Cycles in U. S. History

Generational Personality Types


The Prophets (Idealists)

In each cycle of four generations there is one birth cohort collectively known as the Prophets . These cohorts are raised in the increasingly indulgent times following the euphoria of a resolved secular event. As they come of age creativity is embraced and new ideals emerge. Established institutions are challenged and the turmoil erupts into a spiritual event. Theirs is the job of elder leaders during the next secular event.
Personality: Stormy in youth, visionary as elder, righteous, austere, principled and creative but sometimes selfish and arrogant.

  • Colonial Cycle (Puritan): John Winthrop (1584-1614) was born in England and like the Pilgrims before him he came to the Massachusetts Bay, in 1630, with his band of Puritans on a mission to establish God's own city in the New World. They called their new experiment New Jerusalem and they would not stop short of perfection in their quest.
    cohorts: Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams
  • Revolutionary Cycle (Awakening): Most of us remember Benjamin Franklin(1706-1790) as the elder statesman of the American Revolution. Few remember that he abandoned a successful printing business in his forties to devote his life to reflection and the pursuit of the moral life.
    cohorts: Jonathan Edwards, Sam Adams
  • Civil War Cycle (Transcendental): Who can fail to see the mission that was given to Abraham Lincoln(1809-1865). Born in the warm afterglow of the Revolutionary Victory, his life though humble, was filled with intellectual growth and idealistic pursuits. As his generation gained power in the years proceeding the Great Civil War they called on him to solve the terrible racial conflict that gripped the country and he accepted the challenge.
    cohorts: Jefferson Davis, Susan B. Anthony, Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • World War Cycle (Missionary): The life of Franklin D. Roosevelt(1882-1945) was not humble but he brought an idealistic fervor to the country in a time of great struggle. Even with a severe handicap he brought his countrymen through an unprecedented Depression and a World War and changed the face of American society for decades to come.
    cohorts: William Jennings Bryan, Douglas McArthur
  • Present Cycle (Boom): If we are to pick an Idealist personality for our time we will be hard pressed to not pick Newt Gingrich(1943-). A child of the '60s and a designer of the New Conservative power structure, he is burning with the fire of reform. He has taken on no less of a task than dismantling the handiwork of the last great Idealist president, FDR, and substituting a design of his own. It is too early to judge if this notoriety will hold up in history's eyes but he has certainly gotten off to a good start.
    cohorts: William Clinton, Candice Bergen, Bill Gates

The Nomads (Reactives)

The Nomads are raised in an unprotected environment and bear the brunt of the criticism as the spiritual event runs its course. They mature into risk-taking, alienated young adults and then are resigned to the role of pragmatic midlife leaders during the secular event.
Personality: bad in youth, lonely elder, pragmatic, savvy and practical but often amoral and uncultured.

  • Colonial Cycle (Cavalier): Nathaniel Bacon
    cohorts: William Kidd, Increase Mather
  • Revolutionary Cycle (Liberty):
    cohorts: John Adams, Daniel Boone, Patrick Henry, Ethan Allen
  • Civil War Cycle (Gilded): Mark Twain (1835-1910) had a relatively impoverished childhood yet showed extreme upward mobility. His writings showed little respect for literary, governmental, or religious authority, and were popular as a result.
    cohorts: John D. Rockefeller, Ulysses Grant, Louisa May Alcott
  • World War Cycle (Lost): Give 'em hell, Harry Truman (1884-1972) overcame a lifetime of hard knocks to reach the nations highest office where he pragmatically made the decision to end a draining war with the Japanese by dropping the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    cohorts: George Patten, Mae West, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Present Cycle (Thirteen): Tom Cruise
    cohorts: Jody Foster, Quentin Tarantino

The Heros (Civics)

The Heros are raised as increasingly protected youth following the spiritual event and come of age during the secular event. Theirs is the role of pillar of society. They become powerful midlifers and develop society in their image and build its institutions. As elders they come under attack by the midlife Idealist after the next spiritual event.
Personality: good youth, confident elders, grand, powerful, rational and competent but maybe insensitive.

  • Colonial Cycle (Glorious): Cotton Mather
    cohorts: "King" Carter, William Randolph
  • Revolutionary Cycle (Republican): Many of Nathan Hale's contemporary civics, who came of age during the American Revolution, went on to found a great democracy and erected the institutions upon which it stood. When he gave his life for the public good, spying behind British lines, legend says he told his captors he regretted having only one life to give. This young Yale graduate made a difference, even though he died at the tender age of 21.
    cohorts: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Robert Fulton
  • Civil War Cycle:(no civic personalities developed)
  • World War Cycle (GIs): John Kennedy
    cohorts: Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, John Wayne
  • Present Cycle (Millennials): Jessica Dubroff
    cohorts: Jessica McClure,

The Artists (Adaptives)

The Artists are raised by overprotecting civics during the secular event. They tend to avoid risk and are conformist midlife adults during the spiritual event. Theirs is the role of sensitive elders as the next secular event unfolds.
Personality: placid as youth, sensitive elders, flexible, caring and open-minded but indecisive and guilt-ridden.

  • Colonial Cycle (Enlightenment): Elisha Cooke, Jr.
    cohorts: Samuel Johnson, William Shirley, John Peter Zenger
  • Revolutionary Cycle (Compromise):
    cohorts: Daniel Webster, Dolley Madison, Washington Irving, Andrew Jackson
  • Civil War Cycle (Progressive): Theodore Roosevelt
    cohorts: Woodrow Wilson, Booker T. Washington
  • World War Cycle (The Silents): Colin Powell
    cohorts: Walter Mondale, Woody Allen, Elvis Presley, Sandra Day O'Conner
  • Present Cycle: none born yet


  1. In Strauss & Howe's new book _The Fourth Turning_ these personality types are called Generational Archetypes and the Idealists are referred to as the Prophets; the Reactives are the Nomads; the Civics are the Heroes and the Silents are the Artists. These Archetypes appear again and again in each of the Cycles of American history.
  2. Check out Jim Brett's compilation of generational characteristics.


  1. Cohorts are individuals who have birth years in the same generation.
  2. A secular event is the period of time within a generational cycle when society tries to reorder its institutions and public behavior as it recovers from a spiritual event. This generally occurs as the civics are approaching adulthood and the idealists are leaving middle age and relinquishing power.
  3. A spiritual event is the period of time during a cycle when idealists approaching adulthood attempt to change the values and personal behavior of society and the civics are beginning to give up their power.

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