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Historical Glossary

There are 72 entries in this glossary.
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La Follette Seamen's Act

(4 March 1915)This law was enacted as part of the legislation for the New Freedom; it required the merchant marine to adopt stricter safety standards and better working conditions for sailors. 

La Salle, Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de

(b. Rouen, Normandy, France, November 1643; d. on the Brazos River, Tex., January 1687)     He came to Canada in 1666 and received a royal patent in 1677 to explore the Mississippi valley. Starting at Lake Ontario in late 1679, he traversed the Great Lakes and Ill. to the Mississippi and became the first European to descend that river to its mouth. On 9 April 1682, he claimed the entire watershed for France and named the territory Louisiana. Between 1685 and 1687, he founded a French outpost in east Tex., but was murdered in a mutiny. 

Lafayette Escadrille

Formed by seven US pilots on 17 April 1916 as a volunteer unit attached to the French air force in World War I, this squadron attracted 267 US volunteers, of whom 224 qualified and 180 saw combat. Its members were often assigned to other French units as replacements. On 18 February 1918, the unit became the 103rd Pursuit Squadron of the US Army. The escadrille was credited with downing 199 German planes, at a cost of 51 killed in action, 11 noncombat deaths, 19 wounded, and 15 captured. 

Lafayette, Marquis de

(b. Chavaniac, Auvergne, France, 6 September 1757; d. Paris, France, 20 May 1834)     This nobleman entered the French army in 1771, offered his services to the Continental Army, and was made a major general in July 1777. He was wounded at Brandywine Creek and rendered valuable liaison services with French forces, yet took no pay. He gave important aid to US diplomats in France during the 1780s. He spent five years in Prussian prisons during the Napoleonic wars and lost much of his fortune. He received the greatest personal acclaim ever accorded a foreign visitor during a triumphal US tour of August–September 1824, and is remembered as the most enduring symbol of Franco-American friendship. 

Laffer curve

Economist Arthur Laffer proposed this relationship between marginal rates of income tax and revenues collected; he argued that cutting tax rates could increase government income. The correctness of Laffer's proposition depended on whether the tax code already acted to depress revenues by driving capital into unproductive tax shelters and stimulating the growth of an underground economy in which taxes went unreported. Laffer's curve was an article of faith for supply side economics. 

laissez faire

From the French phrase, laissez faire, laissez passer, meaning to let things pass. The idea that government should intervene in society as infrequently as possible. In the economic sense, the belief that an unfettered economy encourages self-interested individuals to make decisions that benefit themselves and ultimately all of society. Pure capitalism. 

Lake Erie, battle of

On 10 September 1813, Captain Oliver H. Perry's squadron of 9 ships (53 guns, 2 swivels, 530 seamen, 60 Ky. militia as marines) engaged Captain Robert Barclay's squadron of 6 ships (63 guns, 4 howitzers, 2 swivels, 440 sailors and marines). Perry's account of the battle reported: “We have met the enemy and they are ours—two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and a sloop.” US losses: 21 killed, 63 wounded. British losses: 44 killed, 396 captured (including 103 wounded.) By establishing US naval supremacy on Lake Erie, Perry's victory forced British evacuation of Fort Detroit (1813) and enabled US forces to pursue them into Canada, where the US won the decisive battle of the Thames River. 

Lake George, battle of (N.Y.)

On 8 September 1755, Colonel William Johnson's 3,500 colonials defeated Baron Dieskau's 1,600 French and Indians. Colonial losses: 189 killed or missing, 90 wounded (including Johnson), and 30 Mohawks killed. French losses: 147 killed (including Dieskau), 184 wounded. The battle left Johnson's army too disorganized to attack Fort St Frederic ( Crown Point) as planned and it withdrew to Albany. 

lame duck

A term applied to that period between elections and the swearing in of new officeholders. Typically a time of inaction because important matters are often deferred until the new official or body is seated. 

Lancaster, treaty of (Pa.)

On 4 July 1744, the Iroquois Confederacy accepted £700 in gold to relinquish their claims in central Pa. and western Md. The treaty allowed the frontier to expand peacefully into the Juniata valley of Pa. and Piedmont west of Frederick, Md. It also strengthened the pro-British faction among the Confederacy, who helped dampen pro-French sympathies in King George's War. 

Landrum–Griffin Act

(14 September 1959) Revelations of racketeering within the Teamsters Union resulted in this Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. It guaranteed union members fair elections free from coercion, set criminal penalties to punish gangsteristic actions by labor leaders, and required public reports to prevent embezzlement of union funds. It also strengthened the existing ban on the secondary boycott. 

Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections

On 8 June 1959, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld Williams v. Mississippi and affirmed a N.C. literacy test (see literacy tests) for voters. Such requirements did not violate the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, or Seventeenth amendments so long as they were enforced in a racially neutral manner. 


An ordering of reason, promulgated by the person, or institution, in charge of a community, for the common good. (Thomas Aquinas)

League of Nations

The treaty of Versailles created the league as an organization of world states to provide a forum for solving international problems peacefully. The US declined to join, because of Woodrow Wilson's refusal to accept Senate reservations limiting the treaty, especially Article X. The league began operating on 10 January 1920, held its last meeting on 14 December 1939, and was officially disbanded on 18 April 1946. 

Lecompton constitution

Because a Free-Soil majority had meanwhile been seated in the legislature, it called for a new election on terms acceptable to its own party. On 4 January 1858, antislavery voters turned out in force and defeated the Lecompton constitution. After Congress directed that the constitution be resubmitted to Kans. voters, it was again turned down overwhelmingly on 2 August 1858. An antislavery constitution drafted at Wyandotte was ratified on 4 October 1859, under which Kans. was admitted as a state.In 1857 the proslavery legislature for Kansas Territory (seated in 1855) arranged for elections to a convention that would draft a state constitution at Lecompton. Proslavery forces dominated the election and drew up a document authorizing slavery. Rather than permit a referendum on the document itself, the legislature only allowed a vote on whether slavery would be legally established, but qualified this choice by stipulating that any slaves already in the territory would be exempt from any future emancipation laws. Free-Soilers boycotted the election to protest this condition, and proslavery voters approved the document on 21 December 1857. 

Lee, Richard Henry

(b. Westmoreland County, Va., 20 January 1732; d. Westmoreland County, Va., 19 June 1794)    He was a consistent foe of Parliamentary taxation of the colonies after the stamp tax (see Stamp Act). In 1774 he entered the Continental Congress, and on 7 June 1776 he was the first member to propose US independence. He was president of Congress (1784–5). He was chosen a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but did not attend. His opposition to consolidated government made him an Antifederalist (see Antifederalists) and he wrote 17 influential “Letters From the Federal Farmer” attacking the Constitution and demanding a Bill of Rights. He sat in the Senate (1789–92). 

Lee, Robert Edward

 (b. Stratford, Va., 19 January 1807; d. Lexington, Va., 12 October 1870)    Son of Revolutionary hero “Light Horse” Harry Lee, he graduated second at West Point in 1829 as an engineer officer. He was wounded and three times cited for gallantry in the Mexican War. He recaptured Harper's Ferry from John Brown. Offered field command of USA forces in the Civil War, Lee became a CSA general instead. He took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on 1 June 1862, and repeatedly repulsed federal invasions of Va. until Ulysses S. Grant's sledgehammer tactics forced his capitulation at Appomattox Court House. He was president of Washington College to his death, when his name was added to its title. On 22 July 1975, Congress restored his US citizenship. 

legal positivism

The philosophy of jurisprudence in which the only law that is binding is that law that has been formally promulgated by human beings in a given jurisdiction.

Legal Tender acts

The first Legal Tender Act (February 1862) authorized $150,000,000 in greenbacks, and required all creditors and vendors to accept them as payment for debts or goods sold. Under the second Legal Tender Act (1863), the US Treasury issued another $300,000,000. 

legal tender cases

In 1870 the Supreme Court ruled in Hepburn v. Griswold (4–3) on the Legal Tender acts. The Court struck down the acts' provisions that forced creditors to accept paper money for debts contracted before their passage, as violations of Article I, Section 10 and the Fifth Amendment, by interfering with contracts and by diminishing the value of property without due process. In 1871, with two new justices on the bench, the Supreme Court heard two more cases about the Legal Tender acts (Knox v. Lee and Parker v. Davis); it overturned Hepburn (5–4) and declared that the government possessed the power to pass legal tender laws when confronted by emergencies in either war or peace time. In 1884, through Juilliard v. Greenman, the Court affirmed an 1878 law directing that greenbacks not be withdrawn from circulation, by ruling that Congress's power to make paper money a legal tender was not limited to wartime, but derived from its right to regulate the value of money under Article I, Section 8. 

Legislative veto

This was a clause written into statutes that permitted the reversal of official actions taken by the president or executive agencies by majority vote of Congress or the Senate. About 200 laws included such provisions (including the War Powers Resolution, 1973) by 1983, when the legislative veto was ruled unconstitutional in Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha. 

Leisler's Rebellion

After learning of England's Revolution of 1688 and an insurrection against the Dominion of New England, towns in Westchester, Suffolk, and Queens counties replaced sheriffs and justices holding royal commissions with men of their own choosing in early May 1689. On 31 May 1689, Captain Jacob Leisler's militia took control of New York's fortifications to ensure the city's proper defense against a French attack. After Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson left for England on 11 June, administration of the colony fell to Leisler, who proclaimed William III as king and organized defensive measures against the French. Leisler not only made many powerful enemies in N.Y., but also refused to garrison royal troops in the colony's fortifications, for fear that their commander, Major Robert Ingoldesby, might be loyal to James II. When Governor Henry Sloughter arrived on 29 March 1691, he arrested Leisler because his militia had skirmished with Ingoldesby's men on 27 March and left 2 killed and 7 wounded. Tried for treason with nine of his supporters in April, Leisler was hanged on 26 May, with his son-in-law Jacob Milborne. Parliament declared their convictions wrongful in 1695. 

Lemon Test

Supreme Court test developed in the case of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). Holds that a law does not violate the Establishment Clause if: (1) it has a legitimate secular or civic purpose; (2) its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) government and religion are not excessively entangled.

Lemon v. Kurtzman

On 28 June 1971, the Supreme Court ruled (8–10) that states might financially aid religious schools, but only if such aid satisfied three tests concerning the First Amendment's ban against state-established religions: such aid must advance a non-religious goal defined by law, it must neither promote nor injure a church, and it must not otherwise undermine the separation of church and state. Lemon became the definitive ruling for all subsequent cases testing state support for religious schools. 

Lend Lease Act

(11 March 1941)    To circumvent the Johnson Debt Default Act's restrictions on federal financial loans to ex-Allies from World War I, this law allowed the president to lend, lease, or otherwise transfer military equipment and other war-related goods to nations whose security was declared essential to US interests by the president. Congress voted for an initial exchange of $7 billion in war materiel. Lend lease began with the transfer of badly-needed escort ships to the British; when it was terminated on 21 August 1945, US aid to Britain and the USSR totaled $50.6 billion. 

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