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History of the United States

See also: Outline of United States history

History of the United States

This article is part of a series

Pre-Colonial period
Colonial period
Westward expansion
Overseas expansion
Diplomatic history
Military history
Technological and industrial history
Economic history
Cultural history
Civil War
History of the South
Civil Rights (1896–1954)
Civil Rights (1955–1968)
Women's history

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The first residents of what is now the United States emigrated from Asia over 15,000 years
ago by crossing Beringia into what is now present-day Alaska. Archaeological evidence of
these people, the ancestors of the Native Americans, dates back to 14,000 years ago, although
there is evidence to support an earlier date for a human population in North America.

The Viking Sagas talk of Norsemen landing in an area they called 'Vinland', and there is
recent archaeological evidence to support this, found in eastern Canada but, for the moment
at least, Christopher Columbus is still generally accepted as being the first European to land
in the territory of what is now North America when he arrived in the Caribbean in 1492,
though he never set foot on what is now the USA. The subsequent arrival of settlers from
Europe began the colonial history of the United States. The Thirteen English colonies that
would become the original US states were founded along the east coast beginning in 1607.
Spain, France and Russia also founded settlements in what would become US territory.

The population of the Thirteen Colonies grew rapidly, reaching 50,000 by 1650, 250,000 by
1700, and 2.5 million by 1775. High birth rates and low death rates were augmented by
steady flows of immigrants from Europe and slaves from the West Indies. Occasional small-
scale wars involved the French and Indians to the north, and the Spanish and Indians to the
south. Religion was a powerful influence on many immigrants, especially the Puritans in
New England and the German sects in Pennsylvania, with boosts from the revivals of the
First Great Awakening. The colonies by the 1750s had achieved a standard of living about as
high as Britain, with far more self-government than anywhere else. Most free men owned
their own farms and could vote in elections for the colonial legislatures, while local judges
and local juries dispensed justice. Royal soldiers were rarely seen.[2]

The colonists did not have representation in the ruling British government and believed they
were being denied their constitutional rights as Englishmen whenever parliament tried to tax
them. For many years, the home government had permitted wide latitude to local colonial
governments. Beginning in the 1760s London demanded the colonists pay taxes; the main
issue was not the money (the taxes involved were quite low) but the issue of who was in
control. The new taxes on stamps in 1765 and later the tax on tea ignited a firestorm of
opposition. The British responded with military force in Massachusetts, and shut down the
system of local self government in what the colonists called the Intolerable Acts. All 13
colonies now form the Committees of Correspondence, which in effect became a shadow
government. They sent delegates to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774,
presenting a united front against the British.

After fighting broke out in April 1775, the colonies ousted all royal officials and set up their
own governments, which were led from Philadelphia by the Continental Congress and its
commander in chief, General George Washington. The American Revolution escalated into
all-out war. The new nation declared independence in July 1776 as the United States of
America. After Americans captured the British invasion army in 1777, France became a
military ally, and the war became a major international war with evenly balanced forces.
With the capture of a second British invasion army at Yorktown in 1781, the British opened
peace negotiations. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 proved highly favorable to the new nation.[3]

The new national government proved too weak, so a Constitutional Convention was called in
1787 to create an alternative. The resulting Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1788,
created a federal government based on the ideology of republicanism, equal rights, and civic
duty. The first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights quickly followed, guaranteeing
many individual rights from federal interference. The new national government under
President George Washington began operation in 1789, and built a strong economic system,
designed by Alexander Hamilton, that settled the wartime debts, created a national bank and
sought economic growth based on cities and trade, more than farming. Hamilton formed the
Federalist Party to gain wide local support for the new policies, which were opposed by
Thomas Jefferson.
The Jay Treaty of 1795 opened a decade of trade with Britain, which was at war with
revolutionary France. The Jeffersonians feared British influence would undermine
republicanism in the United States and set up an opposition party; thus the First Party System
based on voters in every state, began operation in the mid-1790s. Jefferson was elected
president in 1800 and doubled the land area of the United States by the purchase of Louisiana
from France in 1803 racket. In his second term, Jefferson tried to coerce the British; he
demanded they recognize America's neutral rights, stop the seizure ("impressment") of sailors
on American ships, and quit arming hostile Indians in the West. When that failed the U.S.
declared the War of 1812 against Britain. The war was militarily indecisive but guaranteed
American independence and friendly relations with the British Empire, which controlled

With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 westward expansion of the United States crossed the
Mississippi River. This was encouraged by the belief in Manifest Destiny, by which the
United States would expand east to west, reaching the Pacific after the conquest of Mexico in
1848. A series of revivals in the Second Great Awakening made many Americans actively
religious, and stimulated many reform movements, including abolition of slavery. Rapid
economic and population growth created a powerful nation, but tensions escalated between
the slaveholding plantation South and the industrial North, which had long since abolished
slavery. The South in 1861 tried to break away and form its own country, the "Confederacy,"
in response to threats to its peculiar institution—slavery. The Civil War lasting four years
became the deadliest war in American history. Under the leadership of Republican Abraham
Lincoln the rebellion was crushed, the nation reunified, the slaves freed, and the South put
under Reconstruction for a decade.

Rapid economic growth, fueled by entrepreneurs who created great new industries in
railroads, steel, coal, textiles, and machinery operated by millions of immigrants from Europe
(and some from Asia), built new cities overnight, making the U.S. the world's leading
industrial power. With Germany threatening to win World War I in part by sinking American
ships, the U.S. entered the war in 1917, supplied the material, money and to a degree the
soldiers needed to win. The U.S. partially dictated the peace terms, but refused to join the
League of Nations, as it enjoyed unprecedented prosperity in the 1920s. The crash of 1929
started the worldwide Great Depression, which was long and severe for the entire country. A
New Deal Coalition led by Franklin D. Roosevelt dominated national elections for years, and
the New Deal in 1933-36 began a new era of federal regulation of the business, support for
labor unions, and provision of relief for the unemployed and Social Security for the elderly.

The U.S. joined the Allied Forces of World War II in December 1941 after the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor. Postwar hopes that the new United Nations would resolve the world's
problems failed, as Europe was divided and the U.S. took the lead in the Cold War with a
policy of containing Soviet expansion. Containment led to wars in Korea (a stalemate) and
Vietnam (lost). Economic prosperity after the war empowered families to move to the
suburbs and engage in a Baby Boom that pushed the population from 140 million in 1940 to
203 million in 1970. The industrial economy based on heavy industry gave way to a service
economy featuring health care and education, as America led the way to a computerized
world. The end of the Cold War came in 1991 as Soviet Communism collapsed. The U.S.
was the only military superpower left, but it was challenged for economic supremacy by
China, which remained on good terms with the U.S. as it embraced capitalism and by 2010
was growing much more rapidly than the U.S.
The Civil Rights Movement ended Jim Crow and empowered black voters in the 1960s,
which allowed blacks to move into high government offices. However, the New Deal
coalition collapsed in the mid 1960s in disputes over race and the Vietnam War. The Reagan
Era of conservative national policies, deregulation and tax cuts took control with the election
of Ronald Reagan in 1980. By 2010, political scientists were debating whether the election of
Barack Obama in 2008 represented an end of the Reagan Era, or was only a reaction against
the bubble economy of the 2000s, which burst in 2008 and became the Late-2000s recession
with prolonged unemployment.[4][5]

[edit] Pre-Columbian era

Main articles: Native Americans in the United States and Pre-Columbian era

The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of
the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American
continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to
European colonization during the Early Modern period.

While technically referring to the era before Christopher Columbus' voyages of 1492 to 1504,
in practice the term usually includes the history of American indigenous cultures until they
were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades or
even centuries after Columbus' initial landing.

Colonial period
Main article: Colonial history of the United States

The Mayflower, which transported Pilgrims to the New World. During the first winter at
Plymouth, about half of the Pilgrims died.[6]

After a period of exploration by people from various European countries, Spanish, Dutch,
English, French, Swedish, and Portuguese settlements were established. Although Leif
Ericson was the first European to arrive in North America, Christopher Columbus is credited
as the first European to set foot on what would one day become US territory when he came to
Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493, during his second voyage.
In the 16th century, Europeans brought horses, cattle, and hogs to the Americas and, in turn,
took back to Europe maize, potatoes, tobacco, beans, squash, and slave natives, many of
whom died enroute.

Spanish exploration and colonization

See also: New Spain

Coronado Sets Out to the North (1540) by Frederic Remington, oil on canvas, 1905.

Spanish explorers came to what is now the United States beginning with Christopher
Columbus' second expedition, which reached Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493.[7] The first
confirmed landing in the continental US was by a Spaniard, Juan Ponce de León (1474–
1521), who landed in 1513 on a lush shore he christened La Florida.[8]

The Catholic church built in 1733 in Santa Cruz, New Mexico

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[9] and the Great
Plains. In 1540, Hernando de Soto undertook an extensive exploration of the present US and,
in the same year, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado led 2,000 Spaniards and Native Mexican
Americans across the modern Arizona–Mexico border and traveled as far as central Kansas.
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. The Spanish sent
some settlers, creating the first permanent European settlement in the continental United
States at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, but it was in such a harsh political environment that
it attracted few settlers and never expanded. Much larger and more important Spanish
settlements included Santa Fe, Albuquerque, 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[11]
Dutch colonization

Main article: New Netherland

New Netherland and New Sweden

Nieuw-Nederland, or New Netherland, was the seventeenth century Dutch colonial province
on the eastern coast of North America. The Dutch claimed territory were the lands from the
Delmarva Peninsula to Buzzards Bay, while their settlements concentrated on the Hudson
River Valley, where they traded furs with the Indians to the north and were a barrier to
Yankee expansion from New England. Its capital, New Amsterdam, was located at the
southern tip of the island of Manhattan on the Upper New York Bay and was renamed New
York when the English seized the colony in 1664. Most were Calvinists and they built the
Reformed Church in America. The colony left an enduring legacy on American cultural and
political life, including a secular broadmindedness and mercantile pragmatism in the city, and
a rural traditionalism in the countryside, as well as politicians such as Martin Van Buren,
Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.[12]

French colonization
The 22 parishes of Acadiana; the Cajun heartland of Louisiana is highlighted in darker red.

New France was the area colonized by France in North America during a period extending
1534 to 1763, when Britain and Spain took control. At its peak in 1712 the territory of New
France extended from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains and from Hudson Bay to the
Gulf of Mexico. The territory was divided in five colonies, each with its own administration:
Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland and Louisiana. After 1750 the Acadians--
French settlers who had been expelled by the British from Acadia (Nova Scotia) --resettled in
Louisiana, where they developed a distinctive rural Cajun culture that still exists. They
became American citizens in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.[13] Other French villages
along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers were absorbed when the Americans started arriving
after 1770.

British colonization

Main article: British colonization of the Americas

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 employed forms of unfree labor such as slavery and
indentured servitude,[14] 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.
Over half of all European migrants to Colonial America arrived as indentured servants.[16]

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 their American colonies.
During the Georgian era English officials exiled 1,000 prisoners across the Atlantic every
year.[18] 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,[19] although the Yamasee War may have been

The Plymouth Colony was established in 1620. New England was initially settled primarily
by Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.[21] 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.[22] Several colonies were used as penal settlements from the
1620s until the American Revolution.[23] Methodism became the prevalent religion among
colonial citizens after the First Great Awakening, a religious revival led by preacher Jonathan
Edwards in 1734.[21]

Political integration and autonomy

Join, or Die: This 1756 political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin urged the colonies to join
together during the French and Indian War.

The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was a watershed event in the political development
of the colonies. The influence of the main rivals of the British Crown in the colonies and
Canada, the French and North American Indians, was significantly reduced. Moreover, the
war effort resulted in greater political integration of the colonies, as symbolized by Benjamin
Franklin's call for the colonies to "Join or Die".

Following Britain's acquisition of French territory in North America, King George III issued
the Royal Proclamation of 1763 with the goal of organizing the new North American empire
and stabilizing relations with the native Indians. In ensuing years, strains developed in the
relations between the colonists and the Crown. The British Parliament passed the Stamp Act
of 1765, imposing a tax on the colonies to help pay for troops stationed in North America
following the British victory in the Seven Years' War.

The British government felt that the colonies were the primary beneficiaries of this military
presence, and should pay at least a portion of the expense. The colonists did not share this
view. Rather, with the French and Indian threat diminished, the primary outside influence
remained that of Britain. A conflict of economic interests increased with the right of the
British Parliament to govern the colonies without representation being called into question.
Nathaniel Currier's 1846 depiction of the Boston Tea Party.[24]

The Boston Tea Party in 1773 was a direct action by colonists in the town of Boston to
protest against the taxes levied by the British government. Parliament responded the next year
with the Coercive Acts, which sparked outrage and resistance in the Thirteen Colonies.
Colonists convened the First Continental Congress to coordinate their resistance to the
Coercive Acts. The Congress called for a boycott of British trade, published a list of rights
and grievances, and petitioned the king for redress of those grievances.

The Congress also called for another meeting if their petition did not halt enforcement of the
Coercive Acts. Their appeal to the Crown had no effect, and so the Second Continental
Congress was convened in 1775 to organize the defense of the colonies at the onset of the
American Revolutionary War.

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

Main article: History of the United States (1776–1789)

Washington's crossing of the Delaware River, one of the rebels' first successes in the
Revolutionary War

The Thirteen Colonies began a rebellion against British rule in 1775 and proclaimed their
independence in 1776 as the United States of America. The United States defeated Britain
with help from France especially, and also the United Provinces and indirectly from Spain in
the American Revolutionary War. The colonists' 1777 capture of the British invasion army at
Saratoga secured the Northeast and led the French into an open alliance with the United

In 1781, Washington led a combined American and French army, acting with the support of a
French fleet, and captured a large British army led by General Cornwallis at Yorktown,
Virginia. The surrender of General Cornwallis ended serious British efforts to find a military
solution to their American problem. As political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset observes,
"The United States was the first major colony successfully to revolt against colonial rule. In
this sense, it was the first 'new nation'."[26]
Trumbull's Declaration of Independence

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. July 4 is celebrated as the nation's birthday. The new nation
was founded on Enlightenment ideals of liberalism and dedicated to principles of
republicanism, which emphasized civic duty and a fear of corruption and hereditary
aristocracy.[27] The new nation was governed by Congress, and followed the Articles of
Confederation and Perpetual Union of 1777 (which was formally adopted in 1781).

After the war finally ended in 1783, there was a period of prosperity, with the entire world at
peace. The national government was able to settle the issue of the western territories, which
were ceded by the states to Congress and became territories (and after 1791 started to become
states). Nationalists worried that the new nation was too fragile to withstand an international
war, or even internal revolts such as the Shays' Rebellion of 1786 in Massachusetts.
Nationalists—most of them war veterans—organized in every state and convinced Congress
to call the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. The delegates from every state wrote a new
Constitution that created a much more powerful and efficient central government, one with a
strong president, and powers of taxation. The new government reflected the prevailing
republican ideals of guarantees of individual liberty and upon constraining the power of
government through a system of separation of powers.[28]

To assuage the Anti-Federalists who feared a too-powerful national government, the nation
adopted the United States Bill of Rights in 1791. Comprising the first ten amendments of the
Constitution, it guaranteed individual liberties such as freedom of speech and religious
practice, jury trials, and stated that citizens and states had reserved rights (which were not

Early national era (1789–1848)

Main articles: History of the United States (1789–1849), First Party System, and Second
Party System
Economic growth in America per capita income

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 US Constitution in 1789.

The major accomplishments of the Washington Administration were creating a strong

national government that was recognized without question by all Americans, and, following
the plans of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, assuming the debts of the states (the
debt holders received federal bonds), creating the Bank of the United States to stabilize the
financial system, setting up a uniform system of tariffs (taxes on imports) and other taxes to
pay off the debt and provide a financial infrastructure. To support his programs Hamilton
created a new political party—the first in the world based on voters—the Federalist Party.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led the opposition, forming an opposition Republican
Party (usually called the Democratic-Republican Party by historians). Hamilton and
Washington presented the country in 1794 with the Jay Treaty that reestablished good
relations with Britain. The Jeffersonians vehemently protested, and the voters aligned behind
one party or the other, thus setting up the First Party System. The treaty passed, but politics
became very heated.[30]

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.[31]

At the end of his second presidential term, George Washington made 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 ethics
and morality while warning against foreign alliances and formation of political parties.[32]

Vice-president John Adams, a Federalist, defeated Jefferson in the 1796 election. War
loomed with France and the Federalists used the opportunity to try to silence the Republicans
with the Alien and Sedition Acts, build up a large army with Hamilton at the head, and
prepare for a French invasion. However, the Federalists became divided after Adams sent a
successful peace mission to France that ended the Quasi War of 1798. In 1800 Jefferson
defeated Adams for the presidency in the 1800 election.[33]

Territorial expansion of the United States, omitting Oregon and other claims.

Although the Constitution included a Supreme Court, its functions were vague until John
Marshall, the Chief Justice 1801-1835 defined them, especially the power to overturn acts of
Congress that violated the Constitution, first enunciated in 1803 in Marbury v. Madison[34]
The Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, removed the French presence from the western border of
the United States and provided US settlers with vast potential for expansion west of the
Mississippi River.[35]

In response to multiple grievances, the Congress declared war on Britain in 1812. The
grievances included humiliating the Americans in the "Chesapeake incident of 1807,
continued British impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy, restrictions on trade
with France, and arming hostile Indians in Ohio and the western territories.[36] The War of
1812 ended in a draw after bitter fighting that lasted until January 8, 1815, during the Battle
of New Orleans. The Americans gained no territory but were cheered by a sense of victory in
what they called a "second war of independence." The war was a major loss for Native
American tribes in the Northwest and Southeast who had allied themselves with Britain and
were defeated on the battlefield.

As strong opponents of the war, the Federalists held the Hartford Convention in 1814 that
hinted at disunion. National euphoria after the victory at New Orleans ruined the prestige of
the Federalists and they no longer played a significant role.[37] President Madison and most
Republicans realized it had been a mistake to let the Bank of the United States close down,
for its absence greatly hindered the financing of the war. So they chartered the Second Bank
of the United States in 1816. The Republicans also imposed tariffs designed to protect the
infant industries that had been created when Britain was blockading the U.S. With the
collapse of the Federalists as a party, the adoption of many Federalist principles by the
Republicans, and the systematic policy of President James Monroe in his two terms (1817–
25) to downplay partisanship, the nation entered an Era of Good Feelings, with far less
partisanship than before (or after), and closed out the First Party System.[38][39]

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. The Monroe Doctrine was adopted in
response to American and British fears over Russian and French expansion into the Western
Settlers crossing the Plains of Nebraska

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to
negotiate treaties that exchanged Native American 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 people
dying en route, and the Creeks' violent opposition and eventual defeat. The Indian Removal
Act also directly caused the ceding of Spanish Florida and led to the many Seminole Wars.[41]

After 1840 the abolitionist movement redefined itself, mobilized its supporters (especially
among religious people in the Northeast affected by the Second Great Awakening), escalated
its attacks, and proclaimed slave ownership a sin, not just an unfortunate social evil. It gained
tens of thousands of followers. William Lloyd Garrison published the most influential of the
many anti-slavery newspapers, The Liberator, while Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave, began
writing for that newspaper around 1840 and started his own abolitionist newspaper North
Star in 1847.[42]

The Republic of Texas was annexed by president John Tyler in 1845.[43] The US army, using
regulars and large numbers of volunteers, defeated Mexico in 1848 during the Mexican-
American War. Public sentiment in the US was divided as Whigs[44] and anti-slavery forces[45]
opposed the war. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded California, New Mexico, and
adjacent areas to the United States, about thirty percent of Mexico. Westward expansion was
enhanced further by the California Gold Rush, the discovery of gold in that state in 1848.
Numerous "forty-niners" trekked to California in pursuit of gold; land-hungry European
immigrants also contributed to the rising white population in the west. [21] In 1849 cholera
spread along the California and Oregon Trails. An estimated 150,000 Americans died during
the two cholera pandemics between 1832 and 1849.[46]

Civil War era (1849–1865)

Main article: History of the United States (1849–1865)
The Union: blue (free), yellow (slave);
The Confederacy: brown
*territories in light shades

In the middle of the 19th century, white Americans of the North and South were 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.[43] 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.[47]

By 1860, there were 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 less than a thousand tons to nearly one million tons 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.[48]

Abraham Lincoln with Allan Pinkerton and Major General John Alexander McClernand at
the Battle of Antietam.

After Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 Election, eleven Southern states seceded from the
union between late 1860 and 1861, establishing a new government, the Confederate States of
America, on February 8, 1861.[49]

The Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a US military
installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.[50] Along with the northwestern portion of
Virginia, four of the five northernmost "slave states" did not secede and became known as the
Border States.[49]

In response to this, on April 15, Lincoln called on the states to send detachments totaling
75,000 troops to recapture forts, protect the capital, and "preserve the Union", which in his
view still existed intact despite the actions of the seceding states. The two armies had their
first major clash at the First Battle of Bull Run, which ended in a surprising Union defeat,
but, more importantly, proved to both the Union and Confederacy that the war was going be
much longer and bloodier than they had originally anticipated.

The war soon divided into two theaters, the Eastern and Western theaters. In the western
theater, the Union was quite successful, with major battles, such as Perryville ending up
being strategic Union victories, destroying major confederate operations.

Anger at military conscription during the American Civil War led to the New York Draft
Riots of 1863, one of the worst incidents of civil unrest in American history. The city's Irish
and Excelsior brigades were among the five Union brigades with the most combat dead.

In the Eastern theater, things didn't start out well for the Union. In the summer of 1861,
General Irvin McDowell was given the task of destroying the Confederacy in one quick battle
with the newly created Army of Northeastern Virginia. Union and Confederate forces
engaged in combat at Manassas junction, which resulted in a surprising Union defeat due in
part to arrogant Confederate defense. Following McDowell's failure, Major General George
B. McClellan was put in charge of the task at hand. After reorganizing the new Army of the
Potomac, McClellan too failed to do so in his Peninsula Campaign and retreated after attacks
from newly appointed Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Feeling confident in his army after the Union defeat at the Second Bull Run, Lee decided to
embark on an invasion of the north. However, his special order 191 was discovered by two
Union soldiers, and thus, McClellan could intercept and strategically stop Lee at the bloody
Battle of Antietam. Despite this, McClellan was relieved from command for refusing to
pursue Lee's crippled army.

General Ambrose Burnside was put in command of the Army of the Potomac. After receiving
pressure from Lincoln, Burnside decided to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg,
Virginia. However, Burnside's failure to cross the river in time resulted in Lee building strong
defenses to oppose the Union. The humiliating Battle of Fredericksburg resulted in the Union
After Burnside's failed mud march, General "Fighting Joe" Hooker was placed in command
of the Army.

On the following day in the west, Union forces under the command of General Ulysses S.
Grant gained control of the Mississippi River at the Battle of Vicksburg, thereby splitting the
Confederacy. At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made General Grant commander of all
Union armies. The following two years of the war ended up being bloody for both sides, with
Grant launching a war of attrition against Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of
Northern Virginia. This war of attrition was divided into three main campaigns.

The first of these, the Overland Campaign forced Lee to retreat into the city of Petersburg
where Grant launched his second major offensive, the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign in
which he sieged the city of Petersburg. After a near ten-month siege, the city of Petersburg
surrendered. However, the defense of Fort Gregg allowed Lee to move his army out of
Petersburg. Grant pursued and launched the final, Appomattox Campaign which resulted in
Lee surrendering his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court
House.[49] When word of Lee's surrender spread across the country, many Confederate armies
also surrendered, with Stand Watie being the last of the generals.

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,[51] establishing the American Civil
War as the deadliest war in American history. Its legacy includes ending slavery in the United
States, restoring the Union, and strengthening the role of the federal government. The social,
political, economic and racial issues of the war decisively shaped the reconstruction era,
which lasted through 1877, and brought about changes that would eventually help make the
country a united superpower.

Reconstruction and the Gilded Age (1865–1890)

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

Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad (1869) at First Transcontinental Railroad, by

Andrew J. Russell

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 privileges readily available to whites.[52]
In response to Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) emerged around the late 1860s as a
white-supremacist organization opposed to black civil rights. Congress passed the Ku Klux
Klan Act of 1870 and vigorous enforcement closed down the Klan and classified the KKK as
a terrorist group. However, an 1883 Supreme Court decision nullified the Civil Rights Act of
1875 and ended federal efforts to stop private acts of violence designed to suppress legal

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.[54]

The "Gilded Age" was a term that Mark Twain used to describe the period of the late
nineteenth century when there had been a dramatic expansion of American wealth and
prosperity. 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.[55]

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, wheat and cotton farmers joined the Populist Party.[56] Later, an
unprecedented wave of immigration served both to provide the labor for American industry
and create diverse communities in previously undeveloped areas. From 1880 to 1914, peak
years of immigration, more than 22 million people migrated to the United States.[57] Abusive
industrial practices led to the often violent rise of the labor movement in the United States.[58]
Influential figures of the period included John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

Progressivism, imperialism, and World War I (1890–1918)

Main article: Progressive Era

Mulberry Street, along which Manhattan's Little Italy is centered. Lower East Side, circa
1900. Almost 97% of residents of the 10 largest American cities of 1900 were non-Hispanic

Dissatisfaction on the part of the growing middle class with politics as usual, and the failure
to deal with increasingly important urban and industrial problems, led to the emergence of the
Progressive Movement in the 1890s. In every major city and state, and at the national level as
well, and in education, medicine, and industry, the progressives called for the modernization
and reform of decrepit institutions, the elimination of corruption in politics, and the
introduction of efficiency as a criteria for change. Leading politicians from both parties, most
notably Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes, and Robert LaFollette on the
Republican side, and William Jennings Bryan on the Democratic side, took up the cause of
progressive reform. Women became especially involved in demands for woman suffrage,
prohibition, and better schools; their most prominent leader was Jane Addams of Chicago.
Progressives implemented anti-trust laws and regulated such industries of meat-packing,
drugs, and railroads. Four new constitutional amendments—the Sixteenth through Nineteenth
—resulted from progressive activism, bringing the federal income tax, direct election of
Senators, prohibition, and woman suffrage.[60] The Progressive Movement began in the 1890s
and lasted through the 1920s; the most active period was 1900-1918[61]

Foreign policy

The United States emerged as a world economic and military power after 1890. The main
episode was the Spanish-American War, which began when Spain refused American
demands to reform its oppressive policies in Cuba. The "splendid little war," as one official
called it involved a series of quick American victories on land and at sea. At the peace
conference the United States acquired the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Cuba became
an independent country, under close American tutelage. Although the war itself was widely
popular, the peace terms proved controversial. William Jennings Bryan led his Democratic
Party in opposition to control of the Philippines, which he denounced as imperialism
unbecoming to American democracy. McKinley defended the acquisition, and was riding
high as the nation had returned to prosperity and felt triumphant in the war. McKinley easily
defeated Brian in a rematch in the 1900 presidential election. After defeating an insurrection
by Filipino nationalists, the United States engaged in a large scale program to modernize the
economy of the Philippines, and dramatically upgrade the public health facilities. [62] By 1908,
however, Americans lost interest in an empire, and turned their international attention to the
Caribbean, and especially the building of the Panama Canal. The canal opened in 1914, and
increased trade with Japan and the rest of the Far East. A key policy innovation was the Open
Door Policy, whereby the imperial powers were given equal access to Chinese business, with
no one of them allowed to take control of China.[63]

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.[21]

Women's suffrage
Main article: History of women's suffrage in the United States
Alice Paul stands before the Woman Suffrage Amendment's ratification banner. She
immediately went on to write the Equal Right Amendment, whose passage would become an
important goal of the Women's Liberation Movement half a century later.

These years of the early 20th century also saw the strengthening of the Woman Suffrage
Movement. The movement had begun with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, organized by
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, and the Declaration of Sentiments demanding
equal rights for women. The women's rights campaign during "first-wave feminism" was led
by Mott, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, and Julia Ward Howe,
among others. By the end of the 19th century only several states had granted women full
voting rights, though women had made significant legal victories, gaining rights in areas such
as property and child custody. In 1875 the Supreme Court ruled women, too, were American
citizens (but this did not give them the right to vote).

Around 1912 the Feminist Movement, which had grown sluggish, began to reawaken.
Protests became increasingly common as suffragette Alice Paul led parades through the
capital and major cities. Paul split from the large National American Woman Suffrage
Association (NAWSA), which favored a more moderate approach and supported the
Democratic Party and Woodrow Wilson, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, and formed the more
militant National Woman's Party. Suffragists were arrested during their "Silent Sentinels"
pickets at the White House, the first time such a tactic was used, and were taken as political
prisoners. In prison they were tortured and force-fed while on hunger strikes led by Alice

Finally, the suffragette were ordered released from prison, and Wilson addressed the
Congress on woman suffrage, urging them to pass a Constitutional amendment enfranchising
women, which they did in 1919. It became constitutional law on August 26, 1920, after
ratification by the 36th required state. NAWSA became the League of Women Voters and the
National Woman's Party began lobbying for full equality and the Equal Rights Amendment
which would pass Congress during the second wave of the women's movement in 1972.
Following ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, a U.S. Court ruled the arrests of the
over two hundred suffragists as unconstitutional, and the amendment was upheld by the
Supreme Court after a legal challenge.

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

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 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.[64] The aftershock of Russia's October Revolution resulted in real fears of
communism in the United States, leading to a three-year Red Scare. In 1918 the U.S. lost
675,000 people to the Spanish flu pandemic.[65]

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol in Chicago, 1921

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 re-formed 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.[66] The 1920s were also known as the Roaring Twenties, due
to the great economic prosperity during this period. Jazz became popular among the younger
generation, and thus was also called the Jazz Age.

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on a
mother of seven children, age thirty-two, in Nipomo, California, March 1936.

During most of the 1920s, the United States enjoyed a period of unbalanced prosperity: farm
prices and wages fell, while new industries and industrial profits grew. The boom was fueled
by an inflated stock market, which later led to a crash on October 29, 1929.[67] This, along
with many other economic factors, triggered a worldwide depression known as the Great
Depression. During this time, the United States experienced deflation, unemployment
increased from 3% in 1929 to 25% in 1933, and manufacturing output collapsed by one-third.

In 1932, Democratic presidential nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt promised "a new deal for
the American people", a phrase that has endured as a label for his administration and its many
domestic achievements. The desperate economic situation, along with the substantial
Democratic victories in the 1932 elections, gave Roosevelt unusual influence over Congress
in the "First Hundred Days" of his administration. He used his leverage to win rapid passage
of a series of measures to create welfare programs and regulate the banking system, stock
market, industry and agriculture, along with many other government efforts to end the Great
Depression and reform the American economy. Some programs that were a part of
Roosevelt's New Deal include the Works Progress Administration (WPA) relief program, the
Social Security Act, the Emergency Banking Act, and the Economy Act. The recovery was
rapid in all areas except unemployment, which remained fairly high until 1940.

World War II (1941–1945)

Main articles: World War II and United States home front during 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. The United States first contribution to the war was
simultaneously to cut off the oil and raw material supplies needed by Japan to maintain its
offensive in China, and to increase military and financial aid to China. Contribution came to
the Allies in September 1940 in the form of the Lend-Lease program with Britain.

On December 7, 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
December 7, 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

Further information: Europe first

Upon entering the war, the United States and its allies 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. 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
Landing at Normandy at Battle of Normandy, by Robert F. Sargent, United States Army.
Total U. S. military deaths in battle and from other causes were 416,837.

The American army's first ground action was fighting alongside the British, Australian and
New Zealand armies in North Africa. 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, while at the same time Hitler's armies were
very much on the back foot, with heavy bombing taking its toll on production.

By early 1944, a planned invasion of Western Europe was underway. What followed on June
6, 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. Following the landing at Normandy, the Americans
contributed greatly to the outcome of the war, with dogged fighting in 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. On April 30, 1945, with Berlin completely overrun with Russian forces and his country
in tatters, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. On May 8, 1945, the war with Germany was over,
following its unconditional surrender to the Allied forces.

Battle against Japan

Main article: Pacific War

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 most of its battles in a short 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.

Douglas MacArthur lands at the Battle of Leyte, by U.S. Army Signal Corps
The turning point of the war was the Battle of Midway in June 1942. 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.

The Pacific war became the largest naval conflict in history. The American Navy emerged
victorious, after at one point being stretched near to the 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 D. Roosevelt died and Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as
the 33rd President of the United States. The use of atomic weapons against Japan was
subsequently authorized.

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 an enormous numbers of lives, while opponents argue that the large number
of civilian casualties resulting from the bombings was unjustified. The first bomb was
dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on
August 9, 1945. On August 15, 1945, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally, ending
World War II. The Pacific war claimed the lives of more than 100,000 US soldiers.[68]

The Cold War begins (1945–1964)

Main article: History of the United States (1945–1964)
President Kennedy's address on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963.

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 focus
mathematics and science toward efforts such as the space race.[69]

In the decades after World War II, the United States became a global influence in economic,
political, military, cultural, and technological affairs. Beginning in the 1950s, middle-class
culture had a growing obsession with consumer goods. White Americans made up nearly
90% of the population in 1950.[70]

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected President. Known for his charisma, he was the first
and -thus far - only Roman Catholic to have been elected President. The Kennedy family had
brought a new life and vigor to the atmosphere of the White House. His time in office was
marked by such notable events as the acceleration of the United States' role in the space race;
escalation of the American role in the Vietnam War; the Cuban missile crisis; the Bay of Pigs
Invasion; the jailing of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Birmingham campaign; and the
appointment of his brother Robert F. Kennedy to his Cabinet as Attorney General. He was
assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, leaving the nation in profound shock.

Climax of liberalism
The climax of liberalism came in the mid-1960s with the success of President Lyndon B.
Johnson (1963–69) in securing congressional passage of his Great Society programs,
including civil rights, the end of segregation, Medicare, extension of welfare, federal aid to
education at all levels, subsidies for the arts and humanities, environmental activism, and a
series of programs designed to wipe out poverty.[72][73] As recent historians have explained:

"Gradually, liberal intellectuals crafted a new vision for achieving economic and
social justice. The liberalism of the early 1960s contained no hint of radicalism, little
disposition to revive new deal era crusades against concentrated economic power, and
no intention to fast and class passions or redistribute wealth or restructure existing
institutions. Internationally it was strongly anti-Communist. It aimed to defend the
free world, to encourage economic growth at home, and to ensure that the resulting
plenty was fairly distributed. Their agenda-much influenced by Keynesian economic
theory-envisioned massive public expenditure that would speed economic growth,
thus providing the public resources to fund larger welfare, housing, health, and
educational programs."[74]

Johnson was rewarded with an electoral landslide in 1964 against conservative Barry
Goldwater, which broke the decades-long control of Congress by the Conservative coalition.
But the Republicans bounced back in 1966, and is the debit credit party splintered five ways,
Republicans elected Richard Nixon in 1968. Nixon largely continued the New Deal and Great
Society programs he inherited; conservative reaction would come with the election of Ronald
Reagan in 1980.

The Civil Rights Movement (1955–1970)

Main article: African American Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King gives his I Have a Dream speech at the 1963 March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom.

Meanwhile, the American people completed a great migration from 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. The activism of African American leaders
Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which launched
the movement. For years African Americans would struggle with violence against them, but
would achieve great steps towards equality with Supreme Court decisions, including Brown
v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which ended the Jim Crow laws that
legalized racial segregation between Whites and Blacks.
Martin Luther King, Jr., who had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve
equality of the races, was assassinated in 1968. Following his death other leaders led the
movement, most notably King's widow, Coretta Scott King, who was also active, like her
husband, in the Opposition to the Vietnam War, and in the Women's Liberation Movement.
Over the first nine months of 1967, 128 American cities suffered 164 riots.[75] The late 1960s
and early 1970s saw the strengthening of Black Power, however the decade would ultimately
bring about positive strides toward integration.

The Women's Movement (1963–1982)

Main article: Feminist Movement in the United States

Gloria Steinem at a meeting of the Women's Action Alliance, 1972.

A new consciousness of the inequality of American women began sweeping the nation,
starting with the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan's best-seller, The Feminine Mystique,
which explained how many housewives felt trapped and unfulfilled, assaulted American
culture for its creation of the notion that women could only find fulfillment through their
roles as wives, mothers, and keepers of the home, and argued that women were just as able as
men to do every type of job. In 1966 Friedan and others established the National
Organization for Women, or NOW, to act as an NAACP for women.[76][77]

Protests began, and the new "Women's Liberation Movement" grew in size and power,
gained much media attention, and, by 1968, had replaced the Civil Rights Movement as the
U.S.'s main social revolution. Marches, parades, rallies, boycotts, and pickets brought out
thousands, sometimes millions; Friedan's Women's Strike for Equality (1970) was a nation-
wide success. The Movement was split into factions by political ideology early on, however
(NOW on the left, the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL) on the right, the National
Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) in the center, and more radical groups formed by
younger women on the far left).

Along with Friedan, Gloria Steinem was an important feminist leader, co-founding the
NWPC, the Women's Action Alliance, and editing the Movement's magazine, Ms. The
proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress in 1972 and
favored by about seventy percent of the American public, failed to be ratified in 1982, with
only three more states needed to make it law. The nation's conservative women, led by
activist Phyllis Schlafly, defeated the ERA by arguing that it degraded the position of the
housewife, and made young women susceptible to the military draft.[78][79]
However, many federal laws (i.e. those equalizing pay, employment, education, employment
opportunites, credit, ending pregnancy discrimination, and requiring NASA, the Military
Academies, and other organizations to admit women), state laws (i.e. those ending spousal
abuse and marital rape), Supreme Court rulings (i.e. ruling the equal protection clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment applied to women), and state ERAs established women's equal status
under the law, and social custom and consciousness began to change, accepting women's
equality. The controversial issue of abortion, legalized in 1973 is still a point of debate today.

The Counterculture Revolution and Cold War Détente

Main article: History of the United States (1964–1980)

Amid the Cold War, 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 B. 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 and early seventies,
dividing the already hostile environment but also bringing forth more liberated social views.

United States Navy F-4 Phantom II intercepts a Soviet Tu-95 Bear D aircraft in the early

Johnson was succeeded by President Richard Nixon in 1969, who initially escalated the
Vietnam War but soon negotiated a peace treaty in 1973, effectively ending American
involvement in the war. The war had cost the lives of 58,000 American troops and millions of
Vietnamese. Nixon used a conflict in the Eastern Bloc between the Soviet Union and China
to the advantage of the United States, bolstering relations with the People's Republic of
China.[81] A new era of Cold War relations known as détente (cooperation) was begun.[82]

The OPEC oil embargo led to a period of slow economic growth in 1973. The U.S. was
afflicted with a recession, an energy crisis, slow economic growth, high unemployment, and
high inflation coupled with high interest rates (the term stagflation was coined). The
Watergate scandal, resulting from the break-in into the Democratic National Committee
headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. ultimately led to Nixon's
resignation on August 9, 1974, as well as the indictment and conviction of several Nixon
administration officials. During the years of his successor, Gerald Ford, the American-backed
South Vietnamese government collapsed.
Jimmy Carter, running as someone who was not a part of the Washington political
establishment, was elected president in 1976.[83] On the world stage, Carter brokered the
Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. In 1979, Iranian students stormed the U.S.
embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage, resulting in the Iran hostage crisis. As a
result of the hostage crisis and continuing stagflation, Carter lost the 1980 election to
Republican Ronald Reagan, whose campaign message advertised that his presidency would
bring "Morning in America".[84] On January 20, 1981, minutes after Carter's term in office
ended, the 52 U.S. captives held at the U.S. embassy in Iran were released, ending the 444-
day Iran hostage crisis.[85]

The end of the Cold War (1980–1991)

Main article: History of the United States (1980–1991)

Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate challenges Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall
in 1987, shortly before the end of the Cold War

Ronald Reagan produced a major realignment with his 1980 and 1984 landslides. Reagan's
economic policies (dubbed "Reaganomics") and the implementation of the Economic
Recovery Tax Act of 1981 lowered income taxes from 70% to 28% over the course of seven
years. Reagan continued to downsize government taxation and regulation.[86] The U.S.
experienced a recession in 1982; unemployment and business failures soon entered rates
close to Depression-era levels. These negative trends reversed the following year, when the
inflation rate decreased from 11% to 2%, the unemployment rate decreased from 10.8% in
December 1982 to 7.5% in November 1984,[87] and the economic growth rate increased from
4.5 to 7.2%.[88]

Reagan ordered a massive buildup of the U.S. military, incurring a costly budget deficit.
Reagan introduced a complicated missile defense system known as the Strategic Defense
Initiative (dubbed "Star Wars" by opponents) in which the U.S. could, in theory, shoot down
missiles with laser systems in space. Though it was never fully developed or deployed,[89] the
Soviets were genuinely concerned about the possible effects of the program[90] and the
research and technologies of SDI paved the way for the anti-ballistic missile systems of

The Reagan administration also provided covert funding and assistance to anti-Communist
resistance movements worldwide. Reagan's interventions against Grenada and Libya were
popular in the U.S., though his backing of the Contra rebels was mired in controversy.[92] The
arms-for-hostages scandal led to the convictions of such figures as Oliver North and John
Reagan met four times with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who ascended to power in
1985, and their summit conferences led to the signing of the INF Treaty. Gorbachev tried to
save Communism in the Soviet Union first by ending the expensive arms race with America,
then by shedding the East European empire in 1989. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991,
ending the US-Soviet Cold War.

The World Superpower (1991–present)

Main article: History of the United States (1991–present)
This section includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it
has insufficient inline citations.
Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations where appropriate. (March

[edit] 1991-2001

USAF aircraft fly over Kuwaiti oil fires during the Gulf War

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 unprecedented
gains in securities values, a side effect of the digital revolution and new business
opportunities created by the Internet (see Internet bubble). The 1990s saw one of the longest
periods of economic expansion. Under Clinton an attempt to universalize health care, led by
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton failed after almost two years of work on the controversial
plan, however Hillary Rodham Clinton did succeed, along with a bipartisan coalition of
members of congress, in establishing the Children's Health Insurance Program.[95]

The regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq proved a continuing problem for the UN and Iraq's
neighbors in its refusal to account for previously known stockpiles of chemical and biological
weapons, its violations of UN resolutions, and its support for terrorism against Israel and
other countries. After the 1991 Gulf War, the US, French, and British military's began
patrolling the Iraqi no-fly zones to protect Iraq's Kurdish minority and Shi’ite Arab
population – both of which suffered attacks from the Hussein regime before and after the
1991 Gulf War – in Iraq's northern and southern regions, respectively. [96] In the aftermath of
Operation Desert Fox during December 1998, Iraq announced that it would no longer respect
the no-fly zones and resumed its efforts in shooting down Allied aircraft.[97]

During the 1990s the al-Qaeda terrorist network and other Islamic fundamentalist groups
attempted terrorist attacks against the United States and other nations. In 1993, Ramzi
Yousef, a Kuwaiti national, and suspected al-Qaeda operative, planted explosives in the
underground garage of One World Trade Center and detonated them, killing six people and
injuring thousands. Later that year in the Battle of Mogadishu, US Army Rangers engaged
Somali militias supported by al-Qaeda in an extended firefight that cost the lives of 19
American soldiers. President Clinton subsequently withdrew US combat forces from Somalia
(there originally to support UN relief efforts).[98] Terrorist attacks occurred in the 1996
Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and the 1998 United States embassy bombings in
Tanzania and Kenya. There was an attempted bombing at Los Angeles International Airport
and other attempts of acts of terrorism during the 2000 millennium attack plots. In Yemen the
USS Cole was bombed in October 2000, which the government associated with Osama bin
Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network.[99]

US responses to terrorist attacks included limited cruise missile strikes on Afghanistan and
Sudan (August 1998), which failed to stop al-Qaeda's leaders and their Taliban supporters.
Also in 1998, President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act which called for regime
change in Iraq because Saddam Hussein had possessed weapons of mass destruction,
oppressed Iraqi citizens and attacked other Middle Eastern countries.[100]

Al-Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalist groups were not the only groups responsible for
terrorism during this time. In 1995, a domestic terrorist bombing took place at a federal
building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, and was then the biggest terrorist attack
on US soil since World War II. The perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols,
objected to the federal government and sought revenge for the sieges at Ruby Ridge (1992)
and Waco (1993).[101]

In 1998, Clinton was impeached for charges of perjury and obstruction of justice that arose
from lying about a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He was
the second president to have been impeached. The House of Representatives voted 228 to 206
on December 19 to impeach Clinton,[102] but on February 12, 1999, the Senate voted 55 to 45
to acquit Clinton of the charges.[103]

2000 Election

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.
Although Bush won the majority of electoral votes, Gore won the majority of the popular
vote. In the days following Election Day, the state of Florida entered dispute over the
counting of votes due to technical issues over certain Democratic votes in some counties.[104]
The Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore was decided on December 12, 2000, ending the
recount with a 5–4 vote and certifying Bush as president.[105]


9-11 attack in 2001

New York under attack in the September 11 attacks

At the beginning of the new millennium, the United States found itself attacked by Islamic
terrorism, with the September 11, 2001 attacks in which 19 Islamists hijacked four
transcontinental airliners and intentionally crashed two of them into the twin towers of 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,
Pennsylvania. 2,976 people and the 19 hijackers perished in the attacks.

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 the terrorist group al-Qaeda, spearheaded by Osama bin Laden, was responsible for the

War in Afghanistan and Iraq

George W. Bush in a televised address from the USS Abraham Lincoln.

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) launched Operation Enduring Freedom which overthrew the
Taliban regime in Afghanistan which had protected and harbored bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
With the support of large bipartisan majorities, the US Congress passed the Authorization for
Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002.

With a coalition of other countries including Britain, Spain, Australia, Japan and Poland, in
March 2003 President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom
which led to the overthrow and capture of Saddam Hussein. Using the language of 1998 Iraq
Liberation Act and the Clinton Administration, the reasons cited by the Bush administration
for the invasion included the spreading of democracy, the elimination of weapons of mass
destruction[106] (a key demand of the UN as well, though later investigations found parts of the
intelligence reports to be inaccurate)[107] and the liberation of the Iraqi people.[108] This second
invasion fueled protest marches in many parts of the world.


Despite tougher border scrutiny after 9/11, nearly 8 million immigrants came to the United
States from 2000 to 2005 – more than in any other five-year period in the nation's history. [109]
Almost half entered illegally.[110]


By 2006, rising prices saw Americans become increasingly conscious of the nation's
dependence on supplies of petroleum for energy, with President Bush admitting a U.S.
"addiction" to oil.[111] 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. The
2006 midterm elections saw Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi become Speaker of the United
States House of Representatives and the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S.


In addition to military efforts abroad, in the aftermath of 9/11 the Bush Administration
increased domestic efforts to prevent future attacks, a new cabinet level agency called the
United States Department of Homeland Security was created to lead and coordinate federal
counter-terrorism activities. The USA PATRIOT Act removed legal restrictions on
information sharing between federal law enforcement and intelligence services and allowed
for the investigation of suspected terrorists using means similar to those in place for other
types of criminals. A new Terrorist Finance Tracking Program monitored the movements of
terrorists' financial resources but was discontinued after being revealed by The New York
Times.[113] Telecommunication usage by known and suspected terrorists was studied through
the NSA electronic surveillance program.

Since 9/11, Islamic extremists made various attempts to attack the US homeland, with
varying levels of organization and skill. For example, in 2001 vigilant passengers aboard a
transatlantic flight to Miami prevented Richard Reid from detonating an explosive device.

After months of brutal violence against Iraqi civilians by Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist groups
and militias—including al-Qaeda in Iraq—in January 2007 President Bush presented a new
strategy for Operation Iraqi Freedom based upon counter-insurgency theories and tactics
developed by General David Petraeus. The Iraq War troop surge of 2007 was part of this
"new way forward".[114] The George W. Bush administration also increased allegations
implicating Iran and Syria, in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Late 2000s Recession

In December 2007, the United States entered the longest post-World War II recession,[115]
which included a housing market correction, a subprime mortgage crisis, soaring oil prices,
and a declining dollar value.[116] In February 2008, 63,000 jobs were lost, a 5-year record for a
single month.[117][118] In September 2008, the crisis became much worse beginning with the
government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac followed by the collapse of Lehman

This economic crisis was considered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.[120]
In November 2008, over 500,000 jobs were lost, which marked the largest loss of jobs in
the United States in 34 years.[122] The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in the last four
months of 2008, 1.9 million jobs were lost.[123] By the end of 2008, the U.S. had lost a total of
2.6 million jobs,[124] and the unemployment rate rose to 7.2%.[125]

2008 election

In the presidential election of 2008, Senator Barack Obama, having narrowly defeated
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination, ran on a platform of "Hope
and Change". The ticket of Obama and Senator Joe Biden was victorious against the
Republican ticket of Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin. On November 4,
Obama became the first African American[126][127] to be elected President of the United States;
he was sworn into office as the 44th President on January 20, 2009.

During his first 100 days in office, Obama signed into law the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion economic stimulus package aimed at helping the
economy recover from the deepening worldwide recession.[128][129] The act included increased
federal spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives,
and direct assistance to individuals,[130] which is being distributed over the course of several
years, with about 25% due by the end of 2009. The Obama administration also enacted
additional economic programs designed to stimulate the economy, such as the Car Allowance
Rebate System,[131] the Public-Private Investment Program,[132] and the Automobile Industry
Bailout.[133] In the third quarter of 2009, the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.2% annual pace,
after contracting for four consecutive quarters.[135] However, the unemployment rate
continued to rise to 10.1%,[136][137] the highest level since 1983, and the underemployment rate
continued to rise to 17.5%, the highest since records began being kept in 1994.[138]

Early in his presidency, Obama also moved to change the U.S. war strategy in Iraq and
Afghanistan. In February 2009, Obama announced his plan to decrease troop levels in Iraq,
stating that all combat troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by August 31, 2010, and that as
many as 50,000 would remain in Iraq to train, equip and advise Iraqi forces, help protect
withdrawing forces and work on counterterrorism until December 31, 2011.[139][140] He also
announced that same month that the amount of troops in Afghanistan would be boosted by
17,000.[141] In December 2009, Obama announced that an additional 30,000 troops would be
deployed to Afghanistan over a period of six months,[142] and also proposed to begin troop
withdrawals 18 months from that date.[143][144]

As of 2010, debates continue over abortion, gun control, medical marijuana, same-sex
marriage, immigration reform, climate change, health care reform, and the ongoing wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan. In foreign policy, the U.S. maintains ongoing talks, led by United
States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 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 Palestinian-Israeli talks began in 2007, an effort spearheaded
by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.[145] China, holding an estimated $1.6
trillion of U.S. securities,[146] is the largest foreign financier of the record U.S. public debt.[147]

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[edit] References and further reading

• Agnew, Jean-Christophe, and Roy Rosenzweig, eds. A Companion to Post-
1945 America (2006)
• Anderson, Fred, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Military History
• Barney, William. A Companion to 19th-Century America (2006)
• Bender, Thomas. A Nation Among Nations : America’s place in world history,
New York : Hill and Wang, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8090-9527-8
• Carnes, Mark C., and John A. Garraty, The American Nation: A History of the
United States: AP Edition (2008); university textbook
• Diner, Hasia, ed. Encyclopedia of American Women's History (2010)
• Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History (2nd ed. 2008), university
• Gilbert, Martin. The Routledge Atlas of American History (2010)
• Hornsby Jr., Alton. A Companion to African American History (2008) excerpt
and text search
• Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas Bailey. The American
Pageant (2 vol 2008), university textbook study guide
• Lancaster, Bruce, Bruce Catton, and Thomas Fleming. The American
Heritage History of the American Revolution (2004)
• Milner, Clyde A., Carol A. O'Connor, and Martha A. Sandweiss, eds. The
Oxford History of the American West (1996) excerpt and text search
• Perry, Elisabeth Israels, and Karen Manners Smith, eds. The Gilded Age &
Progressive Era: A Student Companion (2006)
• Pole, Jack P. and J.R. Pole. A Companion to the American Revolution (2003)
excerpt and text search
• Resch, John, ed. Americans at War: Society, Culture, and the Homefront (4
vol 2004)
• Schweikart, Larry, and Michael Allen. A Patriot's History of the United
States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror (2007), view
from the right excerpt and text search
• Tindall, George Brown, and David E. Shi. America: A Narrative History (8th
ed. 2009), university textbook
• Vickers, Daniel, ed. A Companion to Colonial America (2006)
• Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present
(2005), view from the left excerpt and text search
• Zophy, Angela Howard, ed. Handbook of American Women's History. (2nd
ed. 2000). 763 pp. articles by experts