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US History Timeline The Dates of Americas Journey

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US History Timeline: The Dates of Americas Journey

When compared to other powerful nations such as France, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the history of the United States, which starts in the 17th century, is relatively short. However, as a nation virtually created out of thin air, and as one of the first to be based on republican ideals, US history is rich and eventful. Studying it helps us make sense of how the world in which we live today has been shaped.

However, while its true that US history can certainly be understood as a triumph of democracy and individual liberties, we must always remember that history is written by the winners, and to the victor goes the spoils. Inequality, whether racial or economic, is engrained in every fiber of American history, and it has played a significant role in the development of what many now consider to be the worlds one and only superpower.

READ MORE:How old is the United States?

Nevertheless, following the ups and downs and zigs and zags of US history provides us with a blueprint for understanding the modern world, and although we can never truly predict the future, learning from the past provides us with context for the future.

Colonial America (1492-1776): The Discovery of America

The American Revolution (1776-1781)

The Constitutional Convention of 1787

The Washington Administration (1789-1797)

The Adams Administration (1797-1801)

The Jefferson Administration (1801-1809)

The Madison Administration (1809-1817)

Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848)

Cliff Palace is the largest remaining village of the pre-Columbian Indians

Many of us grew up being taught that Christopher Colombus discovered America when he first set sail with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria in 1492. However, we now recognize the insensitivity of such a comment, since America had been populated by people since the Archaic Period (roughly 8000 to 1000 BC). Instead, Colombus merely discovered the continent for the Europeans, who before his voyage had little or no idea that there was a continent standing between it and Asia.

Once Colombus made contact with the American continent and its people, though, these cultures were changed forever, and in many cases, they were erased from history altogether. To this day, historians are unable to say with certainty how many people were living on the American continents before the arrival of Europeans. Estimates range from as low as eight million to as high as 112 million. Yet no matter what the population was before colonization, contact with Europeans decimated indigenous cultures. In some areas, such as in Mexico, nearly 8 percent of the population died by the end of the 17th century, less than 200 years after first contact, from disease

In North America, specifically in the territory that would later become the United States, indigenous populations were significantly smaller, with estimates ranging between 900,000 and 18 million. However, as compared to Central and South America, populations in North America were considerably more spread out. This had a significant impact on the development of US history mainly by encouraging the development of more democratic institutions, as argued by Acemoglu and Robinson (2012).

Their argument states that in North America, where indigenous populations were smaller, early colonial settlements could not rely on the forced labor of natives, as was the case in the Spanish colonies through Central and South America. This meant leadership needed to coerce colonists into working for the collective, and this was often done by granting more freedoms and better representation in government. This then led to the formation of decentralized governments based on democratic values, and these institutions helped foster discontent for British rule and revolutionary sentiment.

Colonial America (1492-1776): The Discovery of America

This map shows the US from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and the Rocky Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, including tribal territories and towns Gentlemens Monthly Magazine, May 1763.

One of the defining moments in US history is theAmerican Revolution, which was fought to free the Thirteen American colonies from the British crown. As a result, we tend to focus on the British colonization of America when studying US history, and while this is certainly important, we must always remember that many other European nations colonized the territory that eventually became the United States of America, such as France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and, to a lesser extent, Spain.

In instances where formal colonies failed, immigration took place, which helped make the American colonies a diverse mix of European cultures. Furthermore, the slave trade expanded significantly with colonization, which brought millions of Africans to the Americas, and this also reshaped the landscape of colonial American populations.

Over time, European settlements in the Americas changed hands, and they eventually broke their continental ties to became either independent nations (as is the case with Mexico) or parts of the United States.

The British were slightly late to the American party when they first attempted to set up a colony on Roanoke Island in 1587. However, this colony, after struggling early on due to harsh conditions and lack of supply, wound up failing miserably. By 1590, when some of the original settlers returned with new supplies, the colony had been abandoned and there was no sign of its original inhabitants.

In 1609, the Brtish decided to try again, and under the organization of the Virginia Company, which was a joint-stock company, a new British colony was founded on the American continent: Jamestown. Although the colony struggled early on with hostile natives, harsh conditions, and food scarcity that drove them to cannibalism, the colony survived and became an important colonial center in the early days of British colonization. The colony of Virginia grew up around it and became an important part of colonial politics during revolutionary times.

In 1620, seeking freedom from persecution for their Puritan religion, a group of colonists sailed to the New World and founded Plymouth, Massachusetts. They were aiming for Jamestown but were blown off course crossing the Atlantic, and they first landed at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts. However, in Provincetown, there was scarcely any quality farmland, and freshwater was not readily available, so the settlers got back on the boat and sailed further inland to found Plymouth. From there, the colony of Massachusetts grew, and its capital, Boston, became the epicenter of revolutionary activity.

After 1620, British colonization in America grew rapidly. The colonies of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut were founded as extensions of Massachusetts. New York and New Jersey were won from the Dutch in a war, and the rest of the colonies, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, North and South Carolina, Georgia, were founded throughout the 16th century and became considerably prosperous and independent, a combination that would make them difficult to rule. This set the stage for political turmoil and revolution.

Durng this period, the borders of the colonieds were loosely defined, and settlers often battled with one another for land. One of the best known examples of this was the fight that took place between Pennsylvania and Maryland, which was ultimately settled with the drawing of theMason-Dixon Line, a border that would go on to serve as thede factodividing line between the North and the South.

Great Britain also had a considerable colonial presence on the rest of the American continent. They controlled most of what is now Canada after defeating the French in the Seven Years War, and they also had colonies throughout the Carribean in areas such as Barbados, Saint Vincent, Saint Kitts, Bermuda, etc.

If we take both North, Central, and South America into account, then the Spanish had far and away from the largest presence in what they called the New World, and this helped turn Spain into arguably the most powerful nation in the world during the 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, during the early colonial period, Spanish dollars were thede factocurrency for much of the colonial world.

But while most of us think mainly of Spains colonial presence in Central and South America, the Spaniard also had a significant presence in North America, mainly in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and California. Much of the territory claimed by Spain would not be ceded to the United States until well after American independence, but many cultural and institutional norms established by the Spanish remained and still do to this day.

Spanish Florida, which included present-day Florida as well as parts of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, was founded in 1513 by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, and several more expeditions were sent to explore the territory (mainly in search of gold). Settlements were established in St. Augustine and in Pensacola, but Florida was never a focal point of Spanish colonial efforts. It remained under Spanish control until 1763 but was returned in 1783 after a treaty with the British. Spain used the territory to interfere with early American trade, but the territory was eventually ceded to the US and became a state in 1845.

The Spanish also had a considerable presence in Texas and New Mexico, which were settled and incorporated into New Spain, which was the name given to the vast Spanish colonial territory in North, Central, and South America.

The most significant settlement in Spanish Texas was San Antonio, which became even more important after French Louisiana was incorporated into New Spain as Texas became more of a buffer territory, which caused many colonists to abandon their lands and move to more populated areas. Louisiana was given back to the French and eventually sold to the United States, and border disputes ensued involving Texas.

Eventually, Texas broke free from Spain as a result of the Mexican War of Independence, and Texas remained independent for some time until being incorporated into the United States.

Spain also colonized much of the western coast of the North American continent.Las Californias,which included the modern-day US state of California, as well as parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado, as well as the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur, were first settled in 1683 by Jesuit missionaries. Additional missions were set up throughout the territory, and the area became a more significant part of New Spain. But when Mexico won its independence from Spain and then fought and lost the Spanish-American War, much ofLas Californiaswas ceded to the United States. The California territory became a state in 1850, and the rest ofLas Californiasfollowed suit in the decades after.

Jacques Cartier first colonized North America for the French in 1534 when he landed at the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. From there, French colonies popped up all over what is the modern-day nation of Canada and the midwestern United States. The colony of Louisiana included the important port city of New Orleans, and also included much of the territory surrounding the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

However, French colonial efforts in North America were significantly diminished after 1763 when they were forced to cede most of Canada and Louisiana to England and Spain as a result of losing the Seven Years War.

France would regain control of Louisiana in 1800, but then Napolean Bonaparte sold it to the United States. Known as theLouisiana Purchase, this was a groundbreaking moment in US history as it set the stage for a significant period ofwestward expansionthat led to economic growth in the United States. Its also significant because it ended French colonial efforts in North America.

The Netherlands was a rich and powerful nation during the 16th century, and they bolstered this prosperity with colonies throughout most of the world. In North America, the Dutch East India Company, in an attempt to enter the North American fur trade, set up the colony of New Netherland. The center of the colony was in present-day New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but the Dutch claimed the territory as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as the Delmarva Peninsula.

The colony grew considerably throughout the 17th century, with its main port, New Amsterdam (which later became New York), turning into a considerable seaport where trade was conducted between Europe and its colonies. However, after the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which ended in 1664, the territories of New Amsterdam were turned over to the British. The Dutch took the territory back but lost it again in the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1674), bringing this territory under English control once and for all. Its estimated that some seven or eight thousand people lived in the colony (as well as20 suspected witches), and many continued to do so even after it officially came under the authority of the English crown.

Sweden set up settlements in present-day Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey along the banks of the Delaware River. The colony, named New Sweden, was established in 1638, but it only lasted until 1655. Border disputes with the Dutch, who controlled the territory to the North, led to the Second Northern War, which the Swedes lost. From this point on, New Sweden became part of New Netherland, which eventually became

While England, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden were colonizing North America, there was no unified Germany. Instead, the German people were divided up into various German states. This meant that there was no coordinated colonization effort by the Germans while North America was being colonized.

However, large numbers of German people, seeking religious freedom and better economic conditions, migrated to the United States during the 16th and 17th centuries, settling mostly in Pennsylvania, Upstate New York, and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Germantown, which is located just outside Philadelphia, was founded in 1683 and was the first and largest German settlement in North America.

In fact, immigration was so significant that around half of Pennsylvanias population in 1750 was German. This would have a significant impact on US history in the 19th century when large numbers of Germans immigrated to the US, and some went on to become rather powerful, with one of the most famous examples being John Jacob Astor,

Interestingly, Germans fought on both sides during the American Revolution. German mercenaries, known as Hessians, were hired by the British, yet Prussian generals also helped train and outfit the Continental Army so that it could fight more evenly against the infamous Britsh army.

John Trunbulls depiction of the Declaration of Independence can be found on the back of the US$2 bill

In just under a century, the American continent went from being unknown to the European world to being entirely dominated by it. Native populations had been fought back, and many were dying at rapid rates due to the diseases carried over by Europeans.

READ MORE:The American Revolutionary War: The Dates, Causes, and Timeline in the Fight for Independence

In the Thirteen British Colonies, which were located along the east coast of todays United States, economic growth, religious freedom (to a certain extent), and political autonomy defined the day. Colonists had considerable opportunities to better their futures through work and business, and local self-governments had been established throughout the colonies and tolerated by the crown, and many of these institutions were rather democratic in nature.

As a result, when the British crown decided to enact measures designed to better control the colonies and extract more value from them so as to pay for foreign wars and other imperial matters, many colonists were not pleased. This launched a considerable separatist movement, which gained steam throughout the 1760s and early 1770s before eventually resulting in the Declaration of Independence, which was followed by the Revolutionary War fought between the colonists and those loyal to the Crown. Obviously, the colonists won this war, and the nation of the United States of America was established.

Starting in 1651, the British crown made it clear that the colonies in the Americas were to be subservient to the king by passing the series of acts known as the Navigation Acts. This series of laws put severe restrictions on American trade by essentially prohibiting American merchants from trading with any other country except Great Britain. This caused significant problems for the wealthy merchant classes of Colonial America, which just so happened to be the same people who had the status and influence to foment a revolution within the colonies.

Throughout the next two decades, revolutionary sentiment spread alongside increasingly draconian measures taken by the British crown. For example,the Proclamation of 1763prevented colonists from settling west of the Appalachians, and the Sugar Act (1764), Currency Act (1764), and the Stamp Act (1765), theQuartering Act(1765), theTownshend Acts(1767) put even more stress on American-British relations.

This lead to the belief that American colonists, who were technically subjects of the crown, did not share the same benefits as other English subjects, mainly that they had no means of controlling the laws and taxes set upon them. In other words, they were experiencing taxation without representation.

Protests became more common throughout the 1760s, and many colonies set up Committees of Correspondence to communicate with one another and to discuss matters of the day.

However, war did not seem imminent until 1773 when a large group of British colonists, led by Samuel Adams, decided to dump millions of dollars (in todays money) worth of tea into Boston harbor as a way of protesting the Tea Act. The Crown responded with harsh punishments known as the Intolerable or Coercive Acts, and this pushed the colonies to their tipping point.

This is the room in theHancock-Clark Housewhere John Hancock and Samuel Adams were awakened at midnight by Paul Revere and William Dawes, warning them of the approach of Brittish troops

The first shots of the American Revolution were fired on April 19, 1775, in Lexington, Massachusetts. Hearing of the British plans to march to Concord, Massachusetts to colonial arms, colonists bound together in militias to stop them.

It was during this battle that Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride, and the first shot fired at Lexington became known as the shot heard round the world because of its dramatic implications in world politics. The colonists were forced to retreat at Lexington, but militias from all over met the British on their route to Concord and inflicted enough damage that they were forced to abandon their advance.

The Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place in Boston, came shortly thereafter, and although the battle ended in a British victory, the colonists inflicted heavy wounds on the British army, leaving many to wonder what the cost of victory really was.

At this point, Diplomacy took over once again. At a meeting of the Second Continental Congress (1775), the delegates wrote up an Olive Branch Petition and sent it to King George which essentially said, give in to our demands or we will declare independence. The king ignored this petition, and conflict continued. The colonists tried and failed, to invade Canada, and they also laid siege to Fort Ticonderoga.

Recognizing that there would be no other recourse other than war, the delegates of the Second Continental Congress met and commissioned Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, which was signed and ratified by Congress on July 4, 1776, and published in newspapers around the world, giving new cause to the military struggle between Great Britain and itsAmerican colonies.

After the Declaration of Independence, the military struggle between Great Britain and its American colonies became a battle for independence. The Continental Army, led by General George Washington, managed to march back into Boston and put it back under colonial control after the British took it after the Battle of Bunker Hill.

From there, the British Army focused on New York City, which they took after the Battle of Long Island. New York would serve as a focal point for the British and colonial Loyalists, those who chose to remain a part of the British empire.

Washington crossed the Delaware onChristmasDay of 1776 and surprised a group of British and Hessian soldiers in Trenton. They won a decisive victory that proved to be a rallying point for the struggling Continental Army. This was followed up by the American victory at the Battle of Trenton (1777).

Throughout 1777, several more battles were fought in upstate New York, with the most significant being the Battle of Saratoga. Here, the Continental Army managed to destroy or capture nearly the entire force it was fighting against, which essentially halted the British war effort in the North. This victory also proved to the international community that the colonists had a chance, and France and Spain rushed in to support the Americans in an attempt to weaken the Britsh, one of their all-time biggest rivals.

After the Battle of Saratoga, the British had all but lost the North, and so they refocused their efforts in the south. At first, this appeared to be a good strategy, as both Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina surrendered to the British by 1780.

TheBattle of Camden(1780) was also a decisive British victory, giving hope to the loyalists that the war could be won after all. However, after the Patriots defeated a loyalist militia at the Battle of Kings Mountain, Lord Cornwallis, the general in charge of the southern campaign, was forced to abandon his plan to invade South Carolina and instead had to retreat into North Carolina.

In the South, many of the Patriot militias took to guerilla warfare, using the swampy, tree-ridden terrain of the southern United States to engage with the British army in less than traditional ways. One of the leaders of this movement, Francis Marion, also known as the Swamp Fox, was crucial to the southern war effort and helped make victory possible. The Patriots, using this tactic, won several key battles throughout 1780 that put them in an excellent position for success. But we should also point out that the British, who were beginning to focus on other issues in the empire, stopped reinforcing the army in the colonies, which has often been taken as a sign that the crown had accepted that the colonies would indeed win their independence soon enough.

The war came to an end when, in 1781, Lord Cornwallis and his army were eventually surrounded in Yorktown, Virginia. French ships blockaded the Chesapeake, and the Continental Army outnumbered the redcoats, leading to a full surrender and the end of the American Revolution War.

After the British surrendered at Yorktown, the thirteen original colonies ceased to be colonies and were granted their independence. However, much was to be done before the newly independent colonies could call themselves a nation.

The first thing was to formally end the Revolutionary War. This happened with the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The treaty established the sovereignty of the United States, and it also identified boundaries of the new country, which were to be the Mississippi River to the West, Spanish Florida to the South, and British Canada to the North.

The treaty also allowed American fishermen to work off the coasts of Canada, and it set up rules and guidelines for restoring property to loyalists, as well as for paying back debts incurred before the war. In general, the treaty was quite favorable for the United States, and this is likely the result of the British desire to become economic partners with the rapidly growing United States.

Several other treaties were signed in Paris during 1763 between Great Britain, France, and Spain, all belligerents in a much larger war of which the American Revolution was fought. These treaties, which are known collectively as the Peace of Paris, coordinated the exchange of captured territory, and also officially recognized the United States as being free and independent from the control of the British crown.

Now free from the British Crown, the colonies needed to decide how to set up their government. Having enjoyed the use of local, autonomous self-government for most of the colonial era, Americans were wary of a strong central government and wanted the government to be as limited as possible to reduce the risk of experiencing the tyranny they had experienced when part of the British Empire. This led to the passing of the Articles of Confederation, which were drafted by the Second Continental Congress in 1777 and ratified by the states in 1781, while the American Revolution was still going on.

However, by creating a framework of government that so severely restricted the power of that government, the Confederation Congress, which was the new name given to the Continental Congress, found it very difficult to do much on a national level. However, they did enact several policies, such as the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance, which helped establish rules for settling new territory and for adding states to the union.

Despite this progress, though, the Confederation Congress was still quite weak. It lacked the ability to regulate issues of common interest among the states, such as trade and defense, and it also did not have the power to raise taxes, which limited its effectiveness. As a result, states started meeting amongst themselves to work out issues of common concern, a good example being the Mount Vernon Conference of 1785 in which Virginia and Maryland met to negotiate how to use their shared waterways. But this was just one of many examples where the states needed to go around the federal government to be able to make arrangements for the benefit of all, calling into question the effectiveness of the Articles of Confederation.

Then, in 1787, when Shays Rebellion broke out in 1787 in Springfield, Massachusetts in response to the states attempt to collect taxes, and the federal government had no military to suppress it, it became clear the Articles of Confederation were too weak of a framework for an effective national government. This started a movement led by prominent congressmen such as James Madison, John Adams, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin, to create a new type of government that would be stronger and more effective.

In September of 1786, twelve delegates from five states met in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss how trade should be regulated and supported amongst the states. This is because the Articles of Confederation set up a situation in which each state was an independent body, which led to protectionist policies that stymied trade and hindered the development of the United States of America. Four other states had planned to attend the convention, but the delegates did not arrive in time. However, by the end of the convention, it became clear that there was a need to revisit the structure of the new American government to make it stronger and more effective in promoting the countrys growth.

In May of the following year 1787 fifty-five delegates from all states except Rhode Island met in the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) to discuss further changes to the Articles of Confederation. However, after several weeks of intense debate, it became clear that the Articles were simply too limited and that a new document needed to be created for the country to move forward, one that laid out the groundwork for a stronger and more effective federal government.

Delegates then formed groups and drafted different proposals, the most famous being the James Madisons Virginia Plan and William Pattersons New Jersey Plan. The main difference between the two was that the Virginia plan called for two legislative bodies that were elected based on population, whereas the New Jersey plan, which was drafted by delegates from smaller states, advocated for a one-vote-per-state plan to prevent the larger states from having too much power.

In the end, the delegates of the convention decided for a mixture by agreeing to a bicameral legislative body in which one part would be elected based on population (the House of Representatives) and one would give each state equal representation (the Senate). This agreement is known as theGreat Compromise or Connecticut Compromise, as it was envisioned and promoted by Henry Clay, a delegate from the State of Connecticut.

Once this compromise was reached, the delegates had a foundation for government. But some key issues remained, one of which, slavery, would continue to haunt American politics for more than a century. The southern states, the economies of which ran almost exclusively on slave labor, wanted to count their slaves as part of their populatio.

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