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Old 07-11-2012, 12:13 PM
 
31,371 posts, read 33,808,562 times
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I keep running across this meme that the current state of the nation is at its worst point in history. Unfortunately all of these observations have an underlying political agenda which is fine when it comes to political arguments, but lacks foundation in the historical record.

This being the history forum and considering the higher level of debate that takes place here, I am hoping, that we can have an honest and historical discussion to put the present circumstances into its proper historical perspective.

To begin with, I think that any discussion today claiming that the current status of the nation is the worst in the nation's history while at the same at time the nation is commemorating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War to be, on the face of it, a risible argument and one that need not be rehashed here.

I also find equally, ahistorical to claim that the national debt combined with the so-called challenges to American power by China and a resurgent Russia to be greater than the financial and geo-political conditions faced by the nation in period between 1940 and 1945 when nation still recovering from the Great Depression, federal debt that rose to over 120% of GDP and the nation confronted actively hostile, not potential, actions of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany to be more than a tad disingenuous,

With regard to hostilities and divisions within the body public, I ask that we consider those divisions within the context of the periods of 1965 to 1972, the labor wars between during the later part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. And as far as politics are concern, let us consider the election battles between Jefferson v Adams, 1800, Jackson v J.Q. Adams 1828, Cleveland v Blaine, 1884, Hoover v Smith, 1928 (if you like you can add Johnson v Goldwater, 1964). I also hasten to add, that it has been a long time since a former Secretary of the Treasury was involved in a duel with a sitting Vice President - Cheney hunting parties notwithstanding.

I propose this discussion not with the intent of glossing over the present circumstances of the country but rather to put it in historical perspective so on the off chance that anyone should choose to honestly discuss the present circumstances at least the debate will have a rational and historical basis.

Thank you.
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Old 07-12-2012, 03:24 PM
 
Location: Sinking in the Great Salt Lake
13,145 posts, read 20,412,505 times
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We are nowhere near the the worst point in American history, but we may still end up there considering how things are going.

Anyway, the low point of this country certainly had to be the Civil War. Next I'd say the Great Depression and WWII years.

Those were days when America truly stood on the edge of maw of hell and nearly lost her balance... If you don't mind me waxing poetically a bit.

I hope we don't try it for a third time...
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Old 07-12-2012, 04:11 PM
 
28,900 posts, read 49,189,534 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ovcatto View Post
I keep running across this meme that the current state of the nation is at its worst point in history. Unfortunately all of these observations have an underlying political agenda which is fine when it comes to political arguments, but lacks foundation in the historical record.

This being the history forum and considering the higher level of debate that takes place here, I am hoping, that we can have an honest and historical discussion to put the present circumstances into its proper historical perspective.

To begin with, I think that any discussion today claiming that the current status of the nation is the worst in the nation's history while at the same at time the nation is commemorating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War to be, on the face of it, a risible argument and one that need not be rehashed here.

I also find equally, ahistorical to claim that the national debt combined with the so-called challenges to American power by China and a resurgent Russia to be greater than the financial and geo-political conditions faced by the nation in period between 1940 and 1945 when nation still recovering from the Great Depression, federal debt that rose to over 120% of GDP and the nation confronted actively hostile, not potential, actions of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany to be more than a tad disingenuous,

With regard to hostilities and divisions within the body public, I ask that we consider those divisions within the context of the periods of 1965 to 1972, the labor wars between during the later part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. And as far as politics are concern, let us consider the election battles between Jefferson v Adams, 1800, Jackson v J.Q. Adams 1828, Cleveland v Blaine, 1884, Hoover v Smith, 1928 (if you like you can add Johnson v Goldwater, 1964). I also hasten to add, that it has been a long time since a former Secretary of the Treasury was involved in a duel with a sitting Vice President - Cheney hunting parties notwithstanding.

I propose this discussion not with the intent of glossing over the present circumstances of the country but rather to put it in historical perspective so on the off chance that anyone should choose to honestly discuss the present circumstances at least the debate will have a rational and historical basis.

Thank you.
Anybody who writes this is either manipulative or a nitwit or both. My God. Hey, it's no picnic right now, but I can name plenty of times. Let's see.

1. The American Revolution.
2. The War of 1812. Even though we sometimes feel like burning the Capitol and the White House, doubt that's going to happen anytime soon.
3. The Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Long Depression.
4. The Great Depression, which I'm actually going to say began in 1928 when the money supply was too high and the Federal Reserve began tightening it too late to be effective. It went on until 1941 when we hit...
5. World War II. Forget the jingoism for a moment. For four years it was deprivation at home and 12,000,000 soldiers overseas.
6. The 60s and 70s. Kent State. Vietnam. Nixonomics. Inflation. Stagflation.

And that's just off the cuff. I bet I can make the case for more times than this. Let's see. We have the rule of law. We don't have over-the-top taxation levels. And while we do have Afghanistan, we do not have hundreds of soldiers dying every day in combat.
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Old 07-12-2012, 04:13 PM
 
14,781 posts, read 38,581,656 times
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I find the challenge with these discussions is that it is very hard to determine what baseline would you use as the measure? Afterall the "worst" can be expressed in many ways. Is it related to America's economic power? It's military power? The very existence of the nation?

In reality there were only two moments that the United States actually faced "extinction". The first is obviously the Revolutionary War. One could argue that the United States didn't exist then, but it is the genesis of the nation. That is the war that essentially decided whether we existed or not. I can't think of a lower point overall then the beginning. We were poor (we relied on Dutch credit), we had no real military and we were fighting the most powerful nation on Earth for our very existence.

The second moment is of course the Civil War. If one discards the Revolution time period, this is the only other moment the nation was really threatened with the end of its existence. Had the South prevailed, not only would the nation have been cut in half, but a cascade is a very real possibility leading to the dissolution of the nation into component regional blocks. From the creation of the nation this was the only time we really stared over the precipice.

While the War of 1812 could certainly be considered a low point, the existence of the United States itself was not really threatened. A loss could have irrevocably changed the westward expansion of the country, but we would still be here. WW2 is obviously a monumental moment in American history, but let's face it, the Germans and Japanese were not going to be invading the US no matter what happened elsewhere in the world.

Economically, the low point of the US was of course the Great Depression. However, for everything involved in it the existence of the nation itself was not threatened in any real capacity and we still had the capability to attempt to address the issues and muddle into a recovery followed by fighting a massive war. The US has always been an economic powerhouse from the beginning. US agriculture has always been a cornerstone of our economy since the beginning and the US operated the largest mercantile fleet in the world virtually from the moment the nation was born. Over that time there were many "panics", "crises", "slides", "recessions" and "depressions", but none of them really threatened the existence of the nation and we came back stronger from each of them.

Militarily the US was pretty much a joke among major powers until WW2. For much of our history our Navy couldn't even properly defend our mercantile interests which were the lifeblood of the nation. Only since WW2 has America become a dominant military power and even then at our lowest points (post-Vietnam and post-Korea) the US was still a "super power".

Domestically, there have certainly been many times the country was extremely divided over issues. However, I think it is a testament to the structure of the nation that we are able to morph and adapt repeatedly in largely non-violent ways to these changes. While many nations plunge into revolution and civil war the US, with one exception, has managed to absorb and handle the changes.

Overall, looking back across the history of the country, I think we can find no other moment other then the Civil War and especially the years immediately preceeding it as the "low point" of America. That is the moment our institutions failed to handle the discourse of the nation and reach compromise. Primarily because our Constitution failed to properly address the issue from the beginning and this remains to me, its only major flaw. Any other threat ever presented to the nation whether it be economic or military never rose to the level of threatening our very existence.
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Old 07-12-2012, 06:02 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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I'm an forward looking optimist, I like to think that the worst is still yet to come.
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Old 07-13-2012, 12:44 AM
 
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In terms of brief but sharp panics, the Spanish influenza era of 1918 was a troubled time in the US (and for the world in general, obviously). It came at the tail-end of World War I, in which the US had taken over 100,000 fatalities. Again, that wasn't actually so bad by global standards compared to other WWI combatants, but for an America that was still somewhat isolationist, it wasn't a great morale booster. The espionage and sedition acts came about in that era as well, and overall, it was a bit of a depressed time for the country.
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Old 07-13-2012, 06:31 AM
 
Location: Atlanta
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I think that anytime a country is engaged in WAR, a large conflict then that period of time has to rank fairly low. When you top that with a civil conflict of the worst proportions then I think you have a hands down winner. I don't think any era can compare to the civil war era and those few years leading up to it and those first few years after it. I don't think America has seen anything worse than the period between 1850-1870... nothing even close IMO.
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Old 07-13-2012, 06:33 PM
 
Location: Pennsylvania
1,718 posts, read 2,006,108 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ovcatto View Post
I keep running across this meme that the current state of the nation is at its worst point in history. Unfortunately all of these observations have an underlying political agenda which is fine when it comes to political arguments, but lacks foundation in the historical record.

This being the history forum and considering the higher level of debate that takes place here, I am hoping, that we can have an honest and historical discussion to put the present circumstances into its proper historical perspective.
I'm glad there is a higher level of debate here. I usually just lurk, but it's nice to know that intelligent people can have disagreements without totally losing perspective.

Quote:
Originally Posted by NJGOAT View Post
I find the challenge with these discussions is that it is very hard to determine what baseline would you use as the measure? Afterall the "worst" can be expressed in many ways. Is it related to America's economic power? It's military power? The very existence of the nation?
Right, because never is it that any given point is necessarily a "worst time" for every individual (if we are going to measure "best" by human baseline and not, say, the historic wild range of the Mountain Lion ). An aggregate measure of various indicators could be applied to various times if we want to find an overall ranking. In that case, should any pre-emancipation period even be eligible for "best time"? I would argue no. At various points 13%-19% of the total U.S. population was enslaved...if we count non-citizen slaves as part of the total population, that is. Or we could reference the 3/5 Compromise to skew the numbers. It would be more honest to just count them as whole people, I think. While we're considering technical non-citizens, we may as well count precolonial native peoples. Does anyone have any good numbers of what percentage of the overall population Indians were from, say, 1776 - 1865? Indian removal projects and general disease, fighting, etc. lower the score.

As cpg35223 mentioned, Reconstruction and the Long Depression were deeply problematic and protracted times of widespread problems and hazard. That takes us to 1885. From then through the 1920s were deeply transitional in economic terms, providing the structure for substantial future quality of life improvements, although it was marked by labor unrest and unsanitary conditions in major cities. Neither of which were totally new I suppose, but increased dramatically in scale.

My very general conclusion is that we've been on a broad general improvement since post WWII with notable times of generalized stress as cpg35223 also noted. I'm not sure I see any significant impediments on the scale of previous worst problems areas in the U.S. in terms of overall public health, safety, and economic security.

We could be entering a period of splintered political parties that could in turn eventually change how elections are held, how winners are determined, etc., and if that actually happens it's hard to say what kind of transition that could be or if structural governmental changes would eventually follow. It can be tempting to feel that way(!) but maybe it's alarmist?
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Old 07-14-2012, 05:05 PM
 
Location: Maryland about 20 miles NW of DC
6,106 posts, read 5,412,163 times
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I nominate the 1850s, the age of Know Nothingism, the Dred Scott Decision, Potowatimee Brown and Bleeding Kansas Mr Brown also to appeared at a place called Harpers Ferry Virginia. Who can forget the canning of Sen Charles Sumner of Massachusettes on the Senate Floor. Some of the Poorest Presidents in US history Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchannan. Then add the Election of 1860. After we got through the 1850s the nation blew apart. How can anyother period in American history top that!
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Old 07-15-2012, 11:30 PM
 
3,912 posts, read 8,476,259 times
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1. American Revolution- in the early days of the war we were getting our butts kicked by the British.
2. The War of 1812- British Invasion almost resulted in the destruction of our country.
3. Civil War- Our country was killing itself, but no matter which side won, we would still exist.
4. Articles of Confederation/pre-Consitution years- our economy was a disaster.
5. Reconstruction Years and Depression- Impacted the South primarily
6. Great Depression- Economic catastrophe that lasted 12 years.
7. The late 60's/early 70's with Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights movements. Our country was divided.
8. September 11th, 2001 events and subsequent wars
9. Current economic crisis that began in 2007 with the housing bubble burst and persists today with high unemployment.
10. 1970's and early 1980's economy- From the Arab Oil Embargoes to the Ford/Carter inflation to the Reagan Recession.
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