Exam preparation materials

Chapter 35: America at the Turn of the Century



Bill Clinton elected president


Paula Jones accuses Clinton of sexual harassment  • Ruth Bader Ginsberg appointed justice of the Supreme Court  • Stephen Bayer appointed justice of the Supreme Court


Rise of the New Right occurs  • Kenneth Starr appointed as independent counsel to investigate Whitewater  • Brady Bill signed  • Contract with America developed  • Wye Memorandum signed


Dayton Accords signed


Clinton elected to second term as president


Clinton testifies before a federal grand jury investigating the Lewinsky affair


House of Representatives impeaches Bill Clinton


Clinton tried and acquitted by the Senate


George W. Bush wins contested election  • Clinton issues pardons


Terrorists attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon


Madeline Albright

George W. Bush

computer revolution

Election 2000

Katherine Harris

Osama bin Laden

New Democrats

Kenneth Starr

Wye Memorandum

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Jeb Bush

conservative Right

Newt Gingrich

Immigration Reform and Control Act

Monica Lewinsky

Oklahoma City bombing

U.S.S. Cole


Bill Clinton

Contract with America

global warming

Paula Jones

Slobodan Milosevic

William Rehnquist

World Trade


Brady Bill

Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Dayton Accords

Al Gore





“Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time. Well, my fellow citizens, this is our time. Let us embrace it.”

—William Jefferson Clinton, First Inaugural Address, January 21, 1993


When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, the people of the United States hoped that this new president would invigorate the nation and lead it into the 21st century. The first president to be born after World War II, Clinton faced a world without a Cold War and a computer revolution that was changing society. Blessed with a booming economy, Clinton retained his popularity despite becoming the first president to be impeached since Andrew Johnson in 1868. Issues such as health care reform, welfare reform, gays in the military, and AIDS presented great challenges for his administration. After 12 years of Republican presidents, the American people desired a fresh approach to these difficult problems. They wanted to “embrace” change, and, to them, Bill Clinton personified that change.


Bill Clinton painted himself as a moderate Democrat in the election of 1992. The governor of Arkansas, Clinton portrayed himself as a Washington outsider, more conservative than the liberals in the Democratic Party. For his running mate, he chose Albert Gore, a senator from Tennessee with long-standing ties to Washington. Ross Perot ran as an independent and received more votes than any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressives. George H. W. Bush, the Republican candidate and incumbent president, lost the election to Clinton.

The Early Years

The Clinton presidency was marked by tremendous highs and incredible lows. The early perceptions of Clinton’s first administration was that of a leader unfamiliar with the workings of Washington who seemed to surround himself with an inexperienced and somewhat incompetent staff. However, Clinton’s cabinet reflected a desire to create more diversity and included African Americans, Latinos, and women. Janet Reno became the first woman attorney general; later, Madeleine Albright became the first woman secretary of state. Clinton chose his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton to lead the task force to reform health care.

These early months were marked with challenges. He ran into difficulty not only with Republicans but also with Democrats. Many staunch Democrats believed that Clinton had sold them out, as his legislative decisions as a “New Democrat” appeared to be more moderate than they desired. When there was resistance to Clinton’s early support for gays in the military, Clinton modified his policy to call for “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He also used his executive power to ease some of the restrictions on abortion counseling and the importation and use of RU-486, a French “abortion pill.” In February of 1993, Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law, providing for aid to municipalities for police, the building of prisons, and the establishment of crime prevention programs.

The Rise of the Conservative Right

The midterm elections held in November 1994 sent a clear message to Clinton: The country was displeased with his administration and its poor leadership on important issues. The Republicans gained control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. This new Congress had a voice in Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Exemplary of the thinking of the conservative Right, the Republicans issued a “Contract with America, which proposed such things as congressional term limits, an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget, and various tax cuts. The debates over this contract highlighted the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. Clinton’s refusal to support the contract resulted in a battle over the budget in 1995, leading to the virtual shutdown of the government.

Clinton the Man

The problems of Clinton’s personal life plagued him through much of his two terms. In 1994, a special counsel was chosen to head the investigation of Whitewater, a real estate deal that involved a possible funneling of money to Clinton’s campaign in Arkansas.Kenneth Starr headed this investigation as an independent counsel. The investigation was closed in 2000, with Clinton and his wife not charged with any wrongdoing. However, Bill Clinton was disbarred in Arkansas.

Perhaps the darkest hours for Clinton involved his sexual life. Accused by Paula Jones of sexual harassment in May of 1991, before he became president, Bill Clinton then found himself being investigated concerning his sexual relations with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Appearing on national television, Clinton denied ever having “… sexual relations with that woman.” In August 1997, Clinton testified before a federal grand jury about this relationship with Lewinsky. He was accused of lying under oath, and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr turned his attention to this affair. The Starr Report accused Clinton of obstructing justice and tampering with witnesses. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. In January 1999, the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton was held, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. After much testimony and debate, Bill Clinton was acquitted of the charges and remained president of the United States.

Domestic Affairs

During the early Clinton years, a growing antigovernment movement developed, which led to a 1993 confrontation in Waco, Texas, where government agents stormed the compound of an armed religious cult. Two years to the date after that incident, a federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed by Timothy McVeigh, killing 169 people. Clinton’s handling of this tragedy boosted his popularity as the election of 1996 approached.

Clinton battled Congress on welfare reform as the Republicans supported an end to the Aid to Dependent Children program. Clinton and Congress finally agreed on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which shifted more of the responsibility for welfare programs to the individual states. It also provided minimum aid to all children in need.

The booming economic expansion, fueled by the growing “dot-com” companies, was a highlight of the Clinton campaign as the election of 1996 approached. He could boast the lowest unemployment rates in recent history and a growing middle class. The polls showed that more people felt that they were better off since Clinton had taken office. With Americans feeling confident about the economy, along with the president’s personal charm and charisma (despite the personal problems that plagued him), Clinton won a decisive victory over Robert Dole, the Republican senator and majority leader of the Senate. Dole won only 11 states, and Clinton won 379 electoral votes to Dole’s 159.

The election of 1996 resulted not only in the Republicans’s failure to gain the presidency but also in their loss of seats in Congress, sending a clear signal that the country was not happy with the ultraconservative Republicans. Newt Gingrich resigned as speaker of the house, and a more moderate approach to solving the country’s problems was adopted.

Foreign Affairs

In the area of foreign affairs, Clinton’s success was mixed. Bill Clinton was a staunch supporter of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed into law in 1994. It provided for the lifting of trade restrictions, including the lowering or eliminating of the tariffs between the United States and its neighbors, Mexico and Canada, over the next 15 years. He also supported the establishment of a World Trade Organization.

Clinton sent more U.S. troops abroad in peacetime than any other president. In 1993, as part of a peacekeeping mission, he sent American troops to Somalia in East Africa. The U.S. military restored Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti in 1994. American troops were also part of NATO peacekeeping forces sent to Bosnia because of ethnic conflicts in that area of the world. As part of a NATO operation in 1999, Clinton also committed American troops to end the ethnic cleansing, or slaughtering, of Albanians in Kosovo, which appeared to have been ordered by the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic died while on trial at the Hague for war crimes stemming from this incident.

In the Middle East, in 1994, Clinton helped to engineer an accord dealing with Palestinian self-rule between Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat signed the Wye Memorandum, in which Israel agreed to withdraw troops from parts of the West Bank. In 1995, the Dayton Accords were signed, bringing an end to years of civil war among the Muslims, Croats, and Serbs in Bosnia. Finally, Clinton normalized relations withVietnam, more than 25 years after the last American troops left that country.

The Clinton administration was marred by a terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Muslim extremists, as well as the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa and the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen harbor in 2000. These terrorist actions were connected to Islamic fundamentalists led by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group. The United States’s response to these incidents was limited.

The Clinton administration’s accomplishments, although often overshadowed by his personal problems, included a comprehensive welfare reform bill, a balanced budget, a booming economy, and a relatively peaceful world. Despite Clinton’s personal failings, he enjoyed tremendous popularity during his presidency.


Bill Clinton was unable to run for a third term as president in 2000 because of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. His vice president, Al Gore, ran against the Republican governor of Texas, George W. Bush, son of former President George H. W. Bush. When the television news channels predicted that Gore had won the state of Florida, it appeared that he had won the election. However, within a short time, these TV stations retracted their predictions and stated that the race in Florida was too close to call. What resulted was five weeks of uncertainty as the Florida ballots were in dispute. What complicated this situation was that George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb, was governor of Florida.

Florida’s secretary of state, Katherine Harris, a Republican, was in charge of the Florida election process. Gore asked for a recount of certain counties, but the Bush team challenged the recount as well as the decision the Supreme Court of Florida made in ordering a recount, so court challenges continued and the Florida votes remained in dispute. The decision was finally made by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the Bush v. Gore case, the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 vote, ruled that the different methods used in the various counties of Florida for recounting the vote violated the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment. The court determined that since there was no clear-cut state standard for determining the intent of the Florida voters, a hand count of the disputed votes would be unconstitutional. Bush, who had maintained a 537-vote lead in the popular vote in Florida, therefore, won the plurality (most) of votes in that state and all 25 electoral votes. With this victory, George W. Bush followed in the footsteps of his father George H. W. Bush, as he was sworn in as president, only the second son of a former president to do so. John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, the president from 1797–1801, had followed his father into that office in 1824, also as a result of a disputed election.


The administration of Bill Clinton was an active one. Charismatic and human, Clinton grew into the presidency, developing into a self-assured world leader. However, many of his accomplishments were overshadowed by questionable judgments in his personal life.


•   Ecology: The study of the environment

•   Ethnic cleansing: A policy in which one people or a group within a nation attempts to destroy people whose ethnic background differs from theirs

•   Impeachment: This is an indictment or formal charge brought by the legislative body against a government official, especially the president, in an attempt to remove the person from office. If the House of Representatives determines that a president has committed acts that may be “high crimes and misdemeanors,” he or she is impeached, as with the case of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President Bill Clinton in 1999. The Senate then conducts a trial to determine guilt; if the president is found guilty, he or she is removed from office.


1.   Bill Clinton’s presidency was marked by

(A)    a period of prosperity for the nation.

(B)    an absence of political dissension between the Republicans and the Democrats.

(C)    peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

(D)    an isolationist foreign policy.

(E)    the passage of the Contract with America.

2.   The people of the United States demonstrated their disapproval of Clinton’s first two years in office by

(A)    holding demonstrations in Washington to express their displeasure.

(B)    appointing a special counsel to investigate Bill Clinton.

(C)    electing Republicans to Congress in 1994.

(D)    electing New Democrats to Congress in 1994.

(E)    impeaching Bill Clinton.

3.   Bill Clinton supported free-trade policies by signing the

(A)    free-trade agreement with France.

(B)    North American Free Trade Agreement.

(C)    Dayton Accord.

(D)    order imposing sanctions on Japanese trade with the United States.

(E)    agreement to establish multinational companies.

4.   The Election of 2000 was significant because

(A)    the Supreme Court of Florida decided the election.

(B)    Katherine Harris, a Democrat, validated the election.

(C)    Al Gore won more popular votes than George W. Bush but lost the election.

(D)    Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, was governor of Florida.

(E)    George W. Bush was the first son to follow his father into the presidency.


1.    A

The eight years of Bill Clinton’s terms were marked by a high period of prosperity. Employment was high, businesses were growing, and the dollar was strong. There was much political disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans, as demonstrated by battles over the budget, welfare reform, and the impeachment. The Wye Memorandum was an agreement signed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. It authorized Israel to withdraw troops from parts of the West Bank. However, the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis was not resolved. Bill Clinton’s administration took a very active role in foreign affairs and, therefore, cannot be considered isolationist. The Contract with America was composed by the Republicans in 1994, but was never passed. Clinton battled the Republicans over this Contract, which resulted in the Republicans withholding their approval of the federal budget in 1995. This battle virtually shut down the government.

2.    C

The midterm congressional elections of 1994 elected enough Republicans to make them the majority in Congress, a clear message to Clinton about the American peoples’ displeasure with his administration. There were no demonstrations in Washington, D.C., to show the displeasure of the people. The special counsel, Kenneth Starr, was appointed by a panel of judges. Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, but that didn’t happen until his second term as president.

3.    B

Bill Clinton was a strong proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). There were no new free trade agreements with France. The Dayton Accords were signed in 1995, ending years of civil war among the Muslims, Croats, and Serbs in Bosnia. Bill Clinton threatened to place economic sanctions on Japanese products if the Japanese did not open its doors to American goods. However, had these sanctions been ordered, they would have been a step away from free trade. Multinational corporations developed as a result of economic conditions, not as a result of any specific agreement to establish them.

4.    C

Al Gore won more popular votes than George W. Bush but failed to win the presidency because he did not win a sufficient number of electoral votes. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of recounting votes in Florida, impacting the outcome of the election. Although the Florida Supreme Court had ruled prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, it was not the deciding decision for the election. Katherine Harris, the secretary of state of Florida and a Republican, was responsible for certifying the election in Florida. Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, was the governor of Florida, but that fact does not make the election most significant. George W. Bush is the second son to follow his father into the presidency. John Quincy Adams, in 1824, followed his father, John Adams, who was president from 1797–1801.

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