AQA AS History Unit 1M: USA 1890-1945


AQA AS History - Unit 1M: USA 1890-45

Ø  The US political system in 1890 and the role of the President:

·       The written Constitution of the USA had been established at Philadelphia in 1787. It established a system whereby each state could make its own laws but had to give up some of its powers to the federal government in Washington DC. This federal government has three branches.

§  The Executive is headed by the President, who makes federal appointments such as Secretary of State and Supreme Court judges, is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, takes key foreign policy decisions such as making treaties (with the backing of the Senate), initiates legislative programmes, and can veto laws passed by Congress. Between 1890 and 1945 there was no constitutional limit on the number of four-year terms that a president could serve, but most never sought more than two terms in office, in line with the tradition established by George Washington.

§  Congress was the bicameral legislature of the USA, comprising the Senate (where six-year terms were served), and the House of Representatives (in which congressmen serve for two years at a time). They are responsible for framing and passing laws, and can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority. Congress also has the power to impeach a president and put him on trial should the need arise.

§  Above the political battlefield and theoretically impartial was the Supreme Court, which was the judicial branch of government. It had the power to strike down laws passed by Congress if they were deemed unconstitutional. Presidents could influence the make-up of the Supreme Court if vacancies happened to occur during their presidency.

·       The Republicans held the presidency from 1896 until 1912, and there were several reasons for this dominance:

§  The Financial Panic of 1893, during which unemployment rose from 3% to 11.7%, meant that there was a lack of faith in the Democrats’ economic policy of artificially raising silver prices (as implemented by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890). The Republicans favoured the gold standard, which was seen by big businessman, rich farmers, and urban workers as a sound metallic basis for the economy. The Republicans also favoured a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to the economy, and confidence in Republican economic policy was maintained by the  boom which occurred in these years, helping them to gain votes in each presidential election.

§  This support amongst businessman meant that their election campaigns were well funded than the Democrats – in 1896 they outspent the Democrats by a factor of five. Mark Hanna, an Ohio industrialist, not only raised up to $16 million for the Republican campaign of 1896, but was also a crucial figure in masterminding McKinley’s victories in 1896 and 1900. He is credited with the introduction of modern electioneering techniques (such as posters with simple, clear messages) to the Republican Party, and these played a crucial role in their future election victories.


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