Sample History Essays on “What Is Freedom?” Reconstruction, 1865-1877

This chapter explores the Reconstruction era, which was remarkable in understanding the meaning of American freedom. According to the author, the Reconstruction era occurred after the Civil War in 1965, during which the shattered nation was rebuilt. Post the Civil War, the former North, and South slaves focused on redefining the meaning of American freedom.  Some American defined freedom as absence of slavery, while other presence of other rights for the former slaves. In this period, liberty became the central agenda of the country after slavery was abolished.

According to the author, the Reconstruction brought freedom for the Black Americans, which meant having the same rights as Whites. When slavery ended, schools and churches of the black community were strengthened and freed from white supervision. Blacks also developed a desire for education and many attended missionary schools. For many years post-Civil War, the blacks came together to fight for their right to vote and land ownership. The vision of freedom by South blacks was to enjoy free labor as the people in the North. Additionally, land ownership brought about new social classes and Blacks reconstructed families through withdrawing women and children from field labor. Nevertheless, Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policy failed to grant equal rights to black and whites.

The Reconstruction laws and amendments brought about freedom by granting American citizens equal rights and supporting women’s rights. The southern Republicans passed laws to support the rights of the blacks. Nevertheless, some White southerners failed to recognize the rights of the former slaves to vote. At the end, the reconstruction laws and amendments brought equal freedom for all Americans.

Chapter 16:  America’s Gilded Age, 1870-1890

In this chapter, the writes talks about the Gilded Age period, in which the United States experienced profound and rapid economic revolutions after the Civil War.  During this era, there was economic growth that was propelled by adequate labor, abundant natural resources, capital and expansion of markets for manufactured goods technology innovation, centrality or railways, and population. However, this era brought about a class division of the wealthy and the poor.

The industrial revolution brought about the Westward movement. Many white and Indian settlers moved to the West of River Mississippi, which contained many acres of fertile land and minerals. The development of the West region was facilitated by the government through acquiring land from the Indians through War and Treaties.

The Gilded Age described a period covered with a layer of gold, but the real value covered by the glitter is minimal. The era was a period of economic expansion but also a period of corruption and oppressive politics. Some corporations were granted contracts by the government through corrupt means and the political structure with Republicans and Democrat parties failed to handle problems from the rapid economic growth. Social problems in this era were caused by Inequality that divided people into classes of the wealthy and the poor. This social Darwinism led to the formation of labor movements that sought equality, freedom, and liberty. The Knights of Labor advocated proper wages and health and safety rights. The Gilded Age witnessed social divisions due to rapid industrialization and conflicts existed between individuals who believed in the right to pursue own economic interest and those who wanted collective freedom for all Americans. The reformers worked hard to push for laws of equality and liberty.

Chapter 18: The Progressive Era, 1900-1916

In this chapter, the author explores the progressive era, which was a period of economic expansion, an increase in population, and a rise of consumer markets. During this period, the cities became the focus of progressive politics.  Cities were central in the progressive era because more Americans lived in urban areas. Additionally, progressives formed social movements to bring about political and social changes. According to the author, freedom in the progressive era also included economic freedom and women’s participation in the expanding economy. The gender roles changed and more women started working, demonstrating a symbol of economic freedom. Moreover, in 1914, Ford raised his employees’ wages to allow them to afford goods from factories. Driven by the desire for consumer goods, other workers joined movements to lobby for better wages. Unfortunately, social inequality also increased, especially among immigrants who endured long work hours and low wages.

Industrial democracy and freedom from the Gilded Age became political subjects in the progressive era.  The Socialists sought economic freedom through reforms in education, better labor conditions, and ownership of property. The rise of feminism in the progressive era brought a new meaning of personal freedom for women who enjoyed free sexual expression and liberty.

The progressives focused on reforming the monopolies by the political bosses, restore the political power to citizens, and reunite the divided society. The progressive champions, namely William Howard, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson fostered the emergence of a nation-state. Through political mobilizations, a nation-state arose and the government worked to advance economic and social freedom. The government came up with labor relations laws that protected citizens from abuse and disrupted social freedom.

Chapter 19: Safe for Democracy: The United States and World War I, 1916-1920

In this chapter, the writer talks about the involvement of the United States in the World War I.  The progressives advocated this involvement with the belief that America would spread the progressive values across the world.  However, the author notes that rather than spreading progressive ideas to the world, the World War I was destructive to America.

The World War 1 broke out in Europe following the assassination of the Heir to the Hungarian-Auto Empire. The USA President declared neutrality after the War broke out. Nevertheless, as the War spread across Europe, the Americans became divided with some siding with Great Britain while German -Americans sided with Germany.  According to the author, It was after the sinking of a British submarine, which led to death of 124 Americans, that the United States geared up for the war. In 1917, the President declared War against Germany.

The USA focused its manpower and economic resources to the War. Additionally, the progressives supported the War and considered it an opportunity for national growth and better social justice. During the War nationalism increased as the federal state regulated the labor relations, agriculture and industries. Racial divisions, which existed before the War, hindered proper democracy.

In 1919, there was a worldwide social and political revolution upsurge.  In United States, a strike of 4 million workers occurred leading to the greatest upsurge of labor unrest in the nation. Most nationalist movements arose to challenge colonies and demand their independence. According to the author, the great world war was an opportunity for the United Sates to influence democracy in the world the world.

Chapter 20: From Business Culture to Great Depression: The Twenties, 1920-1932

This chapter explores the decade after World War I, which as a period of great prosperity following the end of World War I. According to the writer, there was a radical rise in economic and productivity output. The automobile became the backbone of the nation’s economy. Consequently, it accelerated the growth of other industries such as oil and steel production, and the tourism industry.

The growth of American business was met with many inequalities. Many corporations amassed profits at the expense of industrial workers. The government promoted a pro-business culture. Progressivism was dismantled and most government appointees were pro-business minded. As a result of the pro-business policies, there was a rebirth of the civil rights liberties that sought to restore American freedom. The concept of freedom of speech against the government also came into place. A growing pluralism culture that erased traditionalist values was not embraced well by all Americans.

The collapse of the stock market in 1929 was the cause of the Great Depression that affected the entire world. There were signs of economic challenges before 1929 that indicated reduced demand for American goods by Europeans and stagnated sales of some consumer goods. By 1930, about 26,000 businesses crashed.

The Great Depression destroyed the image of businesses that had been cultivated in the United States through the 1920s. According to the author, the Great Depression became the biggest economic crisis in American history. By 1932, American freedom was defined by the principles of progressive ideas for positive change in the economy, and principles advocating for respect to civil liberties and the pluralism culture.

Chapter 22: Fighting the Four Freedoms: World War II, 1941-1945

In this chapter, the author explores the period of the World War II, which strengthened the international role of the United States. The War pointed out that American security influenced the entire world and could only be protected through the achievement of American core values. Additionally, World War II redrew the boundaries of American nationality and the immigrants were recognized as loyal Americans.

In the mid-1930s, there was a disintegration of the rule of law, which indicated the onset of war. The writer mentions that war arose when Adolf Hitler in Germany sought to control the European continent. When Hitler aggressions increased, the United States became a close ally of other nations that fought Germany by providing arms. The United States mobilized for the World War through the formation of state agencies, such as the War Production Board. The GDP rose by $123 billion during the War.

In contrast to the destructive World War I, the writer notes that World War II was the good war that brought national unity. The Americans fought for four freedoms including freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom from want.  Further, America’s postwar vision was about bringing about economic abundance, spreading democracy, becoming a role model to other countries and ensuring that all races enjoyed freedom equally.

At the end of the war, the World Bank and the United Nations were formed to support the reconstruction of countries and promote international cooperation. The end of World War II made the United States the most powerful nation in the world, giving it more influence beyond its national borders.

Chapter 23: The United States and the Cold War, 1945-1953

In this Chapter, the author explores the Cold War period, which emerged from conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States became a super-powerful nation in the world at the end of World War II. The country had the largest manufacturing capability and the most powerful military. The Soviet Union was also a powerful nation aiming to bring about spheres of influence across the world.

In 1947, President Truman officially declared that the Cold War would lay a foundation for future freedom in the world. Consequently, the Marshal plan was implemented by the United States to support the reconstruction of Europe and to contain it from falling in the rule of the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, the Cold War turned freedom to a subject of discussion in journalism and academics. The writer notes that Totalitarianism emerged in Europe and supported the idea that the government should control all unions, voluntary organizations, and churches.  However, the United States was against the totalitarians and communism of the Soviets.

The Cold War affected the idea of human rights because both the Soviets and the United States did not embrace outside interference on their foreign policies. Additionally, more power to a nation was a threat to freedom of its citizens. Therefore, the President’s policies advocated for a peaceful economy, upholding civil rights and end of racism.

Anticommunist crusades influenced the culture and politics of Americans. All individuals and social and political organizations were forced to comply with anticommunism. The Cold War greatly influenced American’s lives through more development. However, anticommunism affected negatively the civil and labor rights movements.

Chapter 24: An Affluent Society, 1953-1960

This chapter talks about the Golden Age after World War II, which was the era of better living standards, economic expansion, high employment rates and stability of goods prices.  According to the writer, the Gross National Product multiplied between 1946 and 1960.  Additionally, there was better healthcare, education, and housing for the ordinary citizen. The period had many innovations including jet air, telephone services, and television.

The United States became the most established industrial power. The consumer culture was central to the economy in the Golden era. The also era transformed the roles of women. Many women gained career independence through employment. In 1955, labor conflicts reduced and employers granted workers better wages and fringe benefits. The Third World emerged the United States to support these nations to become independent states.

Suburbanization in America increased racial segregation. As more Whites moved to suburbs, more blacks from the occupied the ghettos in the north. Freedom movements were formed in this period to fight for equality of the blacks. Martin Luther King Jr. became the hero that led a southern movement for blacks’ civil rights. Many movements were motivated by racial segregation, which was still evident with half of the black population living in poverty. To the blacks, freedom meant enjoying equal political and economic rights as Whites.

According to the writer, the 1960 election was a significant time of change in American lives.  In this era, both the Republican and Democrat political parties nominated different candidates for the Presidency. The affluent society period led to the transformation of America’s economy, the political culture, better labor rights, and civil rights.

Chapter 27: Globalization and its Discontents, 1989-2000

In this chapter, the writer explains the Globalization period that encouraged international commerce. The scale and scope of globalization were increased by the development of the internet, which improved information flow across the world.  The writer mentions that this development allowed financial institutions and manufacturers to scour for profitable investments across the world.

The end of communism 1989 led to the spread of market capitalism. The government was not to interfere with people’s economic activities. In the 1990s, both President Bill Clinton and George Bush sought to make the world a free economy and improve democracy and living standards. President Clinton supported international human rights. Previously the interventions were considered internal affairs of sovereign nations. Nevertheless, in the 1990s the international community was involved.

The government brought about a remarkable change in the economy. By 2000, the unemployment rate in the United States dropped to 4%. However, unemployment was higher in Europe and many third world nations experienced trade deficits. The United States also experienced disharmony because of religious and racial differences. People demanded education, politics, and jobs that reflected this diversity. The 2000 election result demonstrated a divided political system. The president was selected not based on the democracy of voters, but whoever received popular votes. Money controlled the political system in the 2000 election.

According to the author, 1900-2000 decade had positive and negative outcomes. The daily lives of people improved across the globe due to the development of new products. Additionally, people enjoyed the freedom of expression, social justice, freedom of democracy, economic freedom. Nevertheless, this decade witnessed many conflicts, genocides, and environmental degradation

Chapter 28: September 11 and the Next American Century

This chapter explores the events of September 11, 2001, which marked one of the most tragic days in the United States.  On this day, terrorists hijacked four American jet planes that crashed killing around 3000 people. The terror attack was by the AL Qaeda group led by Osama bin Laden.  According to the author, Millions of people living in New York City lost their jobs, many firms collapsed, tourism was affected, and the city suffered an economic crisis.

The events of September 11 brought transformation to President Bush administration. The President declared a war on terrorism through a foreign policy called the Bush Doctrine. He launched War in Afghanistan and Iraq and imposed limitations of civil rights to people with a link to terrorism, especially the Middle East immigrants. The Americans shared a common voice and supported the government giving Bush more popular. The war on terrorism disrupted the balance between security and liberty. There was increased spying, reading emails and accessing personal records. The law enforcement agencies arrested people with a connection to the Middle East. Some of the immigrants with no link to terrorism lost their liberty and were locked for months.

Economic recession occurred under the Bush administration, threatening his ability to be reelected. His popularity eroded in the second term due to the War against Iraq, which violated international law, and increased corruption in the government. As a result, there was the victory of the Democrats in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama. It was a historic moment with the First African American president. The September 11 events changed the American foreign policy and increased its determination to influence the world with American values.

The book offers great insights about the American history through discussions related to the need for freedom. Through the books changing definition and meaning of freedom, leaners can understand the impact of the social condition on American’s lives. The book provides details about the connection between American history and concepts of liberty and freedom.



Work Cited

Foner, Eric. Give me liberty!: An American history. New York: Norton, 2005.