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Historical Glossary

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Bacon's Rebellion

Panicked by hostilities with Susquehannock Indians from September 1675 to January 1676, settlers from northern Va. joined forces under Nathaniel Bacon to retaliate for 36 whites killed in raids. In May 1676, Bacon began attacking all Indians within reach, including the Occaneeches, who had just attacked three Susquehannock towns. Governor William Berkeley, who had forbidden any Indian campaigns, declared Bacon a traitor on 10 May and had him arrested on 7 June, but pardoned him five days later when Bacon's supporters seemed likely to rescue him. Berkeley approved another Indian offensive, but called back Bacon and his 1,300 men when they advanced on peaceful Pamunkeys.
After killing and capturing many Pamunkeys in August, Bacon drove Berkeley and his 300 followers from Jamestown, which he entered on 19 September, and burned that night. Widespread lawlessness ensued as 1,600 Baconians plundered the plantations of the governor and his followers. The rebellion soon collapsed after Bacon died on 26 October of chronic diarrhea. Berkeley hanged 14 rebels under martial law before Bacon's death, and nine later. Fighting between the rebels and loyalists took about 25 lives, besides hundreds of Indians enslaved or killed by rebels.


A sum of money given to a court to secure an accused person's temporary release from arrest and to guarantee the person will appear in court at a later date. If the person fails to appear in court on the date set, the money is forfeited.

Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Company

On 15 May 1922, in a case related to Hammer v. Dagenhart, the Supreme Court struck down (8–1) the Child Labor Act's (1919) 10 percent tax on profits of companies using child labor to make goods for interstate sale (see child labor laws), because the tax was neither a proper use of federal police power nor a legitimate means of raising revenue, but rather a selective penalty. The Court reversed Bailey in United States v. Darby Lumber Company.

Baker v. Carr

On 26 March 1962, the Supreme Court ruled (6–2) that federal courts had jurisdiction over challenges to how state legislatures were apportioned, to protect the constitutional rights of voters. Baker overturned Colegrove v. Green (10 June 1946), which declared (4–3) that redistricting disputes were political issues over which the courts had no authority. This ruling laid the basis for increasing federal involvement with apportionment controversies. See Wesberry v. Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims.

bank holiday

On 5 March 1933, facing the bank panic of 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all 12,756 solvent banks to close until 12 March. A bank would only reopen when federal examiners guaranteed its financial soundness. The Emergency Banking Relief Act legalized the holiday. On the first day banks reopened, deposits exceeded withdrawals by $10,000,000 in spite of the pent-up need for cash created by the holiday. On 12 March, Roosevelt gave his first fireside chat to explain procedures for certifying banks and to guarantee that no institution had been allowed to reopen unless it was entirely sound. From 12 to 15 March, 4,507 national banks and 567 state-chartered banks (74 percent of banks in the Federal Reserve system) resumed business, and another 1,419 were operational by 15 April with loans from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).
The bank holiday broke the panic's hold on the public, and stimulated an influx of $1 billion in hoarded currency back to the banks by May. Of the remaining 4,215 banks, a quarter had reopened by 31 December with RFC loans, half reopened in early 1934, and a quarter had to be liquidated. The holiday took nearly all unsafe banks out of business, and the Banking Act (1933) ended fears about the financial system's soundness with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Bank of Augusta [Ga.] v. Earle

In 1839 the Supreme Court ruled that state-chartered corporations did not have all the rights guaranteed to “legal persons” by the Constitution. States might consequently limit or exclude other states' corporations from doing business within their own borders, although the Court recognized the general right of corporations to conduct business anywhere under the principle of “interstate comity.” The opinion that corporations were not legal persons with full constitutional rights was overturned in  Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company.

Bank of the United States v. Deveaux

n 1809 the Supreme Court set a rigorous test for federal jurisdiction over cases concerning state-chartered corporations: unless all the company's owners lived in different states than their legal adversaries, then federal courts must refer the case to a state venue. The ruling greatly limited the number of issues concerning corporations resolved by federal judges, until its reversal by Louisville Railroad Company v. Letson.

Bank of the United States, first

On 13 December 1790, Alexander Hamilton issued his Report on a National Bank, in which he proposed that Congress charter a bank. Modeled upon the Bank of England, Hamilton's bank would serve the Treasury as a depository for its surplus funds, a source of short-term credit, and a supplemental source of currency through its issue of bank notes; it would also serve the private sector by providing capital for commercial and industrial loans. The bank would be a semi-public entity, in which the US government subscribed 20 percent of its initial stock and named 20 percent of its directors. The bank stimulated the first debate over loose constructionism, and received a 20-year charter 25 February 1791. In 1811, despite support by Albert Gallatin, a bill extending the bank's charter was defeated by the House (24 January) and Senate (20 February), in part because two-thirds of its stock was then held by British investors. The bank was then liquidated among the shareholders.

Bank of the United States, second

On 10 April 1816, a second Bank of the United States received a national charter. The US government subscribed $7,000,000 of its $35,000,000 capitalization and named a fifth of its 25 directors. In return for safeguarding Treasury surpluses without having to give government interest, the bank paid the US a bonus of $1,500,000, which funded the Bonus Bill. The 1816 charter otherwise resembled the first bank's charter of 1791. The panic of 1819 left widespread resentment against the bank in the south and west, where the panic was blamed on its hard money policies. Nicholas Biddle was its president (1823–36). On 10 July 1832, Andrew Jackson vetoed an extension of its charter as unconstitutional; on 10 September 1833, he ordered all Treasury funds in the bank to be withdrawn and placed in pet banks. On 23 September he dismissed Treasury Secretary William Duane for refusing to do so, and replaced him with Roger Taney, whom the Senate refused to confirm on 24 June 1834, due to Henry Clay's opposition. Before the bank's federal charter expired on 1 March 1836, it received a state charter in February as the Bank of the United States of Pennsylvania, which failed in 1841 but paid off all its debts. It was eventually replaced by the Independent Treasury.

Bank panic of 1933

The crash of 1929 precipitated a spiraling number of bank failures resulting from uncollectable loans and depreciated mortgage collateral. Attempts to break this cycle with loans from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) failed because the RFC lacked sufficient capital to offset bank losses. From 1930 to March 1932, 5,504 banks had closed with deposits of $3.4 billion. In late 1933, a financial panic swept the US as depositors demanded their savings and forced banks to close. Between 4 February and 3 March, almost every state closed its banks, or left them open subject to severe restrictions. On 5 March, a day after taking office, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a bank holiday to halt the panic.

Bankhead Cotton Control Act (21 April 1934)

This law acted to reduce the chronic overproduction of cotton, which partly stemmed from the reluctance of many producers to join voluntary agreements to either restrict output under the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) or harvest more than their allotment. To reduce the surpluses, the Bankhead Act taxed all cotton ginned in excess of individual quotas, at the prohibitive rate of 5 cents per pound. Any farmers who failed to enroll in an AAA crop-limitation agreement would be taxed on their entire output. It successfully cut production and raised taxes, but became moot when the AAA was declared unconstitutional in 1936.

Bankhead–Jones Farm Tenancy Act

(22 July 1937)    This law funded low-interest, 40-year mortgages to tenants so that they could become landowners, and created the Farm Security Administration to make these loans. It also established the Rural Rehabilitation Program and Resettlement Administration.

Banking Act (16 June 1933)

This first Glass-Steagall act created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to restore faith in the banking system by insuring deposits up to $2,500 (raised to $5,000 in 1934). It forbade banks to underwrite investment loans or stock issues for corporations (this line of business was thereafter limited to brokerage firms) and restricted banks to sponsoring bond issues of states or their localities. It also strengthened the Federal Reserve system's regulatory powers and opened membership to more banks.

Banking Act (23 August 1935)

This law redesignated the Federal Reserve Board as the Board of Governors and increased its members to 7 from 6. It reconstituted the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee—formerly composed of all governors of the 12 federal reserve banks—to consist of all seven of the Board of Governors and five heads of federal reserve banks. These changes stripped the 12 federal reserve banks of their former power to set interest rates and reserve requirements for bank assets, and they centralized authority over these open market transactions with the Board of Governors in Washington. The law completed the establishment of a truly national banking system that centralized control in Washington over interest rates, expansion of credit, the money supply, and all other aspects of monetary policy.

Bankruptcy Act, first (4 April 1800)

The first federal Bankruptcy Act applied only to merchants and traders, and was motivated to permit the release of Robert Morris, superintendent of finance during the Revolution, from debtors' prison. It was repealed 19 December 1803.

Bankruptcy Act, second (19 August 1841)

The second US Bankruptcy Act provided universal access to voluntary bankruptcy for citizens regardless of occupation, but allowed creditors to attach assets of merchants. It was repealed in 1846.

Bannock Indians

Speakers of one of the Uto-Aztecan languages, the Bannocks are a subgroup of the Northern Paiute Indians, but developed their own tribal identity. Their homeland was southeastern Idaho and they incorporated horses into their culture in the 1700s. They might have numbered 2,000 before smallpox sharplydecreased their population in 1853. For harassing emigrants on the Oregon and California trails, they were settled on the Fort Hall reservation by 1869. Large-scale violence erupted a decade later in the Bannock–Paiute campaign. They now share the Fort Hall reservation with the Shoshoni.

Bannock–Paiute campaign

Suffering from hunger because hunting and other sources of food had declined due to increased settlement in Idaho, a Bannock wounded two whites grazing hogs on Indian prairie on 30 May 1878. About 900 Bannocks and Paiutes (including 500 warriors) left their reservations for an 800-mile trek through Oreg. and Wyo. under pursuit by Brigadier General Oliver Howard's 1,000 troops. By the last skirmish on 12 September, the army held 600 Paiute and 131 Bannock prisoners. US losses: 9 soldiers killed and 15 wounded, 31 settlers murdered. Indian losses: 78 dead.

Baptist church

The American Baptist tradition derived from English dissenters who adopted teachings of central Europe's 16th-century Anabaptists (re-baptizers). The Puritan Roger Williams founded the first Baptist church at Providence, R.I., in 1639. There were four Baptist congregations in 1660, 33 in 1700, and 96 in 1740. The Great Awakening began a period of rapid growth for the denomination, which won many converts through its lay preachers who used revival techniques. In 1776 there were 415 Baptist churches and just 25,000 members (1 percent of all whites); by 1791 there were 60,970 Baptist laymen, 564 clergy, and 748 congregations.
In 1845 a schism split the largest Baptist association (the “Regular” Baptists) over slavery when the Southern Baptist convention was founded. Northern “Regulars” became the Northern Baptist convention in 1907, and changed their name to the American Baptist convention in 1950. So many ex-slaves joined the fellowship that 40 percent of all Baptists were African-American by 1910; in 1880 they formed the National Baptist convention of the US, from which a large body seceded to organize the National Baptist convention of America in 1915.
The Baptists numbered 100,000 by 1800, and increased at a rate of 66 percent per decade over the next thirty years. The number of all Baptist pulpits rose from 2,700 in 1820, to 12,150 in 1860, and 49,905 in 1900. Membership grew from almost 1,000,000 in 1860 to over 4,000,000 in 1900. During the 20th century, the Baptists surpassed the Methodists as the largest Protestant faith, and experienced the largest growth of any mainline Protestant church. Membership in all Baptist conventions or associations was 28,464,000 (19 percent of all churchgoers) in 1990, when there were 97,994 congregations. Over half of these totals belonged to the Southern Baptist convention (14,907,800 members in 37,739 churches), and 29 percent belonged to the two largest black conventions (8,168,800 members in 37,398 churches).

Barbary pirates, wars with

By 1801, the US had sent $2,000,000 to ransom seamen imprisoned on Africa's Barbary Coast—plus annual tribute paid to Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis to keep their pirates from plundering American commerce. Between 2 April 1801 and mid-1802, the Navy Department deployed ten warships in the Mediterranean to prevent piracy. On 14 May 1801, Tripoli declared war on the US for not increasing the annual tribute paid as protection money to prevent raids on its ships.
On 7 August, in the war's first engagement, the USS Enterprize captured the pirate Tripoli. In June 1802 a naval blockade of Tripoli commenced. On 31 October 1803, the USS Philadelphia fell into enemy hands while aground in shallow water, but Lieutenant Stephen Decatur burned it on 16 February 1804. The Navy severely bombarded Tripoli harbor (3 August–4 September). On 27 April 1805, the Tripolitan seaport Derna surrendered to a navy cannonade and land attack by William Eaton, US consul at Tunis, and Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon, US Marines. Tripoli made peace on terms favorable to the US on 4 June 1805.
Tunis withdrew a threat to make war on the US in July 1805 when nine US warships threatened immediate retaliation. Algiers declared war on the US during the War of 1812 and its pirates began seizing American ships. On 10 May 1815, Decatur took ten ships to the Mediterranean and defeated two armed Algerian vessels. Algiers agreed to release American captives, pay restitution for hijacked American cargoes, and end its policy of demanding annual tribute to restrain pirates from attacking US commerce, by a treaty signed on 30 June. Decatur ended Barbary piracy by negotiating similar agreements with Tunis (26 July), and Tripoli (5 August).

Barenblatt v. United States

n 8 June 1959, the Supreme Court modified (5–4) Watkins v. United States by extending the scope of questions that a congressional committee might force an unwilling witness to answer. The Court upheld the contempt conviction of a witness for refusing to give evidence about subversive activity to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, because conflicts between government and private interests may be decided in the public's favor concerning vital matters such as preventing the overthrow of the Constitution.

Barron v. Baltimore

n 1833 the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Bill of Rights was intended only to prevent abuses by the US government, and was not obligatory upon state courts; it denied a claim under the Fifth Amendment that Baltimore pay restitution for a city policy that reduced a wharf's value. The Court reversed this ruling in Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad v. Chicago, which also concerned eminent domain; it later extended the entire Bill of Rights piecemeal, starting with Gitlow v. New York.

Bayard v. Singleton

1787 - First court decision in which a law was found unconstitutional based on a written constitution.

Bayonne Decree

On 17 April 1800, Napoleon reacted to the Embargo Act by ordering the confiscation of all US ships in ports under French control; he justified the seizures by claiming that since the embargo ordered the US merchant marine to remain at home, any vessels flying the US flag in Europe must be British ships with falsified US papers. American merchants suffered over $10,000,000 in losses of shipping and cargoes.

Bear Flag Revolt

Tensions created by the impending Mexican War led US citizens to attack Mexican authorities they believed were preparing to arrest them on 10 June 1846 near John Sutter's fort in Calif. On 14 June US insurgents occupied Sonoma, where they soon declared Calif. a republic and designed a flag with a grizzly bear facing a red star, from which the rebellion took its name. Army explorer John Frémont took command of the rebels on 25 June and occupied San Francisco on 1 July, but the Bear Flag Republic lost its legitimacy on 7 July when US Commander John Sloat occupied Monterey and declared Calif. to be under US control. Military activities then merged into the Mexican War.

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