The Colonial Period
The first inhabitants of America were the Indians. They were the only masters of the continent living in complete freedom and developing customs of their own.
The ‘New Continent’ became known only after Columbus’s discovery in
1492. In the 16th
century most European nations began to be interested in the American continent.
group of some 120 English colonists landed in Virginia and founded Jamestown
which was the first permanent English settlement. In 1620 a
hundred men and women known to history as the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ came to the Massachusetts shores on board the ‘Mayflower’. They were a group of
Puritans escaping religious persecution in England.
Farther down the American coast a group of English Catholics colonized Maryland. and the tolerant and peaceful Quakers, led by William Penn, gathered in Pennsylvania.
Little by little thirteen colonies came into existence along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to the Carolinas.
The American Revolution
Since the beginning the colonies had considered themselves self-governing units within the British Empire. Britain, however, didn’t want the colonies to govern themselves and regarded their people as foreigners. She forced them to serve England’s interests by providing new markets for goods and supplying raw materials for English industry, compelled them to trade only with the mother country or its Empire, and imposed arbitrary taxes on glass, lead, paper and even stamps. Agitation arose against these Impositions and the situation reached Its climax with the so-called ‘Boston tea-party’. The Bostonians refused to pay a new tax on tea and threw all the tea the British had just brought over into the harbour. The other colonies decided a meeting in order to find a solution. A committee of five members. including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, drew up a Declaration of Independence which was adopted on July 4, 1776, the birthday of American Independence.
Having cut with England and established the United States of America, the new nation had to struggle for survival. Life was really hard for George Washing-ton, the Commander-in-Chief, who had only a very small army of farmers. After several defeats, however, the new nation made alliance with France, and the wheel of fortune turned. The war ended with the defeat of the English at the battle of Yorktown in 1781. The Treaty of Versailles ratified the independence of the 13 colonies in 1783.
The Conquest of the West
The new Federal Government proved to be a good one and was able to assure the nation 70 years of constructive growth.
The U.S. devoted itself to enlarging its possessions. Louisiana was bought from France, Florida from Spain and Alaska from the Czar of Russia. A brief and successful war against Mexico gave the nation vast portions of the South-east including California, New Mexico and Arizona. The addition of all these territories extended the U.S. to practically its present size. The vast western deserts and plains. inhabited by Indians and buffaloes, were an appeal to pioneers. especially since reports of gold mines in California had spread throughout the country. starting the famous ‘Gold Rush’. Pioneers packed their families and furniture In big covered wagons. crossed the Appalachians and set out to the West. This expansion was marked by a long and bitter conflict against the Redskin Indians who attempted bravely to defend their hunting grounds from the Invaders.
The Civil War and the Negro Problem
Towards the middle of the 19th century the conflicting interests of the Northern and Southern States became manifest. The problem of the abolition of slavery was the main question about which the States were divided. In the North a group of abolitionists agitated for the immediate stamping out of the institution. Anti-slavery sentiment, however, was growing not only on moral grounds, but for political and economic reasons as well. Both free and slave states had so far been able to balance each other’s influence. But time came when the interests of the two parts became incompatible, since one was mainly industrial and the other agrarian. The Northern States, starting up their own factories, needed protection and claimed high custom duties on foreign imports, while the Southern States, which shipped raw materials abroad to be turned into manufactured goods, claimed free trade.
When Abraham Lincoln won the Presidential Elections in 1861, eleven Southern States seceded from the union and formed a confederacy. War broke out. The Confederates were defeated, and Lincoln declared that all the 3,500,000 Negro slaves of the rebel states should be free. In 1865 the President was assassinated by a fanatic.
America Becomes a World Power
By the end of the 19th century the United States had filled up their borders from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, reaching a population of 76 million.
America had become a world power. Nevertheless, when World War I broke out among the European countries, the United States, acting under the policy of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ declared its neutrality. The States entered the war only in 1917, after a harsh submarine warfare had sunk several American ships. The war ended in 1918. Although America had been a late-corner to the war and had suffered relatively few losses, its weight in men, money and supplies had been great; therefore President Wilson could ask for a ‘League of Nations’, embracing victors and vanquished alike in a democratic brotherhood. This organization would assure every nation a right peace.
The Atomic Age
Just when the United States seemed to go through a period of welfare, the sudden crash of the New York Stock Exchange started the Great Depression (1929-1933), which plunged the nation from prosperity to near ruin.
To protect industry, high custom duties were levied, thus hindering free trade with foreign countries. Mass production reached a gigantic level and the market was soon overflowing with goods. Demand was lacking, so production declined, factories closed and millions of people were out of work. The man capable of overcoming the crisis was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) with his ‘New Deal’ program. According to this, the Federal Government favoured reciprocal trade agreements, repealed prohibition. regulated wages and prices in industry and controlled farming.
Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the U.S. entered World War II in 1941. after Japan had launched a surprise attack on the naval base of Pearl Harbour. By the middle of 1945 Europe had surrendered, while Japan still had a big army and a fanatical determination to hold her homeland. To put an end to the war, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, on August 6. Japan surrendered. The Atomic era had started.
Source: Colle – Meloni, News. For Juniors, Lattes, an old Italian book 1979.