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Arthur Schlesinger's US history cycles

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Historians Arthurs Schlesinger Sr. and Jr. have proposed that United States history goes in cycles of liberalism and conservatism. The liberal periods often have many progressive reforms, while the conservative periods usually do not undo many of them. AS Jr. noted that liberal and conservative periods may be interpreted as public-purpose and private-interest periods, an alternation between willingness to sacrifice personal gain and interest for the greater national good, and an unwillingness to do so.

The Cycles Edit

  • 1776-1788 -L- Liberal Movement to Create Constitution
  • 1788-1800 -C- Hamiltonian Federalism
  • 1800-1812 -L- Liberal Period of Jeffersonianism
  • 1812-1829 -C- Conservative Retreat After War of 1812
  • 1829-1841 -L- Jacksonian Democracy
  • 1841-1861 -C- Domination of National Government by Slaveowners
  • 1861-1869 -L- Abolition of Slavery and Reconstruction
  • 1869-1901 -C- The Gilded Age
  • 1901-1919 -L- The Progressive Era
  • 1919-1931 -C- Republican Restoration
  • 1931-1947 -L- The New Deal
  • 1947-1962 -C- The Eisenhower Era
  • 1962-1978 -L- Sixties Radicalism
  • 1978-???? -C- Gilded Age II

-L- is liberal, -C- is conservative

The Gilded Age was an unusually long period of conservatism, and Arthur Schlesinger Sr. explained it as because the Civil War had been such a big upheaval. It also had a big setback for recently-freed black people, as Southern states replaced Reconstruction with "Redemption". That reduced the status of many of them to quasi-serfdom.

Our current era is listed here as Gilded Age II, because of its similarities with the previous Gilded Age.

It seems like there ought to have been a big liberal wave during Bill Clinton's Presidency, but there wasn't. Bill Clinton's health-care-reform efforts were a flop, and the anti-globalization movement never got very far. Bill Clinton was anything but the left-wing ogre that many right-wingers considered him.

The widespread enthusiasm for Barack Obama's candidacy suggested another progressive wave, but Obama has turned out to be a somewhat more successful version of Bill Clinton. But with revolts against Republican anti-union efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and the rise of the Occupy movement, another liberal wave may be starting.

Yet there have been some progressive movements in conservative eras. The Gilded Age had labor unions, the Eisenhower Era had the black civil-rights movement, and Gilded Age II has some of its own, like the "New Atheist" movement.

AS Jr. speculated on the reasons for change:

  • Inevitable Disappointment With the Status Quo
  • Problems Change
  • The Need for Periods of Respite, Digestion, and Consolidation -- after bursts of reform
  • Internal Contradictions of Conservative/Private Interest Periods Producing Discontent
  • Generational Change -- "Each new generation when it attains power, tends to repudiate the work of the generation it has displaced and to reenact the ideals of its own formative days of thirty years before."

Party Systems Edit

The United States has had several party systems, with realignments every now and then. These usually occur during liberal periods or just before them in conservative periods. They then persist through that liberal period and the following conservative period.

  • First: Jeffersonianism
  • Second: Jacksonianism
  • Third: Abolition and Reconstruction
  • Fourth: Progressive Era
  • Fifth: New Deal
  • Possible sixth: gradual emergence in Sixties Radicalism, Gilded Age II

Constitutional Amendments Edit

Though the US Constitution is difficult to amend, US politicians have nevertheless amended it several times. It is interesting to see when it was amended.

Adoption of Constitution: #1-10: The Bill of Rights amendments (1789-1791). Unratified: Congressional Apportionment Amendment (1789-1792).

Hamiltonianism: #11: immunity of states from out-of-state lawsuits (1794-1795).

Jeffersonianism: #12: revising Presidential election procedures (1803-1804). Unratified: Titles of Nobility Amendment, accepting a foreign title of nobility means losing one's citizenship; the US Constitution forbids granting them (1810-1812).

Gap: over 60 years.

Abolition and Reconstruction: #13: abolishing slavery (1865-1865), #14: Equal Protection (1866-1868), #15: forbidding denial of voting rights because of race (1869-1870). Unratified: Corwin Amendment, forbidding Federal interference with slavery (1861-1862).

Gap: about 30 years.

Progressive Era: #16: for Federal income tax (1909-1913), #17: for direct election of US Senators (1912-1913), #18: for prohibition of alcohol (1917-1919), #19: for women's votes (1919-1920).

Republican Restoration: #20: for term starts (1932-1933). Unratified: Child Labor Amendment, forbidding it (1924-1937).

New Deal: #21: for repealing Prohibition (1933-1933).

Eisenhower Era: #22: limiting the President to 2 terms (1947-1951), #23: for DC in the Electoral College (1960-1961), #24: forbidding poll taxes as a voting necessity (1962-1964).

Sixties Radicalism: #25: codifying the Presidential succession (1965-1967), #26: making the voting age 18 (1971-1971). Unratified: the Equal Rights Amendment (1972-1982).

Gilded Age II: #27: states that Congressional pay changes shall only go in effect in the next term (1789-1992).

The unratified amendments here had made it out of Congress, but they were not ratified by enough states to go into effect. There are a large number of amendments that have not made it out of Congress, like "Christian Nation" amendments, amendments protecting slavery, amendments forbidding interracial marriages, abortion, flag-burning, same-sex marriages, corporate personhood, and the death penalty, and amendments limiting US war powers, mandating a balanced budget, mandating Congressional term limits, and allowing foreign-born Americans to become President.

Several of the amendments were passed during liberal eras, like Abolition and Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, and Sixties Radicalism, though the conservative Eisenhower Era had some progressive amendments toward the end of it. Curiously, the New Dealers never got any of the New Deal into the Constitution, unlike what reformers before and since had done.

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