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J. Rainey, first black congressman

Joseph Rainey, first black congressman in American government

African-Americans in Congress

After the Civil War, in 1865, the United States changed its Constitution to make slavery illegal. For a few years, black people were able to vote. Black men like Joseph Rainey served in Congress.

Early US government
More about the Civil War
Constitutional amendments
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Jim Crow and Federalism

But soon northern people lost interest in helping the black people. Racist white people forced the black people to stop voting and pushed them out of Congress. But also after the Civil War the United States government got to have much more power over the states than it had before. Now the states had to do what the United States government said, unless the Supreme Court said it was against the Constitution.

What does the Constitution say?

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull, who had his own American government

Native American governments

In the western part of North America, however, many people had their own governments. They were not part of the United States or Canada. The Navajo, the Ute, the Paiute, the Modoc, the Shoshone, the Comanche, the Cheyenne, the Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Chinook and the Inuit are good examples.

The Navajo Long Walk
Ute fight the Mormons
The Cheyenne and cholera
Californians fight the Missions
The Comanche get rich

four white men's heads carved into a cliff

Mount Rushmore – After the Army forced the Sioux out of the Black Hills, the United States carved the Presidents into the Black Hills.

To resist the United States army better, many Native governments organized alliances so they could fight together: the Sioux began to unite under leaders like Sitting Bull.

Poor white men organize as progressives

In the late 1800s, more and more poor people began to live in cities and work in factories. Poor city men became important to winning elections. (Women still couldn’t vote.)

American economic history
Public buildings in the US

Girls working in a mill, about 1900 AD

Girls working in a mill, about 1900 AD

To get their votes, men who wanted to be mayors or congressmen or presidents promised to fix up the poor parts of cities where these men lived. The Progressive movement got started.

What did Progressives think?

Progressive people thought that the states and the United States government should work harder to help poor people. Mayors and congressmen should tell businesses how to treat their workers. They should regulate how much to pay the workers.

American houses 
Food in the United States

Blackfoot man with horse

Blackfoot man with horse

Officials should decide what kinds of houses poor people should live in. They should make sure that their food and water were clean and safe. All kids should be able to go to school instead of working in factories. During this time, the government did work on a lot of these problems.

The United States seizes Native land

By 1900, the United States and Canada forced most of the people of the western part of North America onto reservations or under the power of the United States or Canada. But there were still some independent Inuit, Paiute, and Nez Perce groups. And the Navajo and Pueblo people still lived on their own land.

Learn by doing: what do you think states should do? What should the federal government do?
US Government – 1900s

Bibliography and further reading about American government:

North American History
The Constitution
The Inuit
The Sioux people
The Civil War
American History home