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Historical Glossary

There are 42 entries in this glossary.
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U-2 affair

On 1 May 1960, an unarmed US reconnaissance plane, a U-2, was shot down during a spy mission over the USSR and pilot Gary Powers was captured. USSR Premier Khrushchev denounced the US and canceled a summit meeting scheduled for that month with Dwight D. Eisenhower. The incident escalated tensions in the cold war and damaged US prestige among nonaligned nations. On 19 August 1960, Powers was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was exchanged for a Communist spy on 10 February 1962.

Ullmann v. United States

On 26 March 1956, the Supreme Court held (7–2) the Immunity Act to be constitutional in accordance with Counselman v. Hitchcock. The Court ruled on similar issues in Watkins v. United States and Barenblatt v. United States.

underground railroad

This term referred to a haphazard, semisecret network of routes and hiding-stations used by free blacks and white abolitionists to help slaves escape to free states or Canada. After Pa. abolished slavery, the Philadelphia area gained a reputation as a relatively safe haven for runaways, and drew many slaves from the South. Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago were important destinations for renegade bondsmen in the West. By 1820 a system had developed by which conductors guided slaves at night to stations, where they stayed hidden until the next leg of their journey. Virtually all stations were in the free states, where they served to protect escapees from arrest by law officers enforcing the Fugitive Slave acts. At least 3,200 northerners aided the railroad, which probably assisted 500 slaves per year.

Underwood–Simmons Tariff

(3 October 1913)    This measure replaced the Payne–Aldrich Tariff because the 1912 elections put Congress under Democratic control. To enable European manufacturers to compete with US industry, it lowered average rates to 29 percent and ended duties on iron, steel, wool, and sugar. To compensate for lost revenues, Congress enacted the first income tax under the Sixteenth Amendment. It was supplemented by the Emergency Tariff Act (1921).

Union party

In 1936 this party was formed by followers of Fr Charles Coughlin, Francis Townsend, and Huey Long, to oppose Franklin D. Roosevelt. It nominated William Lemke (Republican, N.Dak.) as president and Thomas O'Brien (Democrat, Mass.) as vice-president. It advocated federal assistance to refinance all home and farm mortgages, generous federal stipends to the elderly, protective tariffs, higher taxes on the wealthy, more federal employment programs, and stricter business regulation. Lemke won just 1.9 percent of votes and the party was disbanded in 1939.

Union Republican party

In 1864 the Republican party chose to run its candidates as Union Republicans to lessen its image as a partisan organization. The party attempted to build a broad-based coalition by appealing to Democrats; it dropped Abraham Lincoln's first vice-president, Hannibal Hamlin, a Maine Republican, in favor of Andrew Johnson, a Tenn. Democrat. The ticket won all but three states.

union shop

This term refers to a labor contract that obligates all workers to join the union that negotiated it, but does not require that a person already belong to that union in order to be hired (as in closed shops). The American Plan fought against such contracts during 1919–29. The Taft–Hartley Act permitted union shops.


American Unitarianism emerged as a reaction to the lingering influence of orthodox Calvinism in the Congregational church; it rejected predestination in favor of a doctrine of universal salvation, and denied the doctrine of God's tripartite identity. William E. Channing was its most important theologian, and transcendentalism greatly influenced its early development. The American Unitarian Association was formed in 1825. The number of Unitarian pulpits rose from 150 in 1820 to 264 in 1860, 455 in 1900, but fell to 357 in 1950. In 1961 the Unitarians merged with the Universalist church of America into the Unitarian Universalist Association. The association's membership stagnated from 167,900 in 1965 to 182,200 in 1990, when there were 1,010 congregations.

United Colonies of New England

On 19 May 1643, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Haven, and Plymouth organized the Confederation of the United Colonies of New England. (When Rhode Island later asked for membership, it was rejected for its refusal to sanction an established church based on orthodox Puritanism.) Each colony appointed two commissioners who met annually to manage disputes between their respective governments, relations with non-English colonies, religious matters, and Indian affairs. All the confederation's actions required six of the eight commissioners' votes. Because Mass. would not abide by policies infringing its own interests, when outvoted by the three smaller colonies, the confederation created a facade of cooperation that masked New England's underlying lack of unity. Yearly meetings ceased after 1664 until King Philip's War reinvigorated the confederation, but the union was dissolved in 1684.

United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburgh v. Carey

On 1 March 1977, the Supreme Court ruled (7–1) that the Voting Rights Act (1965) authorized N.Y. to redistrict its legislature by creating districts with a majority of nonwhite voters, even if a white religious minority's political representation suffered in the process.

United Nations

The Dumbarton Oaks conference drafted a general plan for creating an international organization to promote world peace and security. Between 25 April and 26 June 1945, delegates from 50 countries drafted the UN charter. Governing the UN was a general assembly, in which each country had one vote, and an 11-nation security council, of which six seats rotated among all UN members and five were permanently held by the US, USSR, Britain, France, and China. A secretariat, headed by a secretary general, served as the UN bureaucracy. An international court of justice was to adjudicate controversies between countries. A trusteeship council supervised dependencies or protectorates established under member nations, such as the Trust Territory of Micronesia (US).
Largely through the efforts of Ralph Bunche, the UN developed expertise in operations to keep peace or repel aggression, of which the US was deeply involved with the Korean and Persian Gulf wars. By 1994 the UN had 184 members. The US consistently paid the largest share of the UN budget, 25 percent to 1987, when the other five Security Council members collectively contributed just 17 percent.

United States Information Agency

This agency was established on 1 August 1953 as a means of combating Soviet propaganda in the cold war. Its best known program was the Voice of America, which broadcast popular entertainment and news for wireless listeners behind the Iron Curtain. It maintained libraries and reading rooms overseas, and produced documentaries for foreign viewing. It was replaced on 3 April 1978 by the International Communications Agency, but its original name was restored in 1982.

United States v. American Tobacco Company

In 1911 the Supreme Court ruled that a federal suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act should be settled by reorganizing the company rather than entirely dissolving it. At that time, the company was capitalized at $502,000,000 and controlled nearly all domestic cigarette production at its 150 factories.

United States v. Butler

On 6 January 1936, the Supreme Court (6–3) struck down the first Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933) and ruled that the US had no constitutional power to regulate intrastate farm production through a program whose controls were coercive and not voluntary. The tax on food processing companies, which financed subsidies to farmers, was consequently not within the taxing power of Article I, Section 8.

United States v. Classic

On 26 May 1941, the Supreme Court reversed Newberry v. United States and ruled (5–3) that the federal government could regulate state political primaries when they served as the main instrument for choosing congressional and presidential candidates.

United States v. Cruikshank

In 1876 the Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the indictment of whites charged with murdering blacks in the Colfax massacre at New Orleans. The Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment could only be used to prosecute states for civil rights violations, and could not serve as a basis for trying individuals who violated other citizens' rights. The ruling took the responsibility for protecting ex-slaves' civil rights away from the jurisdiction of federal courts, and gave it to the states, which had little sympathy for the cause of equal rights for blacks.

United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Company

On 21 December 1936, the Supreme Court affirmed (7–1) a congressional law empowering the president to embargo weapons from reaching warring nations in Latin America at his own discretion. The law did not wrongly delegate legislative authority, because, given the president's sole responsibility for conducting foreign relations, Congress can grant him wider powers over international affairs than he could hold for internal matters.

United States v. Darby Lumber Company

On 3 February 1941, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed Hammer v. Dagenhart and upheld the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938). Using as precedent the “constant stream of commerce” concept ( Swift and Company v. United States), it ruled that Congress could legislate on any aspect of commerce and that there was no exclusive area of intrastate commerce reserved solely for state regulation.

United States v. E. C. Knight Company

In 1895 the Supreme Court (8–1) heard the government's case that a near monopoly of sugar refining violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Court declared the Sherman Act's anti-monopoly clauses unconstitutional as they regarded manufacturing; it ruled that the government's authority to regulate interstate commerce did not extend to manufacturing. The ruling crippled enforcement of the Sherman Act. Swift and Company v. United States ended much of the exemption from federal antitrust regulation conferred on manufacturing corporations by this ruling.

United States v. Grimaud

In 1911 the Supreme Court reaffirmed and elaborated on Wayman v. Southard by declaring that Congress might vest the president with very wide administrative discretion (in this case over the public domain) without necessarily violating the balance of government powers. By broadening the scope of the “administrative discretion” considered constitutionally permissible as presidential authority, the ruling provided a legal basis for the mushrooming of federal regulatory agencies, whose effectiveness required wide latitude to interpret congressional statutes through their decisions and regulations.

United States v. Harris

In 1883 the Supreme Court crippled the second Force Act's effectiveness by declaring that the Fourteenth Amendment did not authorize federal prosecutions against private citizens who conspired to deprive persons of their civil rights. It held that Congress only had power to forbid state officials from denying all persons equal protection under the law.

United States v. Hudson

In 1816 the Supreme Court ruled that because the US possessed no criminal common law, federal courts had no jurisdiction over criminal activity—except to enforce criminal statutes passed by Congress. The ruling left each state free to evolve its own approach to defining felonies and misdemeanors.

United States v. Kagama

In 1886, the Supreme Court reversed Ex Parte Crow Dog (1883), which denied US courts jurisdiction over crimes committed by and against members of reservations unless a particular tribe had specifically abrogated its exclusive rights over internal legal affairs. The court affirmed a subsequent Congressional statute allowing federal courts to return indictments for certain crimes committed on reservations. They ruled that Indian nations are “the wards of the nation” and dependent on the United States, “but had no constitutional relationship to the states.”

United States v. Lanza

On 11 December 1922, the Supreme Court ruled (8–0) that the Fifth Amendment's protection against double jeopardy does not exempt the defendant from being prosecuted in both federal and state courts for the same offense. Lanza was reaffirmed in 1959 by Abbate v. United States and Bartkis v. Illinois.

United States v. Leon

(decided with Massachusetts v. Sheppard)    On 5 July 1984, the Supreme Court allowed an exception to its exclusionary rule (see Weeks v. United States) by holding that evidence obtained improperly by a defective search warrant can be admitted as evidence if law officers acted “in good faith” and were honestly mistaken.

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