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PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History

Appendix C : Profiles Of Influential Persons In The Course Of American History

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

There is still a controversy over the exact birth date of Columbus. Historians believe that he was born sometime between August 25 and October 31, 1451, in Genoa, Italy. Columbus’ father, Domenico Colombo was a wool weaver. Christopher Columbus was the eldest son among the five children born to Susanna Fontanarossa and Domenico Colombo. Christopher’s younger brother, Bartholomew planned the great voyage (to the Indies) with Christopher and became his right-hand man in all his en.asprises.

Not much is known about his early life, except that he had had very little sch.aspng. He later taught himself to read and write Spanish. He also learnt Latin since all geography books then were written in Latin..asp 1476, Columbus joined a Portuguese vessel. This vessel sailed north of Iceland before returning to Lisbo.asp.asp.asp.asp.asp.asp.asp February 1477.

The Portuguese at this time were trying to sail to the Indies by sailing around Africa. But Columbus like many other seamen of his time thought the route to be rather long. And in his attempt to discover a new shorter route to the Indies, he reached the Caribbean Coast, but nor before several unsuccessful attempts. It is important to note that Columbus voyages were supported by the Spanish Queen Isabella.

George Washington


Washington’s first military experience was in 1750, when he was appointed adjutant general of a military district in Virginia. In 1751, he quickly rose to the rank of a major. And by the time he was sent to check the French from trespassing on lands claimed by the English (2 years later), he had become a lieutenant colonel. From 1755 to 1758, he served as a commander of the Virginia militia to protect the colony’s western frontier.

He was one of the first few in Virginia, to protest against British colonial policies. And in 1774, he was appointed delegate to the first Continental Congress. In the second Congress, he was chosen as the Commander-in-Chief of the continental army in their war against Britain.

During the 8 year long war, as the chief of the revolutionary American army, he proved his brilliance as a military General. The war made him a military hero. After the war, he resigned from the army for a quiet life as planter at Mt. Vernon. At the ripe age of 57, he was recalled in the service of the nation. This time he was elected to the highest post of the U.S. in 1789.

Washington has been hailed as "Father of His Country" and is by far the most famous American of his time, both at home and abroad.

Speaking about his career as a President, Mr. Leonard D. White, an authority on American public administration stated: "In his daily administrative tasks, he was systematic, orderly, energetic, solicitous of the opinion of the others but decisive, interest about general goals and the consistency of particular actions with them."

It was mainly due to Washington’s popularity at home he could play a key role in setting up an efficient administration and to reconcile the American public to the new government and the authority of the Federal Constitution. During his tenure as President, he supported Hamilton’s report, after initial uneasiness on the issue of national banks.

In 1795, the Treaty of San Lorenzo negotiated by Thomas Pinckney, on the President’s behalf was a personal victory for Washington. By this famous Treaty, Mississippi River was recognized as the Western boundary of the U.S by Spain. Besides, Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the northern boundary of the U.S. Also, it gave the U.S the right to deposit goods in New Orleans (then under Spain) port without any duties. And gave the U.S. traders the right to navigate the river Mississippi.

Washington served 2 terms in the office as President. He did not belong to any party, therefore he spoke about the baneful effects of the party system that was slowly emerging in the young nation. In 1797, he returned home to Mount Vernon, to lead a calm life. In 1799, he was appointed the commander of the new and larger army under the John Adams government. But Washington decided not to assume active command unless necessary. On 14th December, 1799 the brilliant and popular leader of America died at home in Mount Vernon.


Robert E. Lee (1807 - 1870)

Exhibit A2


Lee led the army of the Southern Confederate states in the Civil War of America. He was probably one of the best and brilliant generals that America ever had. He had been the Commander of the U.S. Army before the Civil War. When the Southern States seceded from the Union, Robert E. Lee resigned and became a military adviser on the side of the Confederates. Later, he led the Southern troops in the Civil War. Under his brilliant command, the Confederates won the first few battles in the war. For instance, at Bull Run in Virginia (1861) the Confederates were victorious, though they lost 2,000 men there. It was not until 1863, that the north won the most famous battle at Gettysburg. Finally, seeing that his men were tired and outnumbered, General Lee surrendered to Grant in the Court house at Appomattox, Virginia. This was on 9th April 1865.

Abraham Lincoln

Born in 1809, Abraham Lincoln was the son of a couple who were farm laborers. Though he lived in poverty, Lincoln’s early education was only through the Bible. Later, after a lot of struggle and dedication, he began to study law. This was in 1834. In 1842, he married Mary Todd.


Before running for the post of President, he was a Senator in Illinois. He became a national leader through the debates with Senator Douglas on the issue of slavery. In a simple and lucid style, he argued against slavery. Some of his statements on the question of slavery are:

"If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel."

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."

"I want every man to have a chance - and I believe a black is entitled to it - in which he can better his condition - when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterwards, and finally to hire men to work for him!"

Though Lincoln did not speak for the social and political freedom of blacks, he along with the Republican Party, raised basic questions on the subject during the 1850s: "Can we as a nation, continue together permanently- forever- half slave, and half free?" and later in one of his speeches answered it: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

In 1861, he became the President of the U.S. Though a man of peace, he found himself leading the northern states in the Civil War. In 1865, after the Confederate of Southern States were defeated, he was shot dead in a Washington theatre by a Southerner, John Wilkes Booth. During the war, his immense foresight and ability as a leader surfaced.

Martin Luther King, Jr

Born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther (Jr.) was the son of Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King. Like his father, Martin Luther King Jr. studied to join the Church. King Jr. was ordained as minister in 1948.

King’s Civil Rights activities began in 1955 with a protest against Montgomery’s (a place in Alabama) segregated bus system. Leaders among the black community urged black Americans to ’boycott’ the city’s buses in protest. The black leaders formed an organization to run the boycott and King was appointed President of the Organization. King’s Organization preached non-violent methods like ’sit-ins’ and boycotts to fight discrimination. Despite threats and terrorist attacks by racist organizations, King continued to preach non-violence. The boycott of buses continued for over a year. In 1956, the Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to provide equal and integrated seating arrangement for all.


The success of this non-violent struggle brought Martin Luther King Jr. national fame. He soon became a symbol of the southern black’s efforts to fight racial injustice. King, along with several other black (church) ministers, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 to broaden and strengthen the struggle against racism. During the ’50s there was widespread segregation in schools, transportation, recreation and other public establishments in the south. Southern states also used various methods like literacy tests and poll tax to deprive blacks of their voting rights.

The SCLC took on these issues and carried out a relentless struggle against this racial injustice. In 1963, King launched a massive demonstration to protest against racial discrimination in Birmingham, Alabama. Alabama was one of South’s most segregated cities. This demonstration made the President of the U.S. John F. Kennedy propose a wide-ranging Civil Rights Bill in the Congress. Again, SCLC under the leadership of King organized a massive march in Washington D.C. August 28, 1963 was a historic day for over 200,000 Americans both blacks and whites, marched and converged at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. It was here that King delivered his soul stirring ’I have a Dream’ speech. (See Box)

By the mid 1960s, the Civil Rights Struggle under the leadership of King won several significant legislations. Martin Luther King (Jr.) was not satisfied with these victories. He had come to believe that Civil Rights leaders should pay more attention to the economic problems of the blacks. Besides, continued violence against Civil Rights Workers in the South had began causing frustration among the blacks. Some black leaders spoke out for a more aggressive method to answer the violent attacks. These leaders like Elijah Muhammad and later Malcolm X used the slogan ’Black Power’ in response to the violent racial attacks. King insisted on non- violence. These ideological disputes among Civil Rights Movement led to King’s taking a backseat in the Movement.

In 1967, King became more critical of the American Society than ever before. He began to plan a ’Poor People’s Campaign’ that would unite poor people of all races in a struggle for economic opportunities. In 1967, he was very vocal in criticizing the role of the U.S. in the Vietnam War (1957- ’75). During his visit to Memphis to organize the Poor People’s Campaign, King supported a strike of black refuse Collectors. It was here, on April 4, 1968 that King was assassinated by a white drifter and escaped convict, James Earl Ray.

With regard to the Black Rights Movement some knowledge is needed about Black Muslims. They are members of the American religious movement called the American Muslim Mission. This movement initially accepted only blacks as members and called for the separation of blacks and whites. Later in the ’70s the organization began to accept people regardless of their race or ethnic background. W.D. Fard founded the movement in the early 1930s in Detroit. Fard was a fabric salesman and his followers believed that Fard had come to the U.S. from Mecca (the religious city of Islamic religion). His followers also believed that Fard had come to save the blacks from what he described as the "white devils" who had enslaved them.


In 1934, Elijah Muhammad, became the leader of this movement. Under his leadership, the movement grew and gathered momentum in the U.S. Elijah Muhammad favored the separation of the races. Under him, branches of the organization called mosques or temples were established all over the U.S.

In the 1960s, Malcolm X (1925- 1965) became a leading spokesperson of the movement and a close disciple of Elijah Muhammad. He adopted the beliefs of the Black Muslims much earlier (1946), while in prison. On his release in 1952, he joined the Black Muslim movement. In ’64, due to a disagreement with the leaders, Malcolm left the movement to form a rival group called to Organization of Afro-American Unity. By now, Malcolm X’s separatist views had changed to the need for the unity of poor blacks and whites in America. Unfortunately, the young and fiery Malcolm X was assassinated before his new organization could take roots. He was killed on February 21, 1965 in New York City.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore or ’Teddy’ Roosevelt was the 26th President of the U.S. (1901-09). Born in 1858 into a rich Dutch family in New York, Young Roosevelt graduated from Harvard in 1880. It was in the 1880 that Theodore Roosevelt divided his time between writing and politics. He served 3 (one year each) terms in the New York Assembly, where he began to known as an Independent Republican. As the assistant secretary of the Navy under President McKinley, Roosevelt used his office to prepare the nation for war with Spain.

In 1898, he ran for governor’s post in New York under a Republican ticket. The post of governor (1899-1900) prepared him well for the highest office in the U.S. President McKinley’s assassination in September 1901, brought Roosevelt to the post of the president. Roosevelt served as vice-president, when McKinley won the elections in 1900.

Roosevelt’s administration at home is well known for the various reform legislations: Anti-Trust Act, Elkins Bill etc. (see Chapter on The Age of Transformation). Chief among his Literary works are: ’The Naval War of 1812’ (1882), ’The winning of the West’ (1889), ’Auto biography’ (1913) and ’America the World War’ (1915).

Teddy Roosevelt died on Jan. 6, 1919 in Oyster Bay, New York.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the U.S. (1933-’45). Born on January 30, 1882 at Hyde Park, Franklin was born in a noted, wealthy family. His parents James Roosevelt and Sara D. Roosevelt educated him under a governess. Later, he graduated from Harvard University and joined the Columbia Law School.


Although he supported the Democratic Party, Franklin (who was by now working with a Wall Street Law firm) greatly admired his Uncle Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive policies. In 1910, Franklin ran for the Senate under the Democratic party Ticket.


In 1933, when the nation was still reeling under the great crash, Franklin D. Roosevelt or F.D.R. won the presidential Elections. F.D.R’s administration is widely known for the expanded role of the federal government, with a wide ranging socio-economic program: The New Deal. F.D.R. also led the nation during critical year of World War II.


Roosevelt’s presidency was a historic period, for in the face of the potential collapse of the capitalism (the great Crash), Roosevelt introduced the interventionist state which brought order and stability to the economy. F.D.R died due to a long illness on April 12, 1945.


Richard M. Nixon


Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the U.S. (1969-74). Born on January 9, 1913, in Linda, California, Richard was the second son of Hannah and Francis Nixon’s five children. As a child, Nixon excelled in school and graduated from Whittier college in second place (1934). He was third in class at the Duke University Law School (1937).


From 1937 to 1942, he practiced law in California. During the War, Nixon served in the navy as a supply officer in the south pacific. On returning home, Nixon entered politics and became a Republican candidate for Congress. In 1950, he ran for the senate and defeated the Democratic candidate, Helen Galagan Douglas. In 1952, at the age of 39, Nixon was nominated by the Republican party to be Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice-presidential mate.


In 1964, Nixon ran for President on the Republican Party ticket. Partly, due to deeply divided Democratic Party over Vietnam War, that Nixon won the elections. His foreign policy included the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) with the USSR In February 1972, he visited Beijing, China. It was a historic trip, for it reversed the U.S. policy of not recognizing the communist government in China.


In 1973, the U.S. government after a long bitter war in Vietnam, managed to arrange for a cease-fire. During this period, U.S. troops finally returned home.

At home, under the slogan of New federalism, Nixon tried to shift important elements of government power back to the state and local governments. Moreover he cut back and opposed federal welfare services, and used wage and price controls to reduce inflation.


In 1972, Nixon once again swept the presidential elections against the Democrat rival Senator George S. McGovern. But the ugly incident during the campaign that came to light later led to Nixon’s downfall. During the ’72 campaign, a group of burglars working for the committee to re-elect the president broke into the head-quarters of the Democratic National committee at the Watergate office-cum apartment complex in Washington D.C. allegedly in search of political information.

The White House, after the elections, tried to obstruct the investigations into the ’Water Gate Scandal.’ Recorded tapes later revealed that Nixon and his officials were involved in obstructing the course of justice.

With the revelations, the President’s reputation was besmirched, the Congress Judiciary Committee voted to recommend impeachment against the President. This put Nixon in a fix. And on Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon was forced to resign from office.


President Dwight David Eisenhower was a General in the U.S. army before he entered political scene. He was popularly known as "Ike" throughout the world.

Though he had no experience of any major battle during the war, Eisenhower was appointed commander-in-chief of the U.S. forces by President Roosevelt. He held two terms as president of the U.S. - in 1952 and again in 1956.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

Born in a small village of Privolnoye (March 2, 1931) near the city - Stavropol, USSR Mikhail Sergevich Gorbachev joined the Communist party in 1952. Gorbachev got a degree in law from the Moscow State University in 1955. Before becoming the General secretary or head of the communist party, in Soviet Union (in March 1985), he held several important posts in the Party. The person who holds the office of general Secretary, becomes the head on the President of the USSR.


As the leader of Soviet Union, Gorbachev will always be known for introducing the Policy of Glasnost and Perestroika in Soviet land. ’Glasnost ’ and Perestroika’ were reform policies of liberalization and restructuring implemented by the President in the 80s. It was Khrushchev and Bulganin former leaders of Soviet Union who had initiated the policy of liberalization. After Gorbachev took over the reign of the Government, this policy was further developed.

His other achievements are the attempt to create a war-free world, and to reduce the tension between the U.S. and USSR Under the wave of liberalization, most of the Soviet supported communist countries in Eastern Europe became weak and broke up. In Soviet Union too, the states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia broke away. Gorbachev by recognizing their right to secede, avoided unnecessary blood shed.

Due to his efforts to bring about world Peace, he was conferred "Indira Gandhi Peace Award in 1987 and the Nobel prize for Peace in 1990. His own country, the USSR has feted him several times before for his service to the nation. He has been conferred the ’Order of Lenin’ 3 times.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Wilson Reagan was elected the 40th president of the U.S. in January 1981. At 69 years of age, he was the oldest man and the first movie actor (’B’ grade) ever sworn into the office of president.

Born on February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois, Reagan got his degree in Arts from Eureka college (1932). During his college days he worked as a sports caster and later began his acting career with Warner Brothers (1937). In the 50s, he spoke out against big governments and communism. In 1966, as a Republican candidate, Reagan defeated the democrat Edmund Brown ("Pat") to become the Governor of California.

Reagan’s name was always mentioned as a presidential contender in every election since 1968. But it was only in 1980 that Reagan won the presidential nomination. During his term as president (1981-89). Reagan introduced the bold program of ’revitalization’ of the American economy to help pull it out of a critical state. Under this program, Reagan offered measures like sharp budget cuts to shrink the public sector, tax cuts for businessmen so as to encourage investment, and reduced government regulations on business and social sector. The economic recession only worsened critics say that Reagan’s increased budgetary allocation for defense ’dwarfed’ budget cuts elsewhere.

Abroad, Reagan’s foreign relations saw a strong anti-Soviet stance during the first term as president. In 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon made the U.S. send troops as peace keeping force to Lebanon.

In an attempt to solve the Israeli-Arab dispute, Reagan proposed for Palestinian self-rule in association with Jordan. This proposal was rejected by Israel.

In ’83, the economic scene in the U.S. brightened, with a rise in production low inflation rate. In 1984, Reagan ran for a second term and won the elections.

During his second term, the economy showed worrying trends : a budget deficit of $ 211 billion along with huge trade deficits. In 1986, Reagan passed a Tax reform bill that reduced and simplified taxes.

Abroad, the U.S. administration continued its efforts to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, by aiding the rebels the ’contras’ forces. So much so that U.S. security officials got involved in several underhand dealings like the secret sale of arms to Iran and the diversion of the profits accrued, to the Contras. This Iran-Contras affair became public in 1986, causing great embarrassment to the President.

One of the landmarks of U.S. foreign policy under Reagan war the 2 nation summit conferences between the U.S. and the USSR to reduce nuclear arms and missiles. The first summit conference was held in November 1985 and the 2nd Geneva conference was in October 1986.




The Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington commander of the Continental army, filling him with "inexpressible concern."

On February 4, 1789, the Electoral College in the U.S. voted unanimously for George Washington as the nation’s first President.


Born on 22nd February 1732, George Washington was the first son of Augustine Washington’s second wife, Mary Ball, in Westmoreland country, Virginia. He received his early education in a private school at Stafford country, when his family moved to a plantation there. Augustine Washington had a huge family. Apart from the four children he had from his first wife, he had six more from Mary Ball. It is said that George Washington was extremely close his eldest half-brother, Lawrence. Lawrence became a father figure to young George, when their father died in 1743. The same year, Lawrence married the daughter of the Colonel William Fairfax, who came from a very influential family in Virginia. George was only 17, when he began staying as a member of Lawrence’s family at Monnet Vernon. On his brother’s death, he inherited a part of the huge estate in Mount Vernon in 1752. On January 6, 1759, he married Martha, the widow of the wealthy John Parke Curtis and daughter of John Dandridge. He stayed with Martha and her children at Mount Vernon.

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