Sections of the Government article give overviews of the Constitution of the United States and provide basic information on how the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government operate. Other sections discuss the election process, political parties, state and local government, the law and courts, and crime and safety.
The United States government cannot be fully understood without knowledge of the nation’s history. Both the Government and History articles show how democracy has been an evolving concept based on political institutions that have been refurbished and modified generation by generation. At first the “we” in “We, the people” did not generally include women, Native Americans, black Americans, immigrants from Asia, 18- to 21-year-olds, or even white males who owned no land. Nearly a century and a half would pass before all of these groups gained basic civil rights through amendments to the Constitution and laws passed by Congress.
United States History
An inscription on the wall of the Chinatown History Project in New York City says: “It is true that history cannot satisfy our appetite when we are hungry, nor keep us warm when the cold wind blows. But it is also true that if younger generations do not understand the hardships and triumphs of their elders, then we will be a people without a past. As such, we will be like water without a source, a tree without roots.”
For people to understand the American experience, they must look to the past. History encompasses every aspect of society its geography, people, culture, economy, and government. Thus, the United States (History) article makes connections with, and gives greater depth to, the other articles. It also pays considerable attention to the two themes that thread their way through the other articles the process of making one nation out of its many people and the arduous work of implementing the country’s democratic principles.
The History article provides much insight into the work of making one people out of many constituent parts. It would take the work of generations of Americans to fulfill this dream and the work is not yet complete. Until slavery was abolished and former slaves were incorporated into free society, the oneness of the American people could never be accomplished. Successive waves of immigration intensified and complicated the quest for a unified people. A nearly catastrophic Civil War in the 1860s interrupted the process and perpetuated regional tensions that blocked it. Finding ways of reaching accommodation with Native Americans has remained a thorny issue to the present day. Nor could American women be fully incorporated into the society at large until they gained political rights, including the right to vote and hold office, which took until 1920.The History article also provides a wealth of material on efforts to bring all the various people who compose American society under the canopy of democracy. It describes the successive movements for reform that have taken up the uncompleted agenda first set forth by the Revolutionary generation. These movements began with the American Revolution and included social and political reform before the Civil War, populism and progressivism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the New Deal, and the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Beyond this, readers will find fascinating material that helps answer the question asked at the beginning of this introduction by French immigrant Cr?ecoeur: “What then is the American, this new man?”