History of the Early United States
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The history of the early United States began with the arrival of Native Americans in North America around 15,000 BCE. This seeded many indigenous cultures and an indigenous population that grew to some 115 million throughout the Americas at the time of contact with the West. But this thriving population was decimated in the 16th century when Spanish conquistadores brought deadly diseases to the New World, along with a wave of the European colonization that followed Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492. By the time of the Revolution in 1776, the American colonies contained 2.5 million people who lived along the Atlantic Coast. But revolutionary sentiment began to grow when the British government imposed a series of taxes. These were meant to defray its costs of defending the colonies against the French and their Indian allies. In imposing the Stamp Act, Britain rejected the colonists’ argument of “no taxation without representation.” In consequence, resistance to these taxes led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and Parliament responded with punitive measures. Then, fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts in 1775.
In 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared America’s independence. Led by George Washington, it won the Revolutionary War and created a new nation, albeit one with no central government. While the Articles of Confederation had established that government, it had no teeth: it could not collect taxes and had no executive officer. So, a convention wrote a new Constitution that was adopted in 1789 along with a Bill of Rights in 1791 to guarantee basic rights. With Washington as its first president and Alexander Hamilton as his advisor, a strong central government was created. What’s more, its purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 doubled the size of the new nation.
The idea of Manifest Destiny envisioned American expansion to the Pacific Coast. While the nation was large, it was an empty continent with just 4 million Americans living amongst a dwindling native American population. Westward expansion was driven by farmers’ and slave owners’ need for cheap land. And the expansion of slavery that accompanied it fueled political battles that were tentatively resolved by compromise. After slavery was abolished in all states north of the Mason–Dixon line, the South continued its practice of the “peculiar institution” to grow cotton. Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 and promised to halt the expansion of slavery. With that, seven Southern slave states seceded and formed the nucleus of the Confederacy. Soon afterwards, its attack in 1861 on Fort Sumter, a federal facility, started the Civil War. The defeat of the Confederates in 1865 brought the end of slavery. In the Reconstruction era after the war, the freed slaves were given the right to vote and other legal rights. But white southerners defied the government and enacted Jim Crow laws to maintain white supremacy. Indeed, terror groups like the Ku Klux Klan lynched blacks and even burned them at the stake. For many blacks, participation in American democracy and its freedoms remained largely hypothetical.
North American Colonies
1782 – 1800
1800 – 1815
1815 – 1830
1830 – 1850
1850 – 1860