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Historical Glossary

There are 148 entries in this glossary.
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Pacific Telegraph Act

(16 June 1860)    Congress financed construction of telegraph lines from Mo. to San Francisco. The first message, from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, was transmitted on 24 October 1861. The service put the Pony Express out of business.

Packers and Stockyards Act

(15 August 1921)    To ensure that farmers received fair prices for livestock, poultry, and dairy products, Congress forbade price manipulation and other unfair, monopolistic, or discriminatory practices in their purchase; it required stockyards and all marketing firms to register with the Department of Agriculture and report their prices, fees, and charges.

Paine, Thomas

(b. Thetford, Norfolk, England, 29 January 1737; d. New York, N.Y., 8 June 1809)    In 1774 Paine emigrated to Philadelphia and became a newspaperman. In January 1776, he published Common Sense, which made the most uncompromising argument for independence yet articulated in America. From 1776 to 1783, he was the unequaled propagandist of the Revolution and published his essays under the title of The Crisis. He served as a secretary for Congress and clerk of the Pa. assembly. Paine was imprisoned while trying to influence the French Revolution and in 1794 returned to the US, where he passed his life poor but honored on his Long Island farm.

Paiute campaigns

(1) In 1860 Southern Paiute Indians burned a Pony Express station on the California Trail and killed five whites near Pyramid Lake, Nev., while rescuing two girls being held there as concubines by miners. In an ambush at the Truckee Valley, Paiutes under Numaga killed 46 out of 105 miners sent to retaliate. In June Colonel Jack Hays led 800 Calif. and Nev. volunteers, dispersed his enemy at Pinnacle Mountain, and killed 25 Paiute warriors. Fighting ended late that summer when the army built Fort Churchill nearby.
(2) In early 1866, the northern Paiutes intensified raids against Idaho gold miners. In 40 skirmishes, the army and its Shoshoni Indian scouts reported killing 329 Paiutes, wounding 20, and capturing 225. Colonel George Crook negotiated peace in July 1868.

Paiute Indians

This group, speakers of one of the Uto-Aztecan languages, occupied the Great Basin between the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas. The Northern Paiutes of Idaho and Southeastern Oreg. were known as Snakes. The Paiutes may have numbered 7,500 in 1845. Several Paiute campaigns were fought. Paiutes now have a reservation in Utah, two in Oreg., and ten in Nev.


These were Protestant refugees from the lower Rhine Valley (the German-French Palatinate, or border region) to the thirteen colonies. Substantial numbers first began arriving around 1710, when about 3,000 came to N.Y. and 600 settled in N.C. They comprised about two-thirds of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and a large minority came as redemptioners.

Palo Alto, battle of

On 8 May 1846, Brigadier General Zachary Taylor's 2,300 US regulars defeated General Mariano Arista's 6,000 Mexicans. US losses: 9 killed, 47 wounded. Mexican losses: 320 dead, 400 wounded. Fighting resumed on 9 May at Resaca de la Palma.

Pan-American Union

Pan-American Union    This organization evolved during ten meetings held to build economic, political, and cultural links within the western hemisphere. James Blaine convened the first meeting at Washington from 2 October 1889 to 19 April 1890, when the US and 17 Latin-American nations founded the International Bureau of American Republics to facilitate communication between members. The US later worked through this agency to arrange reciprocal tariff agreements with various nations. In 1910 the bureau's name was changed to the Pan-American Union. The Rio Pact and charter of the Organization of American States transformed the union into a mutual security alliance. The last Pan-American conference was held in 1954.

Panama Canal

On 2 November 1903, Theodore Roosevelt sent warships to prevent Colombia from quelling the Panama Revolt. To ensure US protection against a Colombian reconquest, Panama signed the Hay–Bunau–Varilla Treaty to lease a US canal zone.
On 29 June 1906, Congress authorized funds to build the canal. Colonel William Gorgas enabled construction to proceed safely by his sanitation campaign that eliminated breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow fever. Under Colonel George Goethals, the Corps of Engineers built the 40.3-mile canal linking Cristobal and Balboa. The canal cost $365,000,000 and opened on 15 August 1914.
US occupation of the Canal Zone stirred Panamanian resentment, which expressed itself by massive rioting on 9 and 10 January 1964, and allowed Communists to portray the US as an imperialist power in the cold war. After winning Panamanian assent to a treaty that guaranteed the zone's permanent neutrality (ratified on 16 March 1978 by the Senate), Jimmy Carter won Senate approval on 18 April for a treaty transferring the canal in stages to Panama by 31 December 1999.

Panama, US intervention in

(1) Between 3 and 15 April 1885, 700 US marines landed in Panama to protect Americans and reopen a railroad during a rebellion; they withdrew in May. (See Panama Revolt  and Panama Canal) Marines landed every year from 1901 to 1904 and stayed at battalion strength in the US Canal Zone until 1914.
(2) In 1989 Fla. grand juries indicted President Manuel Noriega on evidence of using the Panamanian government to operate a massive drug-smuggling operation to the US. After the US imposed economic sanctions, Noriega's increasing hostility caused concern that US citizens in the former Panama Canal Zone might be at risk. After Panamanian police killed a US Navy officer on 16 December, 10,000 US soldiers invaded Panama on 20 December. Dissident Panamanians overthrew Noriega. The US lost 23 killed and 324 wounded, while about 350 Panamanians (half civilians) died. The US apprehended Noriega on 3 January 1990 and flew him to Miami, where he was found guilty of drug-smuggling on 9 April 1992 and later sentenced to 40 years.

panic of 1819

A collapse in cotton prices, from 32 cents per pound in 1818 to 14 cents in 1819, triggered this recession, but a simultaneous contraction in credit made it exceptionally severe. When the second Bank of the United States began demanding specie from its debtors and requiring that state banks increase reserves of hard cash in 1819, it forced the financial system to raise hard cash by calling in loans while commodity prices were falling and gold or silver had become hard to acquire. A wave of farm foreclosures, business bankruptcies, and bank failures ensued. The recession was deepest in the South and West, where state banks had extended credit most recklessly and closed in great numbers. The panic was a political liability for the Bank of the United States, which was unjustifiably blamed as its cause, and was a factor in the bank's later failure to have its charter renewed. The panic lasted until 1821.

panic of 1837

A depression developed in mid-1837 as a result of a failed wheat crop in 1836, a 25 percent fall in cotton prices, a recession in Britain that dried up credit usually available to Americans carrying on international trade, and the impact of the Specie Circular, which caused land prices to fall and caused many state-chartered banks with inadequate reserves to fail. By mid-1837, banks had suspended payments in specie in most major eastern cities. Several states later repudiated their debts. The recession caused the demise of most labor unions, which could not survive cutthroat competition for labor. The panic was the second longest US depression and lasted about six years, until 1843.

panic of 1857

On 24 August 1857, the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Co.'s New York City office failed at a time when that city's financial institutions had given more credit than their reserves could support, for real estate and railroad loans. A financial panic ensued and many banks suspended payments in specie. Compounding the recession were falling grain prices (due to rising world output after the end of the Crimean War) and a brief, modest decline in cotton prices. The panic influenced politics because northerners blamed a wave of bankruptcies on the Tariff of 1857, which set rates below protectionist levels. Business recovery began in early 1859.

panic of 1873

On 18 September 1873, the prominent banking firm of Jay Cooke & Co. went bankrupt due to collapse of its railroad securities. Cooke's demise precipitated a sharp drop in the stock markets and numerous business failures. The resulting depression created 3,000,000 unemployed at its peak; it also placed downward pressure on prices, especially of agricultural commodities, that reduced farm income and imposed great hardship in most rural areas. The deflationary cycle created much political pressure to increase the money supply and led to the emergence of the Greenback party. The depression was the third longest on record, over five years, and lasted until mid-1878.

panic of 1893

This business contraction was the most severe US economic depression to that date (and its second greatest in history). On 5 May, the New York stock market fell because of unease over recent declines in the US Treasury gold reserve and several major business failures, and it crashed in panic selling on 27 June. Further declines in gold reserves produced a credit crisis that forced massive liquidation of business assets, and this crippled the economy. By the end of 1893, over 16,000 businesses had failed, including 491 banks and 156 railroads. The depression left every sixth man unemployed (2,500,000 jobless), placed in receivership 318 railroad firms with 67,000 miles of track (a third of all rail mileage), and inspired Coxey's Army. It was the fourth-longest US depression, about four years, and did not end until mid-1897.

panic of 1907

On 13 March 1907, a stock market decline began when runs on the assets of several large New York finance firms meant that investors could not borrow money to cover investments made on credit. A severe credit contraction ensued that left many business failures. To stem the panic, in October the US Treasury deposited $38,000,000 in government funds with banks in New York so that commercial lending could resume at reasonable rates. To provide further liquidity to the money supply, on 30 May 1908 Congress passed the Aldrich–Vreeland Act, which authorized national banks to issue bank notes as currency that were not backed by US bonds. Although the recession lasted just one year, it identified serious flaws in the country's fragmented banking system and led to calls for reform. The Aldrich–Vreeland Act addressed these issues by its National Monetary Commission, whose report stimulated Congress to found the Federal Reserve system.

Paoli, battle of

On 21 September 1777, Major General Charles Grey's three British regiments, carrying unloaded muskets armed only with bayonets, routed Brigadier General Anthony Wayne's 1,200 Continentals in a night attack. US losses: 200 killed, 100 wounded, 71 captured. British losses: 6 killed, 22 wounded. US propagandists branded the battle a “massacre” in which Americans were killed trying to surrender, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Paris peace accords

On 13 May 1968, the US began meeting with North Vietnamese representatives under Le Duc Tho in Paris to find a settlement for the Vietnam War. US negotiators W. Averell Harriman (May 1968–January 1969) and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (May 1969–1970) failed to win concessions on the main US demand for a total, mutual withdrawal by both US and North Vietnamese forces, which would leave Vietnam permanently divided. By 1971, Richard Nixon had authorized Henry Kissinger to undertake secret negotiations, and by 1972 Kissinger's “shuttle diplomacy” was bearing fruit. In October 1972, an agreement was reached whereby the North Vietnamese would give up all US prisoners and allow South Vietnam's president to stay in office; in return, the US agreed to stop bombing North Vietnam, accept Communist participation in South Vietnamese politics, withdraw all US troops, and drop its demand that North Vietnamese troops evacuate the South. Under pressure from renewed US bombing in December, North Vietnam gave its final assent to the October agreement. On 27 January 1973, North Vietnamese and US diplomats signed a ceasefire agreement that ended the fighting and permitted the complete withdrawal of US forces by the year's end.

Paris, treaty of

(10 February 1763)    This agreement ended the Seven Years' War. France transferred all its Canadian possessions to Britain, but retained the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, plus fishing rights off Newfoundland. To Spain, France ceded Louisiana and the area from Mobile Bay to the Mississippi. Britain restored the Caribbean islands it seized from Spain and France, and took over East and West Florida.

Paris, treaty of (3 September 1783)

The Revolutionary War ended with this treaty. It recognized US independence, confirmed US possession of the Northwest Territory, set 31û latitude as the US southern boundary, recognized US fishing rights off Newfoundland, required each country's courts to honor debts claimed by the other's citizens, and pledged the Congress of the Confederation to “earnestly recommend” to the states that they restore full political and property rights to Tories. In a separate treaty, Britain transferred East and West Florida to Spain, but without specifying the 31st parallel as its boundary.


This term refers to a price for any farm commodity which is set to maintain its producer's purchasing power at a level sufficient for a decent standard of living. Farmers began demanding in the 1920s that parity be achieved through government intervention in the marketplace. The McNary–Haugen Bill and A gricultural Marketing Act were designed to raise agricultural prices back to the levels of 1919. Maintaining parity for farmers has been US policy since the New Deal, which used the Agricultural Adjustment Administration to support agricultural income by restricting production, paying subsidies to farmers, and withholding surplus crops from the market by government storage programs.

Parsons' Cause

In 1755 a drought drastically cut the tobacco crop in Va. and tripled the price of tobacco. Because salaries for the Church of England's clergy were paid in 17,280 pounds of tobacco per year, the legislature passed the Twopenny Act, a temporary measure permitting vestries to pay their parsons in cash at the rate of two pence per pound (slightly higher than average prices in the past). The Privy Council disallowed the act on 10 August 1759, but did not state whether clergymen might claim compensation for the additional £180 they would have received in the Twopenny Act's absence. Rev. James Maury lost a well-publicized lawsuit for extra pay from his vestry, which was defended by Patrick Henry. The controversy began Henry's rise to prominence and discredited the Anglican clergy, who appeared overly eager to profit by their parishioners' misfortunes.

Pasadena City Board of Education v. Spangler

On 28 June 1976, the Supreme Court ruled (6–2) that, having instituted a court-approved plan for integrating an educational system, a school board is not required to make periodic adjustments to offset a shifting racial balance among students, if such a change was due to normal movements of population within that jurisdiction and was beyond the school board's control.

passenger cases

(Smith v. Turner, Norris v. Boston)    In 1849 the Supreme Court struck down (5–4) Mass. and N.Y. laws that taxed ship-borne passengers to finance care for indigent immigrants. The Court ruled that the federal government enjoyed sole authority to regulate foreign commerce, and that the states could not exercise any powers in this realm, even concerning policy matters over which Congress had taken no action.

Patron system

Patronships were offered to individuals who managed to build a settlement of at least 50 people within 4 years. Few people were able to accomplish this.

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