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Historical Glossary

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Wabash, St Louis and Pacific Railroad Company v. Illinois

In 1886 the Supreme Court invalidated an Ill. law forbidding higher rates for railroad freight hauled for short distances than for long trips; it held (6–3) that Ill. had infringed Congress's exclusive power to regulate rates charged in interstate commerce. The decision reversed the Court's interpretation in the Granger cases; in combination with  Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad Company v. Minnesota and Reagan v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company, it enabled railroad and warehouse corporations to challenge unfavorable decisions by state regulatory commissions in federal courts, which often ruled that state regulation violated their property rights.

Wade–Davis Bill

In 1864 Representative Henry Davis and Senator Benjamin Wade co-sponsored a plan to replace Abraham Lincoln's program for the Reconstruction of Confederate states. The Wade–Davis Bill would have: (1) delayed any state's reconstruction until Confederate resistance had ended and a majority of white citizens had sworn unequivocal allegiance to the US; (2) required Senate confirmation for provisional governors appointed over such states; and (3) insisted that southern states ratify new state constitutions that disavowed secession, ended slavery, disfranchised CSA leaders, and repudiated the CSA war debt. The bill disqualified few ex-rebels from political activity and did not demand suffrage for freedmen. After Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill on 4 July, its outraged sponsors issued the Wade–Davis Manifesto.

Wagner–Steagall Act

(1 September 1937)Because the National Housing Act (1934) had failed to fund any substantial public housing projects, Congress created the US Housing Authority (USHA); it provided $500,000,000 for use as loans to fund up to 90 percent of expenses in building homes for low-income families. The law marked the start of the federal government's commitment to eliminate substandard housing. By January 1941, the USHA had approved loans for 511 low-rent apartment complexes with 161,162 units. During World War II, the agency planned and financed new housing around military bases.

Wake Island

On 4 July 1898, in the Spanish-American War, US troops en route to the Philippines seized Wake. The US annexed the uninhabited island of three square miles in 1899 and formally occupied it in 1900. It became a refueling and repair station for the navy and commercial airlines. The Japanese captured it in the battle of Wake Island and surrendered it on 4 September 1945. The navy administered Wake until 1962, the Departments of Interior and Transportation from then to June 1972, and the Air Force thereafter.

Wake Island, battle of

On 11 December 1941, Major James Devereux's 388 US marines repulsed Rear Admiral Sadamichi Kajioka's Japanese task force (9 cruisers and destroyers, 4 transports) by sinking 2 destroyers and damaging 7 other ships. After 11 days of heavy bombardment, 800 Japanese overran the defenders on 23 December.

Walker Tariff

(30 July 1846)    A Democratic measure advocated by James K. Polk, this law abandoned protectionism and set duties according to the government's need for revenue. It replaced specific (fixed) rates on goods with ad valorem duties based on the declared worth of goods, and cut average rates to 26.5 percent, their lowest level since 1816.

Walsh–Healey Government Contracts Act

(30 June 1936)    This statute, part of the Little NIRA, reimposed certain industry-wide wage and workplace standards after the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was ruled unconstitutional. Influenced heavily by Frances Perkins, it authorized the Department of Labor to set wages, hours, and benefits for all employees of any company doing over $10,000 in business with the US government. It set maximum working time at eight hours daily and 40 hours weekly, forbade child and convict labor, and required contractors to pay a minimum wage set by the Labor Department based on an area's prevailing pay scales.

Wampanoag Indians

Speakers of one of the Algonquian languages, this group occupied eastern R.I. and Plymouth colony. They lost perhaps half their population to European diseases (1616–18), and numbered about 1,200 in 1620. Under Squanto, they welcomed the Pilgrims as military allies to counter their Narragansett Indian enemies. Their population steadily declined from disease and their relations with whites deteriorated as Plymouth tried to extend its authority over them. King Philip's War arose from Wampanoag grievances and was led by its sachem Metacomet. Most Wampanoags were killed or sold into overseas slavery. A remnant remained in Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard; they numbered about 680 in 1790, but fewer than 50 were pure-blooded Indians. In 1978 a federal court denied a Wampanoag claim for 25 square miles on Cape Cod under the Indian Trade Intercourse Act (1790); it ruled that the Wampanoags were tax-paying citizens in 1790, not tribal members.

War Department

On 14 June 1775, Congress established the Continental Army, which was disbanded to less than a thousand men in 1783. On 7 August 1789, Congress created the War Department and named Henry Knox its first secretary on 12 September. Responsibility for Indian affairs lay with this department until 1849. In 1949 it was eliminated and the army was placed under the Department of Defense.

War Industries Board

On 28 July 1917, this agency was formed to supervise production of military materials for World War I by civilian manufacturers. The board accomplished little until Bernard Baruch took it over on 4 March 1918. Baruch formed corporations into industrial committees to ration scarce raw materials, coordinate production, and set prices for civilian and military customers. The board in effect created industry-wide cartels that dominated their sectors of the economy, yet enjoyed legal exemption from anti- trust laws. Its industrial committees were the precedent for the trade associations of the 1920s and the National Industrial Recovery Act's industry-wide codes in the New Deal.

War of 1812

Citing Britain's impressment of US sailors and its failure to comply with Macon's Bill Number 2, James Madison asked for a declaration of war on 1 June 1812 and Congress complied on 18 June. Madison proclaimed hostilities to commence on 19 June. Britain announced blockades of Delaware and Chesapeake bays on 26 December, and of Charleston, New Orleans and Savannah on 26 May 1813, but allowed neutral trade through New England until 25 April 1814. Before US commerce was entirely cut off, the British captured 500 US merchant ships. The US Navy seized 165 enemy merchant vessels, and 526 privateers took 1,334 British prizes.
Led by Tecumseh, the Great Lakes Indians assisted the British in taking Fort Detroit and Fort Dearborn in 1812. After destroying a US force at the River Raisin in 1813, the British held all territory northwest of the Maumee and Wabash rivers. William H. Harrison blunted the British offensive at Fort Stephenson and Fort Meigs in mid-1813. Oliver H. Perry's victory at the battle of Lake Erie forced British evacuation of Detroit and enabled Harrison to invade Canada. Harrison's victory at the battle of the Thames River in October 1813 established US military superiority in the northwest and forced peace on the Indians by the second treaty of Greenville.
In late 1812, the British repulsed US incursions into Canada from Fort Niagara at Fort George and Queenstown Heights. They also frustrated US forces from crossing Niagara River near Buffalo at Fort Erie (November 1812). An expedition to capture Montreal via Lake Champlain retreated on 19 November when state militia refused to enter Canada.
US forces captured Fort Toronto in 1813 in the hope of occupying Lake Ontario's northern shore, but abandoned the post and shifted operations to the Niagara River. US troops took Fort George and Fort Erie, but defeats at Stony Creek and Beaver Dam forced withdrawal from Canada. US forces abandoned expeditions to attack Montreal after defeats at Chateaugay River and Chrysler's Farm. The British raided along Lake Ontario, but were repulsed at Oswego and badly defeated at Sackett's Harbor. In December, the British captured Fort Niagara, burned Buffalo, and unleashed Indian raids on western N.Y.
Napoleon's defeat in 1814 permitted Britain to reassign 14,000 veterans to North America. To prevent US reinforcements from being sent to the Canadian front, a British expedition to Chesapeake Bay scattered militia at Bladensburg, Md., and then burned Washington (see District of Columbia). After US defense of Fort McHenry saved Baltimore from capture, the British left to attack New Orleans. The British invaded N.Y. from Montreal, but withdrew when beaten at Lake Champlain. US forces crossed Niagara River, captured Forts Erie and George, bested the enemy at Chippewa River, and fought a drawn battle at Lundy's Lane. This campaign's heavy losses dictated a withdrawal to Forts George and Erie, from which US troops finally retreated under siege to N.Y.
US defeats encouraged southern Indians to initiate the Creek War in 1813 with the Fort Mims massacre. Major General Andrew Jackson crushed the Creeks in 1814 at Horseshoe Bend. Jackson took command at New Orleans, where he repulsed a British invasion two weeks after a truce was declared by the treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814. The war's main consequences were to annex West Florida, establish US military dominance over the frontier tribes, and leave them unable to resist Indian removal west of the Mississippi.
An estimated 286,730 troops served in the war, most of whom were militia doing short tours. Military expenses were $93,000,000. The national debt rose from $45,210,000 to $99,834,000.

War powers

Among the ambiguous provisions of the Constitution are the war powers. Only Congress can declare a war and appropriate the funds necessary to fight it, but the President as commander in chief of the military has considerable latitude in sending American troops into combat. Congress has not formally declared war since World War II, although the United States has fought many wars since then.

War Powers Resolution

(7 November 1973) To establish guidelines for the use of military force overseas, Congress voted to require that presidents inform Congress within 48 hours if they either sent troops to engage in a foreign conflict or significantly increased US combat forces overseas. If Congress failed to endorse any such actions within 60 days, then the president would be obliged to cease military operations, unless he certified that an additional 30 days were needed to complete a safe withdrawal of American forces. If Congress believed that an immediate evacuation was necessary before the 60- or 90-day deadlines expired, then it could order a withdrawal through a concurrent resolution, which would be exempt from a presidential veto. The resolution was enacted over Richard Nixon's veto.

Ware v. Hylton

In 1796 the Supreme Court first demonstrated its authority to judge the legality of state laws by striking down (4–0) a 1777 Va. statute that violated the terms of the treaty of Paris (1783) concerning the recovery of debts owed to British creditors.

Warehouse Act

(11 August 1916)    This law enacted the main features of the populist Subtreasury Plan. To enable farmers to withhold commodities from sale when prices fell, it allowed the Department of Agriculture to designate warehouses where they could store their crops and be issued receipts legally valid as collateral for loans. The law covered cotton, tobacco, grains, flaxseed, and wool.

Warren Potato Control Act

(24 August 1935)    This law was enacted to ensure that the Agricultural Adjustment Administration's (AAA) voluntary covenants to reduce the national potato crop would not be undermined by a large surplus harvested by noncooperating farmers who refused to cut output. By imposing a heavy tax on farmers who failed to enroll in AAA crop-limitation agreements, it effectively made production quotas mandatory.

Warren, Earl

(b. Los Angeles, Calif., 19 March 1891; d. Washington, D.C., 9 July 1974)    Warren served as Calif. attorney general (1939–43) and Calif. governor (1945–53). He was Republican candidate for vice-president in 1948, and sought the presidential nomination in 1952 before backing Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower made him chief justice in 1953, but later termed the appointment his worst mistake as president. Confirmed on 1 March 1954, Warren led the Court to declare racial segregation unconstitutional, to establish “one man, one vote” as the criterion for legislative apportionment, and to extend most Bill of Rights protections to state courts. Warren wrote the landmark opinions  Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), Cooper v. Aaron, South Carolina v. Katzenbach, Reynolds v. Sims, Miranda v. Arizona, and Loving v. Virginia. He headed the Warren Commission to investigate John F. Kennedy's assassination. He resigned in 1969.


Britain's claims to Wash. produced the Nootka Sound crisis with Spain. In 1824 Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Vancouver on the Columbia as its headquarters for the local fur trade. The first Anglo-American settlement was Marcus Whitman's mission near Walla Walla in 1836. In October 1845, the first US settlement was made on Puget Sound by eight Americans near Olympia. A British-American joint occupation of the northwest ended with the Fifty-Four, Forty, or Fight controversy, which resulted in British recognition of the US claim over Wash. in 1846. Wash. remained part of Oregon until it became a territory on 2 May 1853. In 1860 it had 11,594 residents, of whom 27 percent were foreign-born and just 30 were black; it ranked 40th in population, 37th in the value of its farmland and livestock, and 35th in manufactures.
Wash. was the scene of the Cayuse and Yakima wars. Development accelerated rapidly after the first transcontinental railroad entered the territory in 1883. On 11 November 1889, it became the 42nd state. In 1900 it had 518,103 residents (96 percent white, 1 percent Indian, 1 percent Japanese, 1 percent Chinese, 1 percent black), of whom 59 percent were rural and 22 percent were foreign-born; it ranked 33rd in population, 34th in the value of agricultural products, and 29th in manufactures. The economy diversified away from agriculture and lumbering through shipbuilding, placement of military bases, the aircraft industry's rise after 1916, and inexpensive electricity from Columbia River dams in the 1930s. In 1990 it was the 19th largest state and had 4,866,692 residents (87 percent white, 3 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, 2 percent Indian), of whom 82 percent were urban and 6.6 percent were of foreign birth. Manufacturing and mining employed 25 percent of workers.

Washington naval conference

Acting on a resolution of 14 December 1920 by Senator William Borah, Warren Harding invited the major nations to discuss reducing their naval forces and resolving international problems. On 12 November 1921, Charles Evans Hughes, chair of the conference, presented a bold plan that formed the basis for history's most sweeping voluntary disarmament program. As finally adopted, the US, Britain, and Japan scrapped 1,908,000 tons of capital ships (those displacing over 10,000 tons) and agreed to a ten-year moratorium on ship construction. To forestall future arms races, the conferees established the relative size of their own navies according to fixed ratios of 5 for the US, 5 for Britain, 3 for Japan, 1.67 for France, and 1.67 for Italy. Poison gas and unrestricted submarine warfare were outlawed. The Four Power Treaty was signed separately on 13 December. The conference closed on 6 February 1922.

Washington v. Davis

On 7 June 1976, the Supreme Court clarified Griggs v. Duke Power Company by ruling (7–2) that employers may use aptitude or qualification tests in their hiring decisions, even if whites score higher than minorities. Charges of job discrimination cannot be based solely on “disparate impact” (i.e. statistical evidence that certain personnel standards have a disproportionate impact upon minorities); rather there must be reasonable grounds for concluding that an employer deliberately intended to discriminate against nonwhite applicants. The Civil Rights Act (1991) included ambiguous provisions designed to overturn Washington by allowing disparate impact as a test of job discrimination, while rejecting racial quotas.

Washington v. Texas

On 12 June 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause obliged state courts to uphold the Sixth Amendment's guarantee that defendants be able to subpoena witnesses to testify in their behalf.

Washington's farewell address

With advice from Alexander Hamilton, George Washington wrote this address of 17 September 1796 to announce his withdrawal from public life, warn citizens of the dangers of allowing political factions to dominate government, and recommend that the US avoid permanent foreign alliances in order to escape involvement in other nations' wars.

Washington, George

(b. Westmoreland County, Va., 22 February 1732; d. Mount Vernon, Va., 13 December 1799)    Hoping to gain officer's rank in the British army, Washington won a reputation for bravery in the Seven Years' War, but in 1761 settled on a plantation inherited from his brother. In 1759 he entered the House of Burgesses, where he was a consistent opponent of unconstitutional Parliamentary taxes. He sat in the first Continental Congress and became the Continental Army's commander on 15 June 1775. In the Revolutionary War, he won the siege of Boston, threw British forces on the defensive at Trenton and Princeton, kept the Continental Army from disintegrating at Valley Forge, frustrated the Conway Cabal, sealed victory at Yorktown, and scotched the Newburgh Conspiracy. He became a prominent postwar nationalist, who sponsored the Mount Vernon conference and chaired the Constitutional Convention. As president (1789–97), he resolved the nation's outstanding military and diplomatic problems by Jay's Treaty and the treaties of Greenville and San Lorenzo. He retired from public life in 1797.

Water Quality Act

(2 October 1965)    This law obliged states to set standards for depolluting water by 1 July 1967, and obtain federal approval for them, or be subject to US guidelines. It established the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, increased federal grants offered for sewage-treatment plants, and appropriated matching funds annually to assist local antipollution projects during 1966–9.

Watergate scandal

On 17 June 1972, police arrested five burglars at the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington's Watergate Building. On 29 August, Richard Nixon categorically denied that any of his White House staff had prior knowledge of the crime, and the episode had no impact on his reelection campaign. On 7 February 1973, the Senate appointed a seven-member committee under Sam J. Ervin to investigate the Watergate affair and any violations of election law in the 1972 campaign. On 23 March, federal judge John Sirica announced that one of the accused burglars, James McCord, revealed that White House staff had approved the Watergate break-in as part of an effort to disrupt George McGovern's campaign for president; on 28 March, McCord named John Mitchell as the “overall boss” of this dirty-tricks operation before Ervin's committee.
Subsequent testimony produced evidence of a criminal conspiracy to plan—and then cover up—the burglary, involving H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, L. Patrick Gray, Jeb Magruder, John Dean, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, Maurice Stans, and Herbert Kalmbach. On 18 May, Archibald Cox was appointed special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal activity. On 25 June, Dean named Nixon as helping to plan the burglary's cover-up.
After it was revealed on 16 July that Nixon had systematically taped his conversations and phone calls since 1970, Cox and the Ervin committee both subpoenaed them. Nixon claimed executive privilege in refusing to surrender the tapes to Ervin and tried to quash Cox's subpoena by the Saturday night massacre. On 23 October, Nixon gave Judge Sirica certain tapes, which were later found to have several gaps at key places. On 30 October, the House Judiciary Committee started hearings on whether to impeach Nixon; between 27 and 30 July 1974, it voted to recommend three counts of impeachment: obstruction of justice concerning the Watergate burglary, abusing presidential powers, and refusing to obey congressional subpoenas. Under order from the Supreme Court (United States v. Nixon) since 24 July to release all tapes of White House conversations, which contained proof of the impeachment charges, Nixon resigned effective 9 August 1974.

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