Bil Johnson

Yale University
Lecturer at Brown University

Bil has over 25 years of experience as a public school teacher. Before his current role as a teacher at the Urban Assembly School in NYC, Bil was a senior lecturer at Brown University.

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New Kid on the Block

Bil Johnson
Bil Johnson

Yale University
Lecturer at Brown University

Bil has over 25 years of experience as a public school teacher. Before his current role as a teacher at the Urban Assembly School in NYC, Bil was a senior lecturer at Brown University.


So there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to happen in this episode, that’s really going to help you prepare for the AP US History test. It’s going to do it in ways that are seamless, in terms of your thinking. As far as the topic goes, we’re going to be looking at War and Diplomacy in general 1750 to 1884. The next episode we’ll pick up from there. They’ll be some overlap. I’m not going to be real strict about these temporal guidelines. Because what I really want to get at, is giving you some methods, for thinking about how to study US History.

Now most US history is about war and diplomacy. Most textbooks are political and military. So this is right up there early. The fact is the test is going to ask these questions. But there’s something I’ll bring this up again. I’ll probably bring this up again in the review episode at the end of this series. One of the things I can’t stress enough is, if you learn your presidents, really learn who was president when? Learn them in order. I hate to encourage people to memorize things all the time, but I think this is really worth it.

If you’re going to do a student of American History, knowing the presidents in order; and knowing when they were president. The simplest way to know that is for example George Washington took office in 1789. He served two terms. Well, if I can add to right, I can keep track of that.

So I know who was president for how long, I can just start with Washington right up to George W. Bush without a blink. Now what you also should be able to do though, is for each president you take somebody like Washington and this ties into our war and diplomacy, but also ties into some of the other stuff we’ve been talking about. You should be able to identify probably three domestic and three foreign policy ideas.

Now in Washington’s case, we had things like I mean he started the country. So there’s probably going to be more than three things on either side. But you can think about going all the way back to preparing for this test, what would be the most logical things, the most important things, the most significant things? Obviously, the national bank is going to be one of those things, creating a cabinet which it doesn’t say.

So there is things like that we’re going to say for Washington that’s domestic. Foreign policy wise, I’m going to talk a little later about Jay’s Treaty and about his farewell address. So here is a quick short-hand way to set up your thinking. Then we go to John Adams and we can start to fill in some things here. We go to Thomas Jefferson and we start to fill that in. James Madison following Jefferson and we go right down.

Now you may want to include the dates, the 1789 to ’97. Then 1797 to 1801, 1801 to 1809. Trust me if you do this and this is going to be one of the best study sheets you could possibly devise. But it’s also just almost by the creation of it, and the second nature of thinking this way. You’re going to become an incredibly expert student of American history. So we’re going to use this kind of graphic organizer to organize the way we think about war and diplomacy which really has to do more with foreign policy than domestic. Although, there can be spill over when it come s to that. That’s really one of the most important tips I can give you, about thinking about American History and studying American History.

I’m going to refer back to charts like these through the remaining episodes, because we’re really going to look even more specifically at presidents as we go along.

War and diplomacy, we’re looking at war and diplomacy in this episode and actually the next episode. Because the United States has been involved in a lot of wars, or diplomacy. It’s one or the other. That’s something you want to remember. It’s one of the main themes the College Board, even in their review book, tells you to pay attention to. So it’s a good one for us to focus on.

I’m going to give you another graphic organizer here, because I like them. I think they’re easy to set up. They help you think. They help you organize your material. It keeps things clear. In this case, what we’re going to look at is the war. I mentioned before, one of the ways to think like a historian, to be a historical detective think about cause, think about effect. Then what was the importance of the war? Or what was the ultimate outcome, the long term event whatever you want to call it? I’m going to call it importance right now.

I’ve listed a whole series of wars here going back from the French and Indian war right down through the Gulf war of 1991. We’re not going to cover all those right now. I’m just going to start to show you how to think about this kind of stuff. How to organize your thoughts. And also in the process, how to psych out the AP US History test. Because if you know this stuff along with the president stuff that I just showed you a few minutes ago, there’s no way you won’t kill that test. You’ll have all that information not just for the multiple choice questions, but for the document based question and for the select essay; the free response essays.

So the French and Indian, what was the cause? Well, the cause was Great Britain and France wanted territory, in particular the territory that involves American history is North America, Canada and what becomes the United States. The effect was Great Britain won.

The Treaty of Paris of 1763 ends the war. Great Britain wins the Seaboard colonies, and Canada. The importance of that well, ultimately Colonial America, as we know is taxed to pay the war. So now we see cause and effect. Of course this is the long range effect. And again, I want you to think this way, think like a historian; cause, effect. It’s really a circle. It’s really just a circular thing. So the war is caused by this desire for territory. The effect is Great Britain wins and has to tax the colonies.

Well, that becomes the next cause. The cause for this we know its taxation and ultimately the idea of independence. The effect is, we end up with the USA. The importance to that, do I really have to say this? We were an independent country for the next 200 something years. Little known, 1797 to 1798 there’s a little undeclared war that John Adams gets in with France. What’s the cause? Well, it’s about shipping, but the effect is that US stands up for itself.

One of the things you have to realize we’re the big kid on the block. We’re the superpower in the world today. But in 1797, we’ve got our second president, we’re a little country, we don’t have a very large navy. France, England is stopping our ships and saying hey you’re a British sailor come on there and pressing our sailors. The French are stopping our shipping. They’re interfering with it. So Adams actually stands up and has this undeclared war with France, in which we actually fight to clear up our shipping lines. So it asserts our independence there.

So asserting independence is the importance of that. Of course we get to war of 1812. And once again this is partially about territory. It’s partially about what I’m going to call sovereignty and that is what I mentioned earlier; asserting itself. The United States really standing up on its own two legs. Again, the result really of this one. Because to the world, it really look like we beat the British. Some people refer to it as the second American Revolution. So there’s a tremendous amount of prestige and the US now is definitely an independent power and we’re not going to be challenged very much more.

That carries through and what you’ll see is there’s some diplomatic implications to that. I’m not going to confuse the war and diplomacy stuff right now. I’m doing war. So I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes about the Mexican war. Really there’s two things here as far as the cause; Manifest Destiny. And I can guarantee you that phrase will show up somewhere on the AP US History test. It can’t not show up. If it doesn’t, you can use it in an essay somewhere. You’ve got to know Manifest Destiny. The real cause was we wanted territory.

I was talking in an earlier episode about Latino and Hispanic Americans. Well, that part of the country Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada. The US pretty blatantly wants that territory. So we pick a fight with Mexico. We say it’s about the border. We say we own Texas to the Real Grande. They say they own Mexico to the Nueces River. It’s about seven miles of territory. It’s not a big deal. It’s a war that could have been avoided. But there’s no way James K. Polkwasn’t going to do that. So once again, if I know my presidents, I know their domestic foreign policy, bingo, I know my facts here.

Of course the effect is territory. We win lots of territory. And the long term effect to that is not just territory, but boy we’re talking big bucks. Picking up California in 1846 to 1848, just before the gold rush, nice going. So basically, I’m going to take a break there, because I said this is about 1750 to 1884. But you should be able to fill out the rest of this.

You look at the Spanish American war in 1898, World War I 1917 and ’18, the US is involved. World War II ’41 to ’45. The Korean War ’50 to ’53, Vietnam the start date could be as early as ‘61 or ‘63 to ’74. The Gulf war of 1991 and now of course we could talk about the Iraq war that started in 2003. But simple, simple way to think about it; what’s the cause? What’s the effect? What’s the significance, the importance of that war? This is a great way to think about it. It’s a great way to organize your American History.

It’s a great way to sieve through to pick out what are the most important facts. What do I need to know? What’s probably going to be on the test? It’s going to be right there. You talk about an easy review thing, check this baby out. You just have to pull out that sheet and say on yeah bang! Bang! Bang! I got. Not that tough to remember. You’re talking about a dozen items. So this is a way to organize your thinking to get all the facts down on paper, and to have a lot of fun with History.

So I’ll mention again war and diplomacy. We’re going to look very briefly at the whole notion of diplomacy. Diplomacy of course is the relationship between nations, international nations. It’s the attempt at solving differences through negotiation as opposed to arms.

So, the US history with diplomacy, there are a couple off things probably you should know. I’ve listed a few here. I’ll put more in the bonus material. These are the ones that I think if we’re talking 1750 to 1884, this list covers enough.

Jay’s Treaty in the Washington Administration, big treaty with Great Britain. It really was about Western settlements about relations with Native Americans. The important part is that we negotiate with Great Britain and we solve something. We actually get some concessions from Great Britain. We give a little too, but it’s very important.

Washington’s farewell address, that’s why it says GW here. His farewell address when he's president is very significant, because he gives advice not just to his successor, but to presidents for years to come. The key phrase, the phrase that you’ll hear all the time that I would almost bet it will show up on an AP test if not this year’s next years. If it didn’t show up this year, it might have showed up last year. But this phrase ‘No entangling alliances’ or ‘Avoid entangling alliances.’

George Washington saw the danger of getting involved with other countries. Given that the United States had this tremendous mot, this Atlantic Ocean that protected us from Europe, his advice was, don’t get involved with those guys. Avoid entangling alliances, it’s a great phrase.

Of course a great piece of diplomacy is 1803 Thomas Jefferson purchasing Louisiana from Napoleon. There’s something that just it’s a simple negotiation. Jefferson probably oversteps his constitutional rights as president, but the opportunity knocks, he answers, and he gets a blated check from Congress. But it’s a great piece of negotiation. We triple more than triple the size of United States.

This will definitely be on the test. The Monroe Doctrine is definitely going to be on the AP test in some way, shape or form. It’s got to be, because it’s really one of the most significant foreign policy statements the United States makes.

In 1823, John Adams the secretary of state drafts this. James Monroe is the president. The concern here is, starting in 1821, a number of South American countries and Latin American countries Mexico in particular became independent countries. There was a real concern that Spain was going to try to retake those countries. They had broken away from Spain. The United States certainly doesn’t want to be dealing with Spanish ships interfering with their shipping again. And disrupting things in the Western Hemisphere plus we’re developing some good trading relations with these now independent countries.

Luckily for us, Great Britain thinks that in fact there shouldn’t be interference here either. So with Great Britain standing behind us like a Big brother, a really muscular big brother, the United States says we’re setting forth a doctrine nobody can interfere with independent counties in the Western Hemisphere.

Basically, the United States announces that it’s going to be the police man of the Western Hemisphere. We’re going to protect our new independent little brothers south of the border. The Monroe Doctrine to this day, Jack Kennedy uses the Monroe Doctrine. J.F.K uses it in the Cuban Missile crisis to say the Russian can’t be bringing missiles into Cuba. So it’s a pretty incredible statement, but it’s a very important piece of foreign policy foreign. A very important piece of diplomacy.

The last thing that I’m going to leave you with, is the idea of tariffs. Tariffs are tax on imports or exports. These become a very important diplomatic tool. They’re an economic tool, but they really determine relationships between countries. Because if we say you can’t import anything into our country without paying a tax of a $100 per item, it probably is going to strain the relationship between us and the other country. You need to learn about tariff.

There’s a tariff in 1828 called The Tariff of Abominations. The South feels that there’s a tariff on cotton that’s unfair, that’s hurting them. I’m not going to go into the details. It’s in the bonus material. It’s in text books all over the place. You can look this up, you’re smart. But tariffs are really a significant part of diplomacy and the way countries deal with each other particularly through the economic sphere.

This episode has been about war and diplomacy. That’s really the choices we always have. So here is my ideas in action challenge for you. I was just talking about tariffs. See if you can find out what tariffs the Unite d States have in operation to day. Two areas that I would challenge you to look in is technology and automobiles. Is it possible that we’re paying the prices we’re paying for Japanese automobiles or German automobiles, because there’s a huge tariff on them? Because there’s a tax to import them into this country? Or technology; are we paying more than we have to for al kinds of technology or peripherals, because we have to do it?

Are other countries charging us when the United States sells stuff abroad? Are their tariffs out that way? So that’s one challenge. That’s an idea in action challenge for you.

The second one is diplomacy revolves around the ambassadors. Here is an interesting thing you may not have thought about. The United States doesn’t necessarily send an ambassador to every country. So what I’m going to challenge you to do is, go out there and see if there are any places, any countries that we don’t have an ambassador in. What does that mean? Why don’t we have it? What does it mean in terms of our relationship with that country, or even the surrounding countries?

You may want to check other things about the country. Does it have to do with economics? Does it have to do with military things? Does it have to do with religious or political differences? But I think you’ll find some interesting stuff.

Once again, I’m challenging you to do this kind of research, because these are connecting ideas that I’m sure you’re going to be able to apply at some pint in the AP US History test. But even if not, these are ideas that’ll just get you thinking and stimulate your thinking about US History.

So to wrap it up, the United States throughout its history has constantly faced this tension about war and diplomacy. You’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to so one or the other. So there’s always that tension there and suddenly we’re involved in it right now. We’re involved in a war, but we’ve got other counties that we should be having diplomatic relations with.

I think the final question I’ll leave you with is there a consistent policy that the United States should follow? Should there always be extended diplomacy first or other times when war is just the best decision? So what’s best? War and diplomacy, and why? I’m going to leave it up to you to look for that and of course I’m going to tell you have fun with history.

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