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Historical Glossary

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Brandeis, Louis Dembitz

(b. Louisville, Ky., 13 November 1856; d. Washington, D.C., 5 October 1941)    At the age of 21, Brandeis received his law degree with the highest academic average ever earned at Harvard law school. Nicknamed the “people's attorney,” he was reviled in business circles for defending legislation in the Progressive Era to improve working conditions and break up concentrations of economic power like the money trust. He pioneered the use of statistical, economic, and sociological evidence in court with his “Brandeis brief” that won Muller v. Oregon. When nominated to the Supreme Court, he met strong resistance from big business for his political views and also found many in the American Bar Association opposing him because of anti-Semitism. His confirmation was delayed five months, but on 1 June 1916 he became the Court's first Jewish justice. Long in the minority in a conservative court, he often joined in dissent with Oliver W. Holmes and Harlan Stone. He retired at 82 and devoted himself to philanthropic work.

Brandywine Creek, battle of (Pa.)

On 11 September 1777, General William Howe's 12,500 British troops defeated General George Washington's 11,000 Continentals. US losses: about 300 killed, about 300 wounded, 315 captured, and 11 cannon lost. British losses: 90 killed, 448 wounded, and 6 missing. Howe's victory prompted Congress to evacuate Philadelphia.

Brant, Joseph

(b. N.Y., 1742; d. Grand River, Ontario, 24 November 1807)    A Mohawk Indian leader, Brant was brother-in-law to Sir William Johnson. He fought with the British in Pontiac's War. In the Revolutionary War, he was the principal Iroquois Confederacy war leader under the British; he led the raid on Cherry Valley, was defeated in Sullivan's campaign, and then raided the Ohio valley settlements. He relocated in Canada after N.Y. confiscated his plantation. He established the first Episcopal church in Upper Canada.

Breedlove v. Suttles

On 6 December 1937, the Supreme Court upheld unanimously a Ga. law that disfranchised any adult who did not pay a $1.00 poll tax; it held that the tax violated neither the equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Fifteenth Amendment's protection of black voters. The Court held poll taxes unconstitutional in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections.

Bretton Woods conference (N.H.)

During 1–22 July 1944, the US and 43 other countries met to establish a framework for world trade and economic development that would avoid a repetition of the Great Depression. Its goals were to avoid competitive devaluations among nations, stabilize price levels, and encourage the flow of investment capital needed by international business. Its main feature was a fixed-rate exchange system based on gold to stabilize world currencies and to provide for any revaluations required by balance-of-payments adjustments or changes in national reserves of gold or foreign currencies.
All nations agreed to keep their currencies pegged at certain rates to gold, and the US dollar unofficially replaced the British pound sterling as the world's reserve currency for trade and international credit (at $35 per ounce of gold). The conference founded the International Monetary Fund (capitalized at $8,800,000,000, of which the US donated 25 percent) and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (capitalized at $9,100,000,000, of which the US donated 35 percent).
The Bretton Woods system was fatally undermined on 15 August 1971, when Richard Nixon suspended the dollar's convertibility into gold to end a run on US gold reserves. At Washington on 17–18 December 1971, international finance ministers created a new system of fixed exchange rates for their currencies and raised the value of gold to $38 per ounce, but the US refused to resume the convertibility of dollars into gold. At Basel, Switzerland, on 12 November 1973, US and European central bank governors terminated the Bretton Woods gold agreement by allowing the US dollar and European currencies to float against one another based on exchange rates set by the market place. The US Federal Reserve system thereafter acted alone to control the dollar's foreign exchange rates. The European monetary system was established on 13 March 1979 to maintain an appropriate relationship between western Europe's major currencies.