Entering the twenty-first century, the people of the United States of America confronted various dilemmas. How should they deal with a diverse and growing population of uneven education, economic resources, and life experience? How should they manage their natural environment in the face of growing urban concentration and an economy organized around mass consumption of goods, many of them not essential and even more replaced before their useful life had been exhausted? How should they deal with a society accustomed to the near universal use of private automobiles? To what extent and in what fashion should there be controls on the nation’s sexual conduct, access to the media of the day, and the personal use of “controlled substances,” the latest euphemism for drugs and alcohol? How should inequities of income, nutrition, gender, race, and ethnicity be handled? How should the impact of new technology be managed, especially as it affects the ideas, tastes, and behavior of the society, in other words the nation’s culture? What balances should be struck among individual, community, private business, and federal government responsibility for constructing a satisfactory life for the entire populace?
No easy answers to these pressing contemporary questions are at hand. Coming to terms with such issues requires, at first, an understanding of how such conditions initially arose. What were the circumstances of the American people before and during their emergence? Placing ourselves in the circumstances of those who confronted situations for the first time and who did not know how their choices and behaviors would