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American History
American History

The history of the United States of America written in simple English.
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Colonial Revolutionary New Nation Expansion Civil War
Reconstruction Gilded Age Progressive Great War Depression
Modern Era
Colonial America (1492-1763)

European nations came to the Americas to increase their wealth and broaden their influence over world affairs. The Spanish were among the first Europeans to explore the New World and the first to settle in what is now the United States. By 1650, however, England had established a dominant presence on the Atlantic coast. The first colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Many of the people who settled in the New World came to escape religious persecution. The Pilgrims, founders of Plymouth, Massachusetts, arrived in 1620. In both Virginia and Massachusetts, the colonists flourished with some assistance from Native Americans. New World grains such as corn kept the colonists from starving while, in Virginia, tobacco provided a valuable cash crop. By the early 1700s enslaved Africans made up a growing percentage of the colonial population. By 1770, more than 2 million people lived and worked in Great Britain's 13 North American colonies.

Read about Colonial America (1492-1763)
Revolutionary Period (1764-1789)

Defending the Colonies against attack by the French and others had cost the British a great deal of money. As a result, the British had very high taxes in their country. They thus decided to shift some of their financial burden to the colonists. The Stamp Act of 1765, which taxed all legal documents, newspapers and other documents, was met with a great uproar in the Colonies. In 1766, this tax was repealed, but it was just the beginning of the problems between the colonists and the British. The Boston Tea Party in 1773 was an act of revolt against the British and their tax on tea in the Colonies. Tensions such as these eventually led to the writing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. A year earlier, the War of Independence, also known as the American Revolution, began. When the British finally surrendered on October 19, 1781, Americans were officially independent of Britain and set about establishing their own government.

Read about The Revolutionary Period (1764-1789)
The New Nation (1790-1828)

During this time, Americans established their government and two parties emerged--the Federalists and the Republicans. Americans had a lot to deal with during this period. They had to struggle with the need to increase taxes to pay for the American Revolution as well as deal with the French Revolution which divided American support between France and Britain. Under President Jefferson, the country expanded westward with the purchase of the Louisiana territory and the Lewis and Clark expedition. The War of 1812 against Britain, sometimes called the Second War of American Independence, lasted three years. After the war, a mood of nationalism existed as people focused on events and issues at home. However, troubles were brewing, particularly on the topic of slavery.

Read about The New Nation (1790-1828)
Western Expansion and Reform (1829-1859)

Presidents Andrew Jackson, James Polk, and John Tyler, like many Americans of this time, embraced the notion of enlarging the "empire for liberty." In other words they wanted to expand the borders of America westward. While some pioneers headed west to California, others attempted to expand the idea of what "liberty" in America meant. Abolitionists opposed laws that kept African Americans enslaved, and advocates of women's suffrage argued that wives, mothers and daughters should play a more significant role in society by voting, holding office, and working outside the home.

Read about Western Expansion and Reform (1829-1859)
Civil War (1860-1865)

Conflict over issues of how much control the federal government should have over the states, industrialization, trade, and especially slavery had increased tension between Northern and Southern states. After Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, 11 Southern states seceded (or withdrew) from the Union and set up an independent government--the Confederate States of America. These events led to the outbreak of the Civil War--a brutal, bloody, four-year conflict that left the South defeated and ended slavery at the cost of more than half a million lives.

Read about The Civil War (1860-1865)
Reconstruction (1866-1877)

After the North defeated the South in the Civil War, politicians faced the task of putting the divided country back together. There was great debate about how severely the former Confederate states should be punished for leaving the Union. With the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, it was up to President Andrew Johnson to try to reunite former enemies. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 laid out the process for readmitting Southern states into the Union. The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) provided former slaves with national citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) granted black men the right to vote. These were only the first steps, however, toward reconstructing the fragmented nation.

Read about Reconstruction (1866-1877)
Gilded Age (1878-1889)

The growth of industry and a wave of immigrants marked this period in American history. The production of iron and steel rose dramatically and western resources like lumber, gold, and silver increased the demand for improved transportation. Railroad development boomed as trains moved goods from the resource-rich West to the East. Steel and oil were in great demand. All this industry produced a lot of wealth for a number of businessmen like John D. Rockefeller (in oil) and Andrew Carnegie (in steel), known as robber barons (people who got rich through ruthless business deals). The Gilded Age gets its name from the many great fortunes created during this period and the way of life this wealth supported.

Read about The Gilded Age (1878-1889)
Progressive Era (1890-1913)

In the 1890s, the belief that Americans should avoid getting involved with other countries was slowly fading. Because of its rapid economic and social growth, the U.S. had become a major world power. So when Cuban rebels began a violent revolution against Spanish rule in 1895, and a mysterious explosion sunk the U.S.S. Maine in the Havana harbor, the U.S. entered into what diplomat John Hay called "a splendid little war" with Spain. Although the Spanish-American War ended relatively soon, issues over ownership of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Hawaiian islands also had to be resolved.

Read about The Progressive Era (1890-1913)
Great War and Jazz Age (1914-1928)

Foreign affairs (relationships with other countries) took up a great deal of President Woodrow Wilson's attention. In Europe, there was the outbreak of World War I, also known as the Great War, in 1914, and in Mexico, there was the Mexican Revolution. Although at first Americans did not want to get involved, they supported the Allies in their fight against the Central Powers. Finally, the U.S. entered the war in 1917. The war concluded in 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. The Allied Powers of the U.S., Great Britain, Japan, Italy, Russia, France, Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro had been victorious. Back at home, young people were tired of the war. Women exercised their newly found freedom (having won the right to vote in 1920) and many whites took up an interest in African American culture. Harlem nightclubs thrived, spotlighting numerous artists such as jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

Read about The Great War and Jazz Age (1914-1928)
Depression and WWII (1929-1945)

October 29, 1929, was a dark day in history. "Black Tuesday" is the day that the stock market crashed, officially setting off the Great Depression. Unemployment skyrocketed--a quarter of the workforce was without jobs by 1933 and many people became homeless. President Herbert Hoover attempted to handle the crisis but he was unable to improve the situation. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president and he promised a "New Deal" for the American people. Congress created The Works Progress Administration (WPA) which offered work relief for thousands of people. The end to the Great Depression came about in 1941 with America's entry into World War II. America sided with Britain, France and the Soviet Union against Germany, Italy, and Japan. The loss of lives in this war was staggering. The European part of the war ended with Germany's surrender in May 1945. Japan surrendered in September 1945, after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Read about The Depression and WWII (1929-1945)
Modern Era (1946 - 2001)

The development and growth of the United States during this era was influenced by helping Europe recover from World War II and U.S. involvement in other wars--mainly the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the Vietnam and Korean Wars. (The Cold War was not a real war with the Soviet Union; this term refers to the chilly relations the U.S. had with the formerly communist nation, which, since its breakup, is called Russia.) In the States, the "Red Scare" of communism of 1950 resulted in the McCarthy hearings. Senator Joseph McCarthy accused many Americans of being communists, which led to loss of employment for many artists, teachers, and government employees. Several prominent figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon, helped shape America's modern era. During this time, Americans went to the moon, ushered in the civil rights movement and the fight for equal rights for women, established relations with China, and witnessed the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Read about The Modern Era (1946 - 2001)
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