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REFORM

The United States was the most democratic country in the world at the time of its founding. Britain had a parliament, but only 3 percent of the population could vote and parliament tended to represent the interests of rich landowners. The U.S. achieved universal white male voting without regard to property ownership in 1824, universal male voting in 1870, universal voting for men and women in 1920, and actual universal voting (including blacks) in 1964.

Major reforms included an end to the Alien and Sedition Acts (1802), more voter participation in elections (1824), the beginning of public education (1850), the abolition of slavery (1865), industrial regulation (1900), pure food (1908), the ten-hour workday (1910), election reform with direct election of the Senate (1914), no child labor (1920), the eight-hour workday and union rights (1935), Social Security (1936), the expansion of higher education (1950), civil rights (1964), Medicare and Medicaid (1966), the beginning of environmental protection (1970), and a national health plan (2010).

U.S. RELATIONS WITH THE WORLD

The United States had an international population even during its colonial period, but the early colonies did not have that many resources to trade with the rest of the world. Tobacco proved a best seller, and merchants joined the international slave trade in the triangular exchange of slaves, sugar, rum, and guns.

After the Revolution, the new U.S. backpedaled hard to stay out of foreign wars until the nation fought the War of 1812 over expansion and trade rights. The country expanded west thanks to France's going-out-of-business sale of the Louisiana Purchase to the U.S. in 1803. The U.S. limited international involvement in central North America by taking half of Mexico's territory and getting Britain to agree to a compromise border with Canada. Real international involvement by the U.S. started with the Spanish-American War in 1898.

The U.S. tried to stay neutral but was drawn into World War I in Europe. Going back to splendid isolation behind the oceans, the U.S. paid for not helping keep the peace by having to fight World War II against both Germany and Japan. After World War II, the U.S. stepped up to the plate to be a world leader. In the early 2000s, the country began to accept responsibility to work with the rest of the world to limit damage to the earth's environment.

SPIRITUALITY

Spirituality is defined as a relationship with the higher power believed to shape and bind the universe together. This relationship can be expressed as a deep personal love of justice, such as that of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. It can also come from active participation in a religious organization, such as those supported by Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

The U.S. has been a leader in both forms of the expression of spirituality. Early New England was a haven for the specific religious sects of Puritans and Pilgrims; they drove out and even killed people who disagreed with their religions. Freethinkers like William Penn, Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson kept the United States open to personal spirituality even though they themselves didn't go to church. The U.S. has always declined to declare any particular official religion; the very first Amendment to the Constitution separated church and state.

Spiritual revival has played a major role in American history. The First Great Awakening (1740) connected people who would later protect the colonies in the French and Indian War and led the new U.S. to freedom in the Revolution. The Second Great Awakening (1830) laid the groundwork for the women's movement and for opposition to slavery. Spirituality is a fountain that refreshes committed people.

 
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