Page 2 Social Studies Study Guide for the TASC

Civil Liberties (Gender and Racial)

As previously mentioned, men returned home to find that the United States they’d fought for was still entrenched in racial and gender biases. The civil rights movement was largely borne during this time, with a focus both on racial equality, and the equality of women; racial minorities fought just as hard in the war and felt they deserved better treatment, while women worked long and hard in the absence of men, prompting women to demand better treatment.

World War II and the Great Depression (1929–1945)

The Great Depression was a period in U.S. history characterized by economic collapse and instability. Most economists argue that this was due, largely, to the changes brought about by the first World War. Ultimately, those same economists suggest that World War II was largely influenced by the Great Depression, as America had turned inward and adopted more isolationist policies. With the continuation of the Great Depression, however, the U.S. was forced to engage more in global events.

Causes and Effects of the Great Depression

The cause of the Great Depression is varied and large, but the basic cause is the stock market crash and the failure to regulate banking. Banks popped up everywhere, most with little experience, skill, or tangible holdings, resulting in constant financial instability. This also contributed to the lack of jobs (1 in every 4 able workers was unable to find a position), which meant that money was neither being made, nor being spent. With this cycle in place, little was available to propel the U.S. out of its misery.

The New Deal

The New Deal is a term used to describe the social programs put into place during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. These programs were enacted between 1933 and 1938, and included still-standing programs such as Social Security. There were two blanket “new deals,” devoted to providing the American people with relief, recovery, and reform from the devastation of the Great Depression.

How the War Affected the U.S.

World War II affected the U.S. in numerous ways, including the focus of women in the workplace, the changes in foreign policy brought about by the escalating war, and the uplifting of the American economy through war-related goods. Although it seems callous, the war was ultimately a lift for the ailing United States and gave it a renewed sense of urgency and power.

Civil War and Reconstruction (1850–1877)

The Civil War was a tumultuous period in American history, resulting in countless casualties and devastating social and economic events. The Reconstruction was a period during which the U.S. recovered from said devastation.

Issues Leading to the Civil War

The greatest issue leading to the Civil War was the issue of freedom versus slavery. Ultimately divided into two camps (the North and the South), two portions of the United States had two differing opinions on whether or not slavery was a justified system of working and ownership—a difference that eventually led to war, after the southern states attempted to secede and form a new nation.

Civil War Events and Effects

The Civil War is the war in U.S. history boasting the most casualties—estimated at over 600,000. The battle of Gettysburg was particularly damaging, with approximately 51,000 deaths. The Emancipation Proclamation was also created during this time.

Reconstruction Efforts

Reconstruction efforts were, in some ways, a bit of a step back; although many areas of land were redistributed following the victory of the North over the South, President Lincoln’s assassination meant that many reconstruction principles (including the redistribution of land) were not upheld, and these areas were returned to their pre-war owners.

Reconstruction efforts were, largely, a state-based effort rather than a federal effort, and states were largely left to their own needs and wants when rebuilding.

#### The U.S. Constitution

The Constitution was signed in 1787 and was created as a means of establishing federal law and regulation, as well as the basic governmental structure. The Bill of Rights became a part of this document 4 years later.

The Constitution was created to unite states with a basis of law and government, as most states were acting like individual entities rather than parts of a whole.

U.S. Government Institutions

U.S. government institutions were finally identified and solidified, allowing the federal and state governments to function more efficiently and effectively. Institutions grew to include more wide-reaching things, such as national parks and conservatories.

Power Distribution: National and State

Although previously unstated and unclear, the power distribution between national and state governments became firmly identified. The federal government was tasked with larger-scale matters, including war, generalized laws, and national protection, while state governments were given the day-to-day minutiae of running a state, including local police forces, court systems, and smaller law-making.

Law and the U.S. Government

The U.S. government contains several different levels of law, the generalized notion being state laws and federal laws. By and large, state laws cover smaller, more specific laws, while federal laws rely largely upon the Constitution and its contents. State laws may change and shift as easily as stepping across the border, while federal laws are implemented and upheld at a federal level.

Individual Rights

The Bill of Rights is the vehicle in which individual rights are identified. These rights were created not only as a means of protecting American citizens from one another, but protecting them from the potential tyranny of a large governmental system. These include (but are not limited to) freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Public Agenda

The public agenda is constructed according to issues deemed important by the community, whether it be local, national, or some dimension in between the two. It is a list of things to which people have attached value and are elevating in the public eye. The media plays a great role in establishing and maintaining the public agenda.

Public Opinion and the Media in Government

Public opinion and the media play a crucial role in the development and direction of the United States government, as both of these serve as a springboard for incoming laws and government changes. Public opinion is tracked closely and regularly, identifying the overall opinion of the American public regarding upcoming changes to law, public officials, and policies.

The Political Process

The political process in the United States is simple enough. In order for laws and officials to come into power, elections are held. The American public is educated about both potential bills and potential political candidates, and voting sessions are held (using ballots) to determine what the majority vote is.


Civic Life

Voting is the most commonly discussed and monitored form of civic life, though this term may also describe volunteering and becoming involved in the local community. Civic life has changed quite drastically—whereas civic life (voting and community involvement, specifically) was once regarded as a privilege relegated to only the worthy, the Civil War paved the way for an increasing amount of freedom for “lesser” people such as women, African Americans, and the poor.


Politics in America have long been charged and difficult, as the party system was in place quickly. Parties have long been in tense disagreement with each other, resulting in tense voting arrangements and potentially difficult rivalries. Although this is not always the case, most American elections are plagued by some amount of difficulty arising from the stark differences in party values and intentions.

Limited and Unlimited Governments

A limited government is one in which the government is regulated by a series of laws and systems. The United States is an example of such a government. Conversely, an unlimited government is one in which the government has complete power and control. Totalitarian regimes (as seen in dictatorships) are examples of unlimited government models.

Purpose of a Constitution

The Constitution was created to both assemble and establish a federal government and assign the appropriate, limited powers to that government. The Constitution serves as the basis of the United States government and is essentially the framework through which the entire government functions.

Shared Power System

The United States has a shared power system in place; rather than giving the national government carte blanche, power is divided according to area. This means that there are local government efforts (city and county governments), state government efforts, and federal government issues. There are some rights (local laws, etc.) that the federal government stays out of, for the most part, and some efforts (national security) that are given exclusively to the federal government.

Parliamentary System

A parliamentary system is a form of democracy in which the head of the government is elected by what amounts to congress, ensuring that there is a greater balance between government systems, rather than the stark opposition seen in the United States’ party system.

Federal System

A federal system is a system wherein the balance of power is separated according to location. This means that state governments are separate from the federal government but, united, are held accountable and are subject to a federal government.

Confederal System

Although a federal system relies quite a bit on federal power, a confederal system places more emphasis on smaller governments. Whether these be states or counties, a confederal system operates under the assumption that smaller government is tantamount to better government and allows for far more variation in lawmaking.

Unitary System

A unitary system, as the name suggests, is a system that designates power to the central government, which then doles out responsibilities to smaller principalities without granting them any real power, apart from the larger governmental system. In simpler terms, this would mean the federal government exercising complete power over state governments.