History is as old as man is. It tells the story of humankind since the beginning of this planet. The subject can be compared to an old man who is thousands of years old, and who has witnessed the happenings in this world.
Therefore, the old man, with a memory full of wonderful things, sits down to inform us of everything he has witnessed throughout the ages he has been living. History is meant to instruct, that is, teach some lesson that can be political, moral, or religious. The history of the U.S. reveals a complicated interaction of social, political, and historical factors, which have shaped the nation to its present status.
The first people to live in the U.S., called the Paleo-Indians, came from Asia about fifteen thousand years ago. They crossed the Bering land bridge into present-day Alaska. These are the ancestors of the Native Americans in the United States. These people were hunter-gatherers and their influential cultural traits later developed and expanded across what is now the United States. For example, they influenced such cultures as Iroquois on North America and Piraha of South America, which later developed into civilizations.
The voyager, Christopher Columbus, was the first European to step on this land. He arrived in Puerto Rico in 1492 (Zinn, 2003). After creating a general awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere, the subsequent arrival of more European settlers started the colonial history of the U.S. Starting from the late sixteenth century, some European nations began to colonize eastern North America.
The thirteen English colonies were established in the early seventeenth century. The other European nations also established some communities across what would be known as the United States territory. The number of people residing in these colonies increased rapidly because of increased birth rates, decreased number of deaths, as well as the continued immigration of more Europeans and slaves from other parts of the world. During this time, religion served as a powerful influence for the residents of the U.S. territory.
This was especially evident among the Puritans in New England as well as the German sects in Pennsylvania. The First Great Awakening, which culminated in the mid-eighteenth century, was a time of major religious advances and it resulted in changes in the American colonial society and the way of life of the Americans.
By the mid-eighteenth century, the colonies had realized a standard of living that was almost equal to the one in Britain. The thirteen colonies were self-governing. Majority of the freemen had their plantations and were allowed to vote for the colonial legislation. The colonies also had local legislatures and judges for dispensing justice in the land.
However, this situation changed when the colonialists started oppressing the locals. The British wanted the Americans to pay taxes even though there was not even one parliamentary representative for all the thirteen colonies. The colonialists wanted to impose the stamp act. The colonies, led by Samuel Adams, successfully forced the British to repeal these taxes by threatening the tax collectors. Besides, the British continued their oppression by imposing a tax on essential imported goods such as tea and paper.
Although there were spirited attempts from the Americans to gain freedom, the British used forceful means to continue their oppressive rule, for example, the fierce killing of five people during the Boston Massacre and the enactment of the Tea Act that forced locals to purchase tea only from accredited British companies. The reason for this oppression was not money since the tax rate was minimal. However, the issue was who was in control since London wanted to shut down the local system of self-government.
Because of these intolerable acts, the war started in April 1775. Consequently, the colonies drove out all the royal officials and established their own governments. General George Washington led the American Revolution, which escalated into all-out of war until July 1776 when the new nation declared independence as the United States of America (Faragher, 2007).
Since the new national government was not that strong, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 resulted in the ratification of the Constitution of the United States one year later. A federal government was then established, which was based on the principle of republicanism, civic duty, and individual rights from any federal interference as stipulated in the Bill of Rights. The new government led by President George Washington became fully functional in 1789.
The Washington administration established a strong economic system, which was proposed by Alexander Hamilton. The new economic policies made the country to settle wartime debts and establish a national bank. More emphasis was also put on seeking economic growth based on trade, more than agriculture. To support this economic system, Hamilton established the Federalist Party. Consequently, the Jay Treaty of 1795 established trade relations between the U.S. and Great Britain.
Thomas Jefferson, who was opposing Hamilton’s policies, feared that the British influence would weaken republicanism in the country. Therefore, he formed an opposition party, called the First Party System, and when he became the president in 1800, he tried to coerce the British to recognize America’s neutral rights.
When his efforts failed, the United States declared the War of 1812 against the British, which guaranteed America’s independence and its friendly relations with the British Empire. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which included all or part of the fourteen present U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, was a vital moment for the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.
The Second Great Awakening during the early nineteenth century led to the creation of many reform movements, including the escalation of the tensions between the South and the North for the abolition of slavery. The American civil war, which started with the attack of Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861, and climaxed when the Confederates admitted defeat in April 1865, is considered as one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the U.S. The occurrence of the civil war can be traced to at least five root causes.
These are the long-term economic and social differences that existed between the North and the South, states versus federal rights, the battle that existed between slave and non-slave proponents, growth of the abolition movement, and the election of Abraham Lincoln as the sixteenth president of the U.S.
As devastating as the civil war was, however, after the war, the nation was reunified and the different views that the North and the South held about slavery since the enactment of the constitution in 1787 were resolved. Under the leadership of Republican Abraham Lincoln, the differences that had led to the war decisively shaped the reconstruction period of the country that took place up to 1877.
To this end, it is true to say that history is fun, especially when it is approached like a chicken stew instead of like a dose of medicine. Since our first conscious beginnings, humanity has had a yearning to discover where we all came from, what went before us, and how we got here. That instinctive, quizzical hunger is what has resulted in the penning down of the history of America.
Faragher, J. M. (2007). Out of many: a history of the American people, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ : Pearson Prentice Hall.
Zinn, H. (2003). A people’s history of the United States: 1492 –present. New York: Harper Collins.