Indigenous peoples and pre-Columbian history
The first inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge and arrived at least 15,000 years ago, though increasing evidence suggests an even earlier arrival. After crossing the land bridge, the first Americans moved southward, either along the Pacific coast or through an interior ice-free corridor between the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets. The Clovis culture appeared around 11,000 BC, and it is considered to be an ancestor of most of the later indigenous cultures of the Americas. While the Clovis culture was thought, throughout the late 20th century, to represent the first human settlement of the Americas, in recent years consensus has changed in recognition of pre-Clovis cultures.
Over time, indigenous cultures in North America grew increasingly complex, and some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture in the southeast, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. From approximately 800 to 1600 AD the Mississippian culture flourished, and its largest city Cahokia is considered the largest, most complex pre-Columbian archaeological site in the modern-day United States. In the southern Great Lakes region, the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) was established at some point between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, lasting until the end of the Revolutionary War.
The date of the first settlements of the Hawaiian Islands is a topic of continuing debate. Archaeological evidence seems to indicate a settlement as early as 124 AD. During his third and final voyage, Captain James Cook became the first European to begin formal contact with Hawaii. After his initial landfall in January 1778 at Waimea harbour, Kauai, Cook named the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" after the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the acting First Lord of the Admiralty of the British Royal Navy.
After Spain sent Columbus on his first voyage to the New World in 1492, other explorers followed. The first Europeans to arrive in territory of the modern United States were Spanish conquistadors such as Juan Ponce de León, who made his first visit to Florida in 1513; however, if unincorporated territories are accounted for, then credit would go to Christopher Columbus who landed in Puerto Rico on his 1493 voyage. Spanish set up the first settlements in Florida and New Mexico such as Saint Augustine and Santa Fe. The French established their own as well along the Mississippi River. Successful English settlement on the eastern coast of North America began with the Virginia Colony in 1607 at Jamestown and the Pilgrims' Plymouth Colony in 1620. Many settlers were dissenting Christian groups who came seeking religious freedom. The continent's first elected legislative assembly, Virginia's House of Burgesses created in 1619, the Mayflower Compact, signed by the Pilgrims before disembarking, and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, established precedents for the pattern of representative self-government and constitutionalism that would develop throughout the American colonies.
Most settlers in every colony were small farmers, but other industries developed within a few decades as varied as the settlements. Cash crops included tobacco, rice and wheat. Extraction industries grew up in furs, fishing and lumber. Manufacturers produced rum and ships, and by the late colonial period Americans were producing one-seventh of the world's iron supply. Cities eventually dotted the coast to support local economies and serve as trade hubs. English colonists were supplemented by waves of Scotch-Irish and other groups. As coastal land grew more expensive, freed indentured servants pushed further west.
A large-scale slave trade with English privateers was begun. The life expectancy of slaves was much higher in North America than further south, because of less disease and better food and treatment, leading to a rapid increase in the numbers of slaves. Colonial society was largely divided over the religious and moral implications of slavery and colonies passed acts for and against the practice. But by the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were replacing indentured servants for cash crop labor, especially in southern regions.
With the British colonization of Georgia in 1732, the 13 colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. With extremely high birth rates, low death rates, and steady settlement, the colonial population grew rapidly. Relatively small Native American populations were eclipsed. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty.
During the Seven Years' War (in America, known as the French and Indian War), British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans, who were being conquered and displaced, the 13 British colonies had a population of over 2.1 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain. Despite continuing new arrivals, the rate of natural increase was such that by the 1770s only a small minority of Americans had been born overseas. The colonies' distance from Britain had allowed the development of self-government, but their success motivated monarchs to periodically seek to reassert royal authority.
In 1774 the Spanish Navy ship Santiago, under Juan Pérez had entered and anchored in the inlet at Nootka Sound. Although the Spanish did not land, natives paddled to the ship to trade furs for abalone shells from California. At the time, the Spanish were able to monopolize the trade between Asia and North America, granting limited licenses to the Portuguese. When the Russians began establishing a growing fur trading system in Alaska the Spanish began to challenge the Russians, with Pérez's voyage being the first of many to the Pacific Northwest.
After having arrived in the Hawaiian islands in 1778, Captain Cook sailed north and then north-east to explore the west coast of North America north of the Spanish settlements in Alta California. He made landfall on the Oregon coast at approximately 44°30′ north latitude, naming his landing point Cape Foulweather. Bad weather forced his ships south to about 43° north before they could begin their exploration of the coast northward. In March 1778, Cook landed on Bligh Island and named the inlet "King George's Sound". He recorded that the native name was Nutka or Nootka, apparently misunderstanding his conversations at Friendly Cove/Yuquot; his informant may have been explaining that he was on an island (itchme nutka, a place you can "go around"). There may also have been confusion with Nuu-chah-nulth, the natives' autonym (name for themselves). It may also have simply been based on Cook’s mispronunciation of Yuquot, the native name of the place.
Effects on and interaction with native populations
With the progress of European colonization in the territories of the contemporary United States, the Native Americans were often conquered and displaced. The native population of America declined after Europeans arrived, and for various reasons, primarily diseases such as smallpox and measles. Violence was not a significant factor in the overall decline among Native Americans, though conflict among themselves and with Europeans affected specific tribes and various colonial settlements.
In the early days of colonization, many European settlers were subject to food shortages, disease, and attacks from Native Americans. Native Americans were also often at war with neighboring tribes and allied with Europeans in their colonial wars. At the same time, however, many natives and settlers came to depend on each other. Settlers traded for food and animal pelts, natives for guns, ammunition and other European wares. Natives taught many settlers where, when and how to cultivate corn, beans and squash. European missionaries and others felt it was important to "civilize" the Native Americans and urged them to adopt European agricultural techniques and lifestyles.
Captain James Cook's last voyage included sailing along the coast of North America and Alaska searching for a Northwest Passage for approximately nine months. He returned to the Hawaii to resupply, initially exploring the coasts of Maui and the big island, trading with locals and then making anchor at Kealakekua Bay in January 1779. When his ships and company left the islands, a ship's mast broke in bad weather, forcing them to return in mid-February. Cook would be killed days later.
Independence and expansion (1776–1865)
The American Revolutionary War was the first successful colonial war of independence against a European power. Americans had developed an ideology of "republicanism" asserting that government rested on the will of the people as expressed in their local legislatures. They demanded their rights as Englishmen and "no taxation without representation". The British insisted on administering the empire through Parliament, and the conflict escalated into war.
Following the passage of the Lee Resolution, on July 2, 1776, which was the actual vote for independence, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, which proclaimed, in a long preamble, that humanity is created equal in their unalienable rights and that those rights were not being protected by Great Britain, and declared, in the words of the resolution, that the Thirteen Colonies were independent states and had no allegiance to the British crown in the United States. The fourth day of July is celebrated annually as Independence Day. The Second Continental Congress declared on September 9 "where, heretofore, the words 'United Colonies' have been used, the stile be altered for the future to the 'United States' ". In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak government that operated until 1789.
Britain recognized the independence of the United States following their defeat at Yorktown in 1781. In the peace treaty of 1783, American sovereignty was recognized from the Atlantic coast west to the Mississippi River. Nationalists led the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in writing the United States Constitution, ratified in state conventions in 1788. The federal government was reorganized into three branches, on the principle of creating salutary checks and balances, in 1789. George Washington, who had led the revolutionary army to victory, was the first president elected under the new constitution. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.
Although the federal government criminalized the international slave trade in 1808, after 1820, cultivation of the highly profitable cotton crop exploded in the Deep South, and along with it, the slave population. The Second Great Awakening, especially 1800–1840, converted millions to evangelical Protestantism. In the North, it energized multiple social reform movements, including abolitionism; in the South, Methodists and Baptists proselytized among slave populations.
Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of American Indian Wars. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory in 1803 almost doubled the nation's area. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. Expansion was aided by steam power, when steamboats began traveling along America's large water systems, which were connected by new canals, such as the Erie and the I&M; then, even faster railroads began their stretch across the nation's land.
From 1820 to 1850, Jacksonian democracy began a set of reforms which included wider white male suffrage; it led to the rise of the Second Party System of Democrats and Whigs as the dominant parties from 1828 to 1854. The Trail of Tears in the 1830s exemplified the Indian removal policy that resettled Indians into the west on Indian reservations. The U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845 during a period of expansionist Manifest destiny. The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest. Victory in the Mexican–American War resulted in the 1848 Mexican Cession of California and much of the present-day American Southwest.
The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 spurred western migration and the creation of additional western states. After the American Civil War, new transcontinental railways made relocation easier for settlers, expanded internal trade and increased conflicts with Native Americans. Over a half-century, the loss of the American bison (sometimes called "buffalo") was an existential blow to many Plains Indians cultures. In 1869, a new Peace Policy sought to protect Native-Americans from abuses, avoid further war, and secure their eventual U.S. citizenship, although conflicts, including several of the largest Indian Wars, continued throughout the West into the 1900s.
Civil War and Reconstruction Era
Differences of opinion over social order between northern and southern states in early United States society, particularly regarding the slavery of Africans and African Americans, ultimately led to the American Civil War. Initially, states entering the Union alternated between slave and free states, keeping a sectional balance in the Senate, while free states outstripped slave states in population and in the House of Representatives. But with additional western territory and more free-soil states, tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over federalism and disposition of the territories, whether and how to expand or restrict slavery.
With the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the first president from the largely anti-slavery Republican Party, conventions in thirteen slave states ultimately declared secession and formed the Confederate States of America, while the federal government maintained that secession was illegal. The ensuing war was at first for Union, then after 1863 as casualties mounted and Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, a second war aim became abolition of slavery. The war remains the deadliest military conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 618,000 soldiers as well as many civilians.
Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution: the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment provided citizenship to the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves, and the Fifteenth Amendment ensured that they had the right to vote. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves.
Southern white conservatives, calling themselves "Redeemers" took control after the end of Reconstruction. By the 1890–1910 period Jim Crow laws disenfranchised most blacks and some poor whites. Blacks faced racial segregation, especially in the South. Racial minorities occasionally experienced vigilante violence.
Further immigration, expansion, and industrialization
In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe supplied a surplus of labor for the country's industrialization and transformed its culture. National infrastructure including telegraph and transcontinental railroads spurred economic growth and greater settlement and development of the American Old West. The later invention of electric light and the telephone would also affect communication and urban life.
The end of the Indian Wars further expanded acreage under mechanical cultivation, increasing surpluses for international markets. Mainland expansion was completed by the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. In 1893, pro-American elements in Hawaii overthrew the monarchy and formed the Republic of Hawaii, which the U.S. annexed in 1898. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were ceded by Spain in the same year, following the Spanish–American War.
Rapid economic development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries fostered the rise of many prominent industrialists. Tycoons like Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie led the nation's progress in railroad, petroleum, and steel industries. Banking became a major part of the economy, with J. P. Morgan playing a notable role. Edison and Tesla undertook the widespread distribution of electricity to industry, homes, and for street lighting. Henry Ford revolutionized the automotive industry. The American economy boomed, becoming the world's largest, and the United States achieved great power status. These dramatic changes were accompanied by social unrest and the rise of populist, socialist, and anarchist movements. This period eventually ended with the advent of the Progressive Era, which saw significant reforms in many societal areas, including women's suffrage, alcohol prohibition, regulation of consumer goods, greater antitrust measures to ensure competition and attention to worker conditions.
World War I, Great Depression, and World War II
The United States remained neutral from the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, until 1917 when it joined the war as an "associated power", alongside the formal Allies of World War I, helping to turn the tide against the Central Powers. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson took a leading diplomatic role at the Paris Peace Conference and advocated strongly for the U.S. to join the League of Nations. However, the Senate refused to approve this, and did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles that established the League of Nations.
In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage. The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of radio for mass communication and the invention of early television. The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, which included the establishment of the Social Security system. The Great Migration of millions of African Americans out of the American South began before World War I and extended through the 1960s; whereas the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s impoverished many farming communities and spurred a new wave of western migration.
At first effectively neutral during World War II while Germany conquered much of continental Europe, the United States began supplying material to the Allies in March 1941 through the Lend-Lease program. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting the United States to join the Allies against the Axis powers. During the war, the United States was referred as one of the "Four Policemen" of Allies power who met to plan the postwar world, along with Britain, the Soviet Union and China. Though the nation lost more than 400,000 soldiers, it emerged relatively undamaged from the war with even greater economic and military influence.
The United States played a leading role in the Bretton Woods and Yalta conferences with the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and other Allies, which signed agreements on new international financial institutions and Europe's postwar reorganization. As an Allied victory was won in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war. The United States developed the first nuclear weapons and used them on Japan in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; causing the Japanese to surrender on September 2, ending World War II. Parades and celebrations followed in what is known as Victory Day, or V-J Day.
Cold War and civil rights era
After World War II the United States and the Soviet Union jockeyed for power during what became known as the Cold War, driven by an ideological divide between capitalism and communism and, according to the school of geopolitics, a divide between the maritime Atlantic and the continental Eurasian camps. They dominated the military affairs of Europe, with the U.S. and its NATO allies on one side and the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies on the other. The U.S. developed a policy of containment towards the expansion of communist influence. While the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in proxy wars and developed powerful nuclear arsenals, the two countries avoided direct military conflict.
The United States often opposed Third World movements that it viewed as Soviet-sponsored. American troops fought communist Chinese and North Korean forces in the Korean War of 1950–53. The Soviet Union's 1957 launch of the first artificial satellite and its 1961 launch of the first manned spaceflight initiated a "Space Race" in which the United States became the first nation to land a man on the moon in 1969. A proxy war in Southeast Asia eventually evolved into full American participation, as the Vietnam War.
At home, the U.S. experienced sustained economic expansion and a rapid growth of its population and middle class. Construction of an Interstate Highway System transformed the nation's infrastructure over the following decades. Millions moved from farms and inner cities to large suburban housing developments. In 1959 Hawaii became the 50th and last U.S. state added to the country. The growing Civil Rights Movement used nonviolence to confront segregation and discrimination, with Martin Luther King Jr. becoming a prominent leader and figurehead. A combination of court decisions and legislation, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1968, sought to end racial discrimination. Meanwhile, a counterculture movement grew which was fueled by opposition to the Vietnam war, black nationalism, and the sexual revolution.
The launch of a "War on Poverty" expanded entitlements and welfare spending, including the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that provide health coverage to the elderly and poor, respectively, and the means-tested Food Stamp Program and Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
The 1970s and early 1980s saw the onset of stagflation. After his election in 1980, President Ronald Reagan responded to economic stagnation with free-market oriented reforms. Following the collapse of détente, he abandoned "containment" and initiated the more aggressive "rollback" strategy towards the USSR. After a surge in female labor participation over the previous decade, by 1985 the majority of women aged 16 and over were employed.
The late 1980s brought a "thaw" in relations with the USSR, and its collapse in 1991 finally ended the Cold War. This brought about unipolarity with the U.S. unchallenged as the world's dominant superpower. The concept of Pax Americana, which had appeared in the post-World War II period, gained wide popularity as a term for the post-Cold War new world order.
After the Cold War, the conflict in the Middle East triggered a crisis in 1990, when Iraq under Sadaam Hussein invaded and attempted to annex Kuwait, an ally of the United States. Fearing that the instability would spread to other regions, President George H.W. Bush launched Operation Desert Shield, a defensive force buildup in Saudi Arabia, and Operation Desert Storm, in a staging titled the Gulf War; waged by coalition forces from 34 nations, led by the United States against Iraq ending in the successful expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, restoring the former monarchy.
Originating in U.S. defense networks, the Internet spread to international academic networks, and then to the public in the 1990s, greatly affecting the global economy, society, and culture.
Due to the dot-com boom, stable monetary policy under Alan Greenspan, and reduced social welfare spending, the 1990s saw the longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history, ending in 2001. Beginning in 1994, the U.S. entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), linking 450 million people producing $17 trillion worth of goods and services. The goal of the agreement was to eliminate trade and investment barriers among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico by January 1, 2008. Trade among the three partners has soared since NAFTA went into force.
On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., killing nearly 3,000 people. In response, the United States launched the War on Terror, which included war in Afghanistan and the 2003–11 Iraq War. In 2007, the Bush administration ordered a major troop surge in the Iraq War, which successfully reduced violence and led to greater stability in the region.
Government policy designed to promote affordable housing, widespread failures in corporate and regulatory governance, and historically low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve led to the mid-2000s housing bubble, which culminated with the 2008 financial crisis, the largest economic contraction in the nation's history since the Great Depression. Barack Obama, the first African American and multiracial president, was elected in 2008 amid the crisis, and subsequently passed stimulus measures and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in an attempt to mitigate its negative effects and ensure there would not be a repeat of the crisis. The stimulus facilitated infrastructure improvements and a relative decline in unemployment. Dodd-Frank improved financial stability and consumer protection, although there is evidence it may have had a negative impact on small banks.
In 2010, the Obama administration passed the Affordable Care Act, which made the most sweeping reforms to the nation's healthcare system in nearly five decades, including mandates, subsidies and insurance exchanges. The law caused a significant reduction in the number and percentage of people without health insurance, with 24 million covered during 2016, but remains controversial due to its impact on healthcare costs, insurance premiums, and economic performance. Although the recession reached its trough in June 2009, voters remained frustrated with the slow pace of the economic recovery. The Republicans, who stood in opposition to Obama's policies, won control of the House of Representatives with a landslide in 2010 and control of the Senate in 2014.
American forces in Iraq were withdrawn in large numbers in 2009 and 2010, and the war in the region was declared formally over in December 2011. The withdrawal caused an escalation of sectarian insurgency, leading to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the successor of al-Qaeda in the region. In 2014, Obama announced a restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961. The next year, the United States as a member of the P5+1 countries signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement aimed to slow the development of Iran's nuclear program.