People from Asia migrated to the North American continent approximately 15,000 or more years ago. Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. After European explorers and traders made the first contacts, it is estimated that their population declined due to various reasons, including diseases such as smallpox and measles, intermarriage, and violence.
In the early days of colonization many settlers were subject to shortages of food, disease and attacks from Native Americans. Native Americans were also often at war with neighboring tribes and allied with Europeans in their colonial wars. At the same time however many natives and settlers came to depend on each other. Settlers traded for food and animal pelts, natives for guns, ammunition and other European wares. Natives taught many settlers where, when and how to cultivate corn, beans and squash in the frontier. European missionaries and others felt it was important to “civilize” the Indians and urged them to concentrate on farming and ranching without depending on hunting and gathering.
After Columbus’ first voyage to the New World in 1492 other explorers and settlement followed into the Floridas and the American Southwest. There were also some French attempts to colonize the east coast, and later more successful settlements along the Mississippi River. Successful English settlement on the eastern coast of North America began with the Virginia Colony in 1607 at Jamestown and the Pilgrims’ Plymouth Colony in 1620. Early experiments in communal living failed until the introduction of private farm holdings. The continent’s first elected legislative assembly, Virginia’s House of Burgesses created in 1619, and the Mayflower Compact, signed by the Pilgrims before disembarking, established precedents for the pattern of representative self-government and constitutionalism that would develop throughout the American colonies.
Most settlers in every colony were small farmers, but other industries developed. Cash crops included tobacco, rice and wheat. Extraction industries grew up in furs, fishing and lumber. Manufacturers produced rum and ships and by the late colonial period Americans were producing one-seventh of the world’s iron supply. Cities eventually dotted the coast to support local economies and serve as trade hubs. English colonists were supplemented by waves of Scotch-Irish and other groups. As coastal land grew more expensive freed indentured servants pushed further west. Slave cultivation of cash crops began with the Spanish in the 1500s, and was adopted by the English, but life expectancy was much higher in North America because of less disease and better food and treatment, so the numbers of slaves grew rapidly. Colonial society was largely divided over the religious and moral implications of slavery and colonies passed acts for and against the practice. But by the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were replacing indentured servants for cash crop labor, especially in southern regions.
With the 1732 colonization of Georgia, the 13 colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. With extremely high birth rates, low death rates, and steady settlement, the colonial population grew rapidly. Relatively small Native American populations were eclipsed. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty.
In the French and Indian War, British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans, who were being conquered and displaced, those 13 colonies had a population of over 2.1 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain. Despite continuing new arrivals, the rate of natural increase was such that by the 1770s only a small minority of Americans had been born overseas. The colonies’ distance from Britain had allowed the development of self-government, but their success motivated monarchs to periodically seek to reassert Royal authority.
The American Revolution was the first successful colonial war of independence against a European power. Americans had developed an ideology of “republicanism” that held government rested on the will of the people as expressed in their local legislatures. They demanded their rights as Englishmen, “no taxation without representation”. The British insisted on administering the empire through Parliament, and the conflict escalated into the American Revolutionary War. The Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776, proclaiming that humanity is created equal in their inalienable rights. That date is now celebrated annually as America’s Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak government that operated until 1789.
Britain recognized the independence of the United States following their defeat at Yorktown. In the peace treaty of 1783, American sovereignty was recognized from the Atlantic coast west to the Mississippi River. Nationalists led the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in writing the United States Constitution, and it was ratified in state conventions in 1788. The federal government was reorganized into three branches for their checks and balances in 1789. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.
Although the federal government criminalized the international slave trade in 1808, after 1820 cultivation of the highly profitable cotton crop exploded in the Deep South, and along with it the slave population. The Second Great Awakening, beginning about 1800, converted millions to evangelical Protestantism. In the North it energized multiple social reform movements, including abolitionism, in the South, Methodists and Baptists proselytized among slave populations.
U.S. territorial acquisitions–portions of each territory were granted statehood over time Americans’ eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of Indian Wars. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory in 1803 almost doubled the nation’s size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. Expansion was aided by steam power, when steamboats began traveling along America’s large water systems, which were connected by new canals, such as the Erie and the I&M; then, even faster railroads began their streach across the nation’s land.
From 1820 to 1850, Jacksonian democracy began a set of reforms which included wider male suffrage, and it led to the rise of the Second Party System of Democrats and Whigs as the dominant parties from 1828 to 1854. The Trail of Tears in the 1830s exemplified the Indian removal policy that moved Indians into the west to their own reservations. The U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845 during a period of expansionist Manifest Destiny. The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest. Victory in the Mexican-American War resulted in the 1848 Mexican Cession of California and much of the present-day American Southwest.
The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 spurred western migration and the creation of additional western states. After the American Civil War, new transcontinental railways made relocation easier for settlers, expanded internal trade and increased conflicts with Native Americans. Over a half-century, the loss of the buffalo was an existential blow to many Plains Indians cultures. In 1869, a new Peace Policy sought to protect Native-Americans from abuses, avoid further warfare, and secure their eventual U.S. citizenship.