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Historical Glossary

There are 89 entries in this glossary.
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Radical Republicans

The term radical was applied to those Republicans who advocated the most uncompromising policies to defeat the Confederacy, end slavery, achieve equal political rights for freedmen, and keep ex-Confederates from regaining power in the South. The Wade–Davis Bill outlined their alternative to Abraham Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction. By winning support from moderate Republicans, Radicals used the Joint Committee on Reconstruction to draft the Fourteenth Amendment and draft a program of Congressional Reconstruction. Under Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, and Benjamin Wade, the radicals spearheaded the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and swayed Congress to pass the Reconstruction acts, Fifteenth Amendment, and the Force acts. The Radicals' influence declined greatly after Ulysses S. Grant's first administration.

Radical Revolutionaries

At the time of the American Revolution, they argued in favor of establishing more democratic forms of government. Radical revolutionaries had a strong trust in the people, viewed them as inherently virtuous (see public virtue), and believed that citizens could govern themselves. Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine might be described as radical revolutionaries.

Rage Militaire

Meaning a passion for arms, the rage militaire characterized the attitudes of American colonists as the war with Great Britain began in 1775. When the ravages and deprivations of warfare became more self-evident, however, this early enthusiasm gave out. In 1776 Thomas Paine criticized the "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots" among the colonists who seemed so eager to fight at the beginning of the War for Independence but who so quickly dropped out as the dangers of engaging in warfare increased.

railroad retirement acts

On 27 June 1934, Congress created a comprehensive, compulsory retirement system for transportation workers subject to the Interstate Commerce Commission Act. On 6 May 1935, in Railroad Retirement Board et al. v. Alton Railroad Company et al., the Supreme Court (5–4) held that it violated the Fifth Amendment by improperly confiscating corporate property and it was not warranted under the Constitution's grant of federal authority over interstate commerce. Congress reenacted its provisions in the Wagner–Crosser Railroad Retirement Act (29 August 1935), but a district court struck down its financing measure, a tax on payrolls.
The Roosevelt administration solved the constitutional problem of financing railroad pensions by having the companies and unions draft a voluntary agreement to fund pensions by joint contributions from employees and railways. The Railroad Retirement Act (29 June 1937) enacted this formula, exempted railway workers from social security laws (see Social Security Administration), and created the Railroad Retirement Board.
Because the number of railway workers shrank from 700,000 in 1980 to 400,000 in 1983, the system's 1,000,000 retirees faced pension reductions of 40 percent to prevent impending insolvency. The Railroad Retirement Act (12 August 1983) averted this prospect. It raised employee and employer payments by $0.5 billion over five years, contributed $1.7 billion in federal money (offset by higher taxes on retiree benefits), cut benefits for early retirement, and delayed cost-of-living increases by six months.

railroad strike of 1877

After the largest eastern railroads announced a 10 percent pay cut, a general strike ensued, beginning on 17 July 1877 with walkouts at Baltimore and Ohio yards. Walkouts spread to other eastern lines and then west of the Mississippi, until two-thirds of US railway mileage was closed. Major riots occurred at Parkersburg, W.Va., Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Chicago, and St Louis. By the time federal troops and state militia restored order, almost 100 persons had died.

Railway Labor Act (20 May 1926)

This law was drafted to change the procedures for mediating labor disputes under the Esch–Cummins Act, which had failed to prevent or mediate a major strike in 1922. The law replaced the Railroad Labor Board with a Board of Mediation whose five members were presidential appointees. The new board could intervene in labor disputes, but could not impose compulsory arbitration. Although both labor and management were consulted during its preparation, labor was frustrated that the board continued to recognize the company union as the legitimate bargaining agent. The only significant labor legislation enacted in the 1920s, it was replaced by the Railway Labor Act (1934).

Railway Labor Act (27 June 1934)

This law ensured that railway workers had the same rights to form unions and bargain collectively as industrial workers enjoyed under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). It replaced the Railroad Labor Board (see Railway Labor Act, 1926) by a National Railroad Adjustment Board. The board was empowered to disqualify a company union as a bargaining agent when it could be demonstrated that employees preferred representation by an independent union. The law enabled the railroads to be organized by the AFL.

Raleigh, Sir Walter

(b. Hayes, Devon, England, ca. 1552; d. London, England, 29 October 1618)    Sir Humphrey Gilbert's half-brother, Raleigh was a court favorite of Elizabeth I, who granted him a patent on 25 March 1584 to colonize North America. After sending out a reconnaissance party to Albemarle Sound, Raleigh founded the Roanoke Colony, which was his last venture at overseas settlement. He fell out of favor with James I and wrote a two-volume history of the world while imprisoned in the Tower of London (1603–16). After a brief release, he was arrested and executed for treason.

Rankin, Jeannette

(b. Montana Territory, 11 June 1880; d. Carmel, Calif., 18 May 1973) She was a reformer of the Progressive Era in the women's suffrage and peace movements. In 1916, as a Republican from Mont., she became the first woman to win election to Congress. After enraging her constituents by voting against US entry into World War I, she became the first woman voted out of Congress in 1918. The isolationist mood of the 1930s seemed to vindicate her stand. She helped organize the National Council for the Prevention of War and again won election to Congress in 1940. She cast the sole vote against US entry into World War II and left Congress in 1943. She was a persistent critic of the US containment policy.


About 1805 in Pa., George Rapp (1755–1847) founded a small communal sect of German-American mystics that practiced celibacy. In 1815 they founded New Harmony, Ind., which they sold to Robert Owen in 1824, and then relocated to Economy, Pa. The group declined rapidly after Rapp's death, and became extinct in 1905.

Rayburn, Samuel

(b. Roane County, Tenn., 6 January 1882; d. Bonham, Tex., 16 November 1961)    He matured in Fannin County, Tex., and was elected as a Democratic congressman in 1912. He played a major role in drafting the Securities and Exchange Commission and Public Utility Holding Company Act. In 1940 he became speaker of the House. During his tenure, he earned the title “Mr Speaker” because of his thorough domination of congressional legislation, arising from his mastery of intricate parliamentary procedure, his intimate knowledge of each member's political positions, and his shrewd ability to assess human character. Despite his “unreconstructed rebel” roots, Rayburn helped pass the Civil Rights acts (1957, 1960).

Reagan v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company

In 1894 the Supreme Court vindicated the jurisdiction of federal courts over rates set by state commissions regulating business prices and practices. Drawing upon the precedents of San Mateo Company v. Southern Pacific Railroad and  Chicago, Milwaukee  and St Paul Railroad Company v. Minnesota, the Court held that adjudication of disputes over property seized without due process was an essential function of the federal bench.

Reagan, Ronald Wilson

(b. Tampico, Ill., 6 February 1911)    A movie actor with a talent for light comedy, Reagan served as an Army Air Force officer in World War II, and was Screen Actors Guild president (1947–52). He switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1963, served as Calif. governor (1967–75), and challenged Gerald Ford for the 1976 nomination for president. He took 50.7 percent of the ballots (in a three-party race) and carried all but five states to become president in 1980, when his coattails gave Republicans control of the Senate. He was the oldest president ever elected, and survived an assassination attempt on 30 March 1981. He won reelection in 1984 in a landslide victory with 58.4 percent of the vote and 49 states.
Reagan won passage of the Economic Recovery Tax Act (1981) and Tax Reform Act (1986), broke the air traffic controllers' strike, and directed US intervention in Grenada, Lebanon, and Libya. His huge military buildup (especially the Strategic Defense Initiative) placed the USSR under severe economic strain to maintain military parity with the US and contributed to the Soviet Union's later political collapse. His expectations for supply side economics failed to materialize and the budget deficit expanded enormously under him. The Iran-Contra scandal dominated his second term and tarnished his accomplishments. During the Reagan administration, income tax es were cut by 25 percent, inflation declined from 13 percent to 3 percent, a 33 percent growth in GDP created 18 million new jobs, and federal spending fell from 24.4 percent of GDP to 22.1 percent.


Every ten years, after each census is taken, the House of Representatives is reapportioned to make congressional districts contain as mathematically equal a number of residents as possible. Originally, the House expanded in size to reflect population growth, but once the number of seats was fixed at 435, each reapportionment has required some states to gain seats and some to lose them. Each state must have at least one representative.


This was a reform of the Progressive Era pioneered by Ariz. in 1912, in which a successful petition campaign can force a special election to decide whether an elected officeholder should be removed from government.

The most recent example of this political tactic is the 2012 effort to recall Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Recess appointment

An appointment for a federal office made by a President when the Senate is not meeting. Recess appointments can serve until the end of the next session of the Senate. The President may nominate them again, but if they are not confirmed they must give up the post. In the nineteenth century, this process enabled Presidents to keep the government functioning during the many months that Congress stood adjourned. In modern times, congressional recesses are much shorter and Presidents have used recess appointments mostly for controversial nominees whose confirmations have been stalled.

recession of 1937–8

In 1937 the Roosevelt administration attempted to balance the federal budget by curtailing public works and cutting relief employment programs, while the Federal Reserve limited credit and reduced the money supply to prevent a resurgence of inflation. These actions weakened the economy, which already suffered from a lack of business confidence, and a severe recession ensued after the stock market plunged steeply on 7 September 1937. Over the following nine months, manufacturing employment fell by almost a quarter, industrial output by a third, the stock market by half, and profits by over three-quarters. By June, as the economy began to revive, 4,000,000 workers had become jobless. A major reason for the upturn in business activity was a greater willingness to use budget deficits for economic stimulus, known as Keynesian economics.

recession of the 1920s

The end of World War I caused the federal budget to decline from $18.5 billion in 1919 to $6.4 billion in 1920. Although this decline in budgetary stimulus required an increase in investment and spending by the private sector, Congress raised taxes on individuals and corporations, while the Federal Reserve Bank restricted credit by raising its discount rate for member banks from 4.75 percent to 7 percent by 1920. Unemployment rose from 4.0 percent in 1919 to 11.9 percent in 1921, but subsided to 7.6 percent in 1922 and 3.2 percent in 1923. The recession contributed to the failure or merger of 2,024 banks (6.5 percent of the total) by 1925.
The economy's industrial and commercial sectors revived after 1921, but agriculture did not. Farm prices dropped sharply as world output rose after the war, and US farmers responded by overproduction, which created surpluses that drove commodity prices progressively downward through the 1920s. Farm income dropped from 15 percent of national output in 1920 to 9 percent in 1928; 454,866 owner-managed farms disappeared in the 1920s, and the farm population decreased by 3,000,000. The agricultural depression led to the closure of 5,400 rural banks during the decade.


This was the process by which the ex-Confederate states regained their full privileges within the Union after the Civil War. Reconstruction's first phase was dominated by presidential initiatives and began on 8 December 1863, with Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. Believing that secession was invalid and the Confederate states had never legally left the Union, Lincoln saw Reconstruction's primary purpose as convincing southerners to abandon rebellion and resume their loyalty to the Union, not to rewrite state constitutions. He offered to reestablish any state's government whenever 10 percent of the number who voted in 1860 swore allegiance to the Union (this was known as the Ten Percent Plan), obtained a presidential pardon, and agreed to accept the Emancipation Proclamation and other US laws about slavery. (Temporarily barred from pardon were the Confederacy's highest ranking leaders, former US officials who violated their oaths by aiding the rebellion, and soldiers who mistreated black troops captured in battle.)
Under Lincoln's plan, provisional governments appeared in Tenn., Ark., and La. by 1864, but did not send delegations to Congress because so much of their territories were still in rebel hands. Congress attempted to set stricter standards for Reconstruction by the Wade–Davis Bill, but Lincoln pocket-vetoed it. Andrew Johnson agreed with Lincoln's policy of leniency, and on 29 May 1865 issued his Proclamation of Amnesty, which restored political rights to all rebels who took an oath of allegiance (except prominent CSA leaders and all owners of taxable property worth over $20,000). Johnson directed provisional governors to call constitutional conventions (even where less than 10 percent of voters had sworn allegiance). These would rescind the secession ordinances, end slavery, and repudiate the CSA war debt. He also insisted that the state legislatures ratify the Thirteenth amendment. Even after the Memphis and New Orleans riots, Johnson did not insist on protecting the freedmen.
Radical Republicans broke with Johnson and formulated their own program on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction. Reconstruction began its second—or congressional—phase, on 9 April 1866, when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act (1866) over Johnson's veto. The Radical program also included strengthening the Freedmen's Bureau and proposing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. Congress set strict criteria for readmitting the seceded states and placed the former Confederacy (except Tenn.) under military rule through its three Reconstruction acts (2 March 1867, 23 March 1867, and 19 July 1867). Congress established its supremacy over Reconstruction by impeaching Andrew Johnson, and the Supreme Court recognized that dominance in Ex Parte McCardle and Texas v. White.
Congressional Reconstruction placed southern governments under the control of Republicans, whom local Democrats scorned as carpetbaggers, scalawags, or ex-slaves, and resisted them through the Ku Klux Klan. By 1872 northern opinion was turning against the Radicals' program out of weariness and frustration with the problem of keeping the south under military occupation. The Liberal Republican party advocated leniency toward the south and Ulysses S. Grant restored political rights to virtually all former rebels by the Amnesty Act. Republican governments steadily collapsed during the 1870s. The Compromise of 1877 effectively ended Reconstruction.

Reconstruction Act, first

(2 March 1867) Congress invalidated the governments founded after the Civil War on presidential authority when this law passed over Andrew Johnson's veto. It placed the ten unreconstructed states under five army generals, who could impose martial law if needed; it forced states to enfranchise the freedmen and draft new constitutions that required approval by a majority of registered voters; and it denied congressional representation to any state that did not ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. It provided for state elections to institute new governments (termed Reconstruction Governments), which would be Republican-dominated.

Reconstruction Act, fourth

(11 March 1868)    After opponents of congressional Reconstruction in Ala. prevented ratification of a liberal state constitution, by boycotting the election to block its approval by a majority of voters, Congress amended the first Reconstruction Act by permitting a simple majority of those voting to ratify state constitutions. It became law without Andrew Johnson's signature.

Reconstruction Act, second

(23 March 1867)    To implement the first Reconstruction Act, which would be frustrated if county officials refused to cooperate in holding new elections, Congress empowered military commanders to register voters and outlined a schedule for adopting new state constitutions. Although passed over Andrew Johnson's veto, this law's effectiveness was threatened when the attorney general issued an advisory opinion that cast doubt on the legal authority of military commanders to carry out its provisions.

Reconstruction Act, third

(19 July 1867) To remedy legal problems with the second Reconstruction Act identified by the attorney general, Congress empowered military commanders to remove state officials appointed or elected before the first Reconstruction Act, and it gave election registrars discretion to disqualify from voting any persons who seemed to have falsely taken a loyalty oath. Passed over Johnson's veto, the law enabled military commanders to hold elections in every unreconstructed state but Tex. by December 1867.

Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC)

After the National Credit Corporation proved incapable of stemming a bank panic, Herbert Hoover asked Congress to form a federal agency to extend credit of up to $2,500,000,000 to banks, insurance companies, and railroads. He signed legislation creating the RFC on 2 February 1932. The Emergency Relief and Construction Act appropriated $2,000,000,000 more and expanded its functions in 1932. The RFC and its director, Charles Dawes, were widely criticized for extending relatively little credit to small banks and businesses. The RFC controlled the largest budget ever appropriated for any federal agency, but its resources proved inadequate to restore stability to the banking system or keep numerous railroads from defaulting on their bonds.
Under the Emergency Banking Relief Act (1933), the RFC provided, by 1935, $1.3 billion to over 6,200 banks with purchases of preferred stock. The RFC was the main source of funds for most credit programs of the New Deal, including the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Farm Credit Administration, Federal Housing Association, Home Owners' Loan Corporation, and the Resettlement Administration. It financed the Rural Electrification Administration and encouraged sales of household electrical products for the Tennessee Valley Authority by the Electric Home and Farm Authority. It established the Disaster Loan Corporation to aid victims of natural disasters. By 1940 the RFC had extended over $8 billion in credit. Its economic resources were used to finance military rearmament after 1940.

Red River War

On 20 July 1874, Major General Philip Sheridan got orders to disarm 1,200 hostile Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne Indians raiding Tex. and Kans. By 23 April 1875, the army had fought over two dozen skirmishes in the Tex. panhandle, burned over 1,000 lodges, and captured over 1,500 horses, but killed barely 50 warriors. Exhausted by the army's relentless pursuit, the tribes returned to their reservations in Indian Territory by May 1875 and had 26 war leaders imprisoned in Fla. The conflict broke the will of these tribes and ended Indian resistance on the southern plains.

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