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History of the United States

U.S. History v • d • eTimeline:          Topics:

Pre-Columbian era
Colonial period
1776 to 1789
1789 to 1849
1849 to 1865
1865 to 1918
1918 to 1945
1945 to 1964
1964 to 1980
1980 to 1991
1991 to Present


Westward expansion
Overseas expansion
Diplomatic history
Military history
Industrial history
Economic history
Cultural history
History of the South
Civil Rights (1896-1954)
Civil Rights (1955-1968)
Women's history  

"American history" redirects here. For the history of the continents, see History of the Americas.

The United States of America is located in the middle of the North American continent with Canada to the north and the United Mexican States to the south. The United States ranges from the Atlantic Ocean on the nation's east coast to the Pacific Ocean bordering the west, and also includes the state of Hawaii, a series of islands located in the Pacific Ocean, the state of Alaska located in the northwestern part of the continent above the Yukon, and numerous other holdings and territories.[1]

The first known inhabitants of modern-day United States territory are believed to have arrived over a period of several thousand years beginning sometime prior to 15,000 years ago by crossing the Bering land bridge into Alaska. Solid evidence of these cultures settling in what would become the US is dated to at least 14,000 years ago.[2]

Relatively little is known of these early settlers compared to the Europeans who colonized the area after the first voyage of navigator Christopher Columbus in 1492 for Spain.[1] Columbus' men were also the first documented Old Worlders to land in the territory of the United States when they arrived in Puerto Rico during their second voyage in 1493.[3] Juan Ponce de León, who arrived in Florida in 1513[4], is credited as being the first European to reach modern-day U.S. territory, although some evidence suggests that John Cabot might have reached what is presently New England in 1498.[5][6]

In its beginnings, the United States consisted only of the Thirteen Colonies, which consisted of states occupying the same lands as when they were British colonies. American colonists fought off their British colonists in the American Revolutionary War of the 1770s and issued a Declaration of Independence in 1776. Seven years later, the signing of the Treaty of Paris officially recognized independence from Britain.[7] In the nineteenth century, westward expansion of United States territory began, upon the belief of Manifest Destiny, in which the United States would occupy all the North American land east to west, from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. By 1912, with the admission of Arizona to the Union, the U.S. reached that goal. The outlying states of Alaska and Hawaii were both admitted in 1959.

Ratified in 1788, the Constitution serves as the supreme American law in organizing the government; the Supreme Court is responsible for upholding Constitutional law. Many social progresses came up starting in the nineteenth century; those advancements have been widely reflected in the Constitution. Slavery was abolished in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; the following Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments respectively guaranteed citizenship for all persons naturalized within U.S. territory and voting for people of all races. In later years, civil rights were extended to women and black Americans, following much activism and lobbying from members of these minority groups. The Nineteenth Amendment prohibited gender discrimination in voting rights; later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in public places.

The Progressive Era marked a time of economic progress for the United States, advancing to the Roaring Twenties. However, Black Tuesday (October 29, 1929) led to the Great Depression, a time of economic downturn and mass unemployment. Consequently, the U.S. government established the New Deal, a series of reform programs that intended to assist those affected by the Depression. The economy recovered, so much that the U.S. became a world superpower by the dawn of the Cold War. Under the Ronald Reagan administration for much of the 1980s, the government practiced supply-side economics, which intended to increase government revenue through tax cuts. Recession became eminent again in 2001, especially with the September 11, 2001 attacks. In response to the terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush declared war on Afghanistan, in which those affiliated with the Al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for the September 11 attacks were stationed. In 2003, the U.S. Congress authorized the use of force in Iraq under speculation that Iraq might have had weapons of mass destruction to be used against the U.S. and their allies.[1] No evidence has been found to corroborate the weapons of mass destruction claims.


Colonial America

Main article: European colonization of the Americas

After a period of exploration by people from various European countries, Dutch, Spanish, English, French, Swedish, and Portuguese settlements were established.[8][1] Columbus was the first European to set foot on what would one day become U.S. territory when he came to Puerto Rico in 1493. In the 15th century, Europeans brought horses, cattle, and hogs to the Americas and, in turn, took back to Europe corn, potatoes, tobacco, beans, and squash.[8]

Spanish exploration and settlement (1492 – various dates)

See also: New Spain
An anachronous map showing areas of the United States and other territories pertaining to the Spanish Empire over a period exceeding 400 years

Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to come to what is now the United States, beginning with Christopher Columbus' second expedition, which reached Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493.[9] The first confirmed landing in the continental US was by a Spaniard, Juan Ponce de León, who landed in 1513 on a lush shore he christened La Florida.[4]

Within three decades of Ponce de León's landing, the Spanish became the first Europeans to reach the Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi River, the Grand Canyon[10] and the Great Plains. In 1540, De Soto undertook an extensive exploration of the present US and, in the same year, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado led 2,000 Spaniards and Mexican Indians across the modern Arizona-Mexico border and traveled as far as central Kansas.[11] Other Spanish explorers include Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón, Pánfilo de Narváez, Sebastián Vizcaíno, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, Gaspar de Portolà, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Tristán de Luna y Arellano and Juan de Oñate.[12]

The Spanish sent some settlers, creating the first permanent European settlement in the continental United States at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565.[1] Later such Spanish settlements include Santa Fe, San Antonio, Tucson, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Most Spanish settlements were along the California coast or the Santa Fe River in New Mexico.

French colonization (1564-1803)

See also: New France and Fort Caroline

English/British Colonial America (1585-1776)

Main article: Colonial America
The Mayflower, which transported Pilgrims to the New World, arrived in 1620. In 1607, the Virginia Company of London established the Jamestown Settlement on the James River, both named after King James I

The strip of land along the eastern seacoast was settled primarily by English colonists in the 17th century, along with much smaller numbers of Dutch and Swedes. Colonial America was defined by a severe labor shortage that gave birth to forms of unfree labor such as slavery and indentured servitude[13], and by a British policy of benign neglect (salutary neglect) that permitted the development of an American spirit distinct from that of its European founders.[14]

The first successful English colony was established in 1607, on the James River at Jamestown. It languished for decades until a new wave of settlers arrived in the late 17th century and established commercial agriculture based on tobacco. Between the late 1610s and the Revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to its American colonies.[15] One example of conflict between Native Americans and English settlers was the 1622 Powhatan uprising in Virginia, in which Native Americans had killed hundreds of English settlers. The largest conflict between Native Americans and English settlers in the 17th century was King Philip's War in New England. [16]

The Plymouth Colony was established in 1620. The area of New England was initially settled primarily by Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.[1] The Middle Colonies, consisting of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, were characterized by a large degree of diversity. The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina, with Georgia Colony the last of the Thirteen Colonies established in 1733.[17] Several colonies were used as penal settlements from the 1620s until the American Revolution.[18] Methodism became more a religion more prevalent among colonial citizens after the First Great Awakening, a religious revival led by preacher Jonathan Edwards in 1734.[1]

Formation of the United States of America (1776-1789)

Main article: History of the United States (1776-1789)
Washington's crossing of the Delaware, one of America's first successes in the Revolutionary war

The thirteen colonies began a rebellion against British rule in 1775 and proclaimed their independence in 1776. They subsequently constituted the first thirteen states of the United States of America, which became a nation in 1781 with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The 1783 Treaty of Paris represented Great Britain´s formal acknowledgement of the United States as an independent nation. [7]

The United States defeated Great Britain with help from France and Spain in the American Revolutionary War. The colonists' victory at Saratoga in 1777 led the French into an open alliance with the United States. In 1781, a combined American and French Army, acting with the support of a French fleet, captured a large British army led by General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The surrender of General Cornwallis ended serious British efforts to find a military solution to their American problem.[7]

The presentation of the Declaration of Independence

Seymour Martin Lipset points out that "The United States was the first major colony successfully to revolt against colonial rule. In this sense, it was the first 'new nation.'" [19] Side by side with the states' efforts to gain independence through armed resistance, a political union was being developed and agreed upon by them. The first step was to formally declare independence from Great Britain. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, still meeting in Philadelphia, declared the independence of "the United States of America" in the Declaration of Independence. Although the states were still independent entities and not yet formally bound in a legal union, July 4 is celebrated as the nation's birthday. The new nation was dedicated to principles of republicanism, which emphasized civic duty and a fear of corruption and hereditary aristocracy.[7]

The Boston Tea Party in 1773, often seen as the event which started the American Revolution

The Continental Congress that convened on September 5, 1774 played an important coordinating role among the thirteen colonies in dealing with Great Britain, including the American Revolutionary War from 1775.[7] A constitutional government, the Congress of the Confederation first became possible with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union on March 1, 1781.[20] Samuel Huntington became the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled.[21] However, it became apparent early on that the new constitution was inadequate for the operation of the new government and efforts soon began to improve upon it.[22]

The territory of the newly formed USA was much smaller than it is today. A French map showing Les Etats Unis in 1790

A series of attempts to organize a movement to outline and press reforms culminated in the Congress calling the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The structure of the national government was profoundly changed on March 4, 1789, when the American people replaced the Articles with the Constitution. The new government reflected a radical break from the normative governmental structures of the time, favoring representative, elective government with a weak executive, rather than the existing monarchical structures common within the western traditions of the time. The system of republicanism borrowed heavily from Enlightenment Age ideas and classical western philosophy in that a primacy was placed upon individual liberty and upon constraining the power of government through division of powers and a system of checks and balances.[22] Additionally, the Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791 to guarantee individual liberties such as freedom of speech and religious practice and consisted of the first ten amendments of the Constitution.[23] John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whose membership was established by the Judiciary Act of 1789; the first Supreme Court session was held in New York City on February 1, 1790.[24] In 1803, the Court case Marbury v. Madison made the Court the sole arbiter of constitutionality of federal law.[25]

Westward expansion (1789–1849)

Main article: History of the United States (1789–1849)
Economic growth in America per capita income Territorial expansion of the United States, omitting Oregon and other claims.

George Washington—a renowned hero of the American Revolutionary War, commander in chief of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention—became the first President of the United States under the new U.S. Constitution. The Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, when settlers in the Pennsylvania counties west of the Allegheny Mountains protested against a federal tax on liquor and distilled drinks, was the first serious test of the federal government.[26] He announced his resignation from the presidency in his farewell address, which was published in the newspaper Independent Chronicle on September 26, 1796. In his address, Washington triumphed the benefits of federal government and importance of religion and morality while warning against foreign alliances and formation of political parties.[27] His vice president John Adams succeeded him in presidency; Adams was a member of the Federalist Party. However, the Federalists became divided after Adams sent a peace mission to France despite ongoing disputes with that nation. Thomas Jefferson, a Republican, defeated Adams for the presidency in the 1800 election.[28]

The Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States and provided U.S. settlers with vast potential for expansion west of the Mississippi River.[29] In response to continued British impressment of American sailors into the British Navy, president James Madison declared war on Britain in 1812.[30] Slave importation from Africa became illegal beginning in 1808, despite a growing plantation system in many southern states such as North Carolina and Georgia.[31] The United States and Britain came to a draw in the War of 1812 after bitter fighting that lasted until January 8, 1815, during the Battle of New Orleans. The Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the war, essentially resulted in the maintenance of the status quo ante bellum[32]; however, crucially for the U.S., some Native American tribes had to sign treaties with the U.S. government in response to their losses in the war.[30] During the later course of the war, the Federalists held the Hartford Convention in 1814 over concerns that the war would weaken New England. There, they proposed seven constitutional amendments meant to strengthen the region politically, but once the Federalists delivered them to Washington, D.C., the recent American victories in New Orleans and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent undermined the Federalists' arguments and contributed to the downfall of the party.[33]

The Monroe Doctrine, expressed in 1823, proclaimed the United States' opinion that European powers should no longer colonize or interfere in the Americas. This was a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States. [1] The Monroe Doctrine was adopted in response to American and British fears over Russian and French expansion into areas of the Western Hemisphere. It was not until the Presidential Administration of Teddy Roosevelt that the Monroe Doctrine became a central tenet of American foreign policy. The Monroe Doctrine was then invoked in the Spanish-American War as well as later in the proxy wars between the United States and Soviet Union in Central America and has also essentially given developing nations in the Americas support from the United States and warned the powers in Europe to steer clear of far western affairs.[34]

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to negotiate treaties that exchanged Indian tribal lands in the eastern states for lands west of the Mississippi River. This established Andrew Jackson, a military hero and President, as a cunning tyrant in regards to native populations. The act resulted most notably in the forced migration of several native tribes to the West, with several thousand Indians dying en route, and the Creeks' violent opposition and eventual defeat. The Indian Removal Act also directly caused the ceding of Spanish Florida and subsequently led to the many Seminole Wars.[35]

In its mission to end slavery, the abolitionist movement also gained a larger following of participants from both black and white races. The American Anti-Slavery Society was politically active from 1833 to 1839 for the government to abolish slavery, but Congress imposed a "gag rule" that rejected any citizen's request against slavery.[36] William Lloyd Garrison, formerly associated with the Society, then began publication of the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator in Boston, Massachusetts in 1831, and Frederick Douglass, a black ex-slave, began writing for that newspaper around 1840 and started his own abolitionist newspaper North Star in 1847.[37]

The Republic of Texas was annexed by president John Tyler in 1845.[38] The U.S., using regulars and large numbers of volunteers, defeated Mexico in 1848 during the Mexican-American War. Public sentiment in the U.S. was divided as Whigs[39] and anti-slavery forces[40] opposed the war. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded California, New Mexico, and adjacent areas to the United States, which composed about thirty percent of former Mexican land. Westward expansion was enhanced further by the California Gold Rush following the discovery of gold in that state in 1848. Numerous "forty-niners" trekked to California in pursuit of gold; land-demanding European immigrants also contributed to the rising Western population.[1]

Civil War era (1849–1865)

The Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle and turning point of the American Civil War
Main article: History of the United States (1849–1865)

In the middle of the 19th century, white Americans of the North and South were unable to reconcile fundamental differences in their approach to government, economics, society and African American slavery. The issue of slavery in the new territories was settled by the Compromise of 1850 brokered by Whig Henry Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas; the Compromise included admission of California as a free state and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act to make it easier for masters to reclaim runaway slaves.[38] In 1854, the proposed Kansas-Nebraska Act abrogated the Missouri Compromise by providing that each new state of the Union would decide its stance on slavery.[41] After Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 Election, eleven Southern states seceded from the union between late 1860 and 1861, establishing a rebel government, the Confederate States of America, on February 8, 1861.[42]

By 1860, there had been nearly four million slaves residing in the United States, nearly eight times as many from 1790; within the same time period cotton production in the U.S. boomed from one thousand to nearly one million per year. There were some slave rebellions - including by Gabriel Prosser (1800), Denmark Vesey (1822), and Nat Turner (1831) - but they all failed and led to tighter slave oversight in the south.[43] White abolitionist John Brown tried and failed to free a group of black slaves held in Harpers Ferry, Virginia and was therefore executed for his actions.[44] Harriet Beecher Stowe, daughter of minister Lyman Beecher, published her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852 in response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. The novel intended to express her views of the cruelty of slavery and sold nearly 300,000 copies during its first year of publication.[38] Numerous slaves also escaped their masters through the Underground Railroad, a term defining secret routes where abolitionists confidentially transported runaway slaves to "free state" territory; its most famous leader was Harriet Tubman.[45]

The Union: blue, yellow, gray; The Confederacy: brown

The Civil War began when Confederate General Pierre Beauregard opened fire upon Fort Sumter, in the Confederate state of South Carolina.[46] Along with the northwestern portion of Virginia, four of the five northernmost "slave states" did not secede and became known as the Border States.[42] Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North when General Robert E. Lee led 55,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Maryland.[47] The Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history.[48] At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made General Ulysses S. Grant commander of all Union armies. General William Tecumseh Sherman marched from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia, defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood.[42] Sherman's army laid waste to about 20% of the farms in Georgia in his "March to the Sea", and reached the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah in December 1864.[49] Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House.[42] Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and an extraordinary 18% in the South.[50]

General Custer's last stand in the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Reconstruction and the rise of industrialization (1865—1890)

Main article: History of the United States (1865–1918)

Reconstruction took place for most of the decade following the Civil War. During this era, the "Reconstruction Amendments" were passed to expand civil rights for black Americans. Those amendments included the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment that guaranteed citizenship for all people born or naturalized within U.S. territory, and the Fifteenth Amendment that granted the vote for all men regardless of race. While the Civil Rights Act of 1875 forbade discrimination in the service of public facilities, the Black Codes denied blacks certain privileges readily available to whites.[51] In response to Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) emerged around the late 1860s as a white-supremacist organization opposed to black civil rights. Increasing hate-motivated violence from groups like the Klan influenced both the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870 that classified the KKK as a terrorist group[52] and an 1883 Supreme Court decision nullifying the Civil Rights Act of 1875; the Court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as regulating only states' decisions regarding civil rights.[53] During the era, many regions of the southern U.S. were military-governed and often corrupt; Reconstruction ended after the disputed 1876 election between Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes and Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden. Hayes won the election, and the South soon re-entered the national political scene.[1]

Following was the Gilded Age, a term that author Mark Twain used to describe the period of the late nineteenth century when there had been a dramatic expansion of American industry. Reform of the Age included the Civil Service Act, which mandated a competitive examination for applicants for government jobs. Other important legislation included the Interstate Commerce Act, which ended railroads' discrimination against small shippers, and the Sherman Antitrust Act, which outlawed monopolies in business. Twain believed that this age was corrupted by such elements as land speculators, scandalous politics, and unethical business practices. By century's end, American industrial production and per capita income exceeded those of all other world nations and ranked only behind Great Britain. In response to heavy debts and decreasing farm prices, farmers joined the Populist Party.[54] Later, an unprecedented wave of immigration served both to provide the labor for American industry and create diverse communities in previously undeveloped areas. Abusive industrial practices led to the often violent rise of the labor movement in the United States.[55] Influential figures of the period included John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

Progessivism, imperialism, and World War I (1890—1918)

After the Gilded Age came the Progressive Era, whose followers called for reform over perceived industrial corruption. Viewpoints taken by progressives included greater federal regulation of anti-trust laws and the industries of meat-packing, drugs, and railroads. Four new constitutional amendments—the Sixteenth through Nineteenth—resulted from progressive activism.[56] The era lasted from 1900 to 1918, the year marking the end of World War I.[57]

U.S. Federal government policy, since the James Monroe Administration, had been to move the indigenous population beyond the reach of the white frontier into a series of Indian reservations. Tribes were generally forced onto small reservations as Caucasian farmers and ranchers took over their lands. In 1876, the last major Sioux war erupted when the Black Hills Gold Rush penetrated their territory.[58]

Ellis island in 1902, the main immigration port for immigrants entering the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The United States began its rise to international power in this period with substantial population and industrial growth domestically and numerous military ventures abroad, including the Spanish-American War, which began when the United States blamed the sinking of the USS Maine (ACR-1) on Spain. Also at stake were U.S. interests in acquiring Cuba, an island nation fighting for independence from Spanish occupation; Puerto Rico and the Philippines were also two former Spanish colonies seeking liberation. In December 1898, representatives of Spain and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Paris to end the war, with Cuba becoming an independent nation and Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines becoming U.S. territories.[59][1] In 1900, Congress passed the Open Door Policy that at the time required China to grant equal trading access to all foreign nations.[1]

President Woodrow Wilson declared U.S. entry into World War I in April 1917 following a yearlong neutrality policy; the U.S. had previously shown interest in world peace by participating in the Hague Conferences. American participation in the war proved essential to the Allied victory. Wilson also implemented a set of propositions titled the Fourteen Points to ensure peace, but they were denied at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Isolationist sentiment following the war also blocked the U.S. from participating in the League of Nations, an important part of the Treaty of Versailles.[1]

Post-World War I and the Great Depression (1918–1940)

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Main article: History of the United States (1918–1945)

Following World War I, the U.S. grew steadily in stature as an economic and military world power. The aftershock of Russia's October Revolution resulted in real fears of communism in the United States, leading to a three-year Red Scare.

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol in Chicago, 1921

The United States Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles imposed by its Allies on the defeated Central Powers; instead, the United States chose to pursue unilateralism, if not isolationism.

In 1920, the manufacture, sale, import and export of alcohol was prohibited by the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Prohibition encouraged illegal breweries and dealers to make substantial amounts of money selling alcohol illegally. The Prohibition ended in 1933, a failure. Additionally, the KKK reformed during that decade and gathered nearly 4.5 million members by 1924, and the U.S. government passed the Immigration Act of 1924 restricting foreign immigration.[60] During most of the 1920s, the United States enjoyed a period of unbalanced prosperity: farm prices and wages fell, while industrial profits grew. The boom was fueled by a rise in debt and an inflated stock market. The Hawley-Smoot Tariff, the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Dust Bowl, and the ensuing Great Depression led to government efforts to restart the economy and help its victims with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. The recovery was rapid in all areas except unemployment, which remained fairly high until 1940.

World War II (1940–1945)

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Main articles: World War II and Homefront-United States-World War II

As with World War I, the United States did not enter World War II until after the rest of the active Allied countries had done so. Its decision to declare war followed Japan's surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Fleet in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Until then, the United States's isolationism had bound the country to neutrality. Any potential active contributions that the United States could have made to the war would have been limited by its general unpreparedness for a conflict of such a magnitude; the American armed forces were significantly smaller than the equivalent forces of France, Germany, Britain, the Soviet Union and Japan.

The United States's first contribution to the war was simultaneously to cut off the oil and raw material supplies desperately needed by Japan to maintain its offensive in Manchuria, and to increase military and financial aid to China. Its first contribution to the Allies came in September 1940, when the United States gave Britain 50 old destroyers in exchange for military bases in the Caribbean. This was followed, in December 1940, when the United States began a "Lend-Lease" program with Britain, supplying much needed military equipment.

On 31 October 1941, less than two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, an American destroyer escorting cargo ships in the Atlantic was sunk by a German U-boat. War, however, was not declared on Germany. On 7 December 1941 Japan launched a surprise attack on the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, citing America's recent trade embargo as justification. The following day, Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully urged a joint session of Congress to declare war on Japan, calling 7 December 1941 "a date which will live in infamy." Four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 11, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, drawing the country into a two-theater war.

Battle against Germany

Upon entering the war, the United States realized they could not fight both Japan and Germany at once. Thus it was decided to concentrate the bulk of their efforts on fighting Hitler in Europe, while maintaining a defensive position in the Pacific until Hitler was defeated. The United States's first step was to set up a large airforce in Britain to concentrate on bombing raids into Germany itself. The American Air force relied on the B-17 Flying Fortress as its primary heavy bomber. Britain had ceased its daylight bombing raids, due to heavy casualties inflicted by the Luftwaffe. The USAAF suffered similar high losses until the introduction of the P-51 Mustang as a long range escort fighter for the bombers, allowing them continue with daylight raids.

The American army's first ground action was fighting alongside the British and Australian armies in North Africa, this was important ground as it gave access to the Suez canal which was one of two crucial trade links that Britain relied on throughout the war, along with the Atlantic. By May 1943, the British 8th Army had expelled the Germans from North Africa and the Allies controlled this vital link until the end of the war. The American navy also played an active role in the Atlantic protecting the convoys bringing vital American war material to Britain. By midway through 1943, the Allies were fighting the war from Britain with unbroken supply lines, whilst at the same time Hitler's armies were very much on the back foot, with heavy bombing taking its toll on production. The tide had swung dramatically from the grim days of early 1942.

By early 1944, a planned invasion of Western Europe was underway. Germany fully expected this attack to occur, but brilliant Allied strategy and a complete lack of intelligence flowing to Germany from Britain following the efficient elimination of virtually all German spies by British Intelligence allowed this attack to occur largely as a surprise. What followed on 6 June 1944, was Operation Overlord, or D-Day. The largest war armada ever assembled landed on the beaches of Normandy and began the penetration of Western Europe that eventually overthrew Hitler and Nazi Germany. Hitler had fallen for the Allied bluff and prepared most of his troops for an invasion at Calais, much further north than where the actual landing would take place. It was not until the attack was well underway that the German army realised what was occurring and sent forces in defense. It was too late. In all, almost 5,000 ships, 10,000 aircraft and 176,000 troops took part in the 6-week battle that ended in a decisive victory for the allies.

Following the landing at Normandy, the Americans contributed greatly to the outcome of the war, with dogged fighting in the Battle of the Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge resulting in Allied victories against the Germans. The battles took a heavy toll on the Americans, who lost 19,000 men during the Battle of the Bulge alone. The allied bombing raids on Germany increased to unprecedented levels after the D-Day invasion, with over 70% of all bombs dropped on Germany occurring after this date. Germany was flattened, the country was physically and emotionally rubble. On 30 April 1945, with Berlin completely overrun with Russian forces and his country in tatters, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. On 8 May 1945, the war with Germany was over, following its unconditional surrender to the Allied forces.

From a modest contribution in troops at the beginning of the campaign in Europe, by the end of the war approximately 66% of all allied divisions in Western Europe were American.

Battle against Japan

Due to the United States commitment to defeating Hitler in Europe, the first years of the war against Japan was largely a defensive battle with the United States Navy attempting to prevent the Japanese Navy from asserting dominance of the Pacific region. Initially, Japan won the majority of its battles in a short period of time. Japan quickly defeated and created military bases in Guam, Thailand, Malaya, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Burma. This was done virtually unopposed and with quicker speed than that of the German Blitzkrieg during the early stages of the war. This was important for Japan, as it had only 10% of the homeland industrial production capacity of the United States.

The turning point of the war was the Battle of Midway in June 1942. The United States Navy had broken the Japanese communication codes, which allowed it to strategically position its ships in order to deliver a comprehensive defeat to the Japanese Navy. Following this, the Americans began fighting towards China where they could build an airbase suitable to commence bombing of mainland Japan with its B-29 Superfortress fleet. The Americans began by selecting smaller, lesser defended islands as targets as opposed to attacking the major Japanese strongholds. During this period, they inadvertently triggered what would become their most comprehensive victory in the entire war.

After defeating Japanese troops and landing in the Mariana Islands, the Japanese retaliated by sending 6 aircraft carriers carrying 430 planes to counter attack. The battle that ensued on June 19, 1944, became known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot". The American Navy pilots shot down 369 of the 430 Japanese bombers, fighters and dive bombers, and heavily wounded many others. Only 36 Japanese aircraft remained operational after this battle, or around 8%.

The Pacific war became the largest naval conflict in history. The American Navy emerged victorious after at one point being stretched to almost breaking point with almost complete destruction of the Japanese Navy. The American forces were then poised for an invasion of the Japanese mainland, to force the Japanese into unconditional surrender. On April 12 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died and Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as the 33rd President of the United States. He had no knowledge of the Manhattan Project and was faced with the choice to use Nuclear weapons against Japan. The decision to use nuclear weapons to end the conflict has been one of the most controversial decisions of the war. Supporters of the use of the bombs argue that an invasion would have cost enormous numbers of lives, citing the battle of Okinawa, where the death toll was higher than that from the two nuclear bombs combined. They also point out that a conventional fire bombing campaign would have caused enormous civilian casualties, as the bombing of Tokyo had done. Others argue that a military demonstration should have taken place, or that footage of the test bomb in Los Alamos should have been sent to the Japanese along with a demand for surrender. The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, unexpected by the Japanese. The second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. The Americans then made a bluff suggesting to the Japanese that they had a limitless supply of atomic bombs. On August 15, 1945, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally and the war was over, avoiding a bloody invasion.

Cold War beginnings and the Civil Rights Movement (1945–1964)

Martin Luther King delivering the I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
Main article: History of the United States (1945–1964)
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Following World War II, the United States emerged as one of the two dominant superpowers. The U.S. Senate, on December 4, 1945, approved U.S. participation in the United Nations (UN), which marked a turn away from the traditional isolationism of the U.S. and toward more international involvement. The post-war era in the United States was defined internationally by the beginning of the Cold War, in which the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to expand their influence at the expense of the other, checked by each side's massive nuclear arsenal and the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. The result was a series of conflicts during this period including the Korean War and the tense nuclear showdown of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Within the United States, the Cold War prompted concerns about Communist influence, and also resulted in government efforts to encourage math and science toward efforts like the space race.

Alabama governor George Wallace attempting to stop desegregation at the University of Alabama in 1963. President Kennedy's address on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963.

In the decades after World War II, the United States became a global influence in economic, political, military, cultural and technological affairs. At the center of middle-class culture since the 1950s has been a growing obsession with consumer goods.

John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960. Known for his charisma, he was the only Catholic to ever be President. The Kennedy's brought a new life and vigor to the atmosphere of the White House. During his time in office, the Cold War reached its height with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

Meanwhile, the American people completed their great migration from the farms into the cities and experienced a period of sustained economic expansion. At the same time, institutionalized racism across the United States, but especially in the American South, was increasingly challenged by the growing Civil Rights movement and African American leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. During the 1960s, the Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation between Whites and Blacks came to an end.

Cold War (1964–1980)

Main article: History of the United States (1964–1980)
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The Cold War continued through the 1960s and 1970s, and the United States entered the Vietnam War, whose growing unpopularity fed already existing social movements, including those among women, minorities and young people. President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society social programs and the judicial activism of the Warren Court added to the wide range of social reform during the 1960s and 1970s. Feminism and the environmental movement became political forces, and progress continued toward civil rights for all Americans. The Counterculture Revolution swept through the nation and much of the western world in the late sixties, dividing the already hostile environment but also bringing forth more liberated social views.

In the early 1970s, Johnson's successor, President Richard Nixon was forced by Congress to bring the Vietnam War to a close, and the American-backed South Vietnamese government subsequently collapsed. The war had cost the lives of 58,000 American troops and millions of Vietnamese. The OPEC oil embargo and slowing economic growth led to a period of stagflation. Nixon's own administration was brought to an ignominious close with the political scandal of Watergate.

End of the Cold War (1980–1991)

This article or section, while providing some complete reference citations, includes a list of referencesor external links, and its verifiabilityremains partly unclear because it has insufficient in-text citations.
You can improvethis article by introducing more precise citations. Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate tells Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall in 1987, shortly before the end of the Cold War
Main article: History of the United States (1980–1991)
In the 1984 election, Ronald Reagan won 49 states in one of the largest ever election victories.

Ronald Reagan produced a major realignment with his 1980 and 1984 landslides. In 1980, the Reagan coalition was possible because of Democratic losses in most social-economic groups.

"Reagan Democrats" were those who usually voted Democratic, but were attracted by Reagan's policies, personality and leadership, notably his social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy.

In foreign affairs, bipartisanship was not in evidence. The Democrats doggedly opposed the president's efforts to support the Contras of Nicaragua. He took a hard line against the Soviet Union, alarming Democrats who wanted a nuclear freeze, but he succeeded in growing the military budget and launching a costly and complicated missile defense system (dubbed "Star Wars") hoping to intimidate the Soviets. Though it was never fully developed or deployed, the research and technologies of SDI paved the way for some anti-ballistic missile systems of today. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow, many conservative Republicans were dubious of the friendship between him and Reagan. Gorbachev tried to save Communism in Russia first by ending the expensive arms race with America, then in 1989 by shedding the East European empire. Communism finally collapsed in Russia in 1991, ending the US-Soviet Cold War.


Main article: History of the United States (1991 - present)
New York under attack in the September 11, 2001 attacks George W. Bush in a televised address from the USS Abraham Lincoln with the Mission Accomplished banner in the background. This article or section, while providing some complete reference citations, includes a list of referencesor external links, and its verifiabilityremains partly unclear because it has insufficient in-text citations.
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After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States emerged as the world's sole remaining superpower and continued to involve itself in military action overseas, including the 1991 Gulf War. Following his election in 1992, President Bill Clinton oversaw the longest economic expansion in American history, a side effect of the digital revolution and new business opportunities created by the Internet (see Internet bubble).

In 1993, Ramzi Yousef, a Kuwaiti national, planted explosives in the underground garage of One World Trade Center and detonated them, killing six people and injuring thousands, in what would become the beginning of an age of terrorism. Two years later in 1995, Timothy McVeigh spearheaded a terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The bombing killed 168 people and injured over 800.

The presidential election in 2000 between George W. Bush (R) and Al Gore (D) was one of the closest in the U.S. history, and helped lay the seeds for political polarization to come.

At the beginning of the new millennium, the United States found itself attacked by Islamic terrorism, with the September 11, 2001 attacks in which extremists hijacked four transcontinental airliners and intentionally crashed two of them into the twin towers at the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. The passengers on the fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, revolted causing the plane to crash into a field in Somerset County, PA. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, that plane was intended to hit the US Capitol Building in Washington. The twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, destroying the entire complex. The United States soon found large amounts of evidence that suggested that a terrorist group, al-Qaeda, spearheaded by Osama bin Laden, was responsible for the attacks.

In response to the attacks, under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States (with the military support of NATO and the political support of some of the international community) invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban regime, which had supported and harbored bin Laden. More controversially, President Bush continued what he dubbed the War on Terrorism with the invasion of Iraq by overthrowing and capturing Saddam Hussein in 2003. Reasons cited by the administration for the invasion ranged from the "spreading of democracy", the "elimination of weapons of mass destruction"[61] (later proven to be based on false or skewed evidence)[62] and the "liberation of the Iraqi people".[63] Ironically, the military name for the invasion was "Operation Iraqi Freedom". This second invasion proved to be unpopular in many parts of the world and helped fuel a global wave of anti-American sentiment.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded parts of the city of New Orleans and heavily damaged other areas of the gulf coast, including major damage to the Mississippi coast. The preparation and the response of the government were criticized as ineffective and slow.

By 2006, rising prices saw Americans become increasingly conscious of the nation's extreme dependence on steady supplies of inexpensive petroleum for energy, with President Bush admitting a U.S. "addiction to oil." The possibility of serious economic disruption, should conflict overseas or declining production interrupt the flow, could not be ignored, given the instability in the Middle East and other oil-producing regions of the world. Many proposals and pilot projects for replacement energy sources, from ethanol to wind power and solar power, received more capital funding and were pursued more seriously in the 2000s than in previous decades.

As of 2008, the political climate remains polarized as debates continue over partial birth abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and the ongoing war in Iraq. In the area of foreign policy, the U.S. maintains ongoing talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, as well as with Israel and the Palestinian Authority over a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The George W. Bush administration has also stepped up rhetoric implicating Iran and more recently Syria in the development of weapons of mass destruction.


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1 Territories also inor commonly reckoned elsewhere in the Americas(South America). 2 Territories also inor commonly reckoned to be in the Pacific basin. Categories: History of the United States | National historiesHidden category: Articles lacking in-text citations