The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is famous for noting that the only permanent thing in the universe is change. Over time, every aspect of American society has changed in some way, and government has had to change along with it. Here are some ways that American society has changed in ways that forced the government to deal with new issues:
- Ethical changes: Since before the United States was founded, slavery was looked upon as a necessary evil. Changing societal attitudes about slavery and equality repeatedly forced the government to address this issue, from the three-fifths compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787; to passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, giving black citizens the right to vote; to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, which ruled that forced racial segregation was unconstitutional. Each of these changes was driven by the prevailing ethical beliefs of the time.
- Changes in gender roles: Gone are the days when women were expected to be compliant housewives and mothers. Over time, social mores concerning what women can do and should be able to do have changed, and the government has changed right along with them. One hundred years ago, women didn't even have the right to vote, but now, women sit in Congress, on the Supreme Court, and in the Space Shuttle.
- Religious changes: The government hasn't handled all new issues with as much success. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the widely growing temperance movement called for the prohibition of alcoholic beverages and garnered some successes in particular states. The federal government was eventually forced to deal with the issue and passed the 18th Amendment. For 14 years, it was a federal crime to manufacture, transport, or sell liquor in the United States. The result: speakeasies, bootleggers, and a rise in organized crime. Congress repealed the 18th Amendment with passage of the 21st Amendment, and the so-called Noble Experiment was deemed a failure.
- Technological changes: Perhaps the most volatile aspect of American society these days is the rate of technological growth, and the U.S. government has responded to new technological issues as well. In many cases, whole new sectors of government have been created to deal with technological change, such as the Federal Communications Commission (founded in 1934), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and NASA (both in 1958), and the Federal Department of Transportation (1966). One recent government response to technological change (and a direct result of American society's passion for wireless technology) is the FCCs ruling that television stations must transmit all-digital signals by June 12, 2009.