Lara M. Brown
Even though Americans are disgusted with the partisan gamesmanship in Washington and the congressional job approval average for 2011 "is on track to be the lowest annual rating of Congress in Gallup's history," 2011 was far from the U.S. government's worst.
That year arguably came 150 years before.
During January and February of 1861, six states -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas -- joined South Carolina in seceding from the Union. On April 12, South Carolinian troops began firing upon Fort Sumter. Thirty-four hours later, Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort; federal troops evacuated on April 14. By the month's end, President Abraham Lincoln had declared a state of insurrection and ordered a blockade of all Confederate ports. Over the next 30 days, four more states (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) seceded from the Union and Richmond was made the capital of the Confederacy. Less than a year after the 1860 election, the United States of America had divided in two and become locked in conflict. The Civil War, which would eventually claim more than 620,000 lives and cost about $6.2 billion, was our worst crisis.
But 1861 wasn't the federal government's only bad year.
Twenty years earlier, "on Saturday, September 11, 1841 ... [President John] Tyler's entire cabinet -- with the exception of Secretary of State [Daniel] Webster -- resigned in a protest designed by [Senator Henry] Clay to force Tyler's own resignation."
And less than 30 years before that, on August 24, 1814, most of Washington, D.C., including the White House, burned down as a result of fires set by British troops. But for the negotiating savvy of Henry Clay and themilitary bravado of Andrew Jackson , the U.S. government may not have escaped from the War of 1812 with the status quo ante bellum.
More recently, Americans have witnessed a president, John F. Kennedy, fall by an assassin's bullet in 1963, and another, Richard M. Nixon , resign from the Oval Office in 1974. And despite the fact that theeconomy was booming in 1998, the federal government was consumed with the muckraking politics that led to President William J. Clinton's impeachment.
And this account doesn't even include the challenges presented by the Teapot Dome scandal, the Great Depression, either of the World Wars, Vietnam, or the energy crises of the 1970s.
So while it may seem like things in Washington are spinning out of control, it's not that bad. This country has seen worse and prevailed over greater odds. American government is resilient and Americans are tenacious. Let's now turn to the opportunities of a new year.
- The United States Has Seen Much Worse
- 2011 Not the Very Worst, But Definitely in the Bottom 10
- Government Has Not Failed the People as It Did in 1860
- 2011 Not the Worst, But a Year Americans Would Like to Forget
- 2011 Ups and Downs: Gallup Polls Show Year Full of Pessimism
- American Border Law Enforcement Uses More Military Equipment
- Globalization and the Threat to the West
- When Currencies Collapse
- Balancing the East, Upgrading the West
- Alabama's Immigration Aftershock
- High Stakes for Immigration
- Education Cuts Aren't Smart
- A Nuclear Wake-up Call
- Global Corruption: Party Systems and the Control of Politicians
- International Security: Balanced Transition
- Global Health: The Beginning of the End of AIDS?
- United States and Europe Threaten Their Own Energy Independence
- Humanitarian Assistance: Dead or Live Aid
- With Fracking America Can Escape the Energy Trap
- Renewed Focus on Pacific Region Intended to Distract from Unrest at Home?
- Obama, Harper Stay Apart on Pipeline Issue, Ink Other Agreements
- Alabama Law Against Illegal Immigration Suffers Setback
- Major Economies Headed for Slowdown
- Is the National Security Complex Too Big to Fail?
- United States Hesitant to 'Reckon With Evil' in Syria
- Why Does America Defend the Weak and Small?
- Why We Need Not Envy China
- United States: Iraq Syndrome
- United States: The News of Empire
- Child Poverty and Access to Education: Hidden Costs on the Hispanic Community
- One Nation, Gone Awry
- Statue of Liberty Turns 125: Old Immigration Attitudes Alive as Well
- United States in Decline -- If We Allow It
Copyright 2012, U.S. News & World Report