A Short History of the United States of America
Created | Updated Mar 1, 2012
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between.
America's history is a long one, but that's what you get when you make countries: history.
Let us start, for now, at the beginning of time. The earth spun out and formed into a planet. Over time, continents and volcanoes formed. The Pacific Ocean was filled, and volcanoes lined the coasts around it, creating what is now called the Ring of Fire. Tectonic plates fought each other to form mountains.
The North American plate slid into place, and though there are some discrepancies as to how human beings began to appear around the world, there were humans in almost every continent, and especially Europe, when Christopher Columbus was dispatched to find a route to Asia through the Pacific. However, he bumped into North America and sent back his news to Spain. The new continent was named 'America' after Amerigo Vespucci1, another explorer with a claim to the discovery of North America. In the blink of an eye, there were settlers along the east side of the Atlantic. They encountered a number of indigenous cultures that were scattered all around the new world.
The British colony of Roanoke was a disaster, but the colony of Jamestown was organised to seek gold and a passage to Asia in 1607. Jamestown ended up finding huge success in producing tobacco, which would be the main cash crop of the Southern states for many many years to come. However, labour shortages caused some of the people there to use indentured servants as a source of free labour. When Nathaniel Bacon incited a rebellion, planters saw the potential in slavery: helpless, cheap people without arms.
In 1620, the Pilgrims, who left England to seek religious freedom, landed their ship, the Mayflower, onto Plymouth Rock and set up the Mayflower Compact, in which they agreed to live by majority rule for the general good. A large portion of the settlers died in the first winter, but the survivors, or so legend has it, celebrated the first American Thanksgiving with neighbouring native people of the Wampanoag tribe.
In 1628, a larger group of puritans who wanted religious freedom established a settlement in Salem, Massachusetts, and quite a few other settlements, such as Boston.
Ships travelled across the Atlantic at a regular rate, and the colonies grew gradually. In 1630, a colonial assembly was created to share power with a governor who was appointed by Britain's king. All the grants England had issued accrued to become a significantly large area with a growing population. There were 13 colonies, stretching from Maine2 to Georgia. There were three distinct regions:
New England included Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, including the large population centres of Providence and Boston. Farmland wasn't great, so whaling and fishing were the main sources of income. Naturally, with the large amount of fishing and whaling, shipbuilding was an important part of the economy too.
The Middle Colonies were New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Major cities included New York and Philadelphia. The Middle Colonies had better farmland than New England, so wheat became an important product.
The Southern Colonies were Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, including the ports of Baltimore, Charleston and Jamestown. In the South, plantation farming was the main industry. Tobacco was the most common export, closely followed by cotton and indigo.
In the middle of the 18th century, the colonies were made up of about 1.5 million citizens. The people were generally situated along the Atlantic coast, and some states didn't even bother with establishing borders that were too far inland. People began to look back at the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Mayflower Compact, early forms of self-government. Each colony had a different type of government: some were controlled by the British King entirely, some mostly owned by individuals, and some were left to themselves. Basically, each state had a governor, a council and an assembly. For a law to pass, it had to be approved by the assembly, the governor and the British government.
In New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, the governor was appointed by the King, and he in turn appointed his council; the assembly being democratically elected. In Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, the owner or owners of the colony appointed the governor, who selected his council, and the assembly was elected. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, the governor, the council and the assembly were all elected by the citizens. Of course, in each state there were some restrictions on who could be elected.
As the south grew, slavery grew as well. One of the worst chapters in the history of America is the slave trade and the continuing demand for new slaves in the South. None of the colonies were entirely blameless in this - though the South received most of the slaves, the slave trade was helped in part by the New England sailors. Another dark chapter of American history is the way the country handled the native Americans - forcefully ejecting them from their land to make way for the white settlers.
Taxes and Rebellion
Several small wars were fought in the colonies: King William's War, Queen Anne's War, and a somewhat more important conflict, the French and Indian War3. The rich and useful Ohio country was contested by the French and the English. In 1754, a young Virginian officer named George Washington led a group of his countrymen into the fight. After slaughtering a few too many Frenchmen, Washington set up Fort Necessity in anticipation of a French response. He was then forced to surrender the fort in the face of French agression.
The war effort under Washington was not going very well, so the English pumped as much of their resources as possible into the war, and captured Forts Duquesne and Ticonderoga and the Canadian cities of Québec and Montréal. The war ended with the Treaty of Paris, in which the French gave up all their land east of the Mississippi except for the city of New Orleans.
After the treaty, a group of native Americans under Pontiac set out to destroy the British control in the west, but their rebellion was put down. As this unfolded, the King of Britain issued the Proclamation of 1763 to end colonial expansion west of the Appalachian Mountains. Britain also set harsh taxes on the colonies to pay off the debts that had been caused by the Seven Years' War. Americans weren't happy with this, and the colonists began to dream of independence.
With more taxes and unpopular decisions by the crown, rebellion started to grow more and more favourable to many Americans. The tight grip on the colonies was choking them: for instance, the Quartering Act forced colonists to provide their houses for the use of British soldiers. The Sugar Act and the Stamp Act raised taxes incredibly high on food imports and paper goods, respectively. Merchants couldn't pay the Sugar Act and turn a profit; people refused to allow soldiers to live in their homes and the Stamp Act was viciously attacked by many colonists. A group calling themselves the Sons of Liberty was organised, and they kept themselves busy by attacking tax collectors.
A congress of delegates from nine of the colonies was assembled regarding the Stamp Act, and they sent a protest to King George III, believing that the colonies should tax the colonists. Colonial merchants boycotted London goods, which hurt Britain. The Stamp Act was repealed, but in its place came a demoralizing law saying that the colonies were subject to the authority of the British.
After this, Charles Townsend became the British Chancellor of the Exchequer and England instituted duties on certain goods going into the colonies. Many Americans either smuggled the goods in or simply refused to buy them.
Virginia and Massachusetts emerged as hotbeds of rebellion. In Boston, there was so much energy for rebellion that British troops were stationed to keep the peace and uphold the laws. Unfortunately, as Bostonians had to provide homes for the troops and so they were less than peaceful. On 5 March, 1770, as a group of people taunted British soldiers near the Customs House, soldiers fired on the taunters and five people were killed. This became known as the Boston Massacre. The British government responded by repealing all the taxes except for the tax on tea - after all, they couldn't be seen as surrendering their right to tax the colonies.
One might think that with only a single tax, the colonists would leave well enough alone. But the Americans, still outraged by the Boston Massacre, and despite the repeal of most taxes, began organising. Samuel Adams founded the Committee of Correspondence, which was supposed to keep communications on British activities open between colonists and keep information flowing, as well as incite rebellion. In the Committee, there emerged several future leaders.
In 1773, the Tea Act was passed, which threatened to destroy the profits of the tea merchants in the colonies. Naturally, the people responded. On 16 December, about 50 men of the Sons of Liberty group, disguised as Mohawks, boarded three ships in Boston Harbour and threw all the British tea in the ships into the water. Now known as the 'Boston Tea Party', it outraged the British government.
In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British passed the 'Intolerable Acts' in 1774, which closed Boston Harbour, destroyed self-government in Massachusetts and restricted the right to assembly. It was believed that these would punish and demoralise Massachusetts, but they had the opposite effect, and the colonies banded together in protest. The Virginia House of Burgesses called for each of the colonies to send representatives to form a united protest.
The first Continental Congress was made up of 56 delegates from all of the colonies but Georgia. In Philadelphia, they declared the Intolerable Acts void, declared a boycott against Britain, asked residents of Massachusetts to refuse to pay taxes, organised a militia, sent protests to King George and planned another meeting. In turn, Britain sent more troops into America.
So You Say You Want A Revolution...
The British learned of an arsenal at Concord, Massachusetts and sent about 700 men to raid it. However, the colonists had planned ahead and so were able to alert the 'minutemen'4 guarding the area. A light from the Old North Church alerted two men, Paul Revere and William Dawson, that the British were mobilising. They rode on horses to alert the people and militiamen of the British advance.
The British met a force about a tenth its size at Lexington, and were able to move on to Concord. The Americans sent the British back, and the minutemen in the following towns were able to inflict considerable damage on the British army. There were about 300 British casualties.
The Second Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia on 10 May, 1775. It made several important decisions. George Washington, due to his experience in the French and Indian War, was appointed commander of American forces. The Congress asked Britain not to attack the colonies again and asked each of the colonies to send troops to assist those in Massachusetts.
The next major military conflict was the Battle of Bunker Hill. The colonist soldiers were entrenched around Boston at Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill. The Americans lost the hills after three charges, but the British suffered heavy casualties. In July, America sent the 'Olive Branch Petition' to reach an agreement with Britain. The colonies didn't truly want independence yet, many people just wanted the taxes repealed. The King turned the petition away, and declared that the colonies were in revolt.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
-The Declaration of Independence
The Second Continental Congress met again in May after the news from England, and moved to draw up a Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman were assigned to the task of drafting the document. On 4 July, 1776 the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, and declared the colonies to be independent from Britain.
The American Revolution carried on. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys took Fort Ticonderoga and the British left Boston to move up into Canada. General Howe of the British took New York City. However, Washington scored victories at Trenton and Princeton after crossing the Delaware River.
The British decided to bring all their forces together to control the Hudson River Valley, but this didn't quite work. Generals Burgoyne and Washington faced off at Saratoga, and Burgoyne surrendered, which ended up becoming the turning point of the Revolution. Soon after, the French signed a treaty with the Americans to support their cause.
In 1781, Lord Cornwallis moved through the South to attack Virginia. The only forces to oppose him were under the French officer Marquis de Lafayette, and he managed to delay Cornwallis. Washington and the French general Rochambeau moved into Virginia and the French navy took control of the Chesapeake Bay, trapping Cornwallis. He was completely surrounded, and had to surrender at Yorktown. A few insignificant battles were fought after this, but the war was basically over and America was independent. The Treaty of Paris was signed between America and Britain in 1783, and the new country not only gained its independence but rights to the Ohio River Valley and fishing rights in Canadian waters.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
-The Preamble to the US Constitution
A revolution isn't complete until a new government was established, and the first one was based around the Articles of Confederation. It gave most of the power to the states, and the national Congress's power was completely insignificant. The articles proved to be flawed, rebellion broke out and a new government had to be created.
In May 1787, 55 delegates met in Philadelphia. The greatest political and war leaders were present. James Madison was an avid notetaker and full of ideas. George Washington was President of the convention. Benjamin Franklin was the most senior among them - into his eighties by this time. Alexander Hamilton, the foremost immigrant, was also there. The most notable absence was Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Indepedence, who was serving as minister to Spain.
The meetings were long and hot. They had to be conducted in secret, and the door was shut. Tension often ran high, and passion higher. Whenever the debate was becoming too heated, Ben Franklin, thought to be the wisest as he was the eldest, would calm the delegates with a funny anecdote. The presence of George Washington, the living legend, added credibility and dignity to the convention.
They slowly wrote out a new document detailing the future government of the United States. James Madison contributed many of the ideas, but there were some difficult issues. States with large populations would prefer a Congress based on population - with more representatives from states with more people. Smaller states didn't want to be forgotten, so they wanted equal representation for each state.
A great compromise was worked out, where there would be two houses of Congress: one with representatives determined by the population of the state and one where each state sent two representatives. Once this was agreed upon, another issue arose. Since each state wanted more representation than everyone else, and slaves made up a sizeable portion of the Southern population, the slave states wanted slaves to count in their population quota to determine how many representatives they received. It was decided that for every five slaves, three would count towards representation, now known as the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise.
Many other elements of the American government were decided upon, and remained flexible because an amendment process was built into the fundamental workings of the government. In fact, this is just how the United States Constitution came into place. Each state eventually agreed to the Constitution, with most of the greatest leaders of the time supporting it. It was ratified once it was promised that it would be amended to contain a Bill of Rights.
The first president was elected in 1789, and it was George Washington, with John Adams serving as vice president. Washington served for two terms, and the president after him was John Adams. In his farewell address, Washington called on America to avoid foreign treaties and political parties. During the presidency of John Adams, the Democratic-Republicans (known as the Republicans for short, but eventually becoming what are the modern Democrats) grew in power and in order to keep them from taking over the Federalists (the main opposing party), the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts were passed. These made it harder for immigrants (who would favour the Republicans) to vote and made it illegal to speak ill of the government.
In the election of 18005, Thomas Jefferson, on the Republican ticket, became president. This was the first peaceful handover from one party to the other in American history. During Jefferson's presidency, the Louisiana Territory was bought from France at a light price, and Lewis and Clark explored America to the Pacific.
Britain and France fought over the ports of America, and kept the new country from trading freely. Jefferson got tired of the continuing conflict, and passed the Embargo Act of 1807, which made it illegal for American ships to trade in foreign ports. Smuggling made the Act somewhat ineffective, but trade soon resumed with all countries except Britain and France. In 1809, James Madison assumed the presidency, and he was rather annoyed with Britain. They had been forcing American soldiers into their navy, encouraging Indian resistance in the west, and preventing trade with other countries. America declared war on Britain on 18 June, 1812.
The War of 1812
The War of 1812 was probably an ill-advised conflict. The country wasn't nearly strong enough to win a war with Britain, and once Britain temporarily concluded its war with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814 it was able to direct all its resources against America. The British destroyed the new capital city of Washington DC. Legend has it that the first lady6 herself saved many of the important documents as the British burned the White House.
The most important American victory in the war was the Battle of New Orleans, in which US troops under General Andrew Jackson captured New Orleans and suffered far fewer casualties than the British. Remarkably, the battle was fought after the Treaty of Ghent ended the war, so it did not need fighting. The treaty stopped a number of New England states (where the war was unpopular) from seceding.
Following the War of 1812, there was a general feeling of unity in the country. The Federalist party lost power, and the Republicans won the Presidency in 1816 and 1820 with James Monroe. His time as president is known as the 'Era of Good Feelings'.
The country grew during this time. High tariffs were levied on British goods, internal improvements were made within the country and a national bank was set up to handle the country's money and issue national currency. Industry expanded, and in 1819 so did the country. In the Adams-Onis treaty, America gained Florida for five million dollars. Land from Canada was gained, the border with Canada was set, and a temporary solution to the dispute over the Oregon country was created. In 1823, James Monroe, on the advice of his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, declared that the Americas were closed to further colonisation, an edict which became known as the Monroe Doctrine.
In 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected as President, following one of the messiest elections ever. Andrew Jackson won the most votes, but lost the presidency. When there was no majority in the electoral college, the vote went to the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, the most powerful man in the House, convinced many people to vote for John Quincy Adams, and he was elected. Clay was appointed Secretary of State, and Jackson declared that there had been a 'corrupt bargain'. Adams was unpopular, and unable to get anything done during his time in office.
With this election, a regional rift was widened. The South, North and West were all very different places culturally. Eventually, the North and South7 were trying to gain an advantage of power over each other. The Missouri Compromise established a tradition of entering a free and a slave state into the Union at the same time, in order to preserve the balance of power, and so no one had an advantage.
The Jacksonian Democracy
In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected president. He was originally a common man and was also a war hero, so he won in a landslide. He instituted a spoils system, whereby people who supported him were appointed to government jobs. He also faced the Nullification Crisis - proponents of states' rights believed that a state had the ability to declare a law null and void. War nearly began in South Carolina, but Henry Clay, known as the 'Great Compromiser', pushed a successful compromise through Congress.
Jackson left office, to be succeeded by his vice president Martin Van Buren. Van Buren had a problem, as Jackson had decentralized the currency of the US into dozens of small banks. Van Buren was blamed for the ensuing economic problems.
After this, the Whig Party was born. Van Buren was defeated for reelection by William Henry Harrison, a war hero, who died about a month into office due to pneumonia, which he caught during his lengthly inaugural address. John Tyler, Harrison's vice president, took office.
Our manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.
- John Louis Sullivan, 1845
As Americans became a bit more tightly packed, its citizens looked to the Pacific. America shared rights of the Oregon country with Great Britain, but there were many more Americans than British in the area by the 1830s. America gained most of the territory up to the 49th parallel in 1846.
As in Oregon, there were many Americans in the Mexican region of Texas. They were becoming increasingly unhappy with Mexican rule, and began to move for independence. They won their war of independence - notable for the famous Battle of the Alamo, where a small group of people held off a huge army. Texas became the Lone Star Republic, before it was annexed into the United States in 1845. Mexico broke off diplomatic relations with the US in response. The Mexican-American War would begin with the belief that the Rio Grande River was the southern border of Texas.
In California, there were about 700 Americans by 1845. After James Polk was elected, he told the Americans there to rebel against the Mexican rule. They managed to gain their independence, and raised a flag with a bear on it, so this was called the 'Bear Flag Revolt'. As this was during the war with Mexico, the US declared California to be an American territory in 1846. Mexican troops were driven out of California.
In the Mexican-American War, America hoped to gain Mexican lands between Texas and the Pacific. General Zachary Taylor won the war for America, and the nation gained the land that would eventually become California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. With the Gadsen Purchase of 1853, what we now know as the Continental United States was complete.
Meanwhile, tension was growing between pro-slavery and anti-slavery people. More and more people opposed slavery as time went on, and the Southerners who needed slavery because of the economic advantage felt more and more threatened. In 1850, Zachary Taylor became President. Henry Clay proposed a compromise that would satisfy both sides on several key issues and put off secession. He proposed that slavery be abolished in Washington, DC and that California be admitted into the Union as a free state, that the land from Mexico be divided into two territories which would decide for themselves if they wanted to be free or slave states and that the Fugitive Slave Law be passed, requiring people to help return escaped slaves to their owner.
Intense debate followed, but Clay's compromise managed to pass. He had singlehandedly delayed the American Civil War for ten years. In 1852, Franklin Pierce was elected President. In 1854, Stephen A Douglas worked to pass (successfully) the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed each state to decide for itself whether it would allow slavery or not. This sparked the beginning of the Republican Party, a group dedicated to stopping the expansion of slavery.
The Whig party didn't have a set policy on slavery, and it didn't have the ability to make compromises due to the death of Henry Clay in 1852, so it was destined to die out. The Republicans fielded John C Fremont as their choice for president, and he did pretty well for a new party's candidate, but James Buchanan won the election. In the famed Dred Scott Decision, the Supreme Court decided in 1857 that a slave did not have the constitutional right to sue for his freedom. This mobilized the Republicans more than ever.
The Civil War
Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
- Abraham Lincoln
In 1860, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. The Democrats were unable to present a united front against Lincoln, and the northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas, while the southern Democrats nominated John C Breckinridge. Lincoln won the electoral vote, despite winning only 40% of the popular vote.
The South was afraid that if Lincoln was allowed to remain the president, he would do away with slavery. In defiance, they attacked an American military fort in South Carolina and, when met with resistance, seceded from the Union. The Civil War was fought, with more Americans dying in it than in any other war in the country's history. In the end, Lincoln and the North managed to win, and the country was united again - with the bonus of having slavery abolished.
Lincoln was assassinated on 15 April, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. He was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who was largely unable to continue the post-war Reconstruction policies of Lincoln, and was the first president to be impeached. Eventually, each of the seceded states was allowed to return to the Union, and America became prosperous again.
You have undertaken to cheat me. I won't sue you, for the law is too slow. I'll ruin you.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt
After the Civil War, a huge surge of industrial growth occurred. Huge companies were formed, and incredibly rich men such as John D Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie held monopolies on entire industries. Many men made their wealth in railroads, which revolutionized industry in the latter part of the 1800s. Important inventions were made during the era, such as the telegraph, the telephone and the lightbulb. Railroads were laid quicker than one could imagine, and automobiles and even aeroplanes were constructed.
While huge profits made philanthrophists out of the Rockefellers and Carnegies, the middle and lower class were suffering. As a result, unions were formed to make labour conditions better. Cities grew as industry became more important, though the government became more corrupt and reform was pushed.
Spain ruled the island of Cuba at this time, treating the native Cubans badly. William McKinley sent the US Navy to Cuba to protect American property and citizens. On 15 February, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbour, killing 266 Americans. The American public believed Spain was behind the explosion, and America declared war on Spain to ensure Cuban independence. The Navy used its great power to block off the island from Spain, and sent 17,000 soldiers to control the island - including the famous 'Rough Riders' led by Theodore Roosevelt.
A peace treaty was signed on 10 December, 1898 in Paris. Spain gave up Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam and sold the Philippine Islands to the US.
The World Wars
World War I
World War I began in Europe well before America joined the Allied effort. President Woodrow Wilson kept the country neutral, but an attack on the ocean liner Lusitania on 7 May, 1915 by German ships made the Americans very angry. Germany said that it would stop sinking passenger boats without warning. However, Wilson was forced into war when Germany revoked its promise, and the Zimmerman Telegram was discovered - a message asking for Mexico's support in a war against America. The United States was forced to join the Allies.
Within a quarter of a year, more than one million people in America joined the army. Huge amounts of supplies would be used in the war and many people would volunteer. Their patriotism helped Americans comply with rationing, drafts and war bonds. Women filled jobs left by men as men rushed into combat. Of course, the Allies prevailed over the Central Powers eventually and America helped rebuild the European nations hurt by war.
After World War I, feminism swept the country and the suffrage movement gained momentum. Americans became more distrustful of foreigners, and immigration was slowed. They were also scared of communism and its influence on American society. Calvin Coolidge took office as President in 1923, and encouraged business by raising tariffs, lowering taxes and not enforcing monopoly and antitrust laws. This resulted in a period of great prosperity in the 1920s and a boom of industry.
The Great Depression
On 29 October, 1929, 16 million shares of stock were sold, but there was no one to buy them. The market crashed. More than a thousand banks failed, thousands of businesses failed and industry and agriculture was producing half their usual revenue. There were 12 million unemployed Americans. The President at the time, Herbert Hoover, refused to intervene with the economy, as he thought that it wasn't the government's place. Villages of shanties set up for people without homes would be called 'Hoovervilles'. In the election of 1932, Franklin D Roosevelt was elected President in a landslide, and he began instituting a 'New Deal'.
Roosevelt began huge projects and made several regulations in an attempt to recover from the Depression. He tried to increase home ownership and bring banking back to prosperity. One important item on Roosevelt's agenda was the Social Security Act. Meanwhile, World War II was raging in Europe, and America wanted to stay out of the conflict. Neutrality dissolved, however, as America sent several ships to Britain in return for some bases near America. It also lifted an arms embargo.
Roosevelt said that the US had to be an arsenal of democracy, and fight German Nazis... if indirectly at first. He sent even more weapons to Britain as a part of the Lend-Lease Act. On 7 December, 1941, however, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by naval and air forces. This propelled America to war, and the country declared war on the Axis Powers. America notoriously sent 100,000 Japanese people to relocation camps away from the Pacific Coast.
World War II
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, asking Congress to declare war on Japan
The country rose to meet its enemies. They had to fight on two fronts: against the Japanese in the Pacific and against the Axis Powers in Europe. The most important attack for the United States was D-Day, where US, British and Canadian troops began the liberation of Europe. After many long years of battle, Germany surrendered on 8 May, 1945. Japan did not submit though, and it was known that a large scale invasion of Japan would be costly in lives, so two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: a decision still controversial today. Japan surrendered on 14 August.
All the production and employment in World War II pulled America together, and the world generally recovered. Peace was achieved quickly, and the armies soon came back to America. Franklin Roosevelt had died during the course of the war, and Harry Truman took the office. He instituted the Truman Doctrine, which essentially said that America should assist people trying to be free.
The Cold War
As the second World War ended, another war began. The Cold War between the US and Russia would occupy the minds of Americans for many decades. As the Soviet Union and the US both occupied Berlin, they confronted each other there often.
Just like in Berlin, the country of Korea was divided into sectors following World War II. Neither side would agree to reunite these halves of Korea, and they stayed divided. North Koreans sent some of their soldiers into South Korea and America responded, because they felt that another communist country in the region8 would be a very bad idea. A difficult war ensued, and it demonstrated how the country would fight against the growth of communism.
Back in America, many were afraid of communists in the government. Joseph McCarthy headed the House Un-American Activities Committee and charged that there were communists in high positions with the famous quote 'Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?' Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for allegedly stealing atomic bomb secrets in 1953. Dwight D Eisenhower, a respected and heroic figure, was elected President in 1952, reigning over a period of conservatism and anti-communist feelings. The time was extremely prosperous. It was also under Eisenhower that the Soviet Union and America began an arms race.
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
- John F Kennedy's Inaugural Address
John F Kennedy was elected President in 1960, and helped bring a time of hope and prosperity. He was young and charismatic, and he inspired Americans. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest that the country really ever got to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Kennedy proved to be a strong leader and dreamed of America landing on the moon by the end of the decade. He was assassinated on 22 November, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Lyndon Johnson was his successor. Johnson pushed a 'Great Society' domestic plan, but escalated the infamous Vietnam War.
Civil Rights were important in the 1960s, with great speakers like Martin Luther King, Jr stirring peaceful protest and civil disobedience. Johnson, an expert political craftsman, was able to push the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress and make it law. Johnson was also chief executive during the height of the Vietnam War. Enormous numbers of troops were used to fight communism in the Asian country. The war was largely unpopular, especially with younger people such as university students.
Richard M Nixon was elected to the high office in 1968, and attempted to lower the troop levels in Vietnam, but his move into Cambodia and Laos was unpopular. During his time in office, Americans made it to the moon in 1969. He resigned from office in disgrace following the huge political scandal of Watergate. His vice president Spiro Agnew having resigned, Gerald Ford took the office. Ford wasn't reelected, and Jimmy Carter took office in 1976. His presidency was noted mainly for the Iran hostage crisis, but also for the many liberal reforms that Carter undertook. In 1980, former California governor and actor Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency. His Reagan-omics, ending of the Cold War, Iran-Contra Affair and unique politics defined an era.
The Modern Era
Reagan's vice president George HW Bush (George Bush Snr) was elected President after Reagan's second term ended and a recession hit America. Bush led the US and former USSR in dismantling nuclear weapons. He was popular for his successes in the Gulf War, but was unable to make the economy pick up, so he lost to Bill Clinton in the election of 1992. Clinton had several important accomplishments - the economy did improve, he mediated between the Palestineans and Israelis, and America entered the North Atlantic Free Trade Organisation (NAFTA). Clinton was reelected in 1996, and was remembered in his second term for his Whitewater 'Scandal' and the Monica Lewinsky Affair.
In 2000, George W Bush was elected in one of the most contested election battles in history. On September 11, 2001, the famous World Trade Center Twin Towers were destroyed upon the impact of two aeroplanes, and another plane in Washington DC attacked the Pentagon. The disaster killed around 3,000 people, prompting a 'war on terror'. Bush's eight-year Presidency was generally judged to be a failure and contemporary historians who were polled consistently rated his Presidency as one of America's worst. His successor was a somewhat obscure African-American Senator from Illinois (the first non-white male to hold the office) named Barack Obama, elected in a landslide in 2008. History awaits the verdict on the Obama era.
The future ain't what it used to be.
- Yogi Berra