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The date of the start of the history of the United States is a subject of constant debate among historians. Older textbooks start with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and emphasize the European background, or they start around 1600 and emphasize the American frontier. In recent decades American schools and universities typically have shifted back in time to include more on the colonial period and much more on the prehistory of the Native peoples.
Indigenous people lived in what is now the United States for thousands of years before European colonists began to arrive, mostly from England, after 1600. The Spanish had small settlements in Florida and the Southwest, and the French along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. By the 1770s, thirteen British colonies contained two and a half million people along the Atlantic coast east of the Appalachian Mountains.
In the 1760s the British government imposed a series of new taxes while rejecting the American argument that any new taxes had to be approved by the people (see Stamp Act 1765). Tax resistance, especially the Boston Tea Party (1774), led to punitive laws (the Intolerable Acts) by Parliament designed to end self-government in Massachusetts. American Patriots (as they called themselves) adhered to a political ideology called republicanism that emphasized civic duty, virtue, and opposition to corruption, fancy luxuries and aristocracy.
All thirteen colonies united in a Congress that called on them to write new state constitutions. After armed conflict began in Massachusetts, Patriots drove the royal officials out of every colony and assembled in mass meetings and conventions. Those Patriot governments in the colonies unanimously empowered their delegates to Congress to declare independence. In 1776, Congress declared that there was a new, independent nation, the United States of America, not just a collection of disparate colonies. With large-scale military and financial support from France and military leadership by General George Washington, the American Patriots rebelled against British rule and succeeded in the Revolutionary War. The peace treaty of 1783 gave the new nation the land east of the Mississippi River (except Florida and Canada, and Spain disputed the Mississippi Territory until 1795) and confirmedGreat Britain's recognition of the United States as a nation. The central government established by the Articles of Confederation proved ineffectual at providing stability, as it had no authority to collect taxes and had no executive officer. Congress called a convention to meet secretly in Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation. It wrote a new Constitution, which was adopted in 1789. In 1791, a Bill of Rights was added to guarantee inalienable rights. With Washington as the Union's first president and Alexander Hamilton his chief political and financial adviser, a strong central government was created. When Thomas Jefferson became president he purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, doubling the size of the United States. A second and final war with Britain wasfought in 1812.
Encouraged by the notion of Manifest Destiny, federal territory expanded all the way to the Pacific. The U.S. always was large in terms of area, but its population was small, only 4 million in 1790. Population growth was rapid, reaching 7.2 million in 1810, 32 million in 1860, 76 million in 1900, 132 million in 1940, and 321 million in 2015. Economic growth in terms of overall GDP was even faster. However the nation's military strength was quite limited in peacetime before 1940. The expansion was driven by a quest for inexpensive land for yeoman farmers and slave owners. The expansion of slavery was increasingly controversial and fueled political and constitutional battles, which were resolved by compromises. Slavery was abolished in all states north of the Mason–Dixon line by 1804, but the Southcontinued to profit off the institution, producing high-value cotton exports to feed increasing high demand in Europe. The 1860 presidential election of RepublicanAbraham Lincoln was on a platform of ending the expansion of slavery and putting it on a path to extinction. Seven cotton-based deep South slave states seceded and later founded the Confederacy months before Lincoln's inauguration. No nation ever recognized the Confederacy, but it opened the war by attacking Fort Sumter in 1861. A surge of nationalist outrage in the North fueled a long, intense American Civil War (1861-1865). It was fought largely in the South as the overwhelming material and manpower advantages of the North proved decisive in a long war. The war's result was restoration of the Union, the impoverishment of the South, and the abolition of slavery. In the Reconstruction era (1863–1877), legal and voting rights were extended to the freed slave. The national government emerged much stronger, and because of the Fourteenth Amendment, it gained the explicit duty to protect individual rights. However, when white Democrats regained their power in the South during the 1870s, often by paramilitary suppression of voting, they passed Jim Crow laws to maintain white supremacy, and newdisfranchising constitutions that prevented most African Americans and many poor whites from voting, a situation that continued for decades until gains of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and passage of federal legislation to enforce constitutional rights.
The United States became the world's leading industrial power at the turn of the 20th century due to an outburst of entrepreneurship in the Northeast and Midwest and the arrival of millions of immigrant workers and farmers from Europe. The national railroad network was completed with the work of Chinese immigrants and large-scale mining and factories industrialized the Northeast and Midwest. Mass dissatisfaction with corruption, inefficiency and traditional politics stimulated theProgressive movement, from the 1890s to 1920s, which led to many social and political reforms. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteedwomen's suffrage (right to vote). This followed the 16th and 17th amendments in 1913, which established the first national income tax and direct election of US senators to Congress. Initially neutral during World War I, the US declared war on Germany in 1917 and later funded the Allied victory the following year. After a prosperous decade in the 1920s, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 marked the onset of the decade-long world-wide Great Depression. Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended the Republican dominance of the White House and implemented his New Deal programs for relief, recovery, and reform. The New Deal, which defined modern American liberalism, included relief for the unemployed, support for farmers, Social Security and a minimum wage. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States later entered World War II along with Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and the smaller Allies. The U.S. financed the Allied war effort and helped defeat Nazi Germany in Europe and defeated Imperial Japan in the Pacific War. The American use of newly inventedatomic bombs on Japanese cities remains controversial into the 21st century.
The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as rival superpowers after World War II. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR confronted each other indirectly in the arms race, the Space Race, proxy wars, and propaganda campaigns. US foreign policy during the Cold War was built around the support of Western Europe and Japan along with the policy of "containment" or stopping the spread of communism. The US joined the wars in Korea and Vietnam to try to stop its spread. In the 1960s, in large part due to the strength of the civil rights movement, another wave of social reforms were enacted by enforcing the constitutional rights of voting and freedom of movement to African-Americans and other racial minorities. Native American activism also rose. The Cold War ended when theSoviet Union officially dissolved in 1991, leaving the United States as the world's only superpower. As the 21st century began, international conflict centered around the Middle East following the September 11 attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States in 2001. In 2008, the United States had its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, which has been followed by slower than usual rates of economic growth during the 2010s.
- 1Pre-Columbian era
- 2Colonial period
- 318th century
- 4American Revolution
- 5Early years of the republic
- 619th century
- 6.1Jeffersonian Republican Era
- 6.2War of 1812
- 6.3Era of Good Feelings
- 6.4Indian removal
- 6.5Second Party System
- 6.6Second Great Awakening
- 6.8Westward expansion and Manifest Destiny
- 6.9Divisions between North and South
- 6.10Civil War
- 6.13The West and the Gilded Age
- 720th century
- 7.1Progressive Era
- 7.3World War I
- 7.4Women's suffrage
- 7.5Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression
- 7.6World War II
- 7.7The Cold War, counterculture, and civil rights
- 7.8Close of the 20th century
- 821st century
- 9See also
- 12Further reading
- 13External links
It is not definitively known how or when the Native Americans first settled the Americas and the present-day United States. The prevailing theory proposes that people migrated from Eurasia across Beringia, a land bridge that connected Siberia to present-day Alaska during the Ice Age, and then spread southward throughout the Americas and possibly going as far south as the Antarctic peninsula. This migration may have begun as early as 30,000 years ago and continued through to about 10,000+ years ago, when the land bridge became submerged by the rising sea level caused by the ending of the last glacial period. These early inhabitants, called Paleoamericans, soon diversified into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes.
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period. While technically referring to the era before Christopher Columbus' voyages of 1492 to 1504, in practice the term usually includes the history of American indigenous cultures until they were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades or even centuries after Columbus' initial landing.
After a period of exploration sponsored by major European nations, the first successful English settlement was established in 1607. Europeans brought horses, cattle, and hogs to the Americas and, in turn, took back to Europe maize, turkeys, potatoes, tobacco, beans, and squash. Many explorers and early settlers died after being exposed to new diseases in the Americas. The effects of new Eurasian diseases carried by the colonists, especially smallpox and measles, were much worse for the Native Americans, as they had no immunity to them. They suffered epidemics and died in very large numbers, usually before large-scale European settlement began. Their societies were disrupted and hollowed out by the scale of deaths.
Spanish, Dutch, and French colonization
Spanish explorers were the first Europeans with Christopher Columbus' second expedition, to reach Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493; others reached Florida in 1513. Spanish expeditions quickly reached the Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi River, the Grand Canyon and the Great Plains. In 1540, Hernando de Soto undertook an extensive exploration of the Southeast. That same year, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado explored from Arizona to central Kansas. Small Spanish settlements eventually grew to become important cities, such as San Antonio, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; Los Angeles, California; and San Francisco, California. 
New Netherland was a 17th-century Dutch colony centered on present-day New York City and the Hudson River Valley; the Dutch traded furs with the Native Americans to the north. The colony served as a barrier to expansion from New England. Despite being Calvinists and building the Reformed Church in America, the Dutch were tolerant of other religions and cultures. The colony, which was taken over by Britain in 1664, left an enduring legacy on American cultural and political life; this includes secular broad-mindedness and mercantile pragmatism in the city as well as rural traditionalism in the countryside (typified by the story of Rip Van Winkle). Notable Americans of Dutch descent include Martin Van Buren, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Frelinghuysens.
New France was the area colonized by France from 1534 to 1763. There were few permanent settlers outside Quebec and Acadia, but the French had far-reaching trading relationships with Native Americans throughout the Great Lakes and Midwest. French villages along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers were based in farming communities that served as a granary for Gulf Coast settlements. The French established plantations in Louisiana along with settling New Orleans, Mobile and Biloxi.
The Wabanaki Confederacy were military allies of New France through the four French and Indian Wars while the British colonies were allied with the Iroquois Confederacy. During the French and Indian War – the North American theater of theSeven Years' War – New England fought successfully against French Acadia. The British removed Acadians from Acadia (Nova Scotia) and replaced them with New England Planters. Eventually, some Acadians resettled in Louisiana, where they developed a distinctive rural Cajun culture that still exists. They became American citizens in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Other French villages along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers were absorbed when the Americans started arriving after 1770, or settlers moved west to escape them. French influence and language in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast was more enduring; New Orleans was notable for its large population of free people of color before the Civil War.
The strip of land along the eastern seacoast was settled primarily by English colonists in the 17th century along with much smaller numbers of Dutch and Swedes. Colonial America was defined by a severe labor shortage that employed forms ofunfree labor such as slavery and indentured servitude and by a British policy of benign neglect (salutary neglect). Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America arrived as indentured servants. Salutary neglect permitted the development of an American spirit distinct from that of its European founders.
The first successful English colony, Jamestown, was established in 1607 on the James River in Virginia. Jamestown languished for decades until a new wave of settlers arrived in the late 17th century and established commercial agriculture based on tobacco. Between the late 1610s and the Revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to their American colonies. A severe instance of conflict was the 1622 Powhatan uprising in Virginia in which Native Americans killed hundreds of English settlers. The largest conflicts between Native Americans and English settlers in the 17th century were King Philip's War in New England and the Yamasee War in South Carolina.
New England was initially settled primarily by Puritans. The Pilgrims established a settlement in 1620 at Plymouth Colony, which was followed by the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. The Middle Colonies, consisting of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, were characterized by a large degree of diversity. The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina, with Georgia Colony – the last of the Thirteen Colonies – established in 1733.
The colonies were characterized by religious diversity, with many Congregationalists in New England, German and Dutch Reformed in the Middle Colonies, Catholics in Maryland, and Scots-Irish Presbyterians on the frontier. Sephardic Jews were among early settlers in cities of New England and the South. Many immigrants arrived as religious refugees: French Huguenots settled in New York, Virginia and the Carolinas. Many royal officials and merchants were Anglicans.
Religiosity expanded greatly after the First Great Awakening, a religious revival in the 1740s led by preachers such asJonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. American Evangelicals affected by the Awakening added a new emphasis on divine outpourings of the Holy Spirit and conversions that implanted within new believers an intense love for God. Revivals encapsulated those hallmarks and carried the newly created evangelicalism into the early republic, setting the stage for the Second Great Awakening beginning in the late 1790s.