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US History: Declaration of Independence The adventure of America’s history began in the context of the colonizing spirit that swept through Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. In regard to the colonization of the U.S., Queen Elizabeth set the stage in 1578 when she granted explorers permission to discover and occupy the New World. One of the most important explorers was Sir Walter Raleigh, who in 1584 ventured into what is now the region of Roanoke, Virginia. Raleigh opened the doors for future colonists.

Until 1620, the colonial efforts were entirely motivated by secular and economic reasons. But when the famous ship called the Mayflower arrived in December of that year at what is now the state of Massachusetts, the motivations became much more religious. The Mayflower colonists were Puritans who refused to accept the impositions and corruptions of the Church of England. They went to America to escape England, a community in pursuit of religious freedom. Unlike so many other colonial efforts around the New World, which sought only to extract riches from the land for European treasuries, these people came to build a new nation and to invest in a new life. They wanted to build not only a better religious system, but also a better secular government that would be controlled by the people and not a king.

Eventually, the American colonies would fight for independence from British control. The first fighting of the American Revolution broke out in 1775. Then, in 1776, men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin would write an official Declaration of Independence. By 1783, the American militias led by George Washington would win the war and make the paper declaration a political reality. The United States was no longer a group of 13 British colonies, but an independent nation. The first half of the 1800s was characterized by increased economic growth and territorial expansion. Much of this economic growth happened with the help of slave labor, especially in the southern cotton fields. Territorial expansion toward the west also generated more conflicts with Native Americans. As a whole, the nation made large economic advances in agriculture, transportation and communications. Universities became strong centers of intellectual and scientific advancement.

Throughout the early years of the U.S., there had always been a moral conflict over slavery. For example, Samuel Adams, the nation’s second president, fought strongly against slavery. He and others with strong Christian convictions, spoke out against slavery. But it wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln took power that slavery was finally abolished.



US Civil War American Civil War

The issue of slavery nearly divided the United States into two separate nations. And it was the main reason for the American Civil War (1861-1865). The war was fought between the northern and southern states, with the north standing against slavery and the south attempting to sustain a slave-based economy. The north was victorious, slavery was abolished, and the Union was held together. But more than 620,000 soldiers on both sides of the conflict had died.

A new revolution happened in America at the start of the 20th century—the Industrial Revolution. Westward expansion continued through the end of the 19th century, but industrialization gained steam in the east and mid-west. Steel and clothing industries, railroads and mass communication, mega-cities like New York and Chicago, car manufacturing and the rise of the petroleum industry—all this produced and economic boom in America. The U.S. was now becoming an economic super-power.

20th Century

At this same time, large numbers of immigrants from Europe flowed into the U.S., many of them arriving at New York City. All of them hoped for a brighter economic future than they could find in Europe. The increased ethnic diversity in the U.S. created enormous changes in art, music, and literature. Despite the diversity, the U.S. became known as a “giant melting pot” because most people wanted to become Americans.

During the 1920s, after American soldiers returned from World War I, the United States experienced tremendous economic prosperity. But in October 1929, Wall Street crashed setting off the worst economic disaster in U.S. history. The Great Depression, as it is called, lasted for a decade. Millions of men and women became destitute.

As the Depression continued, Europe became entangled by World War II when, in 1939, Germany invaded Poland. The U.S. remained neutral in the conflict at first. Then, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. joined to help England and its allies.

As the war raged on, scientists in the U.S. were in a race with Germany to develop the atomic bomb. Fear of Hitler having an atomic bomb combined with the fact that millions and millions of people had died in the war, President Harry Truman made the decision to use the new weapon in hopes of ending the war. On August 1, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then, on August 9, another was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The nuclear era was born.

US flag on the moon Moon race

Two superpower nations emerged after World War II—the United States and the Soviet Union. With the emergence of nuclear weapons, these two powers would remain locked in what was called the Cold War for the next four decades. After the war, the U.S. entered another long phase of economic prosperity, scientific development and technological advancement. Efforts to end racism and to establish civil rights for minorities gained strength, but not without internal conflict and rioting. The U.S. and Soviet space-race put men on the moon. The U.S. entered into wars in Korea and Vietnam, both of which were disastrous for all involved. Culturally, Americans began to break away from long-held conservative family traditions, giving way to increased divorce rates, rock music, hippie movements, and a drug epidemic.

In recent years, the U.S. has helped generate globalization and economic expansion. American corporations have become dominant influences around the world, sometimes having more power than the government itself. But following the events in New York on September 11, 2001, the Iraq War and the present economic crisis, many believe that U.S. power and influence is diminishing. Whatever happens, British historian Paul Johnson, in his book A History of the American People, says that “no other national story holds such tremendous lessons, for the American people themselves and for the rest of mankind.”

Author: Glenn McMahan




 


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US History : Articles About USA