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Glossary Terms

Affirmative Action
First used in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, a policy to promote opportunities for minorities and women by favoring them in hiring and promotion in government and private jobs, college admissions, and the awarding of government contracts as a means to compensate for their historic exclusion or underrepresentation.
The era preceding a war, especially the American Civil War, 1861–1865.
The allocation of congressional seats in the House of Representatives in proportion to states’ populations as tabulated by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years. Although federal law determines the total number of Representatives, states determine the size and boundaries of their congressional districts based on population changes revealed in the census.
At-Large Representative
A Representative elected to the House in statewide voting when a majority of the state delegation was elected by single-member, geographically defined districts. This method for electing differs from the general ticket, in which an entire delegation is elected statewide. Until the mid-20th century, At-Large Representatives were often elected immediately following decennial apportionment. At-Large elections were abolished by federal law in 1968.
Black Panthers (or Black Panther Party for Self-Defense)
An organization formed in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to monitor police activity and brutality against residents in Oakland, California. In contrast to the southern civil rights movement’s advocacy of nonviolent resistance, the Black Panthers promoted local self-help, community activism, and armed defense against the use of excessive force by police. The Black Panthers also called for the restructuring of American society to ensure social, political, and economic equality for all races.
Bloody Shirt
A violent event or controversial political issue used to stir up outrage or partisan support. Typically used during the late 19th century, “wave the bloody shirt” refers to the Republican Party’s use of the Civil War as justification for political revenge on former Confederates.
A derogatory term applied by the popular press to a Northerner who went to the South during Reconstruction to pursue economic or political opportunities. Many of these Northerners carried their belongings in carpetbags. This term is also used by observers of current political affairs to describe a person who interferes with the politics of a locality to which he or she has no permanent or genuine connection.
A meeting of party members in each chamber (House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans refer to their respective gatherings as "Conferences"). These meetings are used primarily to select candidates for office and to consider other important business for furthering party interests. The term also describes an organization of House and Senate Members that is devoted to a special interest or legislative area.
An official count of a population, with various related statistics. The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census be taken every 10 years.
A parliamentary procedure in the U.S. Senate requiring the approval of a super-majority of Senators to end debate on a pending proposal and bring legislation to final consideration and a vote.
Cold War
A state of ideological, economic, political, military, and cultural warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1947 until 1991. Developing from divergent American and Soviet foreign policies concerning the restoration of Europe after World War II, the conflict spread from Europe to the rest of the world. Although there were no direct military conflicts, the Soviet and American superpowers tried to alter the international balance of power in their favor by competing globally for allies, strategic locations, natural resources, and influence in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Cold War ended with the collapse and disintegration of the USSR in 1991.
A process that took place from 1945 to 1993 characterized by the dissolution of European colonial institutions in Africa and Asia and the emergence of postcolonial indigenous governments.
A Member of Congress who represents a U.S. territory. Able to serve and vote in committees, Delegates cannot participate in the final vote on a bill.
The act of depriving an eligible citizen or a portion of the population of voting rights.
Freedmen’s Bureau
From 1865 to 1872, the Bureau of Abandoned Lands, Freedmen, and Refugees (better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau) provided resources such as food, clothing, and medical treatment to freed slaves and southern white refugees. The Freedmen’s Bureau also interceded with employers to secure economic and civil rights for freed slaves and worked with northern philanthropists to open schools for them.
A coalition of political parties or factions. Historically, the term refers to a movement in the South and West during the late 19th century, when the Populist Party “fused” with the Republican Party in an attempt to challenge Democratic Party rule.
The act of dividing a geographic area into districts so as to give one party an unfair advantage during elections. In the early 19th century, the party of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry redrew the state’s congressional districts to favor its candidates. One district resembled a salamander; hence the combination of “Gerry” and “mander.”
Grandfather Clause
A constitutional provision that was frequently used in southern states, exempting descendants of men who voted prior to 1866 from suffrage restrictions such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and property requirements. This clause allowed poor, illiterate southern whites to vote while disfranchising blacks, whose slave ancestors had no voting rights.
Great Depression
The economic crisis and period of minimal business activity in the United States and other industrialized nations that began in 1929 and continued through the 1930s. During the 1920s in the United States, speculation on the stock market led to changes in federal monetary policy. The subsequent decline in personal consumption and investments triggered the stock market crash of 1929, which, along with World War I debts and reparations, precipitated the Great Depression.
Great Migration
The mass movement during the 1910s through the 1950s from the rural, segregated South to the urban North and West of African Americans in pursuit of economic, social, and political opportunities.
The holding of an office or the term of an office (usually political).
Jim Crow
The term used to describe the segregation, social control, and political and economic subjugation of African Americans in the South from the late 1800s to the 1960s.
Lame Duck Session
Refers to a session of Congress that transpires after congressional elections but before the start of a new Congress. In the 19th century, new Congresses commenced on March 4 (though both Chambers often convened for business at later dates). Thus, after biennial fall elections, a new Congress was not seated for four months. Congress often convened for an additional, or lame duck, session in the intervening weeks in a hurried effort to complete legislative business. Ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933 set the start date for new Congresses to January 3, drastically reducing the time period in which a lame duck session could transpire. As a result, modern Congresses have rarely held lame duck sessions.
Execution without due process of law; the mob execution, usually by hanging and often accompanied by torture, of alleged criminals, especially African Americans, during the Jim Crow Era.
Machine Politics
A term used to refer to tight political organizations under the control of party regulars, often under the authority of a regional leader or “boss.” In the 19th and early 20th centuries, political parties in northern urban areas used this system to disburse patronage rewards, turn out votes, and enforce party discipline.
New Deal
A period of political, economic, and social activity spanning President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first two terms in office (1933–1941). Working with Congress, the Roosevelt administration provided an unprecedented level of emergency intervention in response to the Great Depression that was designed to revive the economy and to provide basic welfare to citizens.
Nominating Convention
A meeting of local party officials to select the delegates who eventually designated party nominees for elective office or represented the locality at state or national conventions. Developed in the 1820s and 1830s, the system ensured that only one member would run for an elective position while providing structure and publicity for the party. In the early 20th century the modern primary election replaced nominating conventions as the principal method for selecting congressional candidates.
“Packing” and “Cracking”
Techniques used to redraw electoral boundaries to favor one political party over another. “Packing” clustered voters within a geographic area to ensure a biased result. “Cracking” distributed voters across geographic areas to dilute their voting strength.
Poll Tax
A tax required as a qualification for voting used by some southern states to circumvent the 15th Amendment. Many poor African Americans could not afford to pay the tax and thus were unable to vote, but poor whites were exempt from the tax.
A political philosophy and movement that emerged in the agrarian West and South during the late 19th century. Populists advocated greater public participation in government and business to protect individuals from impersonal bureaucracies and financial conglomerates.
The period after a war, especially the American Civil War, 1861–1865.
A new or unique merging of disparate political parties, philosophies, or organizations.
Refers to both the 12-year period (1865–1877) and political process after the American Civil War in which the former Confederate states were re-admitted to the Union, beginning the nation’s long process of readjustment after the end of slavery.
A term used to denote either the political movement or the period in which white southerners worked to dismantle Reconstruction governments, disfranchise blacks, and reshape the South’s legal system to foster labor control and subordination of blacks to whites.
The redrawing of U.S. House districts within states, following the constitutionally mandated decennial census and the apportionment of seats. State legislatures draw new districts based on the need to accommodate population declines or increases that result in the addition or subtraction of House seats apportioned to the state.
A derogatory name denoting an imposter or intriguer, especially in politics. In the 19th century, the popular press applied the name to white southerners who willingly worked within the system of the Union-backed state Reconstruction governments.
Priority or precedence in office or service; superiority in standing to another of equal rank by reason of earlier entrance into the service or an earlier date of appointment.
An assistant House or Senate Floor leader who helps round up party members for quorum calls and important votes. Coined in the British Parliament, this term is derived from “whipper-in,” a person who kept the dogs from straying during a fox hunt.