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Historical Glossary

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Brown, John

(b. Torrington, Conn., 9 May 1800; d. Charleston, W.Va., 2 December 1859)    He was born into a family with a pronounced history of mental disease, experienced several episodes of emotional disorder in his own life, and failed at every occupation he tried. In 1855 he left Ohio to join the free-soil migration to stop slavery's expansion during Bleeding Kansas. After he and four sons murdered five men in cold blood at Pottawatomie on 24 May 1856, a $3,000 reward was placed on his head. Aiming to spark a slave insurrection, he captured the US Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Va., on 16 October 1859, helped by 16 whites and five blacks. Va. militia and US marines under Robert E. Lee retook it on 18 October. Brown's men killed 3 militia and 1 marine, but lost 10 killed and 7 captured (including Brown himself). The US allowed Va. to try Brown, who was found guilty on 31 October, and hanged on 2 December. Brown became a martyr to many northerners out of concern that his trial was rigged and because he died with resolution and dignity. The north's eulogizing of Brown shocked white southerners and sparked wild rumors of abolitionist conspiracies. These rumors engulfed the election of 1860 in an atmosphere of hysteria. Brown's raid was the decisive event that convinced the South that, if Abraham Lincoln became president, only secession could save it from future slave revolts.

Brownsville incident (Tex.)

On 13 August 1906, shooting erupted between white citizens of Brownsville, Tex., and about 12 black troops of the 25th Infantry at Fort Brown. One townsman was killed and another wounded. When the fort's garrison refused to identify the dozen involved, Theodore Roosevelt ordered all 167 black soldiers dishonorably discharged and declared them ineligible for civil service employment. Criticism by Roosevelt's political enemies led Congress to order a formal investigation of his actions, but the court of inquiry's establishment was delayed indefinitely. The dismissals cost Roosevelt the black vote in 1912. In 1972 the army changed the men's discharges from dishonorable to honorable.

Bryan, William Jennings

(b. Salem, Ill., 19 March 1860; d. Dayton, Tenn., 26 July 1925) In 1887 Bryan opened a law office in Lincoln, Nebr. As a Democratic congressman (1891–4), he became a leading pro-silver advocate in the silver coinage controversy, but was defeated for the Senate in 1895 for opposing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act's repeal. By the 1896 Democratic convention, Bryan was the party's leading exponent of inflating the currency with silver, and his gripping cross of gold speech won him nomination as president. Also endorsed by the Populist party (see populism), Bryan stumped 18,000 miles and gave 600 speeches. He carried the South and West, but could not win over northeastern laborers or midwestern farmers; he lost by 95 electoral votes to William McKinley, but received 47.7 percent of the ballots. In 1900 he lost badly to McKinley by 137 electoral votes (with just 45.5 percent of the ballots); in 1908 he lagged William Taft by 321 to 162 in the electoral college, and won only 43.1 percent of the popular vote. Bryan was influential in making Woodrow Wilson the 1912 Democratic nominee and became his secretary of state, but left the cabinet when Wilson's policy on the HMS  Lusitania's sinking clashed with his own preferences for strict neutrality. He died after helping prosecute the Scopes trial.

Buchanan v. Warley

On 5 November 1917, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a Louisville, Ky., ordinance segregating neighborhoods by race violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Attempts to evade the ruling resulted in white homeowners organizing private, community-wide covenants that forbade selling or renting homes to blacks. The Court addressed these schemes in Corrigan v. Buckley.

Budget and Accounting Act

(10 June 1921) In the first major reform of federal finances, as recommended by the Commission on Efficiency and Economy, Congress created the Bureau of the Budget and General Accounting Office (GAO). The president was responsible for having the Budget Bureau provide each session of Congress with a complete statement of government financial accounts. The GAO would independently audit US finances. The Administrative Reorganization Act (3 April 1939) transferred the Budget Bureau from the Treasury to the White House staff. In 1970 the Budget Bureau was renamed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). (See also Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, 1974)


At the onset of European colonization, buffalo herds ranged as far east as the Carolinas. Westward expansion eliminated them east of the Mississippi River during the early 19th century. By the 1860s, approximately 15,000,000 bison grazed on the Great Plains, where they were central to the Indians' economy and culture. Following the development of a commercial process for treating buffalo hides in 1871, large-scale hunting killed 9,000,000 bison by 1875. After the last large kill in 1883, the species was almost extinct from the US, although a wild herd survived in northern Alberta. By 1990 buffalo had revived and numbered about 130,000 head.

buffalo soldiers

This term referred to black soldiers who fought Indians on the Great Plains in four segregated army regiments: 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry, and 25th Infantry. Between 1870 and 1890, these units participated in nearly 200 engagements and 14 of their troops won the Medal of Honor.

Bulge, battle of the

ntending to isolate, and then destroy, Bernard Montgomery's British forces from US support by driving to Antwerp, 25 German divisions, backed by 2,000 artillery pieces, 600 tanks and 1,000 planes, attacked Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges's First US Army (75,000 men) in Belgium's Ardennes Forest (16 December 1944). Hodges's withdrawal left a 45-mile bulge in US lines, but resistance at St Vith and Bastogne upset enemy timetables and enabled Allied troops to maneuver against the penetration, which was eliminated by 7 February 1945. The Bulge was the final German offensive and set back Allied operations by six weeks. US losses: 19,000 killed, 47,000 wounded, and 15,000 captured. German losses: 100,000 casualties.

Bull Moose party

his catchphrase was a jocular expression for the list of candidates for the Progressive party headed by Theodore Roosevelt. It derived from his acceptance speech at the Chicago convention on 5 August 1912, when he said he felt “as strong as a bull moose.”

Bull Run, first battle of (Va.)

On 21 July 1861, Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard's 32,200 Confederates defeated Brigadier General Irwin A. McDowell's 30,600 Federals. USA losses: 418 killed, 1,011 wounded, 1,216 missing. CSA losses: 387 killed, 1,582 wounded, 12 missing. The defeat caused McDowell to be replaced by George B. McClellan, ended hopes of early Federal victory, and led Congress to authorize the enlistment of 500,000 additional US volunteers. Known in the Confederacy as the First battle of Manassas.

Bull Run, second battle of (Va.)

Between 28 August and 1 September 1862, General Robert E. Lee's 48,500 Confederates engaged Major General John Pope's 75,700-man Army of Virginia. On 28 August, Stonewall Jackson's corps kept US forces from taking Centreville. On 29–30 August, Lee's troops defeated Pope's men at Bull Run Creek. On 1 September, Jackson's corps attacked and defeated retreating Federal forces at Chantilly. Total USA losses: 1,724 killed, 8,372 wounded, 5,958 missing. Total CSA losses: 1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, 89 missing. Second Bull Run forced the complete evacuation of USA troops from northern Va. and emboldened Lee to invade Md. in the campaign for Antietam. Known in the Condederacy as the Second Battle of Manassas.

Bunker Hill, battle of (Mass.)

On 17 June 1775 Colonel William Prescott's 1,200 Mass. militia repulsed two assaults by Major General Thomas Gage's 2,500 British troops before shortage of ammunition forced their withdrawal during a third attack. US losses: 140 killed, 271 wounded, 30 captured. British losses: 226 killed, 828 wounded. Heavy British casualties reinforced American determination to resist British authority and ended any hope that Britain's government would compromise with the rebels.

Burch v. Louisiana

On 17 April 1979, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of jury trials is violated when juries of just six persons convict defendants without a unanimous vote. In Ballew v. Georgia (21 March 1978), the Court declared that state juries must have at least six persons.

Burger, Warren Earl

(b. St Paul, Minn., 17 September 1907)    He was US assistant attorney general (1953–6), active in Republican party politics, and judge on the US court of appeals for Washington, D.C. (1956–69), before being confirmed as chief justice on 9 June 1969. Burger led the Court in modifying the judicial activism that characterized its decisions under Earl Warren, but upheld most of Warren's landmark decisions, if rather modified in scope. The Burger court was often deeply divided over abortion and the rights of criminal defendants. Burger announced his retirement on 17 June 1986. His major opinions include Griggs v. Duke Power Company, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg County Board of Education, Lemon v. Kurtzman,  Miller v. California, Milliken v. Bradley, and Fullilove v. Klutznik.


A term for a state congress. The Virginia House of Burgesses was the first popularly elected legislative body in America, its first meeting took place on July 30, 1619.

Burgh, James

(1714-1775) English whig who made a significant contribution to free speech doctrine is his Political Disquisitions. Many of his other writings contributed in other areas such as educational reform. Thomas Jefferson included the work with other writings in a course of recommended reading for James Madison and James Monroe, and in 1803, while Jefferson was President, he "urged" the work on Congress. The book was popular among American colonists and became a source of inspiration for American Revolutionists. Many critics claim his work is nothing more than a collection of other writer's ideas and propositions. While he does draw extensively from outside theorists and authors, many of his ideas on Parliamentary reform, free speech, and equal opportunity are novel.

Burke Act (1906)

This act nullified In Re Heff (1905), a Supreme Court ruling that clarified the Dawes Severalty Act by declaring that Indians granted land under its terms were US citizens and not wards of the government. Since Heff blocked the Bureau of Indian Affairs from enforcing many paternalistic restrictions on reservations (chiefly its ban on whiskey sales), Congress amended the Dawes Severalty Act to delay Indian citizenship during the 25 years while the US held their land grants in trust (i.e. at least through 1912).

Burr, Aaron

(b. Newark N.J., 6 February 1756; d. Port Richmond, N.Y., 14 September 1836)    In June 1778, Burr organized the earliest US espionage agency, the Headquarters Secret Service on Washington's staff. He was N.Y. attorney general (1789–91), US senator (1791–7), and N.Y. legislator (1797–9). He won 30 electoral votes for president in 1796. His mobilization of the Friendly Sons of St Tammany in 1800 was critical in the Democratic party's electoral college victory, which gave equal votes to Burr and Thomas Jefferson. After deadlocking for 35 ballots, the House relegated Burr to vice-president. In 1804, he courted the Essex Junto during an unsuccessful race for N.Y. governor. Having ruined his political career by killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr embarked in 1806 on a scheme to conquer Spanish colonies—and perhaps lead the western states to secede—for which he was arrested in Ala., on 19 February 1807 and charged with treason. He was acquitted on 1 September 1807 as a result of John Marshall's narrow (and partisan) interpretation of proving guilt for that crime. He went into exile until 1812 and then practiced law in New York City.

Bush, George Herbert Walker

(b. Milton, Mass., 12 June 1924)    He saw combat as a navy pilot in World War II and then moved to Tex., where he entered the oil leasing and drilling business. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Senate in 1964 and 1970, sat in Congress (1967–70), was US ambassador to the UN (1971–2), chaired the Republican National Committee (1972–4), served as ambassador to China (1974–5), was CIA director (1976), ran a losing race to be Republican nominee for president in 1980, served as vice-president (1981–9), and was elected president in 1988 by winning 54 percent of the ballots and taking all but 10 states. He directed the 1989 US intervention in Panama. He organized the allied coalition that fought the Persian Gulf War, but ordered combat operations ended before Iraq was decisively defeated. His reelection prospects were crippled by his cynical repudiation of a campaign pledge not to raise taxes and by his failure to confront a lingering recession. He was defeated in 1992, when he polled just 38 percent of the vote—the worst showing by a Republican nominee since Barry Goldwater. Before leaving office, he initiated the US intervention in Somalia.

Bushy Run, battle of (Pa.)

On 5–6 August 1763, Colonel Henry Bouquet's 460 Highlanders and Royal Americans routed 600 Indians under the Seneca Guyasuta and the Delaware Custaloga 26 miles from Fort Pitt. British losses: 55 killed, 60 wounded. Indian losses: about 120 killed, wounded. The Indians then abandoned their siege of Fort Pitt.

Butler, Benjamin Franklin

(b. Deerfield, N.H., 5 November 1818; d. Washington, D.C., 11 January 1993)    A “political general” during the Civil War, Butler became a US major general in May 1861 because he was a prominent Democrat. An incompetent who repeatedly embarrassed his superiors, Butler's popularity among Democrats kept him from being relieved from active command until 1865. He switched parties, served as a Republican congressman (1866–79), and was prominent in Andrew Johnson's impeachment. He became Mass. governor in 1883, and won 1.8 percent of votes as Greenback party presidential nominee in 1884.


The president's cabinet consists of the heads of executive departments. The original cabinet consisted of the Departments of State, the Treasury, and War, plus the attorney general, but not the postmaster general. The kitchen cabinet emerged in the 1830s. An informal black cabinet evolved in the 1930s. The “inner cabinet” includes the four most influential department heads (of the Treasury, State, Justice, and Defense), who work most closely with the president. By 1993, the cabinet had grown to 14 departments.

Cabot, John

(b. Genoa[?], Italy, ca. 1455; d. in the north Atlantic, 1498)    Born Giovanni Caboto, Cabot established himself as a merchant-mariner in Bristol, England, about 1490. Commissioned by Henry VII to make a voyage of discovery for England, he left Bristol on 2 May 1497 and commanded the first European ship to reach the North American mainland. After sighting Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island on 24 June, he sailed to New England. England's territorial claims to North America derived from his discovery. In 1498 he was lost at sea on another transatlantic voyage.

Cabot, Sebastian

(b. Venice, Italy, ca. 1483; d. London, England, 1557)    Son of John Cabot, Sebastian may have joined his father's first voyage of 1497. In 1508–9, he made the earliest English voyage searching for the Northwest Passage. He entered Spain's service in 1512, but returned to England in 1548. He was Muscovy Company president (1553–7).

Cabrillo's explorations

On 27 June 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo began the first Spanish voyage along the Calif. coast and claimed the region for Spain. Cabrillo died on 3 January 1543, and Bartolomé Ferrelo continued exploring until March 1543, when he turned back near southern Oreg.
Caddoan languages.

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