USAs historie

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A Nation Transformed

At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States became a nation transformed.

On that date, at that time, an airliner crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. At 9:03, a second airplane hit the South Tower. Smoke filled the air. Steel, glass, ash, and bodies fell below. The Twin Towers, where up to 50,000 people worked each day, both collapsed less than 90 minutes later.

At 9:37 that same morning, a third airplane slammed into the Pentagon. At 10:03, a fourth airplane crashed in a field in southern Pennsylvania. It had been aimed at the United States Capitol or the White House, and was forced down by heroic passengers armed with the knowledge that America was under attack.

More than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center; 125 died at the Pentagon; 256 died on the four planes. The death toll surpassed that at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

This tragedy was the product of 19 young Arabs. These men were identified as extreme Islamic terrorists. Some of the men had been living in the US for more than a year.

Who is the Enemy?

Who is this enemy that was capable of causing horrible damage to the United States?

We now know that these attacks were carried out by Islamist extremists. The 9/11 attack was organized by Osama Bin Ladin.

Seizing on symbols of Islam’s past greatness, Bin Ladin promises to restore pride to people who consider themselves the victims of foreign invaders. He appeals to Islamic people who feel uneasy about modernity and globalization.

Bin Ladin also stresses problems he has with the United States. He spoke out against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, which is the home of Islam’s holiest sites, and against other U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Equality for African American equality became an increasingly important issue after WWII. During the war, African Americans had challenged unfair practices in the military services and in the work force. Now, African American servicemen returned home from war, many intent on rejecting second-class citizenship.

In the South, African Americans in the 1950s still enjoyed few, if any, civil and political rights.  In general, they could not vote.  Those who tried to register faced the likelihood of beatings, loss of job, loss of credit, or being kicked off their land. Occasional lynchings still occurred.  Jim Crow laws enforced segregation of the races in streetcars, trains, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, recreational facilities, and employment.

African Americans achieved some equality when the Supreme Court declared that public schools should be integrated. This court case is known as “Brown v Board of Education”.

Another milestone in the civil rights movement occurred in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American seamstress sat down in the front of a bus in a section reserved for whites-only. Ordered to move to the back, she refused. Police came and arrested her for violating the segregation laws.  African American leaders, who had been waiting for just such a case, organized a boycott of the bus system.

Martin Luther King Jr., a young minister of the Baptist church where the boycotters met, became a spokesman for the protest.

“There comes a time,” he said, “when people get tired … of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression.” King was arrested, as he would be again and again. But in the end, the boycott proved to be successful for the protesters and King became known as the most powerful, thoughtful, and eloquent leader of the movement.

The United States played a major role in global affairs in the years immediately after World War II.

The most important issue after WWII was the Cold War. It grew out of disagreements between the United States and the Soviet Union over which type of government and economic system produced the most liberty, equality, and prosperity.

The Cold War developed as differences about the shape of the post-war world created suspicion and distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Public statements defined the beginning of the Cold War. In 1946 Stalin declared that international peace was impossible “under the present capitalist development of the world economy.”

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a dramatic speech in Fulton, Missouri, with Truman sitting on the platform.  “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” Churchill said, “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” Britain and the United States, he declared, had to work together to counter the Soviet threat.

Vietnam War

In the mid-1960s, the United States sent troops to defend South Vietnam against a Communist government based in North Vietnam. North Vietnam was backed by Russia. It was here, in Vietnam, that the Cold War played itself out.

American involvement in Vietnam escalated greatly but was not enough to prevent the South from collapsing in 1975. The war cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It also caused bitter divisions at home, making Americans wary of further foreign entanglements.

The growing imbalance between rich and poor, the over-production of products, and the rising reliance on credit leading to huge debt that occured in the 1920s could not continue. In October 1929 the booming stock market crashed, wiping out many investors.

The crash also impacted economies in Europe that had relied heavily on American loans.  Over the next three years, an initial American recession became part of a worldwide depression.  Business houses closed their doors, factories shut down, banks failed. By November 1932, more than 15 million Americans were unemployed.

The hardship of the Depression greatly affected the American people. The prevailing attitude of the 1920’s expressed that success was earned, implying that failure was deserved. Unemployment often led to feelings of inadequacy and guilt, especially among men. In the 1920’s, men were cast in the role of ‘provider’ and being unable to support the family by keeping a job was often humiliating. Many families who lived through the Great Depression developed thrifty habits of saving and stretching every penny.

Roosevelt and the New Deal

In 1933 the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced his solution to the Depression which was called, the “New Deal.”

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the president declared in his inaugural address to the nation as he introduced his new policies.

The New Deal introduced to the US more social and economic regulations and reforms similiar to that of Europe.

The New Deal accomplished in a short period of time what had previously taken generations. But, many of its reforms were not well designed.

While it never succeeded in restoring prosperity, its actions provided tangible help for millions of Americans and brought to the individual citizen a sharp  interest in government.

America’s first involvement in the War came with the sinking of the Lusitania. America wanted to remain neutral and continue trade with all nations involved in the conflict.

However, Germany used submarines to sink ships bound for Britain or France. On May 17, 1915, a German submarine sunk the British luxury liner Lusitania, killing 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. President Wilson demanded an immediate end to attacks on liners and merchant ships.

To appease the United States, Germany agreed to warn commercial vessels before firing on them. In violation of the agreement, Germany sank the British steamer Arabic in August 1915 and the French liner Sussex in March 1916. Wilson issued an ultimatum threatening to break diplomatic relations unless Germany abandoned submarine warfare.  Germany again agreed and refrained from further attacks through the end of the year.

Although, on January 31, 1917 the German government sank five U.S. vessels. President Wilson on April 2, 1917, asked Congress for a declaration of war. Congress quickly approved.  The government rapidly mobilized military resources, industry, labor, and agriculture. In the summer of 1918, fresh American troops played a decisive role in stopping a last-ditch German offensive.  By the end of the War, the U.S. army had over 1,750,000 troops in France.

President Wilson urged an early end to the war and in October 1918, the German government, facing certain defeat, appealed to Wilson to negotiate a surrender.  After a month of secret negotiations that gave Germany no firm guarantees, an armistice was concluded on November 11.

Confederate States of America

Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of November 1860 united the South against the antislavery movement in the North. The first seven states to secede were South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

On February 8, the states officially formed the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis was named President of the Confederate forces.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States. In his inaugural address, he declared that the Confederacy was not a real state.

Then on April 12, Confederate guns opened fire on the federal troops at Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina, harbor. A war had begun in which more Americans would die than in any other conflict before or since.

The North had many important advantages. The North had twenty-three states with a population of 22 million. The South only had 11 states with 9 million people.

Also, the North had more industries than the South and could make more supplies for its troops. It also had a better railway network.

The South had certain advantages as well, most importantly, its geography. The South was fighting a defensive war on its own territory.  It could establish its independence simply by beating off the Northern armies.  The South also had a stronger military tradition, and possessed the more experienced military leaders.

Major Battles

First Battle at Manassas

The first large battle of the war, at Bull Run, Virginia (also known as First Manassas) occured on July 21, 1861. In the summer of 1861, both sides were extremely confident of a quick and easy victory. However, this battle proved to both sides that victory would not be quick or easy.

Union forces charged the Confederate lines several times and nearly broke through. However, the Confederates were encouraged by the brave leadership of General Jackson, who stood like a “stone wall,” oblivious to enemy fire. He’s nickname after this battle became “General Stonewall Jackson.”

Northern forces fled toward Washington, DC over roads that were cluttered with politicians, newspapermen, and picnicking men and women who had come to witness the action.

This battle dashed the hopes of the North for a quick victory. The South, on the other hand, was excited as it appeared they would have a good chance at victory.

The Battle of Antietam

After another Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run (or Second Manassas), Confederate General Robert E. Lee crossed the Potomac River and invaded Maryland. The Union and Confederate Armies met at Antietam Creek on September 17, 1862.

In the bloodiest single day of the war, more than 4,000 died on both sides and 18,000 were wounded.  The Union failed to break Lee’s lines or press the attack. Lee was able to retreat across the Potomac River with his arm.

Although Antietam did not have a clear winner, its consequences were great. Great Britain and France were both on the verge of recognizing the Confederacy. The Battle at Antietam delayed their decision and the South never received the diplomatic recognition and the economic aid from Europe that it desperately sought.

Surrender at Appomattox

Lincoln made General Ulysses S. Grant commander-in-chief of all Union forces.

In May 1864 Grant marched deep into Virginia and met Lee’s Confederate Army in the three-day Battle of the Wilderness.

Losses on both sides were heavy, but unlike other Union commanders, Grant refused to retreat.  “I propose to fight it out along this line if it takes all summer,” the Grant said during five days of bloody trench warfare.

Grant lay siege to Petersburg, Virginia for nine months.  Lee decided he needed to retreat south. But it was too late.  On April 9, 1865, surrounded by huge Union armies, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Although scattered fighting continued elsewhere for several months, the Civil War was over.

The Articles of Confederation proved to be a weak government. Therefore, George Washington and others met to form a new government.

The convention drafted a new constitution that attempted to clearly define and limit the powers of government.

The constitution incorporated a system of checks and balances to control the authority of each of the three branches of government. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches were designed to be intertwined.

Basically, the legislative branch (Congress) makes laws, the executive branch (the President) executes the law, and the judicial branch (Courts) determines the constitutionality of laws. The laws would be enforced through state and federal courts.

Ratification and the Bill of Rights

On September 17, 1787, after 16 weeks of deliberation, the finished Constitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates present.

Franklin, pointing to the half sun painted in brilliant gold on the back of Washington’s chair, said, “I have often in the course of the session … looked at that [chair] behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting, sun”.

However, George Mason of Virginia was one of the delegates who refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked any kind of protection of individual rights. In 1789 it became clear that there was a need to protect these rights and eventually the Bill of Rights was passed by the Congress. The Bill of Rights is a document that protects individual citizens from their government. Some of the rights protected include: freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right to assemble peacefully, protest, and demand changes (First Amendment); protection against unreasonable searches, seizures of property, and arrest (Fourth Amendment); due process of law in all criminal cases (Fifth Amendment); right to a fair and speedy trial (Sixth Amendment); protection against cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment); and provision that the people retain additional rights not listed in the Constitution (Ninth Amendment).

Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, only 17 more amendments have been added to the Constitution.

USAs Forfatning med tillæg

The U.S. Constitution

The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the United States. Empowered with the sovereign authority of the people by the framers and the consent of the legislatures of the states, it is the source of all government powers, and also provides important limitations on the government that protect the fundamental rights of United States citizens.

Why a Constitution?

The need for the Constitution grew out of problems with the Articles of Confederation, which established a “firm league of friendship” between the states, and vested most power in a Congress of the Confederation. This power was, however, extremely limited. The central government conducted diplomacy and made war, set weights and measures, and was the final arbiter of disputes between the states. Crucially, it could not raise any funds itself, and was entirely dependent on the states themselves for the money necessary to operate. Each state sent a delegation of between two and seven members to the Congress, and they voted as a bloc with each state getting one vote. But any decision of consequence required a unanimous vote, which led to a government that was paralyzed and ineffectual.

A movement to reform the Articles began, and invitations to attend a convention in Philadelphia to discuss changes to the Articles were sent to the state legislatures in 1787. In May of that year, delegates from 12 of the 13 states (Rhode Island sent no representatives) convened in Philadelphia to begin the work of redesigning government. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention quickly began work on drafting a new Constitution for the United States.

The Constitutional Convention

A chief aim of the Constitution as drafted by the Convention was to create a government with enough power to act on a national level, but without so much power that fundamental rights would be at risk. One way that this was accomplished was to separate the power of government into three branches, and then to include checks and balances on those powers to assure that no one branch of government gained supremacy. This concern arose largely out of the experience that the delegates had with the King of England and his powerful Parliament. The powers of each branch are mentioned in the Constitution, with powers not assigned to them reserved to the states.

Much of the debate, which was conducted in secret to ensure that delegates spoke their minds, focused on the form that the new legislature would take. Two plans competed to become the new government: the Virginia Plan, which apportioned representation based on the population of each state, and the New Jersey plan, which gave each state an equal vote in Congress. The Virginia Plan was supported by the larger states, and the New Jersey plan preferred by the smaller. In the end,
they settled on the Great Compromise (sometimes called the Connecticut Compromise), in which the House of Representatives would represent the people as apportioned by population; the Senate would represent the states apportioned equally; and the President would be elected by the Electoral College. The plan also called for an independent judiciary.
The founders also made an effort to establish the relationship between states. States are required to give “full faith and credit” to the laws, records, contracts, and judicial proceedings of the other states, although Congress may regulate the manner in which the states share records, and define the scope of this clause. States are barred from discriminating against citizens of other states in any way, and cannot enact tariffs against one another. States must also extradite those accused of crimes to other states for trial.

The founders also specified a process by which the Constitution may be amended, and since its ratification, the Constitution has been amended 27 times. In order to prevent arbitrary changes, the process for making amendments is quite difficult. An amendment may be proposed by a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress, or, if two-thirds of the states request one, by a convention called for that purpose. The amendment must then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, or three-fourths of conventions called in each state for ratification. In modern times, amendments have traditionally specified a
timeframe in which this must be accomplished, usually a period of several years. Additionally, the Constitution specifies that no
amendment can deny a state equal representation in the Senate without that state’s consent.

With the details and language of the Constitution decided, the
Convention got down to the work of actually setting the Constitution to paper. It is written in the hand of a delegate from Pennsylvania, Gouverneur Morris, whose job allowed him some reign over the actual punctuation of a few clauses in the Constitution. He is also credited with the famous preamble, quoted at the top of this page. On September 17, 1787, 39 of the 55 delegates signed the new document, with many of those who refused to sign objecting to the lack of a bill of rights. At
least one delegate refused to sign because the Constitution codified and protected slavery and the slave trade.


The process set out in the Constitution for its ratification provided for much popular debate in the states. The Constitution would take effect once it had been ratified by nine of the thirteen state legislatures. During the debate over the Constitution, two factions emerged: the Federalists, who supported adoption, and the Anti-Federalists, who opposed it.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay set out an eloquent defense of the new Constitution in what came to be called the Federalist Papers. Published anonymously in the newspapers The Independent Journal and The New York Packet under the name Publius between October 1787 and August 1788, the 85 articles that comprise the Federalist Papers remain to this day an invaluable resource for understanding some of the framers’ intentions for the Constitution. The most famous of the articles are No. 10, which warns of the dangers of factions and advocates a large republic, and No. 51, which explains the structure of the Constitution, its checks and balances, and how it protects the rights of the people.

The states proceeded to begin ratification, with some debating more intensely than others. Delaware was the first state to ratify, on December 7, 1787. After New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify, on June 22, 1788, the Confederation Congress established March 9, 1789, as the date to begin operating under the Constitution. By this time, all the states except North Carolina and Rhode Island had ratified – the Ocean State was the last to ratify on May 29, 1790.

The Bill of Rights

One of the principal points of contention between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the lack of an enumeration of basic civil rights in the Constitution. Many Federalists argued, as in Federalist No. 84, that the people surrendered no rights in adopting the Constitution. In several states, however, the ratification debate hinged on the adoption of a bill of rights. The solution was known as the Massachusetts Compromise, in which four states ratified the Constitution but at the same time sent recommendations for amendments to the Congress.

James Madison introduced 12 amendments to the First Congress in 1789. Ten of these would go on to become what we now consider to be the Bill of Rights. One was never passed while another, dealing with Congressional salaries was not ratified until 1992, when it became the 27th Amendment. Based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights, the writings of the Enlightenment, and the rights defined in the Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights contains rights that many today consider to be fundamental to America.

The First Amendment provides that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.

The Third Amendment prohibits the government from quartering troops in private homes, a major grievance during the American Revolution.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The government may not conduct any searches without a warrant, and such warrants must be issued by a judge and based on probable cause.

The Fifth Amendment provides that citizens not be subject to criminal prosecution and punishment without due process. Citizens may not be tried on the same set of facts twice, and are protected from self-incrimination (the right to remain silent). The amendment also establishes the power of eminent domain, ensuring that private property is not seized for public use without just compensation.

The Sixth Amendment assures the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers, to be informed of the crimes with which they are charged, and to confront the witnesses brought by the government. The amendment also provides the accused the right to compel testimony from witnesses, and to legal representation.

The Seventh Amendment provides that civil cases also be tried by jury.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.

The Ninth Amendment states that the list of rights mentioned in the Constitution is not exhaustive, and that the people retain all rights not mentioned.

The Tenth Amendment assigns all powers not delegated to the United States, or prohibited to the states, to either the states or to the people.

The Shot Heard Around the World

On April 19, 1775, British troops entered the Massachusetts town of Lexington after hearing news that colonists were gathering military strength against the British. The colonial soldiers were called Minute Men because they were said to be ready to fight in a minute. The Minute Men were told to hold their fire unless fired upon.

The British commanded the colonists to leave. A shot was fired from an unknown source and the British charged with bayonets. Eight Minute Men were killed and ten wounded. This became known as “the shot heard round the world”  and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

On May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and voted to go to war. Colonel George Washington of Virginia was appointed the commander-in-chief on June 15.

On August 23, 1775 King George issued a statement declaring the colonies to be in a state of rebellion.

Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. Largely written by Thomas Jefferson, the document announced the birth of a new nation and declared the natural rights of humankind as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson reasoned that to fight for American Independence was to fight on behalf of one’s own natural rights.

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. “


With the help of France, the colonial forces were able to defeat the British empire. On October 19, 1781, British forces surrendered 8,000 soldiers at Yorktown.

The war continued for two more years without any decisive victory or defeat.

Signed on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris acknowledged the independence and freedom of the 13 former colonies, now called states.  The new United States stretched west to the Mississippi River, north to Canada, and south to Florida, which was returned to Spain.


After the French and Indian War, England wanted to regain control of the colonies. In order to gain control, England began placing enormous amounts of taxes on the colonists.

One of the taxes placed on the colonists was the Stamp Act. This act required that all newspapers, pamphlets, licenses, and other legal documents to have a special type of revenue stamp. The Stamp Act had a direct effect on all colonists and created great hostility against England.

The colonists began protesting these taxes by boycotting trade with England. England largely ignored these protests and established the authority of the British government to make rules and laws that the colonies must follow.

Boston Tea Party

In 1773, the British government granted the East India Tea Company the right to sell all tea shipped to the colonies. This created heavy taxes on tea which angered the colonists.

Until then, tea was being shipped to the colonies with no taxes imposed. The colonists protested the new policy and sent most of the tea back to England.

Ignoring the colonists protest, several ships carrying tea docked in the Boston harbor. On the night of December 16, 1773, a group of men, disguised as Mohawk American Indians and led by Samuel Adams, boarded three British ships and dumped all of the tea cargo into the harbor.

This event, known as the Boston Tea Party was a direct act of defiance against Britain.

In response, the British imposed more laws and taxes on the colonists.

Colonial representatives met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774 and formed the First Continental Congress. They decided that the Coercive Acts were unjust and should not be obeyed.