on a crime scene, he doesn’t jump to a conclusion about who committed the crime. He gathers all the evidence. He considers possibilities. He wants an explanation that fits all the facts. He looks for a motive. Approach cartoons the same way.

The model answers explain this question and the others.

More generally, look for a purpose to a question, particularly the cartoons. Develop a sense of historical purpose in these exams. Prefer an answer choice that adds meaning and purpose to a question.

Be sure to go over your exam and understand why you missed your answers. Was it due to lack of time spent studying? Was it due to lack of effectiveness in how you study, such not enough quizzing of yourself? Or the problem during the test itself, when you had the knowledge but approach the question poorly?

One more exam-taking tip: identify the time period of a history question before trying to answer it.


We have covered a great deal of material spanning hundreds of years. We need to try to organize all these facts in our mind somehow. Develop a frame of reference to do this. You can choose whatever frame of reference you like. For me, my frame of reference in remembering each president is to think about how conservative he was. Every few decades we have a conservative president:

1788 – George Washington
1816 – James Monroe
1884 – Grover Cleveland (a conservative Democrat who was pro-gold, anti-union, and anti-government-spending)
1920 – Warren Harding
1980 – Ronald Reagan

Then I fill in the other presidents in between, with reasons why they were not so conservative.

For example, Thomas Jefferson was not conservative because he bought new territory, engaged in the Tripoli War, continued Hamilton’s programs and imposed the Embargo Act against trade with Europe. You may find this approach helpful in remembering all of American History since George Washington.

Onto to 1920. Warren Harding was a conservative president because he nominated 4 conservative Justices to the Supreme Court, some of whom later invalidated key parts of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)’s New Deal. Harding also supported Prohibition, which was a conservative Christian women’s movement. Harding opposed the League of Nations, which was a form of “world government” that conservatives today still dislike. Under President Harding, the government was very prosperous, just as it was under conservative James Monroe. But President Harding died from a health problem while in office, and Calvin Coolidge took over. After him was President Herbert Hoover, who extended the Republican dominance over the White House.

Then, in 1929, the stock market suddenly crashed. The era of prosperity was over. The Great Depression had begun. Historians blame this partly on speculators driving up the stock market, but actually no one really knows what the cause of the Depression was. Unemployment increased until it exceeded 20% in 1933, meaning that one out of every five families was out of work and likely without money also.

The Great Depression caused voters to switch to the Democratic Party, which took control of the Presidency (through FDR) and Congress in 1932. They ended Prohibition by passing an amendment to repeal it. They began enacting many new laws and programs to try to generate jobs.

The economy improved a little from 1933 to 1940, but the depression never really ended. In 1937, FDR became so frustrated with the Supreme Court’s invalidation of his New Deal programs that he proposed his “court-packing” scheme to appoint new Justices to the Supreme Court who would be favorable to him. Even members of FDR’s own Democratic Party opposed this violation of the checks and balances in the Constitution, and FDR lost much of his credibility. He weakened himself with this proposal, which never passed.

The only end to the Great Depression was going to be our entry into war: World War II.

At first, the American public was very reluctant to get involved in World War II. FDR did not have the public support necessary to commit to such a big war. However, there is evidence that our code-breakers had broken the Japanese codes used to communicate their military messages, and that we knew Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. FDR did nothing to prevent the attack, and news of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941 outraged the American public against Japan. The Constitution authorizes only Congress to declare war, which it did on the very next day (Dec. 8th). Only one congressman voted against the declaration of war. Three days later, on Dec. 11th, Congress declared war on Germany too. That was the last time in history that Congress has officially declared war.

The Japanese proved to be tenacious fighters and there was much fear in the United States of Japanese nationalism. FDR forcibly moved Japanese-Americans in California to internment camps to keep an eye on their suspected spy activity, despite their American citizenship. The Supreme Court upheld this violation of their constitutional rights in Korematsu v. United States. This reflected how the Supreme Court has always deferred to the other branches of government on military matters ever since President Andrew Jackson defied a Supreme Court ruling about the treatment of Indians in Worcester v. Georgia.

Some feared that Germany was developing an atomic bomb and so the United States government initiated the Manhattan Project to develop our own atomic bomb. As soon as it was tested and ready, President Truman ordered it to be dropped on Japanese cities in 1945. Japan then surrendered and our war with it was over. (Our war with Germany had already ended.)

As president, Truman was an impulsive and not very bright man. He still holds the record for the lowest approval rating (only 23% of the country approving of his performance) in his last year in office (1952). When there was an ugly strike against a steel company, he impulsively ordered a government takeover of the entire company (the Supreme Court later invalidated his action). When a reporter wrote a negative review about his daughter’s piano recital, Truman said he wanted to punch the reporter in the face for it. When General Douglas MacArthur wanted to be more aggressive in the Korean War, Truman simply fired him. Drop the atom bomb on Japan? Do it, Truman decided quickly, and later said he slept a good night’s sleep the night he decided. Truman’s impulsiveness may remind you of President Andrew Jackson.

In the first election after World War II in 1946, while Truman was president, Republicans won back control of Congress. Truman had been slow in repealing the wage and price controls in place during WW II, and Republicans benefited politically from his mistake. The Republicans then passed an amendment to the Constitution limiting future presidents to two terms in office, so that no future presidents could break Washington’s precedent of serving only two terms. FDR served nearly four terms, and Republicans made sure that would not happen again.

In 1947, Truman announced what became known as Truman Doctrine to counter the communist threat: “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.” Assistance shall be “primarily through economic and financial aid.” Also in 1947, a theory of “containment” to keep communism from spreading beyond Russia became popular. But communism continued to spread. China became communist in 1949.

In the late 1950s, communism spread to a country less than 100 miles from the United States: Cuba. Cuba was the country at the center of the Spanish-American war under President McKinley. We hold a military base there to this day (Guantanamo Bay). But in 1959, Fidel Castro led a communist revolution on the island and subsequently killed his opponents. He has ruled the country as a brutal dictator ever since, imprisoning or killing those who disagree with him.

In the 1950s and especially just prior to the revolution, many Cubans fled to the United States to escape Castro. Ever since many have also fled Cuba by boat, risking their lives in the ocean between Cuba and Florida. These emigrants from Cuba are some of the most fervent opponents of communism because they see how communism destroyed their own country. Many of them long to return to Cuba to restore freedom to their nation.

President Eisenhower developed a secret or “covert” plan to free Cuba from its communist dictatorship. When Kennedy became president after the 1960 election, he continued the plan. It consisted of having about a thousand “Cuban exiles” who had been forced to leave Cuba form an army to invade and overthrow Castro. But President Kennedy backed away from the plan at the last minute, and apparently someone in the United States government leaked the planned invasion to Castro. He waited with a much bigger force and captured or killed the Cuban exiles when they invaded at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961. President Kennedy was thereby humiliated in front of the world.

President Kennedy was himself assassinated two years later in 1963 by a communist sympathizer, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had once tried to become a citizen of the Soviet Union and who was in favor of Castro. An official commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren later concluded that Oswald acted alone, but unanswered questions remain concerning the assassination of President Kennedy. An independent poll conducted in 2003 (by ABC) showed that 68% of Americans believed that the government covered up the real truth about this assassination and that Oswald did not act alone.