History of the U.S.A.

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The territory now part of the United States has been inhabited for from 15,000 to 40,000 years, as attested by local evidence. The aboriginal peoples, ancestral to today's American Indians, left no firm monuments on the scale of contemporaneous cultures elsewhere, but both the pueblos of the Southwest and the great mounds of the Mississippi River valley antedate the arrival of the European colonial powers. The original 13 British colonies that became the United States of America in 1776 were just one of several attempts by European powers to build empires in North America.

All seized land from the native Indians, who then were usually either assimilated or driven off by superior European weapons. The Spaniards reached Florida as early as 1513 and New Mexico in 1540. The French began their exploration of the Mississippi River valley in 1673. The Russians reached Alaska in 1741.

Of all the colonizers, the British were the most successful. In 1607 Jamestown became the first permanent British settlement in North America and the foundation of the Virginia colony. It was followed 13 years later by the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth, which was soon dwarfed by the Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay. Most of New England was settled by Puritans fleeing either the harassment of Charles I or the orthodoxy of Massachusetts Bay. Pennsylvania was given to the Quaker William Penn as payment for a debt, and Maryland, a grant to the Roman Catholic George Calvert, was the first colony to establish religious freedom. New York, New Jersey, and Delaware were taken from the Dutch by the British in 1664, a year after the Carolinas had been granted to eight British noblemen. The 13th colony was Georgia, founded by James Oglethorpe in 1732 as a refuge for debtors and convicts.

When the British successfully evicted the French from North America in 1763, they embarked on a number of policies that the colonials found increasingly onerous. Settlement was prohibited west of the Appalachians and measures were passed to raise revenue in the colonies. These revenue-raising measures and Britain's generally exploitive mercantilist economic policy irked the colonials, who began to band together to oppose and subvert the measures. Britain increased its military presenceto enforce compliance (a presence part of whose cost was exacted from the colonials), and fighting broke out in 1775. The Second Continental Congress, acting for the 13 colonies, declared independence on July 4, 1776, and created. Articles of Confederation to govern the new nation. Victory over the British came in 1783, and the resulting Treaty of Paris established U.S. boundaries, except for Spanish Florida, west to the Mississippi River.

The Articles of Confederation provided a weak central government and proved inadequate to govern the growing nation. A new constitution was created in 1787, ratified in 1788, and took effect in 1789. George Washington was the first president, and his sober and reasoned judgments were instrumental in establishing both the tenor of the country and the precedents of the executive office. Under the new Constitution, the country began to grow almost immediately. By the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States acquired from France the entire western half of the Mississippi River basin, thereby nearly doubling the size of the national territory.

The movement into the lands west of the Appalachians thenceforth became a flood. The United States' victory in the Mexican War (1846-48) brought all or part of the future territory of seven more states (including California and Texas) into American hands. As the United States moved west, the issue of slavery was intensifying strains between the rapidly industrializing North and the slave-based agricultural South. The South was determined to maintain the institution of black slavery against the federal government's efforts to curtail the latter's spread. Several compromises over the slavery issue held the Union together for more than a half-century, but the election as president in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln, whose Republican Party clearly advocated the prohibition of slavery in the Western territories, led South Carolina to secede, joined by 10 other Southern states by the next year.

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