Causes of US Involvement in World War II

Following World War I, the United States adopted an isolationist stance. Starting in 1935,
Congress even passed various neutrality acts to enforce the will against foreign
entanglement. But by December of 1941, President Roosevelt’s formal declaration of war
made this legislation irrelevant.

Although America attempted isolationism, European and Asian affairs brought global
tension that eventually hit the country’s traditional allies. An aim of World War I had
been “to make the world safe for democracy”, but democracy in the 1930s was
increasingly endangered. The roots of World War II lay in the totalitarian leaders of Asia
and Europe and their agendas for expansion.

Totalitarianism emerged in the Soviet Union, Italy, Spain, and Germany. The fascist
leaders had expansionist goals and soon crushed neighboring societies. Italy invaded
Ethiopia and established Italian East Africa. Meanwhile, Japan invaded Manchuria,
seized Chinese land, and occupied French possessions in Southeast Asia.

In 1938 Europe, the war officially began when Germany’s Adolf Hitler invaded Austria
and took Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, which was home to 3.5 million ethnic Germans.
Hitler claimed he was only “restoring rightful boundaries”, since Germany had lost
territory in World War I. But Hitler had ideas of widespread domination. In 1939 he and
Mussolini created the Rome-Berlin Axis alliance, a military agreement designed to last
ten years. Japan entered the pact later that year. Hitler had the confidence to invade
Poland in 1939. Poland’s allies, England and France, therefore declared war on Germany.
America’s traditional allies were at war.

Initially, President Franklin Roosevelt limited his aid to arms sales, which were restricted
in a neutrality act. But Hitler’s invasions continued. He took Denmark, Norway, and
Holland, and the Belgian king surrendered his army shortly thereafter. And in June of
1940, France succumbed to Nazi forces. The Axis alliance now dominated Europe from
the North Cape of Africa to the Pyrenees. Great Britain’s Winston Churchill vowed to
continue the battle for democracy.

Churchill soon needed military aid, and Roosevelt declared that the United States must
become “the great arsenal of democracy”. By 1941, he officially ended the country’s
isolationist stance by passing the Lend Lease Act, which lifted restrictions on supporting
foreign troops with defense gear; the Act first appropriated $7 billion to lend or lease
supplies to any countries the president designated. President Roosevelt also started to call
US National Guard members to war training.

Next, the Americans built a base in Greenland. Then, stationed aboard warships near
Newfoundland, Roosevelt and Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter in June of 1941.
Although the US had not officially entered the war, the Atlantic Charter presented the
two countries’ goals for a war against fascism. It included their disinterest in acquiring
new territories through the war. Shortly thereafter, the US became involved in the years-
long Battle of the Atlantic.
The United States officially entered World War II in December of 1941. Japanese
military leaders, led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, attacked a US naval base in Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese aimed to destroy the US fleet docked in the Pacific, thus
leaving the Japanese free to pursue oil mines in the region. A series of aerial attacks by
361 airplanes succeeded in compromising eight important warships. The air attacks also
killed more than 2,300 people. The following day, President Roosevelt asked Congress
for a declaration of war against Japan. Congress obliged. By the time of this official
declaration, there were battles to fight on many fronts, but “Remember Pearl Harbor!”
became a rally cry for the war.
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Prayer, Persecution, and Portsmouth: A Story of Colonist Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) is a key figure in the history of American religious
freedom. As a pioneer settler of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Hutchinson held Bible
studies that won her great admiration with a wide following. However, Hutchinson’s
religious leadership eventually offended colony officials, leading to her banishment.
Hutchinson later co-founded Rhode Island with religious freedom in mind.
Hutchinson, born Anne Marbury, was raised in Lincolnshire, England. There Anne’s
father was an outspoken Protestant clergyman. When he was sentenced to house arrest for
challenging the Church, the Reverend turned his energies to educating his daughter. With
the influence of her father’s tutelage and strong character, Anne became a bright and
confident religious scholar.
Members of Anne’s community continued to have trouble with the church of Elizabethan
England. She and other Protestants became involved with a new reformist movement
known as Puritanism, which aimed to “purify” the Church of all Roman Catholic
influences. Ultimately believing that the Church was beyond reform, Anne, her husband
William, and their fifteen children followed Puritan Reverend John Cotton to Boston in
1634. There, all believed, they would practice their faith openly without persecution.
Three years after arriving in Boston, Hutchinson became the first female defendant in a
Massachusetts colonial court. What had gone wrong? Anne’s early months in Boston had
been pleasant enough. Bostonians welcomed her midwifery skills, and when she began
holding women’s prayer meetings at home, she became even more respected as a model
of Puritan womanhood.
Eventually, Hutchinson’s small prayer circles became large gatherings that drew men as
well as women. Her prayer meeting success generated extreme discomfort among the
colony’s male leaders. Outraged local magistrates, including Governor John Winthrop,
deemed it highly inappropriate for a woman to instruct men in religious matters.
The oppressed had become the oppressors. Winthrop had Hutchinson arrested on charges
of subversion. Throughout the court trial, however, it was evident that Hutchinson’s
“crime” had mainly been acting in traditionally male ways, sharing her ideas in a large
mixed-sex forum. As Winthrop phrased it, she was “an American Jezebel who had gone
a-whoring from God” and who was infecting women with “abominable” ideas regarding
their rights. Officials accused her of violating the fifth religious commandment (“Honor
thy father and mother”) by encouraging dissent against the fathers of the Commonwealth.
Hutchinson also drew controversy with her claim of communication with God, her
opinion that each person should interpret laws as their own conscience dictated, and her
opinion that Native American slavery was wrong.
Anne Hutchinson was banned from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. Along with other
colonists, she then co-founded the town of Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island, which today
is known as Rhode Island. The general area was a relative haven of religious freedom;
just two years earlier, another banished Massachusetts Bay colonist, Roger Williams, had
established the town of Providence. Providence was known to accept Quakers, Jews, and
other religious dissenters.
After Hutchinson’s husband passed away, she relocated again to New Amsterdam. There,
in 1643, she and several of her children were murdered in an attack by natives. No doubt,
Governor Winthrop viewed the difficult death as corroboration of his critique. In 1945,
however, the Massachusetts State Legislature voted to revoke her banishment. The state
now honors Hutchinson with a statue describing her as a “courageous exponent of civil
liberty and religious toleration.”
(word count 564)

The US Presidency and Tecumseh’s Curse

In 1840, General William Henry Harrison easily won the US presidency. He was
celebrated as a war hero for having participated in the Battle of Tippecanoe, which
defeated Tecumseh’s Shawnee forces. However, Harrison’s presidency would be short-
lived. Some say it’s a result of “Tecumseh’s Curse”.
According to legend, Chief Tecumseh sent a prophetic message to General Harrison. The
message contained a premonition outlined by Tecumseh’s brother, who had accurately
predicted a lunar eclipse and gained credibility as a seer. The Shawnee warning stated
that if Harrison were to win the presidential election, he would not finish his term.
Furthermore, “After him, every great chief chosen every twenty years thereafter will die.
And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people.” A curse had
supposedly been set on the White House and its future occupants.
The legend of the curse was not widely known until 1931 when a “Ripley’s Believe it or
Not” book brought publicity. In 1980 the Library of Congress would be unable to
substantiate that Tecumseh had sent this message.
Nonetheless, Harrison’s presidency was indeed brief and unfortunate. He delivered a long
inaugural address on a cold and windy day, and then he was caught in a rainstorm. He
contracted a cold that quickly led to pneumonia and death. His death would be seen as the
beginning of a long pattern: from 1840 to 1960, presidents elected in a year ending in
zero would be assassinated or die of natural causes while in office.
The next supposed victim of the curse was Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860.
He was assassinated during his second term in 1865, just a few days after the Civil War
had officially ended. His assassin was the Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
The twenty-year cycle next met President James Garfield. He took office in March of
1881. He was shot within a few months and died in September of that year. His assassin
was Charles Guiteau, who was “upset” after being denied a diplomatic post by Garfield’s
Next, William McKinley survived his first presidential term, but he was elected again in
1900. He was shot in 1901 while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New
York. He died about a week later. The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was a self-described
anarchist who called McKinley “the enemy of the people”.
Warren Harding was the next president to die while in office. He was elected in 1920.
During a 1923 cross-country Voyage of Understanding, President Harding died at the
Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The cause of his death is uncertain. Food poisoning and
pneumonia may have been underlying causes. Newspapers cited heart attack or stroke,
but suspicions of suicide or murder abound. Harding was an unpopular president and
publicly stated that he wasn’t fit for office! Some have accused Mrs. Harding of ending
her husband’s life; he was known to have extra-marital affairs, and he secretly had a child
with another woman.
The 1940 presidential election was met with newspapers headlines shouting “Curse Over
the White House!” Franklin Roosevelt was then elected to his third presidential term, and
then a fourth in 1944. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945.
The curse’s final victim would be President John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960.
He was assassinated in 1963 while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. There are many
conspiracy theories about his assassination, but Lee Harvey Oswald was officially judged
to be the lone gunman.
The Shawnee curse was well-publicized by the 1980 election. President Carter was asked
his opinion about it during a campaign stop that year. He replied, “I’m not afraid. If I
knew it was going to happen, I would go ahead and be President and do the best I could,
for the last day I could.”

President Ronald Reagan, who was ultimately elected in 1980, is believed to have broken
Tecumseh’s curse. He escaped a serious assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr.
within months of his inauguration in 1981.
The curse is also known as: the Curse of Tippecanoe, the presidential curse, the zero-year
curse, and the twenty-year curse.
(word count 693)

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

“Listen children and you shall hear/The midnight ride of Paul Revere.” So begins a
famous poem penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poet’s rendition of events,
while not historically accurate, is a great contribution to American folklore. Paul
Revere’s life was colorful, however, and facts alone make for interesting history.

Paul Revere was a man of many trades. This father of sixteen worked a part-time dentist
and once owned a hardware and home goods store. His most constant work though was
with metal, and his work was highly praised. Revere cast cannons and bells, made silver
teacup collections, and engraved the first Massachusetts state currency. He also produced
the copper sheeting that covers the Massachusetts State House dome.

To many, however, Revere is best known for one night spent as a Pony Express rider. He
was a midnight messenger right before decisive Revolutionary War battles in Concord
and Lexington. On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and militia member William
Dawes were dispatched from Boston. Dr. Joseph Warren, the chief executive of the
revolutionary Massachusetts government, ordered the men to warn John Hancock and
Samuel Adams of the British army’s advancement across the Charles River. Warren
feared that the British would arrest Hancock and Adams and capture their cache of

Revere and Dawes were sent out in different directions; if either were caught, the
message of an impending British invasion might still reach patriot leaders. They also had
a back-up plan in case both men were caught. Revere instructed Robert Newman, who
worked at the Old North Church, to communicate with lanterns. One lantern placed in the
steeple would alert colonists to a land-route invasion; two would signal that the British
were advancing “by sea” across the Charles River. As Revere set out on his midnight
ride, Newman and Captain John Pulling briefly shone two lanterns from the Old North

Contrary to Longfellow’s poem, the riders did not shout, “The British are coming!” as
they rode to Lexington; doing so could have easily brought their capture. Furthermore,
the colonists themselves were British! However, Revere did pass the news to colonists
along his route. Eyewitnesses reported the actual quote to be, “The regulars are coming

Both Paul Revere and William Dawes arrived in Lexington without being captured. They
met John Hancock and Samuel Adams at the Hancock-Clarke residence, which was
Hancock’s boyhood home. Hancock and Adams proceeded to update their battle plans.
Meanwhile, Revere and Dawes decided to head to Concord where the weapons were
being stored. A doctor named Samuel Prescott came along for the ride.

The three men were detained en route to Concord. Prescott and Dawes escaped, and
Dawes carried on to Concord. Paul Revere, however, was detained for several hours.
King George’s troops then escorted him toward Lexington at gunpoint – but before they
arrived in the city, sounds of gunshots led his captors away. Revere was abandoned
without a horse. He walked back to Lexington and arrived in time to see the Battle on
Lexington Green.

Revere’s warning allowed the revolutionary militia to defeat the British troops in
Concord. His role in the important midnight ride was not well-known until Longfellow
published “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in 1861, more than forty years after
Revere’s death. Today parts of Revere’s famous route are marked with signs reading
“Revere’s Ride”.


(word count 564)

John Scopes and the Teaching of Evolution

In the mid-1920s, many young Americans flaunted long-established Victorian culture.
Women were voting, illegal booze was flowing through speakeasies, and art had become
abstract. Traditionalists in the South responded with a wave of religious
revivalism. Journalists seized upon one particular court trial in Tennessee, for it
exemplified this struggle between religious tradition and modernity. Who would win?
In the summer of 1925, a high school biology teacher named John Scopes stood trial in
Dayton, Tennessee. He was charged with violating the state’s “Butler law”, which
forbade teaching the theory of evolution.
Scopes’ personal guilt mattered little, as the trial was engineered from the start. Scopes
and several townspeople (who wanted tourism) had responded to a Chattanooga
newspaper ad submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ad announced that
the ACLU was “looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in
testing [the Butler law] in the courts. Our lawyers think a friendly test case can be
arranged without costing a teacher his or her job… All we need now is a willing client.”
It was expected that regardless of the trial’s outcome, Scopes would keep his job. The
trial’s significance lay in the conflict between religious and academic values. The
defense’s goal went beyond acquitting Scopes; they aimed to obtain a Supreme Court
declaration that laws forbidding the teaching of evolution were unconstitutional.
Two of the country’s most famous attorneys faced off in the trial. William Jennings
Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential nominee, was prosecutor. By 1925, Bryan
and his followers had already introduced legislation in fifteen states to ban the teaching of
evolution. Clarence Darrow, who represented the defense, had achieved nationwide fame
through an exciting murder trial the previous year. The lawyers were well-matched, and
prosecutor Bryan declared that “the contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel
to the death.”
Meanwhile, the town of Dayton prepared a carnival atmosphere. Streets filled with
thousands of visitors, children’s lemonade stands, performing chimpanzees, and vendors
of monkey dolls. The trial was moved outside, for people feared the crowded courtroom
floor would not support its audience. WGN radio set up new infrastructure, allowing this
to be the nation’s first court case heard live over the radio.
Bryan eventually lost control of his case. Darrow, the defense attorney, subjected him
personally to a cross-examination about the Bible and science. Ultimately, Bryan
admitted believing that our world was not completed in a week, but was created over a
period of time that “might have continued for millions of years”. The judge, however,
had this testimony expunged from the record.
John Scopes was ultimately found guilty of teaching evolution and was fined $100. This
is what the defense had requested; the issue could now be tackled by a higher court.
Scopes then delivered his only statement of the trial, declaring:
Your honor, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust
statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose
this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation
of my ideal of academic freedom–that is, to teach the truth as
guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom. I
think the fine is unjust.
The Tennessee Supreme Court heard the Scopes case in 1927. The court voted to uphold
the Butler law, but they dismissed Scopes’ earlier $100 conviction on a technicality.
Tennessee overturned the Butler law in 1967.
Clearly, the Scopes trial did not end the debate over teaching evolution. However, the
national radio broadcast, complete with the lawyers’ debates over religion and science,
seems to have influenced voters nationwide. Of the fifteen states with anti-evolution
legislation pending in1925, only two enacted laws restricting the teaching of evolutionary
The Scopes trial remains popular in American history classrooms. The lawyers’ debates
concern key conflicts between science and religion, faith and reason, and individual
freedoms versus majority rule.
(word count 662)

Japanese Internment Camps in the United States

Just off of US Highway 395, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, motorists can
find one of the black eyes of American history. There stands the Manzanar War
Relocation Center in which thousands of Japanese-Americans were confined during
World War II. It is a harsh reminder of civil liberties being restricted during wartime.

Manzanar was not the only internment camp; it is the best preserved of ten camps in
seven states. These were constructed in response to President Roosevelt’s Executive
Order 9066. Enacted on February 19, 1942, it stated that local military commanders could
designate “military areas” as “exclusion zones”, from which “any or all persons may be
excluded.” This translated to the removal of all people with Japanese ancestry from
within 100 miles of the west coast of the United States, except for those confined in
camps. The order was supported by the Supreme Court when challenged in 1943 and

Some people were able to find new homes inland. These residents, whom the government
referred to as having “enemy blood”, were required to file change of address forms.
However, people’s assets were quickly frozen, and more than 100,000 Japanese-
Americans and resident Japanese aliens were forced into camps. People had to quickly
sell their homes and bring only what they could carry. More than 60% were US citizens.

The Japanese-Americans were also given the options to join the US Army or to renounce
their American citizenship. (The Civil Liberties Union said that such recruitment and
renunciations were coerced.) About 1,200 people joined the armed forces. About 6,000
gave up their US citizenship; approximately 1,300 were deported to Japan.

The federal government began compiling potential lists of detainees in 1940, but the
internments were the culmination of long-standing tensions between whites and Asian
immigrants, especially in California. Laws had already been passed to discourage
Japanese immigration, prohibit citizenship, and even prohibit land ownership. California
law also banned the intermarriage of Caucasians and Asians. Once internment began, it
was supported on racist and economic grounds by white farmers who had competed with
Japanese landowners.

After Japan attacked Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor in 1941, many Americans feared a west coast
invasion. In California, people worried that Japanese-Americans would support an
invasion by poisoning water supplies or setting brush fires. The round-up zones were
later extended to include the west coast, however, as fear of Japanese spies grew.
Approximately one third of the country’s territory was affected. A similar Canadian
program was underway in British Columbia. The United States government also arrested
more than 2,000 people of Japanese descent living in other countries, with the main focus
being on Japanese Peruvians.

When the internment program began, its leader, General John DeWitt, revealed his fear
and racism in stating, “American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty…
[W]e must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.” The
government also had smaller camps for Italians and Germans.

Most internment camps were located on Native American reservations without tribal
permission. The government provided only primitive shelter, and sometimes the prisoners
had to construct the barracks themselves. Families lived in tarpaper-covered barracks.
They did not have plumbing or their own cooking facilities. The food ration was less than
50 cents per meal, and people ate in groups of 250-300. About 2,000 college students
were permitted to leave for campus.

President Roosevelt rescinded the internment order two and a half years later in 1944.
The last camp closed in 1945. People were given just $25 and a train ticket to home.

The government has made a few attempts to redress the wartime situation. Some
compensation was given for property loss in 1948. Forty years later, President Reagan
signed the Civil Liberties Act. This granted $20,000 to each of 60,000 survivors for their
forced incarceration. Perhaps more importantly, it stated that the removal and
incarceration were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political
leadership”. President George H. W. Bush issued a formal apology in 1989.


(word count 674)

General Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Araminta Ross, later named Harriet Tubman, was born into slavery circa 1820. She was
raised under harsh slave conditions in Dorchester County, Maryland; she was subjected
to whippings even as a small child. When Harriet was twelve years old, a white overseer
struck her in the head with a weight. Harriet would suffer lifelong blackouts from that
injury and, like most slaves, was motivated to escape for freedom.
While still enslaved in Maryland, Harriet married a free black man named John Tubman.
Although marriage did not change her status as a slave, she was permitted to spend time
with John after work hours. The couple did not see eye-to-eye on the question of escape
from Maryland. John threatened to report any escape attempt that Harriet made. One
night in 1849, the night before an auction might send her South, Harriet decided to flee.
A white neighbor assisted Harriet by providing a list of homes that would shelter her en
route to Pennsylvania, a free state. During her trip north, she became acquainted with
William Still, the Philadelphia Stationmaster for the Underground Railroad. Soon she too
became a “conductor” who networked with John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and other
abolitionists. These men held her in high esteem. They would name her among the
bravest people on the continent, and Brown insisted on calling her General Tubman.
The Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850. This included hefty fines for aiding escaped
slaves, and rewards for their capture. People became bounty hunters, searching ever more
fervently for escaped slaves and their supporters. Therefore, Harriet started relocating her
family members to Ontario, Canada, instead of the northern US. First she brought her
sister and her sister’s children to freedom in a log canoe. Next she rescued her brother
and two other men. When she returned for John Tubman, she found he’d remarried!
Harriet found others who wished to join her and continued the journey. Later, an
especially hazardous journey involved rescuing her aged parents in a makeshift buggy.
Altogether, it’s believed that Tubman made 19 trips to Maryland and brought about 300
people to the North! People called her the “Moses of her people” for delivering slaves to
freedom. She was known for her bravery and determination; if anyone became frightened
and wanted to turn back, she threatened to shoot them! She’d explain, “A live runaway
could do great harm by going back, but a dead one could tell no secrets.” As she proudly
told Douglass, she never lost a passenger. This was despite her increasing fame and
appearance on wanted posters.
Harriet took many precautions to reach this level of success. For example, if a baby was
being transported, she carried sedatives to keep it quiet. She would start a trip North on
Saturday, since reports of fugitive slaves wouldn’t be published until Monday. Harriet
was also a master of disguise; sometimes people she knew didn’t even recognize her!
During the Civil War, Harriet became a spy for the Union army. Later she worked in
Washington, D.C. as a government nurse. Still, for over thirty years she didn’t receive a
government pension. (Eventually they paid her $20 per month.) She lived very simply
and was grateful when Sarah Bradford published her biography and shared the profits.
When the Civil War ended, Harriet married a soldier, Nelson Davis, who was ten years
her junior. They built a home in Auburn, New York and lived happily together until he
passed away almost 20 years later.
Harriet remained active in Auburn. The town was close to Seneca Falls, where Susan B.
Anthony was organizing for women’s rights, and Harriet helped Auburn become a
similar center of feminist support. She also purchased land with the hope of building a
home for elderly black people in need of assistance. She was unable to raise the funds
though and gave the land to Auburn’s Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
When the church completed the home in 1908, Harriet was invited to move in. She lived
there until 1913, telling Underground Railroad stories to visitors, until she died of
pneumonia at age 93. Harriet Tubman was buried in Auburn with military honors.
(word count 698)

France and the American Revolution

In March of 2003, after France opposed a UN invasion of Iraq, two US Republicans
removed all references to French fries from menus affiliated with the US House of
Representatives. In the House cafeteria, potatoes became “freedom fries”. In a time of
such Francophobia, some Americans might be surprised by the history of positive
French-American relations. In fact, it’s likely that the American colonies would not have
defeated the British without French support.

In the 1770s, French enthusiasm for the American Revolution was high. Intellectually,
French Enlightenment intellectuals were agitating against their own feudal land systems
and class privilege. Emotionally, French leaders had been eager to defeat arch-rival
Britain since their Seven Years War. King Louis XVI had been privately supporting the
colonists for some time. But now, formal support appeared more advantageous. France
saw this as a strategic opportunity to secure North American landholdings and officially
befriend a rising power. Ben Franklin also played a significant role in winning tangible
French support; traveling with his wit and charm, Franklin visited Paris in 1776 to rally
support for the colonists’ cause. France first assisted the rogue colonies in May of 1776
by sending 14 ships loaded with gunpowder and other war supplies.

In February of 1778, the colonists and the French signed a Treaty of Amity and
Commerce. This was significant because France not only offered trade concessions, but
also legally recognized the colonies as the United States. Most importantly, Ben Franklin
also secured a Treaty of Alliance with King Louis XVI. This stipulated that if France
entered the war against Britain: 1) neither France nor the US would surrender; 2) neither
would agree to peace with Britain without the other’s consent; and 3) each guaranteed the
other’s landholdings in America. Within a few months, British ships fired upon the
French, and the two countries were at war. France sent about 12,000 soldiers and 30,000
sailors to support the colonists.

Many Frenchmen were truly committed to the cause of liberty. A former French Navy
captain, Marquis de Lafayette, had such zeal that the French suggested he enlist in the US
forces! He volunteered to become a major general for no pay. Lafayette became an
effective military leader and a lifelong friend of General George Washington. He was
eventually given honorary US citizenship.

When France officially entered the war, Spanish interest was piqued. Motivated by the
possibility of a land grab, Spain entered the war as a French ally against Britain. Holland
followed suit. This combination of European powers was a much greater threat to Britain
than the colonies could produce alone, and the crucial 1781 victory at Yorktown could
not have been won without the French alliance.

Unfortunately for France, following the Battle at Yorktown, Ben Franklin engaged in
secret negotiations with Britain. This was particularly insulting considering the French-
American treaties and France’s considerable wartime expenditures. Their hopes of
becoming the main US trade partner were dashed when most American trade was
contracted within the British Empire. Also, expectations of regaining French North
American territories were mostly unmet.

Still, defeating the British brought France a definite taste of revenge. It also restored a
sense of French confidence and esteem alongside other European powers. Furthermore,
in spirit France was now ready for a revolution of its own.


(word count 551)

The Frenzy of Salem Witch Trials

Over the summer of 1692, members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony became caught up
in a frenzy of superstition and scapegoating. From June through September, they sent 19
fellow residents to Gallows Hill for hanging. They pressed another man to death with
heavy stones. Others died in prison or languished there for months. The victims had all
been convicted of practicing witchcraft.

The hysteria began when pre-teen girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, began behaving
oddly. Nine-year-old Betty Parris seemed to become ill. She complained of fever,
contorted as if in pain, dashed about strangely and dove beneath furniture. Her eleven-
year-old cousin Abigail Williams exhibited similar strange behavior. Physicians could
not offer a physical explanation. Although many explanations for their symptoms come
to mind today, in Puritan Massachusetts just one theory gained backing: the girls were
victims of witchcraft.

A man named Mather had recently published a book that described a Boston
washerwoman who supposedly practiced witchcraft. The people of Salem Village
identified similarities between the supposedly afflicted people in Boston and their own
town’s young cousins. Before long, more local girls were exhibiting strange behavior that
reminded people of trances and epileptic fits.

In a frantic search for witches, the townspeople first targeted women from the edge of
their community. For example, the accused Sarah Good was especially poor and
sometimes begged for food and shelter. Sarah Osburne had scandalously married her
indentured servant and attended church infrequently. And an enslaved woman named
Tituba, whom various accounts describe as African or Native American, was also an easy
target. The three women were brought before local magistrates on charges on witchcraft.
After a few days of interrogation, they were sent to jail.

The month of March continued with accusations of witchcraft spreading to other towns.
Now upstanding members of society were accused too. Martha Corey, for example, had
been a respected member of her church. Her being accused didn’t cast doubt on the
escalating frenzy; it only confirmed that the Devil had permeated the heart of Salem

Once a person was accused of witchcraft, magistrates would have him or her arrested and
interrogated. The accused was generally considered guilty until proven innocent, and the
magistrates pressed the accused to confess. Next, witnesses were assembled and a grand
jury convened. Defendants then went to trial and could be swiftly executed; the first
person hanged was tavern owner Bridget Bishop, who was indicted, tried, and killed in
June of 1692.

In modern times, many explanations have been put forth for the adolescent girls’ strange
behavior. It’s possible that the pre-teens, who were living in a repressive religious
society, wanted more attention or were simply bored. Their behavior might also have had
a physical origin such as bird-borne encephalitis, or even tainted rye. A type of rye
fungus capable of developing in the Salem area is now known to cause violent fits,
vomiting, hallucinations, and other physical problems. In fact, the hallucinogenic drug
LSD is derived from this source.

Regardless of the causes underlying the girls’ behavior, adults in their community had
various motivations to lash out against neighbors. First, the Puritan’s had just lost their
colonial charter. The future of their New World sanctuary was being seriously called into
question, so people were on edge. Second, land was becoming scarce. The first
generation of colonists would not have enough farmland to support growing children’s
new families. In this context, it isn’t surprising that widowed female landholders were
targeted more than others. Third, the townspeople were already splintering socially.
Merchants and farmers were becoming increasingly distinct classes, and some historians
have noted that accusations of witchcraft reflected this class divide: accusers tended to be
members of the agricultural sector, and the accused were members of the rising class.

By September of 1692, town leadership had grown wary of the witch hunt. One of the
judges, Samuel Sewall, publicly apologized for his participation in the hysteria.
Several former jurors also came forward to say that they’d been mistaken in their
judgments. Families of the condemned were given financial compensation. With public
confidence in the trials falling, the cries of the supposedly afflicted were increasingly
ignored. Accusations of witchcraft eventually stopped. In 1693, people awaiting trial in
prison were acquitted or gratefully received reprieves.


(word count 715)

Gold Fever and the Growth of California

One January day in 1848, a man named James Marshall was inspecting a saw mill under
construction for his employer. Suddenly he noticed an unusual rock sparkling in the
overturned earth. Was this a nugget of gold?

Marshall tried to break the rock with a hammer. It didn’t crack, but it dented… like gold.
The woman who cooked for the saw mill construction crew threw the nugget into a pot of
lye. The rock boiled for a day, but it did not change color… like gold. Then the mill’s
owner, John Sutter, conducted a few tests. Everyone agreed: this was gold.

Where did the gold come from? The Sierra Nevada Mountains held stores of the valuable
metal. Over tens of thousands of years, erosion had loosened gold nuggets, and mountain
streams washed them to stream beds below. Sutter’s property was nestled between two
rivers and was rich with opportunity.
Sutter swore his employees to secrecy. With 39,000 acres of land, he had plans to build
an agricultural empire. But somehow, word trickled out. Eventually news of the gold-
laced soil reached the small town of San Francisco. There a newspaper publisher shouted
down the streets, “Gold from the American River!” Within three days of the news
arriving, 400 of the 600 settlers had left to trample Sutter’s land. By the end of the year,
gold prospectors traveled to California from as far as Oregon, Hawaii, Mexico, and Chile.
And around that time, word of the gold reached states in the East. President Polk
confirmed the discovery in December of 1848. The Gold Rush became a national and
global phenomenon.
The prospectors of 1849 (and later) became known as forty-niners. Many traveled to
California by land. Since these were pre-railroad days, people coming from Canada,
Mexico, and the eastern United States faced a six to nine month journey. Nonetheless, at
least 32,000 actually walked to California in 1849, and about 44,000 more arrived in
1850. Others, such as South Americans, faced an arduous journey by sea. They suffered
storms, shipwrecks, hunger and thirst, disease, and overcrowding. After that, some still
faced mule rides through jungles and deserts! Still, in less than a year, about 40,000
people arrived in San Francisco from overseas.
The new arrivals constituted a dramatic change in California’s population. In 1848,
California had been home to approximately 100,000 people, most of whom were Native
Americans. Within two years the state population more than doubled, and it now housed
people from many more backgrounds.
People set up mining camps in promising areas, and named them spirited names like
Hell’s Delight and Hangtown. Some people found golden fortune in the California
riverbeds. Lucky forty-niners panned flakes and nuggets worth a fortune.
However, most people did not become wealthy in the Gold Rush. When gold was found,
the cache was usually cleared quickly by just a few. James Marshall had little success as
a miner, and he died impoverished. John Sutter, who had once owned 39,000 acres, left
California in heavy debt after miners trampled his land.

Some people profited not from mining, but from charging miners for supplies and
services. With some wealthy miners around, businesspeople could earn $2 for a pound of
sugar, or $25 for a home-cooked meal! And when the gold ran out, many miners
remained in California to form businesses too, or to farm the new state’s fertile valleys.
By 1856, San Francisco boasted a cosmopolitan population of over 50,000 people.
California had become the most exciting state in the nation.


(word count 591)