History of the United States
America since 1960

The period of American history since 1960 has been marked by a continuation of many postwar trends. For much of the period, the country's foreign policy remained focused on the containment of Communism. The economy continued to expand, despite recurring periods of inflation and recession. The movement of people from cities to suburbs continued steadily. The 1970 U.S. Census showed that, for the first time, more Americans lived in suburbs than in cities.

The country continued to be a leader in scientific and technological advancements. It made great strides in medicine that helped reduce human suffering, and its technological skill provided the means for a new and exciting field of exploration--outer space.

At the same time, events and new public attitudes brought dramatic social changes to the United States. The black civil rights movement grew in intensity in the 1960's. Many other groups--including American Indians, Mexican Americans, and women--also began demanding fuller rights. In the mid-1960's, many Americans began challenging U.S. foreign-policy decisions. Protesters of all kinds staged demonstrations to try to bring about change.

Crime and violence soared in the United States after 1960, and pollution threatened the environment. Concern over political corruption grew in the 1970's, and helped bring about the first resignation of an American president, Richard M. Nixon. The list of the nation's problems was long. But at the same time, most Americans maintained a deep pride in their country.

The 1960's

The civil rights movement. The black civil rights movement became the main domestic issue in the nation in the early 1960's. Increasingly, blacks--joined by whites--staged demonstrations to dramatize their demands for rights and equality. One of the highlights of the movement came on Aug. 28, 1963, when more than 200,000 people staged a freedom march called the March on Washington in Washington, D.C.

John F. Kennedy, who became president in 1961, urged Congress to pass legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of race. Kennedy was killed by an assassin on Nov. 22, 1963, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became president. Johnson, a former U.S. senator skilled in dealing with legislators, persuaded Congress to pass many major civil rights laws.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in employment, voter registration, and public accommodations (public facilities such as parks, public lavatories, and bus services). The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was designed to end discrimination in the sale and renting of housing. Congress, at Johnson's urging, also provided financial aid for the needy.

Urban unrest. In spite of government aid and a generally booming economy, poverty remained a major problem in America's central cities. Discontent among blacks in poor, decaying neighbourhoods grew. In the mid-1960's, blacks staged riots in the ghettos of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, and other cities. Many blacks also rioted in 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The number of such crimes as murder, robbery, and rape soared during the 1960's. The crime rate was especially high in the central cities but also increased rapidly elsewhere. Sociologists blamed such factors as the weakening of the family, poverty, mental illness, drug addiction, and a feeling of hopelessness and alienation.

The Vietnam War brought further turmoil in the 1960's. The war had begun in 1957 as a battle for control of South Vietnam between the non-Communist government and Communists. In the late 1950's and early 1960's, presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy sent military aid and advisers to support the South Vietnam government. Soon after Johnson became president, the Communists threatened to topple the government. Johnson responded to the threat by sending hundreds of thousands of American combat troops to help South Vietnam fight the Communists. By the mid-1960's, the United States was deeply involved in the Vietnam War.

A majority of Americans supported the war effort at first, but others bitterly opposed it. In the late 1960's, opposition to the war grew. The war critics argued that the United States had no right to interfere in Vietnamese affairs. Throughout the nation, university students and others staged antiwar demonstrations.

Johnson, discouraged by the criticism of his Vietnam policy, refused to run for reelection in 1968. The people elected Richard Nixon, partly because he pledged to end U.S. involvement in the war. But as the 1960's ended, U.S. troops were still in Vietnam.

Space exploration by American astronauts provided a high note during the troubled 1960's. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space. In the 1960's, the United States and the Soviet Union matched their technological skills in a race to land the first person on the moon. Then, on July 20, 1969, millions watched on TV as U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon's surface.

The 1970's

Political scandals rocked the United States in the 1970's. In 1972, campaign workers for President Nixon's reelection committed a burglary at the Democratic political headquarters in the Watergate building complex in Washington, D.C. Nixon was later charged with covering up the burglary and with other illegal activities. Evidence against Nixon mounted until it became apparent that the House of Representatives would impeach him and that the Senate would remove him from office. On Aug. 9, 1974, he resigned as president. He was the only U.S. president ever to resign. Vice President Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon as president. He pardoned Nixon for all federal crimes the former president might have committed while in office.

The drive for equality that began with blacks spread to other minority groups. American Indians, Mexican Americans, and others organized active movements aimed at gaining equality. In addition, large numbers of women began calling for an end to discrimination based on sex. Their activities became known as the Women's Liberation Movement. The movement helped bring about greater equality for women in employment and other areas.

Pollution and conservation. As the country's industry and population grew, so did the pollution of its environment. Smoke from factories and fumes from cars filled the air with dangerous gases. Wastes from factories and other sources polluted many rivers and lakes. Many Americans began demanding government action to control environmental pollution. In response, the government passed many antipollution laws. But the problem remains severe.

The need to conserve energy became another pressing problem for the country. America's many industries and other energy users placed a drain on the nation's limited energy supply. The energy crisis was highlighted in 1973, when a fuel shortage reduced the supply of oil for heating homes and petrol. In 1979, another petrol shortage hit parts of the nation.

Foreign affairs. The chief U.S. foreign policies in the 1970's were aimed at ending the Vietnam War and easing world tensions. Nixon removed America's last ground forces from Vietnam in 1973. Two years later, South Vietnam fell to the Communists.

Nixon also took steps to reduce tensions between the United States and China and the Soviet Union, the two leading Communist powers. In 1972, he visited these countries. Nixon reached agreements with the Chinese and Soviet leaders that seemed to improve U.S. relations with the Communist powers.

Jimmy Carter, elected president in 1976, worked to end a long-standing dispute with Panama over control of the Panama Canal. In 1978, the U.S. Senate approved a treaty negotiated by the Carter administration that will give Panama control of the canal on Dec. 31, 1999. Another treaty will give the United States the right to defend the canal's neutrality.

Carter also tried to improve U.S. relations with China and the Soviet Union. In early 1979, the United States and China established normal diplomatic relations. Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union declined sharply when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in late 1979.

Troubles in the Middle East, a region that is important to U.S. security, also challenged the United States. In 1978, Carter arranged meetings that led to a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. In Iran, a revolution overthrew the government of the shah (ruler) in February 1979. In November, revolutionaries took over the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, Iran's capital, to protest against U.S. aid to the deposed shah. The revolutionaries held a group of U.S. citizens as hostages, and they demanded that the United States return the shah to Iran for trial. The U.S. government refused to do so. The shah died in Egypt in July 1980, but the revolutionaries held the hostages until January 1981.

Domestic problems. The worst period of inflation in American history began in the late 1960's. In the early 1970's, a severe recession led to high unemployment. The economy recovered in the mid-1970's, when the recession ended and the rate of inflation slowed down. Inflation began to rise sharply again in the late 1970's.

Since 1980

The economy became the main concern of President Ronald Reagan, who succeeded Carter in 1981. Reagan wanted to slash the inflation rate and balance the federal budget. Inflation slowed again, largely due to a recession that began in mid-1981.

To stimulate the economy, Reagan proposed the largest federal income tax reduction in U.S. history. Congress approved the tax-cut programme, which scheduled cuts in 1981, 1982, and 1983. But high interest rates continued to limit spending by consumers and investment by business. The recession worsened, and the nation experienced its highest rate of unemployment since 1941. An economic recovery began in 1983, and unemployment fell sharply. Inflation remained low. But the tax cuts and heavy government defence spending helped bring about record deficits in the federal budget.

During the 1980's, the economy of the United States became more integrated with those of other nations. The country's economic partners included not only many European nations, as in the past, but also many Asian nations. In 1989, a trade agreement between the United States and Canada began reducing trade barriers between the two countries.

Important changes also took place within the U.S. economy. Some industries of the early 1900's lost importance. For example, mining, steel production, and car manufacturing played smaller roles in the nation's economy while service industries expanded.

Foreign affairs. In foreign affairs, the United States became increasingly concerned with unrest in Central America. Much fighting took place between rebels and government troops in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Cuba and the Soviet Union gave aid to the government of Nicaragua and rebels in El Salvador. The United States supported a rebellion against the Nicaraguan government and provided military aid to El Salvador's government. ongress banned military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels, called the contras, during the mid-1980's.

In 1986, two secret operations of the Reagan administration were revealed and became known as the Iran-contra affair. One operation involved sales of U.S. weapons to Iran, a suspected supporter of international terrorism. The other operation included use of profits from the arms sales to aid the contras, even though such aid was at that time prohibited.

The United States suffered international criticism for both policies.

The United States launched a huge military build-up during the early 1980's. It also began to carry out a programme to supply its allies in Western Europe with hundreds of nuclear missiles. U.S.-Soviet relations improved in 1987 when Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a treaty that called for the dismantling of all ground-launched U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres. The treaty, which went into effect in 1988, helped ease fear of nuclear war. Tension was further reduced in 1988 when the Soviet Union began withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Recent developments

In 1989, George Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as president. Bush had to deal with the worst crisis in the savings and loan industry since the Great Depression of the 1930's. avings and loan institutions provide loans for building or buying homes. In the 1980's, more than 1,000 of these institutions failed. Their problems resulted from several factors, including mismanagement, fraud, and customers' nonpayment of loans.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded and took over Kuwait, a small, oil-rich country between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The United States contributed tens of thousands of troops to the huge build-up of Allied forces in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf area that followed Iraq's act of aggression. In November, the United Nations Security Council authorized the United States and other UN members to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait by force if Iraq failed to withdraw by Jan. 15, 1991. Iraq ignored the deadline. The United States and its coalition partners then quickly defeated Iraq.

In July 1990, the economy entered a recession. By June 1991, 7 per cent of all U.S. civilian workers were unemployed. The economy began to grow again in 1991. But many people felt President Bush had failed to deal effectively with the nation's economic problems.

At a summit meeting in Moscow in July 1991, Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the first treaty to call for a reduction in the number of long-range nuclear weapons.

In January 1993, Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a second START agreement. The new treaty cut the total number of U.S. and former Soviet long-range nuclear weapons to less than half the number proposed by START 1.

The United States developed closer economic ties with its North American neighbours in 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect. Under NAFTA, the United States, Canada, and Mexico will gradually eliminate tariffs, import quotas, and other barriers to trade between the three countries. The agreement will create one of the largest free-trade zones in the world.

Violent crime, including murder and rape, continues to be a major problem in American society. Much of the crime is associated with poverty, drug abuse, street gangs, and the breakup of the traditional family unit.

When Bill Clinton succeeded Bush in 1993, he focused on domestic problems. The unemployment rate declined after Clinton became president. In the first half of his term, Clinton pushed through legislation to reduce the federal budget deficit by a combination of tax increases and spending reductions. The Congress that passed the legislation was controlled by Clinton's fellow Democrats. In the November 1994 elections, the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. The Republicans called for larger spending cuts to erase the deficit. Clinton responded with a proposal designed to wipe out the budget deficit by 2005. In 1997, Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress agreed to a compromise plan to end the deficit by 2002.