Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America Summary & Study Guide

Carl Neumann Degler
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Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America Summary & Study Guide Description

Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America by Carl Neumann Degler.

Out of Our Past by Carl Degler is, as the sub-title suggests, the story of what shaped modern America. Appropriately, the work starts with America's very beginnings with the arrival of the Puritans who left England in the sixteenth century to seek religious tolerance. Their goal was to make a home in a place where they would not be persecuted for their religious beliefs. The colonies were formed by the Puritans whose high moral character was entrenched in the heart and soul of the new settlements. And at least elements of their values have remained part of America.

The first three hundred years of the new country was spent populating the vast region that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Europeans were drawn to the new country not just for the ability to practice their faith in peace but because the new country's rich and fertile lands that beckoned to them could be had for a pittance. The colonies offered a new life full of promise. Earning a living in America was a departure from what Europeans had grown accustomed to. There was a distinct class system in the Old World where the acquisition of wealth was limited to those of high birth. In the New World, a capitalistic society was budding. There was less distance between rich and poor and, mobility from the bottom of society could catapult an ambitious person to the top literally overnight.

During the seventeenth century a sense of nationalism and pride in being American began to gain strength. America opened its doors to other Europeans in addition to the English. The new immigrants brought with them a willingness to work hard along with new cultures and languages that made America unique and diverse. As the colonies began to compete for trade with England and gain an imposing economic presence, the motherland levied heavy taxes on America which led to rebellion. After the Sugar Tax, Tea Tax, Stamp Act and and other English laws placed unfair taxes on the colonies, the country finally had enough. The colonies took up arms and were able to claim their independence after victory against England in the American Revolution.

America declared that all men were created equal. Historic figures led the country to a new pride and world standing. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, to name a few, were early leaders who were passionately isolationist. Washington warned against becoming involved in foreign entanglements. Jefferson considered Americans superior to Europeans and disdained the thought of becoming involved in European battles. The Monroe doctrine was the first to edge away from this policy in that it warned that US military might could be used in the event other powers attempted to intervene in North or South American affairs or invade any of their regions.

The Industrial Revolution and the resultant urbanization led to great and lasting transformation. The once predominantly agrarian society turned into one centered in large cities. Manufacturing brought factories and the demand for labor seemed unending. Rural Americans found they had better opportunities in the city and the influx of immigrants increased like never before. During the Civil War, machinery advanced because women and immigrants who weren't as skilled as the men who were off fighting were filling the majority of labor needs.

The Civil war was the South's war for independence. The north had begun to abolish slavery but the South clung to the system. The South also viewed the regulations from the Federal government as favoring the northern states. After the bloody, hard fought war, the Union emerged victoriously and the black man was free. It took decades for the south to reconcile its relationship with the black man and come out of the economic hole into which the war had placed it.

America reluctantly became involved in World War I in 1914 after which foreign policy became more idealistic and aggressive. Under President Wilson, America's new policy placed on the table the potential that it would help preserve peace in the world. The Great Depression nearly destroyed the economy and the fundamentals of the United States. Many enduring social programs and policies were instituted during this time under the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt, one of the most popular presidents of all time. World War II brought down the threat of Nazism only to be looking a new threat in the face—Russia and Communism.

The decades in which the US opposed Communist aggression was known as the Cold War. America and its allies were able to beat back the Communist invasion and occupation in Korea which then led to the Vietnam War—the only modern war in which America did not emerge victoriously. During the administration of President Carter, there was a return to a more humane foreign policy. President Reagan followed suit by establishing an under secretary of state for human rights.

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