George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and our nation's other founders had an amazing amount of foresight in structuring the U.S. government. Politicians' attitudes, beliefs, and sensibilities have changed, but through it all, the structure of the U.S. government has endured. This endurance is no small feat when you consider the many forces that might have torn the country apart: women fought for decades for the right to vote; slavery was alternately supported and condemned by the Congress; the Vietnam War, a century after the Civil War, killed tens of thousands and provoked protest and violence across the nation; the 2000 election results were fiercely contested between Al Gore and George Bush; and terrorists attacked New York and Washington, D.C. on 9/11.
The United States continues to be affected by the consequences of these and other historic events, however. Elected officials are still actively involved in passing legislation that provides protection, studies, and services in efforts to improve race relations, end gender inequality, make reparations to veterans of war, and ensure that election law is followed and the rights of voters are preserved. The failings and strengths of the U.S. government, the desire to change things for the better, and the capacity of the government to allow for this change lure people to careers in state capitals, city halls, and Washington, D.C. There are career politicians who devote their entire working lives to government jobs, but the government also offers careers to teachers, journalists, business executives, farmers, and anyone interested in affecting the way Americans relate to each other and to the world.
Many of the concerns of America's first citizens and government leaders remain relevant today. Diplomatic relations were important in even the earliest days of the development of the United States as ambassadors went to the leaders of other countries to encourage support of American independence. Today's satellite communications and Internet technologies allow Foreign Service officers and ambassadors to keep in constant contact with the Department of State in Washington, D.C., but the diplomats of the late 1700s would spend years on foreign soil, cut off almost entirely from their home government. In some cases, these diplomats would even return having accomplished little in the way of foreign support.
In the early 1800s, westward expansion resulted in the development of many major cities. Between 1815 and 1850, a new Western state joined the Union every two and a half years on average. The 1850s saw the Gold Rush in California and a desire to take risks on new business ventures. The early architects of developing cities were as dedicated to their mission as today's city managers and urban planners are to preserving and expanding those cities.
An interest in chronicling the concerns of U.S. citizens and the actions of government went hand-in-hand with the development of a political system. Ben Franklin, in addition to his efforts for the new government, also published one of the colonies' first newspapers. As early as 1735, laws and court decisions supported freedom of the press: Publisher John Peter Zenger of New York was acquitted in a libel trial when it was found he had printed the truth about the royally appointed governor, who had in fact committed crimes that included rigging elections. Newspapers and politics again became closely linked as the Revolutionary War neared, and writers used the press to either gather support or opposition against war. The press became a regular forum for the debates of political parties and also helped to spread political awareness. Although it may seem that it was contemporary politicians who, with their spin doctors and TV ad campaigns, first used the media to affect elections, it's actually a tradition as old as the political parties themselves: Post revolutionary newspapers served as the battleground for the Federalists and Republicans, the first political factions to emerge in the new country.
The Foreign Service, the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, the political science departments of colleges and universities, and the media all attract thousands of professionals every year who are anxious to be involved in, or to comment upon, the decisions that affect the people of the country.
Although elected and appointed officials change, the structure of the government strengthens and remains resilient—yet it may be restructured occasionally to better deal with business or cultural changes or to respond to domestic or international crises.
Perhaps at no time in our recent history has our government been challenged more than after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In response to the attacks, the Bush administration restructured many existing government agencies and created new agencies to improve security at U.S. borders, in U.S. airports, in dealing with travelers throughout the United States, and in making the entire country safer from chemical, biological, or technological attacks or other potential threats. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002 to address these issues. In 2016, it employed more than 240,000 workers in directorates such as National Protection and Programs, Emergency Preparedness and Response, Science and Technology, and Management. Many major government agencies—such as the U.S. Customs Service, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Computer Incident Response Center, Secret Service, and Coast Guard—were merged into this new agency.
Another major challenge faced by the U.S. government came in 2007 and 2008 when the Great Recession began, leading to the failure and near failure of some large financial institutions and a huge government effort to prop up and bail out banks, auto manufacturers, and other companies. The government passed legislation such as the Troubled Asset Relief Act (2008) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) in response to the economic crisis. However, the economy proved slow to recover and suffered under persistent high unemployment.
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