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Historical Glossary

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Bill of Rights

In the Revolutionary era, a bill of rights was any statement of principles, appended to a constitution, which set apart fundamental liberties that could never be violated by law or executive action. Influenced by the British Parliament's Bill of Rights (1689), George Mason authored America's first such document, Virginia's Declaration of Rights, adopted with that state's constitution on 12 June 1776. By 1784, seven states had attached similar documents to their constitutions, and the rest had written guarantees of basic freedoms into the text of their constitutions.
Representative James Madison narrowed 210 constitutional amendments suggested by the states to twelve, which Congress submitted to the legislatures on 25 September 1789. Ten were ratified by 15 December 1791 and became known as the federal Bill of Rights. Barron v. Baltimore exempted state courts from the US Bill of Rights' provisions. Barron was first selectively overturned by Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad v. Chicago. The Court later made all the Bill of Rights obligatory upon state judges in a series of separate rulings following Gitlow v. New York, most of which were issued under Earl Warren's chief justiceship. Public Law 284 extended the Bill of Rights to Reservation courts. (See First  through Tenth amendments)

Bill of Rights, 1689

Drawn up by Parliament and presented to King William II and Queen Mary, itlisted certain rights of the British people. It also limited the king’s powers intaxing and prohibitted the maintenance of a standing army in peacetime. 

Black Belt

This term refers to a crescent-shaped area of 6,250 square miles in southern Ala. and northeastern Miss. drained by the Alabama, Tombigbee, and Black Warrior rivers. The region's name came from the deep, black soils that yielded bumper crops, rather than from the fact that its population was predominantly slave. Its rich earth, level terrain, and relatively unforested condition attracted rapid settlement after 1820. The area became the antebellum South's most concentrated center of cotton production and slave ownership.

black codes

These were state laws passed by former Confederate states in 1865–6 to control the behavior of ex-slaves. Most codes restricted the ability of freedmen to travel at large, bargain for wages, and own firearms for self-defense. The codes outraged northerners, who viewed them as attempts to reinstate the conditions of slavery, and they influenced Congress to adopt a radical program for Reconstruction, especially passage of the Civil Rights Act (1866) and the Fourteenth Amendment. The US Army nullified them before they could take effect.

Black Friday

In June 1869, New York financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk devised a scheme to drive up the price of gold by convincing speculators that the US Treasury was withholding gold from sale. Ulysses S. Grant, although unaware of these intentions, badly compromised himself by meeting with the conspirators, who were partners with his brother-in-law. By manipulating gold from $132 to $163 per ounce within three months, Gould and Fisk aroused the suspicion of Grant, who ordered large sales of US gold on 24 September 1869 (“Black Friday”). The price of gold immediately plummeted, bankrupted many brokers, and caused a minor panic, although Gould had prior warning and saved himself by selling out (without warning his partner Fisk). The episode, along with several other scandals, tainted Grant's administration with the stigma of corruption.

Black Hawk War

Large numbers of Sauk and Fox Indians repudiated an 1804 treaty ceding their lands east of the Mississippi to the US and continued living in northeastern Ill. and southeastern Wis. In 1831 Sauk leader Black Hawk tried to unite local Indians to fight further white settlement, but fled to Iowa with 1,000 followers when US troops arrived. When Black Hawk's band returned to Ill. after a hungry winter on 5 April 1832 to plant crops, panic convulsed Ill. The 1,000 Sauk soon faced 7,790 Ill. militia and 1,500 US regulars, plus perhaps 2,700 Mich. militia and hostile Dakota Indians under General Henry Atkinson. Atkinson's force chased the Sauk for fifteen weeks; they finally killed perhaps a third of Black Hawk's people at Bad Axe River on 2 August, after which Dakota warriors ran down the survivors and took 68 more scalps at the Red Cedar River. US losses: 72 troops and civilians killed. Sauk losses: 442–592 killed, 200 captured (including Black Hawk). To make peace, Black Hawk's Sauk gave up their lands fifty miles west of the Mississippi for $40,000 and a $20,000 annuity paid over thirty years.

Black Monday (1935)

On 27 May 1935, the Supreme Court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Frazier–Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act. Coupled with the invalidation of the Railroad Retirement Act (1934) on 6 May, the Court's verdicts invalidated critical New Deal measures, and questioned whether the Roosevelt administration's program to end the depression was constitutional.

Black Monday (1987)

After experiencing its first daily decline exceeding a hundred points (down 108.36 to 2304.34) the previous Friday, on Monday 19 October 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sustained its greatest one-day loss in New York Stock Exchange history by falling 508 points (22.6 percent). The plunge resulted from waves of computer-generated sell orders triggered by a price imbalance between New York stocks and options on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. Stocks rebounded 102 points on 20 October, a record one-day rise, and regained most of their losses within six months. Black Monday led the Securities and Exchange Commission to impose regulations to limit market volatility by halting the execution of orders when the Dow Jones Industrial Index rose or fell by over 50 points in a day.

Black Monday (1929)

After two days of heavy-volume trading begun on Black Thursday, the New York Stock Exchange sustained heavy losses on 28 October 1929, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12.8 percent. It was followed by the unrestrained panic of Black Tuesday.

Black Thursday

On 24 October 1929, trading on the stock market rose to a record 12,894,650 shares. Only aggressive buying by a consortium led by J. P. Morgan & Co. enabled the market to stabilize. Although the New York Times stock index closed just 3.1 percent lower, the unprecedented volume was an indication of the stock market's underlying instability that would trigger heavy losses on Black Monday (1929) and Black Tuesday.

Black Tuesday

Following several days of exceptionally heavy trading volume from Black Thursday to Black Monday (1929), panic selling swept the stock market on 29 October 1929. A record 16,000,000 shares were traded and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 11.7 percent. The day marked the true beginning of the crash of 1929. Within two weeks, the value of listed stocks had fallen by about $30 billion, and before the slide stopped in July 1932, over $75 billion of capital would be wiped out. The crash inaugurated the Great Depression.

Blackfoot Indians

Speakers of one of the Algonquian languages, the Blackfeet included the Bloods, Piegans, and Northern (Canadian) Blackfeet. About 1780, they numbered perhaps 15,000 and inhabited northeastern Mont. and Saskatchewan. Various epidemics reduced their numbers to about 9,000 in 1837, when 6,000 of these perished in a smallpox outbreak. Although involved in many small hostilities with Mountain Men and miners, they never fought a full-scale war with the US Army. In 1877 most of them permanently moved to Canada. About 2,000 US Blackfeet settled on a reservation headquartered at Browning, Mont.

Blackstone, Sir William

(1723-1780) British jurist and legal scholar best known for his Commentaries on the Laws of England, which was, for over a century, the foundation for legal education in America and Great Britain. This work was a significant influence on the legal perspectives of the Founding Fathers, many of whom were lawyers schooled in English common-law tradition. One of Blackstone's strongest endorsements was for the right of citizens, in a free society, keep and bear arms for self-defense and to restrain the actions of an oppressive government.

Black–Connery Bill

In December 1932, Senator Hugo Black (Democrat, Ala.) introduced a bill to reduce unemployment in the Great Depression by setting a 30-hour maximum workweek and outlawing interstate shipment of goods made by factories with longer hours. The AFL strongly backed the bill, which passed the Senate on 6 April 1933. As representative William Connery (Democrat, Mass.) began hearings on his version of the bill in the House Labor Committee, Franklin D. Roosevelt mobilized his brains trust to formulate an alternative, which emerged as the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The administration blocked the Black-Connery Bill by substituting the NIRA.

Bladensburg, battle of (Md.)

On 24 August 1814, Major General Robert Ross's 4,500 British troops routed Brigadier General William Winder's 6,000 US militia. US losses: 71 killed, 100 captured. British losses: 64 killed, 185 wounded. Ross's victory allowed him to capture Washington, D.C. (see District of Columbia), without opposition that day.

Bland–Allison Act

(28 February 1878)    Acting to reverse the Crime of '73, Congress reestablished silver coins as part of the US currency (at a ratio to gold of 16 to 1). Representative Richard P. Bland (Democrat, Mo.) had demanded that the Treasury mint silver in unlimited quantities, but an amendment by Senator William B. Allison (Republican, Iowa) prescribed that the Treasury have discretion to purchase no less than $2,000,000 and no more than $4,000,000 per month. The act did not inflate the money supply to the degree intended because the Treasury kept silver purchases at the legal minimum. Congress next tried to expand silver coinage by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Bleeding Kansas

This expression referred to the struggle between free-soil and pro-slavery settlers to control that territory after the Kansas–Nebraska Act's passage in 1854. Major violence first occurred on 22 May 1856, when border ruffians looted Lawrence and wounded a citizen. On 24–5 May, abolitionists under John Brown murdered five unarmed men at Pottawatomie. Before US troops restored order in late 1856, about 200 men had been killed and $2,000,000 in property destroyed. Bloodletting subsided after 1856, but revived on a smaller scale in 1858 with the Marais des Cygnes massacre. Conflict gradually ended in 1859.

bloody shirt

The expression “waving the bloody shirt” described Republican demagoguery against Democrats that pandered to anti-Confederate hatreds after the Civil War. Its name came from an episode when General Benjamin Butler exhibited before Congress the blood-stained shirt of a Republican killed by the Ku Klux Klan.

Bloody Swamp, battle of (Ga.)

On 5 July 1742 Fla. Governor Manuel de Montiano landed 1,800 Spanish troops on St Simon's Island, Ga., where Governor James Oglethorpe commanded 900 Ga. militia and Scottish Highlanders. After minor skirmishing, Oglethorpe's troops routed 500 Spaniards marching to assault Fort Fredericka. Spanish losses: 19 killed, 21 wounded, and 12 captured. British losses: negligible. Demoralized by defeat and worried that British reinforcements would arrive, Montiano retreated to Fla. on 14 July. This campaign marked the last Spanish invasion of British colonies.

Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell

On 15 January 1991, the Supreme Court ruled (5–4) that court-imposed orders to desegregate schools by busing could end once a school district had taken all feasible steps to integrate the schools, if failure to achieve full integration did not stem from any deliberate efforts to frustrate desegregation.

Board of Trade

In 1660 Charles II appointed a Council of Trade (7 November) and a Council for Foreign Plantations (1 December) to advise his Privy Council on overseas affairs. After the councils became defunct in 1665, they were succeeded by several temporary committees until 1675, when the Committee on Trade and Plantations (known as the Lords of Trade) was formed as a component of the Privy Council. Under William Blathwayt, the Lords became the first effective agency for gathering information on American affairs and enforcing English policies overseas, but then lost much of their authority and effectiveness to ad hoc committees added to the Privy Council under James II and William III.
On 15 May 1696, the Lords were replaced by a new institution, the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, known as the Board of Trade. The board was charged with monitoring trade and the fisheries, nominating appointees for governor and other high offices, advising the Privy Council on American events, and making recommendations on which acts passed by provincial legislatures should receive royal assent. The board pursued its work vigorously at first, but steadily declined under the Hanoverian dynasty and lost control of colonial patronage to the secretary of state for the Southern Department in the 1720s. The board sank into a long period of lethargy—benign neglect—after 1720, except for a brief resurgence of activity and influence under the Earl of Halifax after 1748. Of 8,563 colonial laws reviewed, it allowed all but 469 (5 percent) to receive the royal signature.

Bonnie Blue Flag

Extremely popular Confederate song named after the first flag of the Confederacy, which had one white star on a blue background. The lyrics listed each state in the order in which they seceded from the Union. 

bonus army

During May–June 1932, a “bonus army” of 17,000 unemployed veterans built a shanty-town at Washington, D.C. and lobbied for immediate payment of Bonus Bill benefits. The Senate killed such legislation on 17 June and voted money to send the army home. When police tried to evict 2,000 veterans who refused to disband and continued pressing their demands, a riot ensued that left two police and two bonus marchers dead. On 29 July General Douglas MacArthur removed the bonus army violently with truncheons, tear gas, and tanks. The episode reinforced the common view that Herbert Hoover lacked compassion for the victims of the Great Depression.

Bonus Bill (1817)

On 4 February 1817, John Calhoun introduced a bill to create a permanent federal fund for internal improvements with the $1,500,000 bonus paid by the second Bank of the United States and all future dividends earned on the government's share of bank stock. Arguing from a position of loose constructionism, Calhoun argued that the Constitution authorized Congress to finance transportation systems under its power to build post roads and promote the general welfare. James Madison vetoed the measure on grounds of strict constructionism, arguing that the Constitution did not authorize subsidies for internal improvements (as opposed to reserving proceeds from sales of the public domain to finance transportation improvements, as in the National Road). The Maysville road veto upheld Madison's general position.

Bonus Bill (1924)

 On 15 May 1924, Congress passed the Adjusted Compensation Act, which created an endowed account for each World War I veteran calculated at $1.00 for each day of honorable service ($1.25 for each day overseas). In 1945 veterans would receive triple the base amount in cash, and until then they could borrow as much as 25 percent of its worth. On 27 February 1931, Congress raised the borrowing limit to 50 percent, because of the Great Depression. Demands for immediate payment of the $2.4 billion accrued in the accounts led to the Bonus Army. Congress passed a bonus bill distributing $2.2 billion to three million veterans in 1935, but Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed it on 22 May. Congress enacted a bonus bill to issue $1.5 billion of interest-bearing, nine-year bonds to veterans, by over-riding a presidential veto of 24 January 1936.

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