With 50 diverse states that offer great holiday experiences, the US is more than its iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty. the Grand Canyon, and countless others due to its global cultural imprint thanks to movies and TV.
History of the United States of America
Populated by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, the large scale European colonisation of the Americas started with it rediscovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. The Vikings got there around 1000 AD and created a short term settlement in Newfoundland in modern day Canada.
Columbus thought he had sailed to the Far East, not realising that he had discovered a new land mass. He visited the islands known today as Cuba and Hispaniola, various other islands, and the coast of Central and South America, though never North America.
It was in fact the lesser known explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in the employ of France who explored the North American Atlantic coast in 1525. The Spanish created settlements in Florida, establishing St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in 1565, and New Mexico. The French settled along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, notably New Orleans and that most French sounding of names, Baton Rouge (Red Stick).
The Dutch, Portuguese and even Russians (late) were involved in the colonisation of the New World. The English joined the party only in 1607 with the establishment of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement. This wasn't the first attempt; the colony of Roanoke was established in 1585 by the notable Elizabethan, Sir Walter Raleigh, more famous for saving England by defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588. Roanoke is known as the Lost Colony due to the enduring mystery of the disappearance of the roughly 120 colonists in 1590.
Life was tough for the early Europeans, who were almost always stalked by hunger and often in disputes with the natives. As for the natives, they succumbed to newly introduced diseases and were often killed during conflicts.
As the settlements became established, the Europeans began trafficking African slaves. The Atlantic coast settlements of the English became The Thirteen Colonies that would eventually form the United States of America. Very high birth rates led to population growth far exceeding that of the native population. Consider that in 1610 the population was 350, in 1670 it was 112,000, and in 1770 it was 2.15 million which was a third of the population of Britain.
The Birth of a New Nation
The American Revolution led to the independence from Britain of the Thirteen Colonies, and was fought between 1776 and 1789 over the principle of 'no taxation without representation' and that their 'rights as Englishmen' were being breached. The English Bill of Rights 1689 forbade the imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament and as the colonists had no representation in Parliament, the taxes violated their rights.
The US Constitution went into force in 1789 and the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing a large range of legal protections went into force in1791. in 1803 the US doubled in size through the Louisiana Purchase of land from France. Spain ceded Florida and other territories in 1819 in exchange for recognition of the border between the US and Spanish Texas. The treaty however lasted less than a year as Spain was forced to recognise Mexican independence, the border with the US being that negotiated with Spain.
The independent Republic of Texas was annexed in 1845, and inherited the territorial disputes between Texas and Mexico which led to the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848 in which Mexico lost more than just the disputed territories, but also California, a total loss of 55% of its territory.
Along with other smaller treaties, and land purchases, the Oregon Treaty with Britain passed the American Northwest over to the USA, completing the take over of the land from the Atlantic coast through to the Pacific coast in the west, and set the final positions of the northern border with Canada and Mexican border by 1853.
Slavery and Civil War
Slavery had been present since the early days of colonisation and was critical to the economy of some states. As slavery become unacceptable the US began to polarise with the South seeing slavery as necessary for the highly profitable cotton industry, and even a positive for slaves.
The origins of the American Civil War are a fascinating area of study and doesn't just come down to the morals and ethics of slavery. Historians have stated that slavery was the cause of disunion, but it was the disunion that caused the war when the secessionist Southern states formed the Confederate States of America and initiated military conflict in 1861.
At the end in 1865, 670,000 people were dead and the Southern states were driven to devastation. Reconstruction began immediately when the war ended. Slavery was ended, and saves became full citizens with the right to vote. However, 'Jim Crow' laws from 1890 to 1910 reinforced racial segregation in the south and engineered the disenfranchisement of blacks and very poor whites.
Continued expansion, WW1, WW2 and the Cold War
The purchase of Alaska from Russia occurred in 1867, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 and annexed in 1898, and the Spanish-American War led to Spanish losses as Puerto Rico, Guam, and Philippines were ceded to the US. Pacific and Caribbean holdings were acquired in 1900 and 1917. It joined World War 1 in 1917 to help the turn the tide against Germany after remaining neutral up to that point.
In World War 2, the US was initially neutral but supplied war materials to the allies. Policies towards Japan led to the surprise Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour in 1941 and led to the US joining the Allies against the Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy. Victory in 1945 led immediately to the Cold War.
The US massively helped and funded the rebuilding of Europe after WW2 but tensions with communist Soviet Russia divided Europe into two armed camps, with the US and is allies facing off against the Soviet Union and the puppet states of eastern Europe. Wars against communism were fought in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1955-1975), and other proxy wars, but direct conflict was avoided.
With the collapse of communism in 1989, the puppet states of Eastern Europe gaining independence, and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War came to an end.
When Iraq leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, a multi-national effort led by the US expelled Iraqi forces, restoring the independence of Kuwait. In 2001 Islamic terrorists hijacked passenger planes and flew them into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. From this was launched a war in Afghanistan that ended in 2021 and a second war in Iraq (2003-2011).
The US is a world superpower and for all its flaws is a counterbalance to the authoritarian dictatorships bent on territorial expansion against its neighbours. Arguments rage on whether the US today is a force for good but that is a topic to be discussed elsewhere.