It has been generally accepted that the first inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge and arrived at least 12,000 years ago; however, increasing evidence suggests an even earlier arrival. After crossing the land bridge, the first Americans moved southward along the Pacific coast and through an interior ice-free corridor between the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets. The Clovis culture appeared around 11,000 BC, and is considered to be an ancestor of most of the later indigenous cultures of the Americas. The Clovis culture was believed to represent the first human settlement of the Americas. Over the years, more and more evidence has advanced the idea of "pre-Clovis" cultures including tools dating back about 15,550 years ago. It is likely these represent the first of three major waves of migrations into North America.
While estimating the original native population of North America at the time of European contact is difficult, an attempt was made in the early part of the twentieth century by James Mooney using historic records to estimate the indigenous population north of Mexico in 1600. In more recent years, Douglas H. Ubelaker of the Smithsonian Institution has updated these figures. While Ubelaker estimated that there was a population of 92,916 in the south Atlantic states and a population of 473,616 in the Gulf states, most academics regard the figure as too low.AnthropologistHenry F. Dobyns believed that the populations were much higher, suggesting 1,100,000 along the shores of the gulf of Mexico, 2,211,000 people living between Florida and Massachusetts, 5,250,000 in the Mississippi Valley and tributaries and 697,000 people in the Florida peninsula.
The first interaction between Europeans and Native Americans was made by the Norsemen. A number of surviving Norse sagas provide information regarding The Maritimes and its indigenous people. The Norse attempted to settle in North America about 500 years before Columbus.
In the early days of colonization, many European settlers were subject to food shortages, disease, and attacks from Native Americans. Native Americans were also often at war with neighboring tribes and allied with Europeans in their colonial wars. At the same time, however, many natives and settlers came to depend on each other. Settlers traded for food and animal pelts, natives for guns, ammunition and other European wares. Natives taught many settlers where, when and how to cultivate corn, beans, and squash. European missionaries and others felt it was important to "civilize" the Native Americans and urged them to adopt European agricultural techniques and lifestyles.
Most settlers in every colony were small farmers, but other industries developed within a few decades as varied as the settlements. Cash crops included tobacco, rice, and wheat. Extraction industries grew up in furs, fishing and lumber. Manufacturers produced rum and ships, and by the late colonial period, Americans were producing one-seventh of the world's iron supply. Cities eventually dotted the coast to support local economies and serve as trade hubs. English colonists were supplemented by waves of Scotch-Irish and other groups. As coastal land grew more expensive, freed indentured servants pushed further west.
A large-scale slave trade with English privateers was begun. The life expectancy of slaves was much higher in North America than further south, because of less disease and better food and treatment, leading to a rapid increase in the numbers of slaves. Colonial society was largely divided over the religious and moral implications of slavery, and colonies passed acts for and against the practice. But by the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were replacing indentured servants for cash crop labor, especially in southern regions.
With the establishment of the Province of Georgia in 1732, the 13 colonies that would become the United States of America were administered by the British as overseas dependencies. All nonetheless had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. With extremely high birth rates, low death rates, and steady settlement, the colonial population grew rapidly. Relatively small Native American populations were eclipsed. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty.
During the Seven Years' War (in the United States, known as the French and Indian War), British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans, who were being conquered and displaced, the 13 British colonies had a population of over 2.1 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain. Despite continuing new arrivals, the rate of natural increase was such that by the 1770s only a small minority of Americans had been born overseas. The colonies' distance from Britain had allowed the development of self-government, but their success motivated monarchs to periodically seek to reassert royal authority.
In 1774, the Spanish Navy ship Santiago, under Juan Pérez, entered and anchored in an inlet of Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, in present-day British Columbia. Although the Spanish did not land, natives paddled to the ship to trade furs for abalone shells from California. At the time, the Spanish were able to monopolize the trade between Asia and North America, granting limited licenses to the Portuguese. When the Russians began establishing a growing fur trading system in Alaska, the Spanish began to challenge the Russians, with Pérez's voyage being the first of many to the Pacific Northwest.[j]
The American Revolutionary War was the first successful colonial war of independence against a European power. Americans had developed an ideology of "republicanism" asserting that government rested on the will of the people as expressed in their local legislatures. They demanded their rights as Englishmen and "no taxation without representation". The British insisted on administering the empire through Parliament, and the conflict escalated into war.
The Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, which recognized, in a long preamble, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights and that those rights were not being protected by Great Britain, and declared, in the words of the resolution, that the thirteen United Colonies formed an independent nation and had no further allegiance to the British crown. The fourth day of July is celebrated annually as Independence Day. The Second Continental Congress declared on September 9 "where, heretofore, the words 'United Colonies' have been used, the stile be altered for the future to the 'United States' ". In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a decentralized government that operated until 1789.
Although the federal government criminalized the international slave trade in 1808, after 1820, cultivation of the highly profitable cotton crop exploded in the Deep South, and along with it, the slave population. The Second Great Awakening, especially 1800–1840, converted millions to evangelical Protestantism. In the North, it energized multiple social reform movements, including abolitionism; in the South, Methodists and Baptists proselytized among slave populations.
Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of American Indian Wars. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory in 1803 almost doubled the nation's area. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. The expansion was aided by steam power, when steamboats began traveling along America's large water systems, many of which were connected by new canals, such as the Erie and the I&M; then, even faster railroads began their stretch across the nation's land.
The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 spurred migration to the Pacific coast, which led to the California Genocide and the creation of additional western states. After the American Civil War, new transcontinental railways made relocation easier for settlers, expanded internal trade and increased conflicts with Native Americans. For half a century, the rapidly declining buffalo struck an existential blow to many Plains Indians' culture. In 1869, a new Peace Policy nominally promised to protect Native-Americans from abuses, avoid further war, and secure their eventual U.S. citizenship. Nonetheless, large-scale conflicts continued throughout the West into the 1900s.
Differences of opinion regarding the slavery of Africans and African Americans ultimately led to the American Civil War. Initially, states entering the Union had alternated between slave and free states, keeping a sectional balance in the Senate, while free states outstripped slave states in population and in the House of Representatives. But with additional western territory and more free-soil states, tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over federalism and disposition of the territories, whether and how to expand or restrict slavery.
With the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the first president from the largely anti-slavery Republican Party, conventions in thirteen slave states ultimately declared secession and formed the Confederate States of America (the "South"), while the federal government (the "Union") maintained that secession was illegal. In order to bring about this secession, military action was initiated by the secessionists, and the Union responded in kind. The ensuing war would become the deadliest military conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 618,000 soldiers as well as many civilians. The South fought for the freedom to own slaves, while the Union at first simply fought to maintain the country as one united whole. Nevertheless, as casualties mounted after 1863 and Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, the main purpose of the war from the Union's viewpoint became the abolition of slavery. Indeed, when the Union ultimately won the war in April 1865, each of the states in the defeated South was required to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited slavery.
Three amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution in the years after the war: the aforementioned Thirteenth as well as the Fourteenth Amendment providing citizenship to the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves, and the Fifteenth Amendment ensuring in theory that African Americans had the right to vote. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the South while guaranteeing the rights of the newly freed slaves.
Reconstruction began in earnest following the war. While President Lincoln attempted to foster friendship and forgiveness between the Union and the former Confederacy, his assassination on April 14, 1865, drove a wedge between North and South again. Republicans in the federal government made it their goal to oversee the rebuilding of the South and to ensure the rights of African Americans. They persisted until the Compromise of 1877 when the Republicans agreed to cease protecting the rights of African Americans in the South in order for Democrats to concede the presidential election of 1876.
Southern white Democrats, calling themselves "Redeemers", took control of the South after the end of Reconstruction. From 1890 to 1910, so-called Jim Crow lawsdisenfranchised most blacks and some poor whites throughout the region. Blacks faced racial segregation, especially in the South. They also occasionally experienced vigilante violence, including lynching.
After World War II the United States and the Soviet Union competed for power and influence during what became known as the Cold War, driven by an ideological divide between capitalism and communism and, according to the school of geopolitics, a divide between the maritime Atlantic and the continental Eurasian camps. They dominated the military affairs of Europe, with the U.S. and its NATO allies on one side and the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies on the other. The U.S. developed a policy of containment towards the expansion of communist influence. While the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in proxy wars and developed powerful nuclear arsenals, the two countries avoided direct military conflict.
In 2010, the Obama administration passed the Affordable Care Act, which made the most sweeping reforms to the nation's healthcare system in nearly five decades, including mandates, subsidies and insurance exchanges. The law caused a significant reduction in the number and percentage of people without health insurance, with 24 million covered during 2016, but remains controversial due to its impact on healthcare costs, insurance premiums, and economic performance. Although the recession reached its trough in June 2009, voters remained frustrated with the slow pace of the economic recovery. The Republicans, who were opposed to Obama's policies, won control of the House of Representatives with a landslide in 2010 and control of the Senate in 2014.