AP U.S. History Notes: Period 8

April 12, 2024
AP U.S. History Notes: Period 8

Get ready for the AP U.S. History exam by reviewing what happened in Period 8 of APUSH. Take a look at important APUSH Period 8 vocabulary, key concepts, and more. Looking for more APUSH study resources? Check out Barron’s AP U.S. History Premium Test Prep Book and our AP U.S. History Podcast

AP U.S. History Notes: Period 8 Timeline

This graphic gives a brief timeline of key events that took place during AP U.S. History Period 8.

AP U.S. History Notes: Period 8 Overview

The eighth period covered on the AP U.S. history exam took place between the years 1945-1980 and is referred to as “Redefining Democracy in the Era of Cold War and Liberal Ascendancy.” In the post–World War II period, the United States assumed a position of global leadership and experienced unprecedented prosperity. At the same time, the country grappled with domestic and international issues as it sought to define itself and struggled with living up to its stated values.

13 Things to Know About AP U.S. History Period 8

1. Emerging as the preeminent international power after World War II, the United States engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The United States attempted to maintain a leadership position in an increasingly uncertain and unstable world.

2. There were major debates and disagreements in the United States about appropriate activities in terms of pursuing international and domestic goals during the Cold War. As a second “red scare” took hold in the late 1940s and 1950s, Americans continued to debate the proper balance between liberty and order. In addition, some Americans questioned the growing power of the federal government.

3. The United States experienced a series of demographic, economic, and technological changes in the decades following World War II. These changes profoundly impacted American society, politics, and the environment. Many Americans were optimistic about the rapid economic and social changes that were occurring in society in the period after World War II. This period witnessed the growth of the middle class, the growth of suburbia, and the decline of older urban areas.

4. While American culture appeared to be increasingly conformist in the post World War II period, some Americans challenged many of the assumptions of postwar society.

5. An influential civil rights movement emerged in the years following World War II. Civil rights activists sought to press America to fulfill the promises of the Reconstruction era.

6. The United States became increasingly engaged with events in different parts of the world as one of the two superpowers in the post World War II era. Debates emerged over the proper role for the United States to play in carrying out its Cold War priorities, including what policy the United States should pursue in regard to the nuclear arms race.

7. The United States became increasingly engaged with events in different parts of the world as one of the two superpowers in the post World War II era. Debates emerged over the proper role for the United States to play in carrying out its Cold War priorities, including what policy the United States should pursue in regard to the nuclear arms race.

8. Liberalism—an approach to politics that embraced anti-Communism abroad and an activist federal government at home—reached its high point in the mid-1960s. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislative agenda put this liberal approach to politics into practice.

9. The civil rights movement in the 1960s achieved some marked successes in ending legal segregation. However, progress toward achieving full racial equality in the United States proved to be a more daunting task.

10. The visibility and successes of the civil rights movement inspired other movements for social change. These movements, focused on gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, addressed a host of inequalities and issues of identity.

11. The liberal agenda of the 1960s came under attack from groups and individuals on the left who insisted that the steps being taken were insufficient to create a truly just and equitable world. This critique, often voiced by students and other young people, found expression in the movement against the Vietnam War and in the counterculture of the 1960s.

12. Americans began to grapple with the effects of unchecked industrial and economic growth. The impacts of such growth—including energy shortages, tensions with oil-producing countries in the Middle East, and growing awareness of the long-term impact of economic growth on the environment—shaped debates in the 1960s and 1970s.

13. A variety of demographic and social developments, along with anxieties about the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war, led to bitter debates in the 1960s and 1970s that divided many Americans. These debates revolved around culture, social and political values, family structure and sexual norms, and religion. Out of these debates, the gains of liberalism would come under attack from a resurgent conservative movement that showed signs of life in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not come to fruition until the last decades of the twentieth century.

AP U.S. History Notes: Key Topics in Period 8

The Cold War From 1945 to 1980

  • The Cold War: Historians date the beginning of the Cold War from the close of World War II. The United States believed the Soviets were intent upon extending their control over Europe. As the war ended, the Soviet Union left its Red Army troops occupying Eastern Europe, turning these countries into Soviet satellites. The Soviets indicated they would allow free elections in Poland, but instead they installed a puppet regime. The United States worried the Soviets would try to push into Western Europe.
  • Joseph Stalin: The leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, insisted that he only wanted to have friendly nations on his borders. After a history of attacks from Western powers on Russia and the Soviet Union, from Napoleon to Hitler, Stalin was wary of the West.
  • Truman Doctrine: In order to block any further aggression by the Soviet Union, President Harry S. Truman issued the Truman Doctrine (1947), in which he said that the goal of the United States would be to contain Communism.
  • Marshall Plan: The United States demonstrated its global commitment with the massive Marshall Plan. Developed by Secretary of State George Marshall, the plan allocated almost $13 billion for war torn Europe to rebuild. A total of seventeen nations received aid between 1948 and 1951, with West Germany, France, and Britain receiving the bulk of it.
  • The Berlin Blockade: In 1948, the Soviet Union decided to prevent food and other supplies from entering the western section of Berlin. The goal was for the Soviet Union to take over western Berlin and make it part of East Germany.
  • NATO: The crisis over the fate of Berlin solidified the commitment of leaders in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe to form a mutual defense pact. In April 1949, twelve nations—the United States, Canada, and ten Western European nations—signed an agreement creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The organization vowed to collectively resist any aggressive actions by the Soviet Union and created a standing army for this purpose.
  • The Korean War: Korea had been divided at the 38th parallel after World War II, with the United States administering the southern half and the Soviet Union administering the northern half. In 1948, this arrangement was formalized with the creation of two nations—North Korea, a Communist country, and South Korea, an American ally. In June 1950, North Korean troops, using Soviet equipment, invaded South Korea.
  • Korean War Armistice: The Korean War ended as it began—with North Korea and South Korea divided at the 38th parallel. By 1953, an armistice was reached, although a formal treaty ending the war was never signed.
  • The Space Race: The space race began in earnest with the 1957 launching of the unmanned Soviet satellite, Sputnik, into space. The launch caught many Americans off guard and led to several important domestic developments. Sputnik alarmed U.S. government officials because the same type of rocket that launched the satellite could also be used to deliver atomic weapons to any location on Earth.
  • NASA: After the launch of Sputnik, the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 to carry out the nation’s space program. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon before the close of the 1960s.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis: The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in 1962 when a U-2 spy plane discovered that Cuba was preparing bases for installing Soviet nuclear missiles. President John F. Kennedy declared these missiles, in such close proximity to the United States, amounted to an unacceptable provocation and demanded that the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, halt the operation and withdraw the missiles.
  • Détente: President Richard Nixon’s policy of détente represented a thawing in the Cold War and an improvement of relations with the Soviet Union. In 1971, Nixon initiated an agreement with the Soviets whereby they accepted the independence of West Berlin and the United States recognized East Germany.

The Red Scare

  • Senator Joseph McCarthy: The most prominent elected figure in the anti-Communist movement of the 1950s was Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin. McCarthy rose to national prominence in 1950 when he announced that he had a list of 205 “known Communists” who were working in the State Department. He later reduced that figure to 57, but he encouraged a mindset whereby people began to suspect those around them of being secret Communists.
  • Nuclear War: The threat of nuclear war was a constant presence in American life during the Cold War. Both sides invested large sums of money in nuclear weapons programs. Americans were never sure whether a conventional conflict, such as the Korean War, would turn into a nuclear war.
  • Nuclear Bomb: When the United States learned that the Soviet Union had built and tested a nuclear bomb (1949), many were convinced that American Communists had provided the Soviets with essential information about the bomb. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, an American couple, were accused of passing secrets of the nuclear bomb to the Soviet Union.
  • The Smith Act: Government prosecutors used the World War II–era Smith Act to arrest leading members of the Communist Party in several states on the grounds that they “conspired” to “organize” and “advocate” the overthrow of the government by force. Between 1949 and 1957, more than 140 Communists were arrested, including the leader of the party, Eugene Dennis.

The Economy After 1945

  • G.I. Bill: The federal government helped returning veterans adjust to the peacetime economy with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (1944), more commonly known as the G.I. Bill. The act provided low-interest loans for veterans to purchase homes and attend college. By the time the original G.I. Bill expired in 1956, nearly eight million veterans had used the bill’s educational benefits.
  • Baby Boom: When the war ended, the return of veterans soon led to many more families having many more children. The spike in birth rates from 1946 through the early 1960s produced a baby boom that would have lasting repercussions in American society. The baby boom required states to spend more money on public education in the 1950s and 1960s and on expanded college enrollment in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • White Flight:” Many white people did not want to live in the urban neighborhoods that had become racially integrated after many southern, rural African Americans had moved north to work in war industries. The movement of middle-class white Americans from urban centers to suburbs is often labeled “white flight.” Further, African Americans were frequently barred from moving to the suburbs by restrictive racial covenants.

Culture After 1945

  • Television: Widely available for the first time in the postwar period, television became an extremely popular medium. By the end of the 1950s nearly ninety percent of American homes owned a television set. After an initial burst of creativity in the late 1940s and early 1950s, television programming settled into safe, predictable genres. The most emblematic genre of the 1950s was the suburban situation comedy (sitcom), complete with a wise father figure, a stay-at-home mother, and obedient children, as in Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best.
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Music: Rock ‘n’ roll music became extremely popular among young people in the 1950s. Rock ‘n’ roll developed primarily in the African-American community. It was frequently dubbed “race music” and was deemed dangerous by mainstream white commentators. Many of these critics feared that the music would encourage racial mixing as well as sexually-suggestive dancing. Elvis Presley, a white singer from Memphis, Tennessee, became a huge cultural force in America.
  • Beat Literary Movement: The beat literary movement represented a subversive undercurrent in the 1950s. The beats represented a rejection of mainstream social values—the suburban lifestyle, the consumer society, patriotism. The most important text of the beat movement is On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957).
  • “Abstract Expressionism:” An important artistic movement of the 1950s came to be called “abstract expressionism.” Centered in New York City, the movement elevated the “process” of painting—emphasizing spontaneity, emotion, and intensity over studied, realistic reproductions of the visible world. The most well-known practitioner of abstract expressionism was Jackson Pollock, who splattered, poured, and dripped paint on his canvases.

Early Steps in the Civil Rights Movement (1940s and 1950s)

  • The Civil Rights Movement: One of the most significant reform movements in American history blossomed in the 1950s—the civil rights movement. The movement challenged both the legal basis of the segregation of African Americans in the United States and the pervasive racism of American society. This racism had justified the existence of slavery and the persistence of Jim Crow segregation.
  • Rosa Parks: The civil rights movement gained national attention with the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955 and 1956. The catalyst for the boycott was the arrest of Rosa Parks, a local civil rights activist who refused to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery city bus in December 1955.
  • Martin Luther King Jr.: The Montgomery bus boycott was led by a young reverend, Martin Luther King Jr., from Atlanta. King’s leadership during the boycott made him a well-known figure. He soon became the central figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. King advocated the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience to directly challenge unjust practices.
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: In the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court combined five similar cases, all dealing with school segregation. The Brown in the case was the Reverend Oliver Brown, whose eight-year-old daughter, Linda Brown, had to go to an African-American school more than a mile from her house rather than attend a white school nearby.

America as a World Power

  • Fidel Castro: Cuba had been run as a military dictatorship with close ties with the United States from 1933 until 1959, when Fidel Castro led a successful guerrilla movement to overthrow the dictatorship. By 1960, the relationship between the United States and Cuba had become hostile, while the relationship between the Soviet Union and Cuba grew increasingly friendly.
  • Bay of Pigs: In the final months of the Eisenhower administration, advisors planned for the United States to train, arm, and aid a group of Cuban exiles opposed to the Communist government of Fidel Castro. Kennedy adopted the plan and green-lighted its implementation in 1961. The exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in April 1961 but were quickly captured by Cuban forces. The Bay of Pigs incident was the first of several attempts to oust the Communist regime from Cuba.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: With both the United States and Soviet Union possessing such powerful nuclear arsenals, policymakers accepted the policy of mutually assured destruction, or MAD. For some policymakers, MAD created a powerful deterrent to the use of nuclear weapons; to critics, it represented a dangerous precipice on which the world was perched.

The Vietnam War

  • North & South Vietnam: In 1954, Vietnam was divided at the 17th parallel between a Communist-controlled North Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, and a Western-allied South Vietnam.
  • Vietcong: Rebel fighters, known as the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, or Vietcong, fought to defeat a corrupt and dictatorial South Vietnamese government headed by Ngo Din Diem. The Vietcong frequently used brutal tactics, including assassinations and bombings against South Vietnamese village leaders in the early 1960s.
  • “Domino Theory:” American involvement in Vietnam was influenced by a belief in the “domino theory.” This theory asserts that when a nation adopts a Communist form of government, its neighbors are likely to become Communist as well.
  • Tet Offensive: In January 1968, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive, a major attack on South Vietnamese, U.S., and allied bases and towns. The offensive was defeated, but it demonstrated the ability of the Vietnamese to organize a coordinated strike throughout South Vietnamese territory.
  • War Powers Act: The War Powers Act (1973), which passed over President Nixon’s veto just after the United States had withdrawn from Vietnam, was an attempt to check presidential power and strengthen the legislative branch in matters of war. The act requires the president to report any troop deployments to Congress within forty-eight hours, and it gave Congress the ability to force the withdrawal of U.S. troops after sixty days.

The Great Society

  • Gross Domestic Product: The gross domestic product of the country—the total value of goods and services produced in the United States in a year—rose dramatically between 1945 and 1960, from $200 billion to $500 billion. Such growth is unprecedented in American society.
  • Liberalism: A key element of 1960s liberalism was the belief in the efficacy of government initiatives in addressing a series of social problems. This belief can be traced back to the Progressive movement of the 1900s and 1910s, as well as to the New Deal of the 1930s. Liberals looked favorably upon the thinking of the economist John Maynard Keynes, who encouraged government expenditures both to stimulate economic activity as well as to address broader social and economic goals.
  • John F. Kennedy: In many ways, John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960 symbolized a break with the conservatism of the 1950s and an embrace of liberalism. Kennedy’s domestic agenda was called the “New Frontier.” Kennedy’s presidency, however, was cut short when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas less than three years into his presidency.
  • The Great Society: President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs represented the high point of the liberal agenda. Johnson spearheaded a series of programs that sought to end racial discrimination, alleviate poverty, and address other social issues.

The African-American Civil Rights Movement (1960s)

  • “I Have a Dream:” In August 1963, the civil rights movement held one of the most significant demonstrations in American history. More than 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to march, sing, and hear speeches, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.”
  • Black Panther Party: In 1966, the Black Panther Party took up the call for a “Black Power” movement, embracing self-defense and militant rhetoric. Initially, the Black Panthers focused on community organizing; however, their activities grew increasingly confrontational.
  • Malcolm X: Malcolm X was a central figure in the more militant turn the civil rights movement took. Between 1952 and 1964 he was a member and then a leader of the Nation of Islam, an African-American group that shares certain practices with mainstream Islam, but differs in several important respects. The organization advocated that African Americans organize among themselves, separate from whites. After making a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964 and seeing Muslims of different races interacting as equals, Malcolm X revised his views about Black separatism. He also left the Nation of Islam. In 1965, he was killed by assassins from the Nation of Islam, but his words continued to inspire the civil rights movement.
  • Civil Rights Act: The Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson in the summer of 1964. The act was intended to end discrimination based on race and gender. The Civil Rights Act guaranteed all Americans equal access to public accommodations, public education, and voting. Another section banned discrimination in employment based on race or gender.

The Civil Rights Movement Expands

  • American Indian Movement: The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in 1968. The following year, the movement made headlines when several dozen activists seized control of Alcatraz Island, in the San Francisco Bay, claiming the former prison belonged to the first inhabitants of the area—American Indians.
  • Women’s Liberation Movement: In the 1960s, a women’s liberation movement developed, challenging inequities in the job market, representations of women in the media, violence against women, and an ingrained set of social values. Women joined with others through consciousness-raising groups and realized that their contributions to society historically and within their own families were deemed less important than those of men.
  • Title IX of the Educational Amendments: An important success of the women’s liberation movement was Congress’s passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. Title IX banned gender discrimination in all aspects of education, such as faculty hiring and admissions. It has had a major impact on funding for female sports activities at the high school and college levels.
  • The Gay Liberation Movement: The gay liberation movement was born in 1969 when patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, resisted a raid by the police and fought back. The event brought a series of grievances into the open. Gay men and women had suffered discrimination in many walks of life, including in government civil-service jobs. Many gays attempted to avoid such discrimination by concealing their sexual identity and remaining “in the closet.”

Youth Culture of the 1960s

  • Selective Service System: In 1964, the Selective Service System began increasing the number of young men drafted to serve in the armed forces. By the following year, the monthly totals of draftees doubled. The draft made the Vietnam War an immediate concern for millions of young men and contributed to the number of young people participating in the antiwar movement.
  • Antiwar Movement: The antiwar movement can be traced back to the early 1960s as small peace groups questioned the purpose of the armed advisors who were sent to Vietnam.
  • The Pentagon Papers: Many of the antiwar movement’s suspicions about the Vietnam War were borne out with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secret study of the war written by the Pentagon. The study revealed a pattern of official deception and secrecy.  It was leaked to the press by Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon official critical of the direction the Vietnam War was taking. 
  • The British Invasion: In the 1960s, a series of British bands, most notably the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, transformed American culture. These bands took inspiration from the rich tradition of African-American music—from rhythm and blues to rock ‘n’ roll—and infused it with a youthful energy.
  • “The Hippie Movement:” The “hippie” movement became visible in the late 1960s in neighborhoods such as San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and New York’s Greenwich Village. The apogee of the movement was perhaps the “Summer of Love” (1967). In many ways, this counterculture represented a complete rejection of the materialistic conformity that many young people grew up with in the 1950s.
  • Woodstock Festival: The counterculture of the 1960s reached its peak and showed its limits in two important events, months apart from each other, in 1969. The Woodstock Festival, in August, attracted half a million attendees to a massive weekend concert at a farm in upstate New York, and for many participants seemed to provide a glimpse of a utopian future.

The Environment and Natural Resources From 1968-1980

  • Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries: In 1973, the Arab oil-producing nations—the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)—cut off exports to the United States and increased the price of oil. These moves were largely in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
  • Camp David Accords: The Camp David Accords are considered one of the few triumphs for President Carter’s troubled presidency. In 1977 Egyptian president Anwar Sadat broke with the other leaders of the Arab world and flew to Israel to meet with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. Negotiations ensued between the two leaders, but they were unable to come up with a peace treaty. President Carter invited them to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. The three men met for thirteen days and emerged with the basis for a peace treaty. The treaty resulted in an end to hostilities between Israel and Egypt, but tensions continued to exist between Israel and its other neighbors.
  • The Carter Doctrine: The Carter Doctrine stated that the United States would repel any outside force that attempted to gain control of the Persian Gulf region. The doctrine reflects concerns about protecting United States oil interests, with an eye on halting any steps by the Soviet Union toward expanding its influence in the region.
  • Nuclear Energy: As the availability of petroleum from the Middle East came into question in the 1970s, some Americans put faith in nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. In a nuclear power plant, a nuclear reaction produces heat to drive steam turbines that, in turn, run electric generators (rather than using water power or burning coal or oil to run the turbines).
  • The Environmental Movement: An important movement for change in the 1960s and 1970s was the environmental movement. The movement became a national phenomenon and led to some important changes in laws and social awareness.
  • Three Mile Island: In 1979, a partial meltdown of the core in one of the reactors at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania resulted in the release of radioactive gasses and radioactive materials into the environment. The accident was one of several that have dampened enthusiasm for nuclear energy.
  • Chernobyl: In 1986, a catastrophic accident occurred at a nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine (part of the Soviet Union at the time). An explosion led to the release of large quantities of radioactive material into the environment over much of the western portion of the Soviet Union and parts of Europe.
  • Fukushima Nuclear Plant: More recently, in 2011, an earthquake and tsunami led to three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Society in Transition

  • Conservative Movement: The modern conservative movement came of age and became a powerful force with the victory of Ronald Reagan in the presidential election of 1980. However, the origins of this movement can be seen in the 1960s. Many Americans were dismayed by the street protests against the Vietnam War and the permissive attitudes of the counterculture. They also reacted negatively to the changing nature of the American family and the rise in divorce rates. In addition, many white southerners grew hostile toward the tactics and the gains of the civil rights movement.
  • The Watergate Scandal: The Watergate scandal began in June 1972, when five men were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Persistent reporting by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post drew connections between the burglars and President Richard Nixon’s reelection committee and ultimately the White House.
  • United States v. Nixon: When it became known that Nixon secretly taped his conversations in the White House Oval Office, investigators demanded that the tapes be turned over. Nixon argued that executive privilege allowed him to keep the tapes. In United States v. Nixon (1974), the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes.
  • Articles of Impeachment: Also in 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of three articles of impeachment against President Nixon—obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. The next step would have been for the entire House of Representatives to vote on whether to impeach Nixon. If the House had approved the articles of impeachment, the Senate would have tried Nixon; if found guilty of the articles of impeachment, he would have been removed from office. However, before the question of impeachment could be addressed by the entire House, Nixon resigned.
  • Affirmative Action: The movement for affirmative action was part of the civil rights movement. Activists hoped not only to end segregation but also to take affirmative action to rectify past discrimination by taking race into consideration in hiring, college admissions, and other areas.
  • “Moral Majority:” The religious and cultural wing of the New Right found voice in several grassroots organizations. The “Moral Majority” was founded by Reverend Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist pastor, in 1979. In the mid-1970s, Falwell embarked on a series of “I Love America” rallies. These rallies broke a traditional Baptist principle of separating religion from politics. Falwell asserted that this separation was at the heart of the moral decay that was afflicting America.
  • Focus on the Family: Focus on the Family was founded in 1977 by psychologist James Dobson. The organization is interdenominational, bridging the traditional divide between Catholics and Protestants. It promotes an abstinence-only approach to sex education, the reintroduction of prayer into the schools, and reinforcement of traditional gender roles.