The History of the United States
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History of the U.S.
Discover Amazing Americans
Pre-Columbian Era

Colonial America (1492-1763)

Revolutionary Period (1764-1789)

The New Nation (1790-1828)

Western Expansion & Reform (1829-1859)

Civil War (1860-1865)

Reconstruction (1866-1877)

Gilded Age (1878-1889)

Progressive Era (1890-1913)

Great War & Jazz Age (1914-1928)

Depression & WWII (1929-1945)

Modern Era (1946 - present)

State Histories


History of the United States

Trumbull's Declaration of IndependenceHistorians debate when to date the start of the history of the United States.  Older textbooks start with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and emphasize the European background, or they start in 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 American Indians.

Indigenous peoples live in what is now the United States for thousands of years and develope complex cultures before European colonists begin to arrive, mostly from England, after 1600. The Spanish have small settlements in Florida and the Southwest, and the French along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast.

By the 1770s, thirteen British colonies contain two and a half million people along the Atlantic coast east of the Appalachian Mountains. In the 1760s British government imposes a series of new taxes while rejecting the American argument that any new taxes has to be approved by the people. Tax resistance, especially the Boston Tea Party (1774), leads to punitive laws (the Intolerable Acts) by Parliament designed to end self-government in Massachusetts. American Patriots (as they are called at the time as a term of ridicule) adhere to a political ideology called republicanism that emphasized civic duty, virtue, and opposition to corruption, fancy luxuries and aristocracy.

All thirteen colonies unit in a Congress that calls on the colonies to write new state constitutions. After armed conflict begin in Massachusetts, Patriots drive the royal officials out of every colony and assemble in mass meetings and conventions. Those Patriot governments in the colonies then unanimously empower their delegates to Congress to declare independence. In 1776, Congress creates an independent nation, the United States of America.

With large-scale military and financial support from France and military leadership by General George Washington, the American Patriots win the Revolutionary War. The peace treaty of 1783 gives the new nation the land east of the Mississippi River (except Florida and Canada). The central government established by the Articles of Confederation proves ineffectual at providing stability, as it has no authority to collect taxes and has no executive officer. Congress calls a convention to meet secretly in Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation. It writes a new Constitution, which is adopted in 1789. In 1791, a Bill of Rights is 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 is created. When Thomas Jefferson becomes president he purchases the Louisiana Territory from France, doubling the size of the US. A second and last war with Britain is fought in 1812.

Encouraged by the notion of Manifest Destiny, federal territory expands all the way to the Pacific. The expansion is driven by a quest for inexpensive land for yeoman farmers and slave owners. The expansion of slavery is increasingly controversial and fueled political and constitutional battles, which are resolved by compromises. Slavery is abolished in all states north of the Mason–Dixon line by 1804, but the South continues to profit off the institution, producing high-value cotton exports to feed increasing high demand in Europe. The 1860 presidential election of Republican Abraham Lincoln is on a platform of ending the expansion of slavery and putting it on a path to extinction. Seven cotton-based deep South slave states secede and later found the Confederacy months before Lincoln's inauguration. No nation ever recognized the Confederacy, but it opens the war by attacking Fort Sumter in 1861. A surge of nationalist outrage in the North fuels a long, intense American Civil War (1861-1865). It is fought largely in the South as the overwhelming material and manpower advantages of the North proves decisive in a long war. The war's result is restoration of the Union, the impoverishment of the South, and the abolition of slavery.

In the Reconstruction era (1863–1877), legal and voting rights are extended to the freed slave. The national government emerges much stronger, and because of the Fourteenth Amendment, it gains the explicit duty to protect individual rights. However, when white Democrats regain their power in the South during the 1870s, often by paramilitary suppression of voting, they pass Jim Crow laws to maintain white supremacy, and new disfranchising constitutions that prevents most African Americans and many poor whites from voting, a situation that continues for decades until gains of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and passage of federal legislation to enforce constitutional rights.

The United States becomes 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 is completed with the work of Chinese immigrants and large-scale mining and factories industrialize the Northeast and Midwest. Mass dissatisfaction with corruption, inefficiency and traditional politics stimulate the Progressive movement, from the 1890s to 1920s, which leads to many social and political reforms. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees women's suffrage (right to vote). This follows the 16th and 17th amendments in 1909 and 1912, which establishes the first national income tax and direct election of US senators to Congress. Initially neutral during World War I, the US declares war on Germany in 1917 and later funds the Allied victory the following year. After a prosperous decade in the 1920s, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 marks the onset of the decade-long world-wide Great Depression. Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt ends the Republican dominance of the White House and implements his New Deal programs for relief, recovery, and reform. The New Deal, which defines modern American liberalism, includes 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 enters World War II along with Britain, the Soviet Union, and the smaller Allies. The U.S. finances the Allied war effort and helps defeat Nazi Germany in Europe and defeats Imperial Japan in the Pacific War by detonating newly invented atomic bombs on enemy targets.

The United States and the Soviet Union emerge as rival superpowers after World War II. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR confront with each other indirectly in the arms race, the Space Race, proxy wars, and propaganda campaigns. US foreign policy during the Cold War is built around the support of Western Europe and Japan along with the policy of "containment" or stopping the spread of communism. The US joins 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 is enacted by enforcing the constitutional rights of voting and freedom of movement to African-Americans and other racial minorities.

American Indians activism also rises. The Cold War ends when the Soviet Union officially dissolves in 1991, leaving the United States as the world's only superpower. As the 21st century begins, international conflict centers around the Middle East following the September 11 attacks by Al-Qaeda on he United States in 2001. In 2008, the United States has its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, which has been followed by slower than usual rates of economic growth during the 2010s.

Era in the History of the United States


  • Pre-Columbian era

  • Colonial period

  • 18th century

  • 4 American Revolution

  • Early years of the republic

  • 19th century

  • 20th century

  • 21st century

More US History


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