Home ownership is one of the definitions of success in America. Generally people are judged by the houses they live in. It is not only the size and architecture of the house but also the type of neighborhood and the distance from different amenities. The progress in buying a house of one’s own was steady from the 1930s right up to 2000. By 2000 69,8 million Americans lived in their own homes. But then the steady growth stopped and started falling back. By the end of the eighties the home-ownership rate had declined to 63,4 percent. Why did this happen? The basic reason for the turnaround is simply that home ownership, which was never cheap, has gotten more and more expensive.
The reasons are follows. Ownership costs are increasing more than income. Cash down payments are out of any proportion as compared to what they were twenty years ago. Monthly principal (mortgage) and interes payments for a medium house are soared. Prices for homes are so inflated, particularly in good and safe neighborhoods, that tthey are beyond most people’s budget. Life-style changes are also influencing the home-ownership rate. There are more singles and childless couples who are unwilling to commit themselves to a mortgage.
Steady home prices and a strong market formerly contributed to mobility, but owners can now find themselves immobilized by deflated but still expensive housing that can take a year or more to sell. Home ownership is becoming a thing of the past. Some experts predict that builders will eventually move toward smaller, more moderately priced housing demanded by many people. Owning is still far less risky than renting, since costs can be fixed with a long-term mortgage. Besides, the underlying desire to “be your own boss” is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness.
Neighborhoods are an important element of the setting for a house. They may be steady or not, friendly or not, clean or not, safe or not. The list of qualifying adjectives can be endless. And still you must live with it if you have a house in this neighborhood. The ethnic origin and economic status of the people who live in the neighborhood often define it. Few neighborhoods today are static. They are constantly changing: people of different ethnic groups and economic status are beginning to live together in the same neighborhoods. Many young professionals (doctors, lawyers, academics, etc.) move into traditionally poor neighborhoods because they can find larger and less expensive housing there. These young professionals often have money and power and they cause changes in the character of the neighborhood. This process is called “gentrification”.
It then becomes too expensive for the poor residents and they move on. This is a way a poor, unfashionable inner city neighborhood may change into a very expensive area in the course of several years. The atmosphere of neighborhoods is also changing. Formerly one could always borrow a couple of eggs or a ladder from the friend next door. But their family has moved, and the people in there now are strangers. Some of the old sentimentality of neighborhoodliness has receded. There is no reason to have friendly ties with the people who live next door to you just because they happened to wander into a real estate office that listed the place next door to yours.
The only thing neighbors have in common to begin with is proximity, and unless something more develops, that isn’t reason enough to be best friends. It sometimes happens naturally, but the chances are very small that you neighbors will be your choice as friends. The best relationship with neighbors is one of friendly distance. You say hello, you make small-talk if you see them in the yard, you help each other in emergency. It is easier to produce nostalgia about a neighborhood than about a community, but a community is probably a better unit. A neighborhood is just a bunch of individuals who live in proximity, but a community is a group of people who rise above their individual limitations to get some things done for the public.
The American Civil War
The American Civil War, also known as the War between the States or simply the Civil War, was a civil war fought from 1861 to 1865 between the United States (the “Union” or the “North”) and several Southern slave states that had declared their secession and formed the Confederate States of America (the “Confederacy” or the “South”). The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, and, after four years of bloody combat (mostly in the South), the Confederacy was defeated, slavery was abolished, and the difficult Reconstruction process of restoring unity and guaranteeing rights to the freed slaves began. In the presidential election of 1860, Republicans led by Abraham Lincoln opposed expanding slavery into the territories. Lincoln won but before his inauguration on March 4, 1861, seven cotton-based slave states formed the Confederacy. Outgoing Democrat James Buchanan and the incoming Republicans rejected the legality of secession. Lincoln’s inaugural address insisted his administration would not initiate civil war, leading eight remaining slave states to reject immediate calls for secession.
A Peace Conference failed to find a compromise. Both sides prepared for war. The Confederates assumed that Europe was so dependent on “King Cotton” for its industry that they would intervene; none did and none recognized the new Confederate States of America. Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, a key fort held by Union troops in South Carolina. Lincoln called for the creation of an army to retake it; meanwhile, four border slave states joined the Confederacy, bringing their total to eleven. The Union soon controlled the Border States and established a naval blockade that crippled the southern economy. The Eastern Theater was inconclusive in 1861–62. The fall 1862 Confederate campaign into Maryland ended at the Battle of Antietam, dissuading British intervention.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal. To the west, by summer 1862 the Union destroyed the Confederate river navy, then much of their western armies, and the Union at Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two at the Mississippi River. In 1863, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate incursion north ended at the Battle of Gettysburg. Western successes led to Ulysses S. Grant command of all Union armies in 1864. In the Western Theater William T. Sherman drove east to capture Atlanta and marched to the sea, destroying Confederate infrastructure along the way. The Union marshaled the resources and manpower to attack the Confederacy from all directions, and could afford to fight battles of attrition through the Overland Campaign towards Richmond.
The defending Confederate army failed leading to Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The mobilization of civilian factories, mines, shipyards, banks, transportation and food supplies all foreshadowed World War I. It remains the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 750,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. Historian John Huddleston estimates the death toll at ten percent of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40.
Reconstruction of the Union held many promises. Black men and women in the South could move to their new home in Florida. Black refugees quickly poured into these lands. By 1865 40 thousand freedmen were living in their new home. But the opposition to the Reconstruction in the South steadily grew. In 1869 the Ku-Klux-Klan added organized violence to the whites resistance. Despite federal efforts to protect them, black people were intimidated at the polls, robbed of their earnings, beaten or murdered. By the early 1870s the failure of the Reconstruction was apparent. The Military Reconstruction Act of 1867 called for new governments in the South; it barred from political office those Confederate leaders who were listed in the Fourteenth Amendment. But the law required no redistribution of land and guaranteed no basic changes in southern social standards.
Terrorism against blacks was widening. Nighttime visits, whippings, beatings, and murder became common. In time, however, the Klan’s purpose became not only economic (to keep the slaves) but also openly political and social. Klansmen also attacked white Republicans and school teachers who were aiding the freemen. Then in 1871 the actions of KKK moved Congress to pass two acts directed against the KKK’s violence. These acts permitted the use of martial law, but they were unsuccessful in combatting the Klan’s activities.
The Klan’s terror frightened many voters and weakened local party organization, but it did not stop Reconstruction. Throughout the South conventions met and drafted new constitutions. New governments were set up, and Republicans won majorities nearly everywhere. After 1877 thousands of blacks gathered up their possessions and migrated to Kansas. They were disappointed people who were searching for their share in the American Dream.
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