The United States of America. The land of opportunity and one of today’s most powerful countries in economy, military, and cultural influence. But how did it come to be this way? The United States of America has quite the history behind it from its first settlements to its wars and to untimely what it is today, this great nation of ours has been through many ups and downs but without American History there would be no America. There are so many events that have happened in the history of the United States that it is hard to pick and choose the most impactful ones to the development of this nation. So, with that being said here are just a few of the events that have been crucial to American History; early settlements, the expansion of slavery, the American Revolution, creation of government, Jeffersonian Democracy, the Market Revolution, western expansion, secession, the Civil War, and reconstruction. I think that James Baldwin said it best when he said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”
North American life for the early humans can ultimately be placed into three time periods. These time periods include the Paleo-Indians, the Archaic, and the pre-Columbian. Our journey starts between 10,000 to 15,000 years ago with the first American settlers, the Paleo-Indians. The true story of the first American settlers is questionable due to the finding of a 9,000-year-old skeleton but most scholars believe that the first settlers arrived in America by way of the Bering Strait. The migrant Paleo-Indians adapted based on the climate of the land so because of this these peoples had a wide range of languages, belief systems, and even diets. This now brings us to the Archaic peoples who were believed to of lived in North America sometime between 2,500 and 10,000 years ago. The most monumental part of this era is the fact that agriculture became a huge source of sustenance for these peoples. This establishment of agriculture allowed these people to develop a sedentary existence for the first time.
Now for the next group, we have the pre-Colombian peoples who lived in North America in 500 B.C.E to 1492 C.E. There are many groups of people that fit this time period such as the Inca, the Anasazi, the Mississippians, and many other tribes. These groups are most well-known for their governing capabilities, complex societies, scientific knowledge, and their artistic and architectural developments. North America in 1491 was home to so many different civilizations that with it came a lot of conflict. There were regional variations between the Northeast tribes, the Mid-Atlantic tribes, the Southeast tribes, the Prairie tribes, the High Plains tribes, the Southwest tribes, and the Northwest tribes. These peoples had their fair share of conflicts amongst each other but when the first Europeans began arriving in the 1600s they would have to learn to work together to protect their homelands.
Expansion of American Slavery:
The arrival of Europeans to North America brought many things with it but one of the biggest and most controversial was the immigration of nearly 250,000 African slaves between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Slavery in Europe began during the fifteenth century when the Portuguese began bartering for African slaves and being them into Europe as “living novelties.” One misconception about slavery at that time is that it was race-based. In fact, during the fifteenth century slavery was not race-based at all and is was just simply the most extreme form of unfree labor and that the New World was the only place where slavery was based on race.
The New World and the expansion of American slavery began in the late 1600s and continued for hundreds of years. The rise of American slavery was due to the fact that West African kingdoms were competing to supply slaves in order to receive European goods in a sort of trade system. There were three main reasons that the North American colonies transitioned from indentured servants to the use of African slaves. These reasons are as follows, servants simply just ran away because they blended in with the Europeans, servants died due to the wet climate, and they were released after their indenture had expired. This created a transition into the use of African slaves instead of indentured servants and would eventually lead to race being the determining factor of those who were perceived as worthy of “natural rights.”
The American Revolution was one of the most pivotal points in American History and is a huge staple of what it means to “be American.” This was a time of colonial revolt that eventually led to the independence of the United States from Great Britain. During this time Britain greatly underestimated the power and ability of the colonists and so they decided to “pick on the little guy.” There were many British acts that led to the American Revolution like the Sugar Act of 1764, the Quartering Act of 1765, and the Stamp Act. These acts provoked the colonists into action and first led to boycotts and rioting by the colonists. Britain didn’t get the hint and passed more acts like the Declaratory Act, the Restraining Act, and also the Townshend Acts.
The colonists had had enough and soon opposition began. Many events came about after this rise in opposition like the Boston Massacre, the Gaspee Incident, and the Boston Tea Party. Britain still did not get the hint and passed even more acts like The Tea Act, The Coercive Acts, and the Quebec Acts. By this point the colonists were pushed over the edge. Local militias began preparing for battle and they would no longer tolerate this kind of “infringements on their liberties.” The shot heard ’round the world would begin the fight for freedom between the American colonists and the British army. This long-fought war held many battles, successes, failures, and created a lot of impact on the future of the United States.
Creating a New Government:
By 1783, the fight for independence was officially over and with it came three immediate problems. The nation had created a large amount of debt, the nation now had a bunch of land to control in the West, and the nation had no way of governing itself. So, the main question was this, “Could Americans design a government able to provide liberty, but strong enough to protect that liberty?” While the American Revolution was in full swing 11 of the 13 states drafted their own state constitutions that included a Bill of Rights, limits on participation, and a separation of powers. In the absence of federal government, the Continental Congress drafted the Articles of Confederation to establish limits on the government’s authority and created a national citizenship.
The Articles of Confederation had any achievements but had way more weaknesses. The problem of foreign relations, the debt, and the ultimate failure of the Articles of Confederation led to the meeting of the Constitutional Convention and the drafting of the Constitution. The Constitution separated the powers into three branches; the executive, legislative, and judicial branches and outlined the powers of congress, the federal government and the states. After the Constitution was ratified, it led to many first for the United States like the first congress and the first president, George Washington. Lastly, the rise of this new government created a rise of two-party politics and would ultimately lead the United States to where it is today.
The Civil War:
The Civil War was an impending crisis and there were many events that lead to the long, bloody battle. One major issue was arguments over slavery in the new territory which led to the Wilmot Proviso, the “Free Soil” movement, and eventually the Compromise of 1850. Two other contributing factors were the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the death of the Second Two-Party System. The three major events that eventually catapulted the nation into war were the Dred Scott Controversy, John Brown’s Raid, and the Election of 1860. These three events led to the secession of the south and the beginning of the Civil War.
This war was four long years of bloody battles and the loss of so many lives on both sides. The north expected a quick victory and had three main advantages; more people, more materials, and more industry. The South had these three main advantages; the will to fight, the fact that it is easier to a fight a defensive battle, and a large number of talented military leaders. The Civil War had many wins and losses on both sides of the Union and Confederacy but the blood that was shed during the war was not worth it. The war had significant impacts on federal government, industry, American nationalism, women, religion, and philosophy.
The federal government’s attempts to resolve the issues resulting from the end of the Civil War. One of the first and most expansive concepts was the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau. This allowed ex-slaves to explore life and provided these men and women with education, food, medical care, and access to the justice system. There were also many political plans for reconstruction including Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plane and the Wade-Davis Bill. During this time, Lincoln was assassinated which led to a congressional reconstruction under the presidency of Andrew Johnson. The Radical Republican Congress took over the reconstruction and passed the Military Reconstruction Act and the Second Reconstruction Act which angered many people. Johnson tried to veto these measures but was overridden by Congress and he ultimately got impeached. The end of Reconstruction was ensured by three prominent reasons; northern indifference, southern recalcitrance, and national political ambivalence.
In conclusion, the history of the United States is one full of many interesting twists and turns and something that every American should be knowledgeable about. One thing about American History is that even though some of the events are controversial and some are hard to read about, without every event that happened the United States wouldn’t be what it is today. The events that have impacted the United States have created what we are today and the events that follow will continue to shape America. So, in closing this quote by John F. Kennedy perfectly expresses the history of the United States and is as follows, “American history is not something dead and over. It is always alive, always growing, always unfinished.”