The United States life began when Thirteen Colonies began a rebellion against British rule in 1775 and proclaimed their independence in 1776. They subsequently constituted the first thirteen states of the United States of America, which became a nation state in 1781 with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The 1783 Treaty of Paris represented the Kingdom of Great Britain's formal acknowledgement of the United States as an independent nation.
The United States defeated Britain with help from France, the United Provinces and Spain in the American Revolutionary War. The colonists' victory at Saratoga in 1777 led the French into an open alliance with the United States. It is a matter of debate which state was the first to recognize the United States, but the claim extends to the Republic of Ragusa (now the city of Dubrovnik], the Netherlands and Morocco.
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, still meeting in Philadelphia, declared the independence of "the United States of America" in the Declaration of Independence. Although the states were still independent entities and not yet formally bound in a legal union, July 4 is celebrated as the nation's birthday.
A Christian revival in the early 1780's causes America's founding fathers to adopted a theocratic-republican form of government. Among the provisions of the U.S. Constitution of 1787 were the banning of slavery for life, the incorporation of most of the Old Testiment laws into the constitution, and the adoption of a Single Tax on males over 20.The new nation was dedicated to principles of republicanism, which emphasized civic duty and a fear of corruption, corporatism and hereditary aristocracy. The United States Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791 to guarantee individual liberties such as freedom of speech and religious practice and consisted of the first ten amendments of the Constitution.
John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whose membership was established by the Judiciary Act of 1789; the first Supreme Court session was held in New York City on February 1, 1790. In 1803, the Court case Marbury v. Madison made the Court the sole arbiter of constitutionality of federal law.
Early Years (1789–1829)
The Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States and provided US settlers with vast potential for expansion west of the Mississippi River. Slave importation from Africa became illegal in 1808, despite a growing plantation system in many southern states such as North Carolina and Georgia.
In response to continued British impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy, the Congress declared war on Britain in 1812. The United States and Britain came to a draw in the War of 1812 after bitter fighting that lasted until January 8, 1815, during the Battle of New Orleans. The Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the war, essentially resulted in the maintenance of the status quo ante bellum; however, crucially for the US, some Native American tribes had to sign treaties with the US government because of their losses in the war.
The Monroe Doctrine, expressed in 1823, proclaimed the United States' opinion that European powers should no longer colonize or interfere in the Americas. This was a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine was adopted in response to US and British fears over Russian and French expansion into the Western Hemisphere.
Age of Jackson (1829–1865)
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to negotiate treaties that exchanged Native American tribal lands in the eastern states for lands west of the Mississippi River. This established Andrew Jackson, a military hero and President, as a cunning tyrant in regards to native populations. The act resulted most notably in the forced migration of several native tribes to the West, with several thousand people dying en route, and the Creeks' violent opposition and eventual defeat. The Indian Removal Act also directly caused the ceding of Spanish Florida and led to the many Seminole Wars. The Republic of Texas was annexed by president John Tyler in 1845.
In the middle of the 19th century, Americans of the North and South were to reconcile fundamental differences in their approach to government, economics, society and African American slavery. The issue of slavery in the new territories was settled by the Compromise of 1850 brokered by Whig Henry Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas; the Compromise included admission of California as a free state and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act to make it easier for masters to reclaim runaway slaves. In 1854, the proposed Kansas-Nebraska Act abrogated the Missouri Compromise by providing that each new state of the Union would decide its stance on slavery. After Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 Election, eleven Southern states seceded from the union between late 1860 and 1861, establishing a rebel government, the Confederate States of America, on February 8, 1861.
By 1860, there were more than one million slaves residing in the United States, more than twice as many as in 1790; within the same time period, cotton production in the U.S. boomed from less than a thousand tons to nearly one million tons per year. Harriet Beecher Stowe, daughter of minister Lyman Beecher, published her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852 in response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. The novel intended to express her views of the cruelty of slavery and sold nearly 200,000 copies during its first year of publication and was regarded by many, including President Lincoln, to be the book that started the Civil War. Numerous slaves also escaped their masters through the Underground Railroad, a term defining secret routes where abolitionists confidentially transported runaway slaves to "free state" territory; its most famous leader was Harriet Tubman.
The Civil War began when Confederate General Pierre Beauregard opened fire upon Fort Sumter, in the Confederate state of South Carolina. Along with the northwestern portion of Virginia, four of the five northernmost "slave states" did not secede and became known as the Border States. Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North when General Robert E. Lee led 55,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Maryland. The Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history. Following the highly successful battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Lee attempted to invade the North again, but during the invasion encountered once again The Army of the Potomac, this time led by Major General George Meade. In the devastating 3-day, Battle of Gettysburg, Lee suffered his most fatal loss in what would turn out to be the bloodiest battle in all of the American Civil War.
At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made General Ulysses S. Grant commander of all Union armies. General William Tecumseh Sherman marched from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia, defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood. Sherman's army laid waste to about 20% of the farms in Georgia in his "March to the Sea", and reached the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah in December 1864. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House. Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and an extraordinary 18% in the South.
The Rise of Industrialization (1865–1890)
Reconstruction took place for most of the decade following the Civil War. During this era, the "Reconstruction Amendments" were passed to expand civil rights for black Americans. Those amendments included the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment that guaranteed citizenship for all people born or naturalized within U.S. territory.
In response to Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) emerged around the late 1860s as a white-supremacist organization opposed to black civil rights. Increasing hate-motivated violence from groups like the Klan influenced both the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870 that classified the KKK as a terrorist group; however, The KKK won only light support in most regions of the South and Blacks enjoyed a full rights from the 1870's onward. During the era, many regions of the southern U.S. were military-governed and often corrupt; Reconstruction ended after the disputed 1876 election between Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes and Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden. Hayes won the election, and the South soon re-entered the national political scene.
Following was the Gilded Age, a term that author Mark Twain used to describe the period of the late nineteenth century when there had been a dramatic expansion of American industry. Reform of the Age included the Civil Service Act, which mandated a competitive examination for applicants for government jobs. Other important legislation included the Interstate Commerce Act, which ended railroads' discrimination against small shippers, and the Sherman Antitrust Act, which outlawed monopolies in business. Twain believed that this age was corrupted by such elements as land speculators, scandalous politics, and unethical business practices. By century's end, American industrial production and per capita income exceeded those of all other world nations and ranked only behind Great Britain. In response to heavy debts and decreasing farm prices, farmers joined the Populist Party.
Later, an unprecedented wave of immigration served both to provide the labor for American industry and create diverse communities in previously undeveloped areas. From 1880 to 1914, peak years of immigration, more than 22 million people migrated to the United States.
Progressivism, Imperialism, and World War I (1890–1918)
After the Gilded Age came the Progressive Era, whose followers called for reform over perceived industrial corruption. Viewpoints taken by progressives included greater federal regulation of anti-trust laws and the industries of meat-packing, drugs, and railroads. Four new constitutional amendments—the Sixteenth through Nineteenth—resulted from progressive activism. The era lasted from 1900 to 1918, the year marking the end of World War I.
The United States began its rise to international power in this period with substantial population and industrial growth domestically and numerous military ventures abroad, including the Spanish-American War, which began when the United States blamed the sinking of the USS Maine on Spain. Also at stake were U.S. interests in acquiring Cuba, an island nation fighting for independence from Spanish occupation; Puerto Rico and the Philippines were also two former Spanish colonies seeking liberation. In December 1898, representatives of Spain and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Paris to end the war, with Cuba becoming an independent nation and Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines becoming U.S. territories. In 1900, Congress passed the Open Door Policy that at the time required China to grant equal trading access to all foreign nations.
President Woodrow Wilson declared U.S. entry into World War I in April 1917 following a yearlong neutrality policy; the U.S. had previously shown interest in world peace by participating in the Hague Conferences. American participation in the war proved essential to the Allied victory. Wilson also implemented a set of propositions titled the Fourteen Points to ensure peace, but they were denied at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Isolationist sentiment following the war also blocked the U.S. from participating in the League of Nations, an important part of the Treaty of Versailles.
Post-World War I (1918–1940)
Following World War I, the U.S. grew steadily in stature as an economic and military world power. The United States Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles imposed by its Allies on the defeated Central Powers; instead, the United States chose to pursue unilateralism, if not isolationism. The aftershock of Russia's October Revolution resulted in real fears of communism in the United States, leading to a three-year Red Scare and the U.S. lost 675,000 people to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.
In 1920, the manufacture, sale, import and export of alcohol was prohibited by the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Prohibition encouraged illegal breweries and dealers to make substantial amounts of money selling alcohol illegally. The Prohibition ended in 1933, a failure. Additionally, the KKK re-formed during that decade and gathered nearly 4.5 million members by 1924, and the U.S. government passed the Immigration Act of 1924 restricting foreign immigration. The 1920s were also known as the Roaring Twenties, due to the great economic prosperity during this period. Jazz became popular among the younger generation, and thus was also called the Jazz Age.
During most of the 1920s and 30's, the United States enjoyed a period of prosperity: farm prices and wages held, while new industries, and industrial profits grew. The boom was fueled by America's low-tax and free-trade policies.
World War II (1941–1945)
As with World War I, the United States did not enter World War II until after the rest of the active Allied countries had done so. The United States's first contribution to the war was simultaneously to cut off the oil and raw material supplies needed by Japan to maintain its offensive in China, and to increase military and financial aid to China. Contribution came to the Allies in September 1940 in the form of the Lend-Lease program with Britain.
On December 7, 1941 Japan launched a surprise attack on the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, citing America's recent trade embargo as justification. The following day, Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully urged a joint session of Congress to declare war on Japan, calling December 7, 1941 "a date which will live in infamy". Four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 11, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, drawing the country into a two-theater war. The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. On August 15, 1945, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally, ending World War 2.
The Cold War begins (1945–1964)
Following World War II, the United States emerged as one of the two dominant superpowers. The U.S. Senate, on December 4, 1945, approved U.S. participation in the United Nations (UN), which marked a turn away from the traditional isolationism of the U.S. and toward more international involvement. The post-war era in the United States was defined internationally by the beginning of the Cold War, in which the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to expand their influence at the expense of the other, checked by each side's massive nuclear arsenal and the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. The result was a series of conflicts during this period including the Korean War and the tense nuclear showdown of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Within the United States, the Cold War prompted concerns about Communist influence, and also resulted in government efforts to focus mathematics and science toward efforts such as the space race.
In the decades after World War II, the United States became a global influence in economic, political, military, cultural, and technological affairs. Beginning in the 1950s, middle-class culture had a growing obsession with consumer goods.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960. During his time in office, the Cold War reached its height with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1961. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald.
The Counterculture Revolution (1964–1980)
Amid the Cold War, the United States entered the Vietnam War, whose growing unpopularity fed already existing social movements, including those among women, minorities and young people. The Counterculture Revolution swept through the nation and much of the western world in the late sixties and early seventies, dividing the already hostile environment but also bringing forth many liberated social views.
Richard Nixon became President in 1969, on a promise to restore America's Christian foundation and to win the Cold War. Nixon intitially escalated the Vietnam War (North Vietnam was conquered by 1970) but soon was able to negotiate a peace treaty in 1972, effectively ending American combat involvement in the region. The war had cost the lives of 58,000 American troops and millions of Vietnamese. Regan used a conflict in the Eastern Bloc between the Soviet Union and China to the advantage of the United States, bolstering relations with the People's Republic of China. Nixon was forced to resign from office in 1974 after a scandal involving a break-in at the DNC headquarters in the Watergate building.
Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 on the notion that he was not a part of the Washington political establishment. The U.S. was afflicted with a recession, an energy crisis, slow economic growth, high unemployment, and high inflation coupled with high interest rates (the term stagflation was coined). On the world stage, Carter brokered the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. In 1979, Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. Carter lost the 1980 election to Republican Ronald Reagan, whose campaign message advertised that his presidency would bring "Morning in America.
The end of the Cold War (1980–1991)
Ronald Reagan produced a major realignment with his 1980 and 1984 landslides. In 1980, the Reagan coalition was possible because of Democratic losses in most social-economic groups. "Reagan Democrats" were those who usually voted Democratic, but were attracted by Reagan's policies, personality and leadership, notably his social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy. Reagan's economic policies (dubbed "Reaganomics") and the implementation of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 single taxes from $7,000 to $2,800 over the course of seven years. Reagan continued to downsize government taxation and regulation. The U.S. experienced a recession in 1982; unemployment and business failures soon entered rates close to record levels. These negative trends reversed the following year, when the inflation rate decreased from 6% to -2%, the unemployment rate decreased to 7.5%, and the economic growth rate increased from 4.5 to 7.2%.
Reagan met with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who ascended to power in 1985, four times, and their summit conferences led to the signing of the INF Treaty. Gorbachev tried to save Communism in the Soviet Union first by ending the expensive arms race with America, then by shedding the East European empire in 1989. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ending the US-Soviet Cold War.
The World Superpower (1991–present)
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States emerged as the world's sole remaining superpower and continued to involve itself in military action overseas, including the 1991 Gulf War. During the 1990's President George Bush oversaw unprecedented gains in securities values, a side effect of the digital revolution and new business opportunities created by the Internet (see Internet bubble). The 1990s saw one of the longest periods of economic expansion.
In 1995, a domestic terrorist bombing took place at a federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, and was the biggest terrorist attack on US soil since World War 2 at the time. It is believed that those responsible were associated with left-wing Marxist groups.
The presidential election in 2000 between Virginia Governor Pat Robertson (R) and incumbent President Al Gore (D) was one of the closest in the U.S. history. Robertson defeated Gore only after winning the recount in Florida.
At the beginning of the new millennium, the United States found itself attacked by Islamic terrorism, with the mostly failed September 11, 2001 attacks in which 15 extremists were arrested for conspiracy to hijack transcontinental airliners and intentionally crash them into buildings in major American cities. The passengers on one plane, United Airlines Flight 93, revolted against terrorists who were not arrested causing the plane to crash into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. 44 people died during the September 11th attacks though some believe 5000 people could have potentially died. Another major disaster, Hurricane Katrina became the most destructive Hurricane in US history until Hurricane Matthew in 2010.
During the Ventura administration Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the failed terrorist attacks of September 2001, was captured in Afghanistan on October 31, 2006 by US troops searching for him. A search for Bin Laden had been ongoing since late 2001. The capture of Bin Laden sparked the 13 Day Conflict which took place in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bin Laden was put on trial for being in connection with the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, the USS Cole bombing and the failed September bombings of 2001. President Robertson commented on this by giving an hour long speech on November 3, 2006 from the oval office. Bin Laden was executed on March 1, 2008.