foreign relations changes

The most important social, economic, cultural, political and military/foreign relations changes/events/trends in the United States since 1865

For something to be important historically, it must have a level of significance or consequence.  This does not indicate that it was good or bad, only that it made an impact in the scope of events.  Therefore, an examination of the most important social, economic, cultural, political and military/foreign relations changes/events/trends in the United States since 1865 would have to focus on the significance of the subject.

            There can be little disagreement that one of the most important, if not the most important, social change since 1865 is the integration of African-Americans into American society.  Even though this process is not complete, the progress that has been made was recently demonstrated with the nomination of the first African-American for president.  It would be impossible to calculate or even quantify the impact that African-Americans have had in our country, or to imagine where our country would be today without them.  African-Americans such as George Washington Carver, Colin Powell, Thurgood Marshall, and Booker T. Washington have left an indelible mark on American life. While only one event cannot be tied to this change, certainly Jackie Robinson’s entrance into professional baseball, Rosa Parks refusal to move to the back of the bus, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and assassination are major events within this change.  Without this social change, America would not be where she is today.

            One of the most important events in the economic history of America was the Great Depression.  The events that occurred in late October, 1929, culminating with “Black Tuesday,” changed America’s economy forever.  The initial impact was a change in unemployment from 4% to 25%.  At the same time a period of deflation began.  This caused monetary values to fall and thereby made existing debts more difficult to repay.  The impact of the Great Depression was felt not only in the economic situation of the day, but continues to impact America today because of the response to the Great Depression.  Beginning in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt began a series of economic programs designed to bring America out of the depression.  While many of the programs he initiated did not last, the Social Security Administration and Securities and Exchange Commission both continue to function today.  Hardly anyone today is not impacted in some way by one or both of these government institutions.

            Determining an important cultural change can be more difficult because the impact of the change often is not readily ascertainable.  However, the impact of the cultural change that occurred during World War II cannot be underestimated.  It was during this time that women first began to enter the work force en masse.  Prior to this time, the woman’s place was seen as being in the home, and most women did not seek a career outside of the home.  However, with the need for women to take the place of the men in the work force, this culture was forever changed.  Just as with the inclusion of African-Americans into society, the impact of women in the work force is immeasurable.  However, the entry of women into the work force has not come without a price.  The appearance of latch-key kids and a rising divorce rate are just two of the additional impacts that this cultural change has wrought.

            When politics are thought of or discussed, one of the first aspects considered is that of party affiliation.  Since 1865, one of the most noteworthy, if not subtle, trends that has brought about our current government is the establishment of the Republican and Democratic parties and the cementing of the two-party system in American politics.  While this trend has not resulted in as obviously significant changes as the integration of African-Americans in society or of women in the work force, this is very important when considering how our current government functions.  Almost everything that occurs in politics, especially on the federal and state levels, is affected by the two-party system.  America is one of only a few countries that has a true two-party system, and America is also one of the most stable governments in the world.  The American governmental system is not subject to the instability and uncertainty that occurs when coalitions must be formed.  This trend has been confirmed repeated as third-parties have come and gone, and none of them have made a lasting impact.  Love it or hate it, it cannot be denied that the two-party political system in America is one of the most important trends that has developed and continued in American politics over the past 150 years.

            While there have been many military and foreign relations events that have affected America, perhaps one of the most significant is possibly as important for what did not happen as for what did happen.  In the 1980’s the Cold War was intensifying, and distrust between the world’s two superpowers was growing.  The policy of mutual assured destruction was in place, and nuclear bombs were prepared for launch.  At this time, President Ronald Reagan began a foreign relations strategy that was designed to weaken if not bring down entirely the Soviet Union.  Through an increase in military spending and heightened rhetoric (among other factors), President Reagan brought the Soviet Union to the point of collapse.  It was at this point he uttered those now famous words: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  Within a few years, satellite countries began to declare their independence from the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union never regained her role as a world super-power.  What is especially significant about this is that in addition to the dismantling of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons were also dismantled, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust was significantly reduced.  While events are often remember events because of what occurred, it would be short-sighted to forget what Reagan’s change in foreign policy toward the Soviet Union may very well have kept from occurring.

            While historians certainly can, and will, argue whether or not the above-mentioned changes, events and trends are the most important, there can be no argument that they were very important in bringing American to where she is today.


Ferber, Marianne A. (1998) Women in the labor market Cheltenham, UK: E Elgar Publishing

Hillsman, William G. (2004) Run the Other Way: Fixing the Two-Party System, One

            Campaign at a Time New York: Free Press

Matlock, Jack (2004) Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended Random House

Smiley, Gene (2002) Rethinking the Great Depression Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publisher

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