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Modern Era: 1945-Present | Save American History
 
 

Modern Era: 1945-Present

 

For the United States of America, 1945 to 1964 was an era of economic growth and prosperity which saw the victorious powers of World War II confronting each other in the Cold War and the triumph of the Civil Rights Movement that ended Jim Crow segregation in the South.

The period saw an active foreign policy designed to rescue Europe and Asia from the devastation of World War II and to contain the expansion of Communism, represented by the Soviet Union and China. A race began to overawe the other side with more powerful nuclear weapons. The Soviets formed the Warsaw Pact of communist states to oppose the American-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. The U.S. fought a bloody, inconclusive war in Korea and was escalating the war in Vietnam as the period ended.

On the domestic front, after a short transition, the economy grew rapidly, with widespread prosperity, rising wages, and the movement of most of the remaining farmers to the towns and cities. Politically, the era was dominated by presidents, Democrats Harry Truman (1945–53), John F. Kennedy (1961–63) and Lyndon Johnson (1963–69), and Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–61). For most of the period, the Democrats controlled Congress; however, they were usually unable to pass as much liberal legislation as they had hoped because of the power of the Conservative Coalition. The Liberal coalition came to power after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, and launched the Great Society.

The history of the United States from 1964 through 1980 includes the climax and victory of the African American Civil Rights Movement; the escalation and ending of the Vietnam War; the drama of a generational revolt with its sexual freedoms and use of drugs; and the continuation of the Cold War, with its Space Race to put a man on the Moon. The economy was prosperous until the early 1970s, then faltered under new foreign competition and high oil prices. By 1980 and the seizure of the American Embassy in Iran, there was a growing sense of national malaise. This period is closed by the victory of conservative Republican Ronald Reagan, opening the “Age of Reagan” with a dramatic change in national direction.

Memories of the 1960s shaped the political landscape for the next half-century. As Bill Clinton explained in 1990, “If you look back on the Sixties and think there was more good than bad, you’re probably a Democrat. If you think there was more harm than good, you’re probably a Republican.”

 

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