United States History

United States History

Early period until the 15th century

It was Christopher Columbus who gave the Native American name Indians: he thought he had found the western sea route to India and, without further ado, called the natives he met in the Bahamas in October 1492 “Indios”. The number of Indians that populated the North American continent at the beginning of the 15th century can only be speculated today (between one and ten million). The Indians were the descendants of tribes who, a long time ago, probably migrated from Siberia to Alaska via an existing land bridge and from there they were distributed across the North and South American continents. The tribes in North America developed very differently in some cases: In the northwest, distinctive village cultures with up to 30 m long wooden houses and a highly developed wood carving (totem poles) emerged, in the east agriculture was intensively practiced and maize, pumpkin and tobacco were cultivated. The local tribes of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Seneca joined together to form a confederation (Iroquois), and similar forms of political organization also existed in the southeast (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminoles). In the southwest of today’s USA, the Pueblo Indians built multi-storey houses in the shape of a terrace and carried out irrigation farming. In the area of ​​the Inner Plains lived the Prairie Indians, which included the tribes of the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Dakota (Sioux). In the southwest of today’s USA, the Pueblo Indians built multi-storey houses in the shape of a terrace and carried out irrigation farming. In the area of ​​the Inner Plains lived the Prairie Indians, which included the tribes of the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Dakota (Sioux).

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Colonial period

The continent got the name “America” ​​around 1507 from the German cartographer Martin Waldseem¨¹ller, who named the continent after Amerigo Vespucci (who was then mistaken for the discoverer of the new continent).

At the beginning of the 15th century, the English crown claimed the areas discovered by Giovanni Caboto in what is now South Carolina. At the same time, the Spanish conquistadors came to the area of ​​what is now the USA from the south, and in 1565 they founded the permanent settlement of Saint Augustine on what is now Florida (“La Florida”) on the Atlantic coast. The French explored and took possession of the areas around the St. Lawrence River in the first half of the 16th century. The cities of Qu¨¦bec (1608) and Montr¨¦al later emerged here. The first British settlement was Jamestown in the Chesapeakebai (1607). The Spaniards penetrated the Mississippi, southern California and the Appalachian Mountains, and in the 18th century they extended the Spanish dominion to northern California and western Lousiana. The French spread to the mouth of the Mississippi (New Orleans founded in 1718). For the British, Jamestown became the nucleus of the state of Virginia. In 1620 the Puritans landed with the “Mayflower” at what is now Plymouth. By 1733, 13 independent British colonies had sprung up along the Atlantic coast. To a lesser extent, Swedes and the Dutch also took part in taking possession of the American continent (Niew-Amsterdam founded in 1621, New York from 1664), but were expelled by the British as early as the 17th century. In the course of this possession, a process began that was to continue in the next few centuries: the land grabbing of the European settlers displaced the indigenous population from their traditional habitat, and their land was declared a settlement land.

According to AbbreviationFinder, tensions between the French and English colonialists led to a naval and colonial war from 1754 (parallel to the Seven Years’ War in Europe, in which England and Prussia fought against France, Austria and Russia). In 1763, France had to cede almost all of the possessions in North America to Great Britain and Spain. When the mother country England tried to restrict the autonomy of the English colonies in North America and enacted new tax and customs laws to relieve the treasury, the settlers rose (1773 Boston Tea Party). In 1774, a first continental congress was held in Philadelphia, in which representatives of 12 English colonies took part and called for the colonial autonomy to be restored. A year later, the American War of Independence began between British soldiers and armed Americans led by George Washington (until 1783). At the time, around 2.5 million people were living in the 13 English colonies, including around a fifth of black slaves.


In 1783 Great Britain had to recognize the independence of the colonies. In 1789, the American Constitution that was still in effect today, which had been drawn up by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and others, was adopted by the “United States of America”. In 1791 the “Bill of Rights” also came into force (freedom of belief, assembly, press and speech, inviolability of the person and property, etc.). George Washington became the first president of the United States.

By the middle of the 19th century, the United States expanded its territory to about the size of what is now the United States through so-called land transfer agreements with the Indians, land purchases from France and Spain, and through annexations. The Indians were hopelessly inferior in the war with the Indians who fought for their ancestral land. By the end of the Indian Wars, up to 400,000 Indians were believed to have died. The survivors were grouped together in reserves where their numbers continued to decrease.

Within the American states, a conflict arose between the slave-free north (abolitionists) and the southern states, which insisted on slavery for their extensive plantation economy. Industrialization began in the northern states in the early 19th century. Around 1810, the population of the United States comprised around seven million, large waves of immigration from Europe (especially from Germany and Ireland), especially in the north, which grew rapidly over the next few decades and numerous businesses were founded. In 1820 slavery was abolished in the northern states. In the south, on the other hand, there was a small white upper class over huge lands on which slaves worked. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of slave husbandry and a member of the Republican Party founded in 1854, became the 16th President elected. As a result, 11 of the then 31 American states left the United States. Under the leadership of President Jefferson Davis, they founded the “Confederate States”, which campaigned for the continued existence of slavery and the independence of their states. The bitter civil war between the North and the South (civil war) ended in 1865 with the surrender of the South (victory of the Union troops under General Ulysses Grant against the southern troops under General Robert Lee). The unity of the United States was officially preserved and slavery was also banned in the southern states. In order to further secure the predominance of whites, secret societies such as the Ku Klux Klan were founded, which carried out attacks against blacks. Until 1877, troops from the northern states were still present in the southern states. In total, the war had cost about 600,000 lives.

Directed by the northern states, the United States developed into the world’s leading industrial power by the end of the 19th century. In 1869 the railway line was completed, which connected the Atlantic (Boston) and the Pacific (Oakland). In 1886 the 94 m high statue of liberty by the French artist Fr¨¦d¨¦ric Auguste Bartholdi was inaugurated in New York as a gift from France to the USA. By the end of the century, the population had increased to over 70 million people. The land distribution based on the Homestead Act (1862) enabled immigrants to buy land for little money. When the land grab was officially declared over in 1890, the influx of immigrants continued unabated, among other things because of the prospect of a good job in American industry and the discovery of ever new mineral resources (gold rush in Alaska in 1897, Alaska was bought by the USA in 1867 for $ 7.2 million from Russia). At the turn of the century, 9,000 cars were already driving on the already well-developed road network (300,000 km) (Henry Ford had built the first car in 1893).

Early 20th century

In terms of foreign policy, the United States, contrary to the Monroedoctrine established in 1823, moved beyond the western hemisphere. In 1898 there was war between the USA and Spain, the Americans conquered Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. The Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) were also annexed. In 1903 the United States supported the detachment of Panama from Colombia and leased the area of ​​the Panama Canal, which they had built until 1914. One of the main pillars of this reoriented foreign policy of imperialism was the American President Theodore Roosevelt. Under his direction, so-called dollar diplomacy also developed, ie governments that the United States was benevolent in were supported by large financial resources.

When the First World War broke out, the United States initially remained neutral, but then went to war alongside Britain and France in 1917 after German submarines attacked and sunk American passenger and merchant ships. Thanks to extensive supplies of materials, the United States played a decisive role in the outcome of the war. In 1918, the League of Nations was launched on the initiative of the American President Woodrow Wilson, who was to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner in the future (the USA itself did not join).

The Twenties brought a significant economic boom for the United States (“Golden Twenties”). Not least because of the prohibition law passed by Wilson in 1919 (prohibition of the production, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages), a well-organized gangster being developed that held considerable power. In 1924 the Indians, the indigenous population of America, were granted full US citizenship. The 1929 stock market crash on Wall Street (“Black Friday”) brought the end of the upswing, triggered by unsuccessful speculation, overindebtedness of the private sector and mismanagement by the government, and which plunged the country into the greatest economic crisis in its history.

The recipe against the recession was called “New Deal”, was carried out by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and mainly included government intervention in the economy and various social measures. However, it was not until the outbreak of the Second World War, in which the United States initially only participated with large supplies of materials to Great Britain, that a new economic upswing occurred. The Japanese attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in December 1941 was the official reason for the United States to go to war with the Axis on the Allied side. Because the conflict with Japan over the influence in the Pacific region had existed for several years. As in the First World War, the participation of the United States was decisive for the war.

Postwar and Cold War

In June 1945, the United Nations (UN) was founded by a total of 49 states (including the USA and the Soviet Union) in San Francisco. But after that, the cooperation with the Soviet Union, which had been good until then, quickly turned into an ideological and political conflict between the capitalist United States and communist Russia. Striking cornerstones of the Cold War were, for example, the Berlin blockade in 1948 and the Korean War (1950 to 53). In 1949 NATO, the North Atlantic Defense Alliance, was founded on the part of the Western Powers, and in 1955 in the Eastern Bloc the Warsaw Pact as a corresponding counterpart (since 1949 the USSR also had the atomic bomb). The US maintained its active role in world politics, the Truman Doctrine (after President Harry Truman) announced in 1947 that the United States supported all countries whose freedom was at risk. In fact, this doctrine was directed against the Eastern Bloc or Communism, but not against dictatorial regimes in and of itself. In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles were responsible for this policy of “roll back”, the massive push back of communism. There was also a real hunt for communists (“Red Scare”) within the United States. The leading figure was Senator Joseph McCarthy, who from 1950 to 1954 was chairman of the “Senate Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities”. Another important development in the 1950s was the success of the black civil rights movement in the fight against racial segregation and discrimination. Until 1968, blacks in all American states received full civil rights (Civil Rights Act), which had previously been denied them, especially in some of the southern states. The main figure in the movement was the black civil rights activist Martin Luther King. In 1969, American astronauts were the first people to enter the surface of the moon (after the so-called “Sputnik shock” of 1957, American space travel had been promoted on a large scale).

The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 (the USSR tried to deploy medium-range nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba) led the world to the brink of nuclear conflict. The crisis was resolved, and the uncompromising stance of American President John F. Kennedy led to the Soviet leadership under Khrushchev giving in. Shortly before his assassination in November 1963, Kennedy began sending US military advisers into the Vietnam conflict, which his successor Lyndon B. Johnson continued. After unsuccessful action by the US troops (around 550,000 men) in Vietnam and pronounced unrest and protests in the USA, President Nixon initiated the withdrawal from the crisis area. The Vietnam War ended in 1973. A year earlier, Nixon initiated a normalization of US-Chinese relations with China through a state visit. A first strategic arms limitation treaty was also signed with the USSR in 1972 (SALT I treaty). In 1974 Gerald Ford followed as president (1974-77), Nixon had to resign because of the Watergate affair. Under Ford and his successor Jimmy Carter (1977-81), the United States got into several domestic and foreign conflicts (beginning of 1973 the oil crisis, 1979 invasion of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, 1979 hostage-taking of 60 US citizens in Iran’s capital Tehran), their Handling raised doubts about the leadership qualities of the two presidents.

In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan took the stage as the 40th President of the United States and announced his “National American Renewal” program, which included, among other things, a strong upgrade of the American armed forces with highly developed equipment (SDI program) and support for right-wing forces in several states Central America (e.g. the Contras in Nicaragua). The impact of these high-spending activities has been the largest budget and foreign trade deficit ever. The liberalized economic policy (Reagonomics) enforced by Reagan widened the gap between an increasingly broad lower class, in which the black population was particularly affected by poverty and unemployment, and a small and wealthy upper class.

After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s, the United States remained as the only world power; the Cold War was over. On behalf of the United Nations, the Second Gulf War began in January 1991 under the leadership of the United States, after which Iraq had to withdraw its troops from occupied Kuwait. The USA also participated in the operations of the UN troops in other conflicts or played the leading role (eg Bosnia-Herzegovina 1995, Kosovo conflict 1999).

It was only in the 1990s that the United States, under Democratic President Bill Clinton (1993-2001), succeeded in solving the economic problems stemming from the Reagan era. In December 1998, American and British troops carried out air strikes on military targets in Iraq (“Operation Desert Fox”) without a current decision by the UN Security Council (the Iraqi leadership had not approved agreed arms controls). In January 1999, the unprecedented impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton (due to a public affair) began, which ended with an acquittal for the president. In January 2001, Republican George Walker Bush became the new President of the United States.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

On September 11, 2001, a series of terrorist attacks rocked the United States, killing several thousand people. President Bush declared a national emergency and announced a “major attack” on international terrorism and its state aid. After the Afghan Taliban government failed to comply with the order to extradite the alleged assassin Osama Bin Laden, the United States launched attacks on Afghanistan in October 2001. The Taliban were driven out, but Bin Laden remained undetectable. President Bush remains committed to his plans for a US anti-missile defense shield (NMD).

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After the North Korean government admitted to working on the development of nuclear weapons in October 2002, there was a crisis between North Korea and the United States. In October 2006, North Korea, which it said had had several ready-to-use atomic bombs and corresponding carrier systems since 2005, carried out an underground nuclear weapon test for the first time. This led to harsh criticism worldwide that the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on North Korea. In September 2005, the “Joint Declaration” was signed by the participants in the six-party talks (in addition to North and South Korea as well as China, the USA, Russia and Japan) in Beijing: Among other things, North Korea declared the abandonment of its current nuclear programs and the return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while the other parties declared normalization of their relations with and economic support from North Korea. In February 2007, the North Korean government agreed in the final declaration of the six-party talks in Beijing to implement the “joint declaration” immediately. The first step was the decommissioning of the Nyongbyon nuclear reactor, 100 km north of Pyongyang. After that, however, North Korea curtailed its cooperation efforts. After the leadership in Pyongyang finally allowed the United States to inspect its nuclear facilities in the future, the United States accepted this on behalf of the group of six. In October 2008, Washington removed North Korea from the list of countries considered to promote terrorism (“the axis of evil”); nevertheless, many sanctions against North Korea remain in effect.

In March 2003, the United States and its allies attacked Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein. The US government justified its drastic move with the military threat posed by Iraq. Battles continued between the American occupation forces and Iraqi freedom fighters after a U.S. military administration was deployed in April. A sovereign Iraqi interim government was set up in June 2004. In the 2006 elections to the US House of Representatives and the Senate, the Democrats secured a majority in both houses, so that Bush’s policies have met with more resistance since then. The governor elections in 36 states also brought the Democrats back into a majority position here. The use in Iraq in particular raises differences, since the Democrats are in favor of withdrawing the troops, there are also social issues such as same-sex partnerships and the right to abortion. In the spring of 2007, US troops launched new security offensives in Iraq, resulting in increased losses. A military solution to the Iraq conflict is not in sight in the medium term.

In September 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Louisiana and Mississippi coast. The natural disaster, which killed at least 1,000 people and left more than half a million homeless, is the worst in US recent history. In April 2007, a student at Virginia Tech University in Blackburg shot 32 people during the worst killing spree in American history. Devastating forest fires led to the largest evacuation operation in California history in October 2007. Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in several counties. Over 200,000 hectares of land were destroyed by the fires. Former US Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore blamed global climate change for the wildfires.

The Military Commissions Act was signed by President Bush in October 2006. He is responsible for a new regulation in the treatment of the so-called “foreign illegal enemy fighters” imprisoned in the Cuban camp at Guant¨¢namo Bay. Among other things, the Geneva Convention had been violated in the camp. Evidence obtained from torture is void from now on, but enforcement against the prisoners remains allowed. This regulation caused criticism from democratic MPs and human rights organizations. In the opinion of the US public, security and counter-terrorism policies have lost their high level of acceptance and importance due to the absence of the feared further serious terrorist attacks.

Relations between Russia and the United States reached their lowest level in years in 2007. Putin sharply attacked American foreign policy at the Munich Security Conference. Putin saw the US plan to base a missile screen with bases in Poland and the Czech Republic as a project directed against Russia and a threat to global security. In spring 2008, the two countries concluded a framework agreement for strategic cooperation.

The real estate crisis that arose in the United States in spring 2007 expanded into a global financial market and confidence crisis. In the United States itself, countless hedge funds had to be closed and liquidated. The major investment banks had losses in the billions, had to file for bankruptcy or announced their conversion to normal commercial banks. In February 2008, an economic stimulus package was adopted in the USA to counter an impending economic downturn. Stricter state supervision of the real estate markets is also planned. Even the largest American insurer AIG was in financial emergency; the US government acquired four fifths of its shares. The US government adopted a $ 700 billion emergency economic stabilization act in October 2008) for the financial industry. Despite all the measures, there were high price fluctuations and losses on the world’s stock exchanges. The financial crisis also increasingly affected the real economy (including automobile manufacturers).

Democrat Barack Obama won the presidential election in November 2008; his counterpart from the republican camp was Senator John McCain. The Democrats were able to defend their majority in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, but did not achieve the hoped-for 60-seat majority in the Senate. Overcoming the real estate and financial crisis, renewing health and energy policies, further stabilizing the military situation in Iraq and combating violence in Afghanistan were challenges in Obama’s first term. Obama was re-elected for a second term in late 2012. In his second term in office, he still faces an improved, but still difficult economic situation and a still high government deficit.

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