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Each embraced a pair of episodes with lastingly transformative impacts.From 1776 to 1789 the Revolutionary War and the adoption of the Constitution brought national independence and established the basic political framework within which the nation would be governed ever after.
American prosperity in the 1920s was real enough, but it was not nearly as pervasive as legend has portrayed.
The millions of immigrants who had swarmed into the nation’s teeming industrial cities in the preceding decades remained culturally parochial and economically precarious in gritty ethnic ghettoes.
It did not entirely lift until the next world war, more than twenty years later.
The long-suffering countryside was home to nearly half of all Americans in the 1920s; one out of every five workers toiled on the nation’s fields and farms.
From 1861 to 1877 the Civil War and Reconstruction affirmed the integrity of the Union, ended slavery, and generated three constitutional amendments that at least laid the foundation for honoring the Declaration’s promise that "all men are created equal." And between 19 the Great Depression and World War II utterly redefined the role of government in American society and catapulted the United States from an isolated, peripheral state into the world’s hegemonic superpower.
To understand the logic and the consequences of those three moments is to understand much about the essence and the trajectory of all of American history.Washington also insisted that the Europeans repay the entirety of the loans extended to them by the US Treasury during the war.And in 1924 the republic for the first time in its history imposed a strict limit on the number of immigrants who could annually enter the country.Across the long arc of American history, three moments in particular have disproportionately determined the course of the Republic’s development.Each respectively distilled the experience and defined the historical legacy of a century.The lingering distortions in trade, capital flows, and exchange rates occasioned by the punitive Treaty of Versailles, as the economist John Maynard Keynes observed at the time, managed to perpetuate in peacetime the economic disruptions that had wrought so much hardship in wartime.What was more, memories of the war’s bitter fighting and vengeful conclusion rendered the postwar international atmosphere toxic.Even those horrendous numbers could not begin to take the full measure of the human misery that unemployment entailed.Given the demography of the labor force and prevailing cultural norms that kept most women—and virtually all married women—out of the wage-paying economy, a 25 percent unemployment rate meant that, for all practical purposes, every fourth household in America had no breadwinner.To a much greater degree than in the earlier cases, the changes set in motion by the Great Depression and World War II had their origins outside the United States—a reminder of the increasing interdependency among nations that was such a salient feature of the twentieth century.The Great Depression was a worldwide catastrophe whose causes and consequences alike were global in character.