The first known inhabitants of modern-day United States territory are believed to have arrived over a period of several thousand years beginning sometime prior to 15,000 - 50,000 years ago by crossing Beringia into Alaska. Solid evidence of these cultures settling in what would become the US is dated to around 14,000 years ago.
Research has revealed much about the early Native American settlers of North America. Columbus' men were the first documented Old Worlders to land in the territory of what is now the United States when they arrived in Puerto Rico during their second voyage in 1493. Juan Ponce de Leon, who arrived in Florida in 1513, is credited as being the first European to land in what is now the continental United States, although some evidence suggests that John Cabot might have reached what is presently New England in 1498.
In its beginnings, the United States of America consisted only of the Thirteen Colonies, which consisted of states occupying the same lands as when they were British colonies. American colonists fought off the British army in the American Revolutionary War of the 1770s and issued a Declaration of Independence in 1776. Seven years later, the signing of the Treaty of Paris officially recognized independence from Britain. In the nineteenth century, westward expansion of United States territory began, upon the belief of Manifest Destiny, in which the United States would occupy all the North American land east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. By 1912, with the admission of Arizona to the Union, the U.S. reached that goal. The outlying states of Alaska and Hawaii were both admitted in 1959.
Ratified in 1788, the Constitution serves as the supreme American law in organizing the government; the Supreme Court is responsible for upholding Constitutional law. Many forms of social progress started in the nineteenth century; those advancements have been widely reflected in the Constitution. Slavery was abolished in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; the following Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments respectively guaranteed citizenship for all persons naturalized within U.S. territory and voting for people of all races. In later years, civil rights were extended to women and black Americans, following effective lobbying from social activists. The Nineteenth Amendment prohibited gender discrimination in voting rights; later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in public places.
The Progressive Era marked a time of economic growth for the United States, advancing to the Roaring Twenties. However, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to the Great Depression, a time of economic downturn and mass unemployment. Consequently, the U.S. government established the New Deal, a series of reform programs that intended to assist those affected by the Depression. The New Deal had varied success. However, once the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, the economy quickly recovered, so much that the U.S. became a world superpower by the dawn of the Cold War. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the world's two superpowers, but with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, United States became the world's only superpower.
The land of what is now the United States is thought to have been populated by people migrating from Asia via the Bering land bridge some time between 50,000 and 11,000 years ago. These people became the indigenous people who inhabited the Americas prior to the arrival of European explorers in the 1400s and who are now called Native Americans.
Many cultures thrived in the Americas before Europeans came, including the Puebloans (Anasazi) in the southwest and the Adena Culture in the east. Several such societies and communities, over time, intensified this practice of established settlements, and grew to support sizeable and concentrated populations. Agriculture was independently developed in what is now the eastern United States by 2500 BC, based on the domestication of indigenous sunflower, squash and goosefoot. Eventually, the Mexican crops of maize and legumes were adapted to the shorter summers of eastern North America and replaced the indigenous crops.
EARLY EUROPEAN SETTLEMENTS
One recorded European exploration of the Americas was by Christopher Columbus in 1492, sailing on behalf of the King and Queen of Spain. He did not reach mainland America until his fourth voyage, almost 20 years after his first voyage. He first landed on Haiti, where the Arawaks, whom he mistook for people of the Indies (thus, "Indians") greeted him and his fleet by swimming out to their ships with gifts and food. Columbus, after island-hopping for several months, heard nothing of gold, his main drive for the voyage. However, he realized that a great market of slavery could be made with these populations. By 1550, there were only 500 Arawaks left; about 250,000 indians on Haiti had died from murder or suicide.
After a period of exploration by various European countries, Dutch, Spanish, English, French, Swedish, and Portuguese settlements were established. Columbus was the first European to set foot in U.S. territory when he came to Puerto Rico in 1493; the oldest remaining European settlements in the U.S. are San Juan, Puerto Rico, founded in 1521, and on the mainland, St. Augustine in what is now the state of Florida, founded in 1565.
In the 15th century, Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. The introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture in the Great Plains of North America. The horse offered revolutionary speed and efficiency, both while hunting and in battle. The horse also became a sort of currency for native tribes and nations. Horses became a pivotal part in solidifying social hierarchy, expanding trade areas with neighboring tribes, and creating a stereotype both to their advantage and against it.
COLONIAL AMERICA (1493-1776)
Colonial America was defined by ongoing battles between mainly English-speaking colonists and Native Americans, by a severe labor shortage that gave birth to forms of unfree labor such as slavery and indentured servitude, 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.
The first truly successful English colony was established in 1607, on the James River near the Chesapeake Bay. The Virginia Company of London financed the purchase of three ships to transport settlers to the Virginia colony. The names of the three ships were The Susan Constant, Godspeed and the Discovery. The leader of the group was Captain Christopher Newport. Also on board was John Smith, an explorer, soldier, and writer. King James decided to give the Virginia Company a charter for the Jamestown settlement. When the settlers landed in Jamestown, they chose a place they thought had fresh water, deep water to dock their ships, and was easy to defend. The settlement was named Jamestown after the king. England also wanted to find gold, silver and other riches in North America.
As increasing numbers of settlers arrived in Virginia, many conflicts arose between the Native Americans and the colonists. The colonists increasingly appropriated land to farm and grow tobacco. This was the beginning of a general trend towards displacing Native Americans westward to make room for settlers.
One example of conflict between Native Americans and English settlers was the 1622 Powhatan uprising in Virginia, in which Indians 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.
Differences of language, religion and culture also contributed to the friction between the two groups. At the base of the friction was an assumption by the English colonists of racial, cultural and moral superiority.
New England was founded by two separate groups of religious dissenters, the Pilgrims and the Puritans. Both demanded greater church reform and elimination of Catholic elements remaining in the Church of England. But whereas the Pilgrims sought to leave the Church of England, the Puritans wanted to reform it by setting an example of a holy community through the society they were to build in the New World.
The first and smaller of these two groups, called the Pilgrims, originated from a small Protestant congregation in Scrooby Manor, England, whose members sailed in 1605 for the Netherlands. At this time, the Netherlands were gaining a reputation as a safe haven for those facing persecution. The emigrants grew dissatisfied with the heavy Dutch influence on their children and with poor economic conditions. They also experienced some persecution, motivated by the Dutch government's alliance with James I of England. As a result, some of them joined a larger group of Separatists who had remained in England, and sailed for the New World, taking the name Pilgrims.
Finally, these men and women sailed to America on the Mayflower, intending to arrive in the northern parts of what was known as Virginia - somewhere in the area of today's New York. Blown off course, they came instead to what is now Massachusetts, and landed on the west side of Lower Cape Cod. Before disembarking, they drew up the Mayflower Compact, by which they gave themselves broad powers of self-governance. They later relocated to Plymouth Colony on the mainland, establishing that settlement on December 21, 1620. (The first settlement there is the site of present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts).
Like the settlers at Jamestown, the Pilgrims had a difficult first winter, having had no time to plant crops. Most of the settlers died of starvation, including the leader, John Carver. William Bradford was chosen to replace him in the spring of 1621. Later that year, the colonists enlisted the aid of Squanto and Samoset, two Native Americans who had learned to speak some English. That autumn brought a bountiful harvest, and the first Thanksgiving was held.
A second group of colonists established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. This group was the Puritans, who sought to reform the Church of England by creating a new, pure church in the New World. This expedition consisted of 400 Puritans organized by the Massachusetts Bay Company. Within two years, an additional 2,000 had arrived in America in waves of emigration known as the "Great Migration." In the New World, the Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit and politically innovative culture that still lingers on in the modern United States.
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 13 colonies established in 1733.
Spain claimed or controlled a large part of the central and western United States as part of New Spain which included Spanish Florida, California and Texas. In 1682, French explorer Sieur de La Salle explored the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, and claimed the entire territory as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, which became New France.
The French and Indian War fought in North America between 1754 and 1763 formed part of a larger conflict known as Seven Years' War that was occurring in Europe. The name French and Indian War refers to the two main enemies of the British: the royal French forces and the various American Indian forces allied with them. The conflict, the fourth such colonial war between the nations of France and Great Britain, resulted in the British conquest of Canada. The outcome was one of the most significant developments in a century of Anglo-French conflict. New France east of the Mississippi River and Spanish Florida were ceded to Great Britain. The Louisiana Territory, under Spanish control since the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), remained off-limits to settlement from the 13 American colonies.
The French and Indian War 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.
The Boston Tea Party was a direct action protest by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of 30 to 130 colonists, some of them thinly disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the three vessels and, over the course of three hours, dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water. The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.
FORMATION OF THE UNITED STATES (1776-1789)
During this period the United States won its independence from Great Britain by winning the American Revolutionary War, and the thirteen former colonies established themselves as the United States of America under the Articles of Confederation.
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, still meeting in Philadelphia declared the independence of the United States in a remarkable document, the Declaration of Independence, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson. Morocco was the first country in the World to recognize the newly sovereign United States in 1777. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty. Signed by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, it has been in continuous effect since 1783.
The United States celebrates its founding date as July 4, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress - representing thirteen British colonies - adopted the Declaration of Independence that rejected British authority in favor of self-determination. The structure of the government was profoundly changed on March 4, 1789, when the states replaced the Articles of Confederation with the United States Constitution. The new government reflected a radical break from the normative governmental structures of the time, favoring representative, elective government with a weak executive, rather than the existing monarchial structures common within the western traditions of the time. The system borrowed heavily from enlightenment age ideas and classical western philosophy, in that a primacy was placed upon individual liberty and upon constraining the power of government through division of powers and a system of checks and balances.
The colonists' victory at Saratoga led the French into an open alliance with the United States. In 1781, a combined American and French Army, acting with the support of a French fleet, captured a large British army, led by General Cornwallis, at Yorktown, Virginia. The surrender of General Cornwallis ended serious British efforts to find a military solution to their American problem.
A series of attempts to organize a movement to outline and press reforms culminated in the Congress calling the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
WESTWARD EXPANSION (1789-1849)
During this period, the United States government was established by its first president, George Washington, and the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and various Indian Wars expanded and consolidated the land expanse of the United States - while largely displacing the indigenous population.
George Washington, a renowned hero of the American Revolutionary War, commander and chief of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention, became the first President of the United States under the new U.S. Constitution. The Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, when settlers in the Monongahela Valley of western Pennsylvania protested against a federal tax on liquor and distilled drinks, was the first serious test of the federal government.
The Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, gave Western farmers use of the important Mississippi River waterway, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States, and provided U.S. settlers with vast potential for expansion. In response to continued British impressment of American sailors into the British Navy Madison had the Twelfth United States Congress - led by Southern and Western Jeffersonians - declared war on Britain in 1812. The United States and Britain came to a draw in the War of 1812, after bitter fighting that lasted until January 8, 1815. The Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the war, essentially resulted in the maintenance of the "status quo ante bellum"; but, crucially for the U.S., saw the end of the British alliance with the Native Americans.
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.
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to negotiate treaties that exchanged Indian tribal lands in the eastern states for lands west of the Mississippi River. This established Andrew Jackson, a military hero and president, as a cunning tyrant in regards to native populations. This Act resulted in the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes to peacefully go and die en route to the West, the Creeks to put up violent opposition and eventual defeat, and the Cherokee Nation to peacefully take up farming and "civilized behavior." The Cherokees, under Jackson's presidency, were eventually pushed from their land, even after successful agriculture, trade, and the first North American Indian written language was established. The Indian Removal Act also directly caused the ceding of Spanish Florida and subsequently to the many Seminole Wars.
Mexico refused to accept the annexation of Texas in 1845, and war broke out in 1846. The U.S., using regulars and large numbers of volunteers, defeated Mexico, which was badly led, short on resources, and was plagued by a divided command. Public sentiment in the States was also divided, as Whigs and anti-slavery forces opposed the war. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848, California, New Mexico and adjacent areas to the United States. In 1850, the issue of slavery in the new territories was settled by the Compromise of 1850 brokered by Whig Henry Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas.
CIVIL WAR ERA (1849-1865)
This period of United States history saw the breakdown of the ability of white Americans of the North and South to reconcile fundamental differences in their approach to government, economics, society and African American slavery. Abraham Lincoln was elected president, the South seceded to form the Confederate States of America, the Civil War followed, with the ultimate defeat of the South.
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. After the election of Abraham Lincoln, eleven Southern states seceded from the union between late 1860 and 1861, establishing a rebel government, the Confederate States of America on February 9, 1861.
The Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate General Pierre Beauregard opened fire upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina. They fired because Fort Sumter was in a confederate state. Along with the northwestern portion of Virginia, four of the five northernmost "slave states" did not secede, and became known as the Border States. Emboldened by Second Bull Run, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North when General Robert E. Lee led 55,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Maryland on September 5, 1862. The Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history. Antietam is considered a Union victory because it halted Lee's invasion of the North and provided an opportunity for Lincoln to announce his Emancipation Proclamation.
Union General Meade defeated Confederate General Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 to July 3, 1863), the bloodiest battle of the war, which is sometimes considered the war's turning point. At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made General Ulysses S. Grant commander of all Union armies. Sherman marched from Chattanooga to Atlanta, defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John B. Hood. Sherman's army laid waste to about 20% of the farms in Georgia in his celebrated "March to the Sea", and reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah in December 1864. Lee finally surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House.
The American Civil War was the deadliest war in American history, causing 620,000 soldier deaths and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. 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 that lasted to 1877, and brought changes that helped make the country a united superpower.
RECONSTRUCTION AND THE RISE OF INDUSTRIALIZATION (1865-1918)
After its civil war, America experienced an accelerated rate of industrialization, mainly in the northern states. However, Reconstruction and its failure left the Southern whites in a position of firm control over its black population, denying them their Civil Rights and keeping them in a state of economic, social and political servitude. Since the late 1800s, the United States has been formally grouped amongst the Great Powers, and has also become a dominant economic force.
U.S. Federal government policy, since the James Monroe administration, had been to move the indigenous population beyond the reach of the white frontier into a series of Indian Reservations. In 1876, the last serious Sioux war erupted, when the Dakota gold rush penetrated the Black Hills.
An unprecedented wave of immigration to the United States served both to provide the labor for American industry and to create diverse communities in previously undeveloped areas. Native American tribes were generally forced onto small reservations as white farmers and ranchers took over their lands. Abusive industrial practices led to the often violent rise of the labor movement in the United States.
The United States began its rise to international power in this period with substantial population and industrial growth domestically, and a number of military ventures abroad, including the Spanish-American War, which began when the United States blamed the sinking of the USS Maine (ACR-1) on Spain without any real evidence.
This period was capped by the 1917 entry of the United States into World War I.
POST WORLD WAR I AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION (1918-1940)
Following World War I, the U.S. grew steadily in stature as an economic and military world power. The after-shock of Russia's October Revolution resulted in real fears of communism in the United States, leading to a three year Red Scare.
The United States Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles imposed by its Allies on the defeated Central Powers; instead, the United States chose to pursue unilateralism, if not isolationism.
In 1920, the manufacture, sale, import and export of alcohol was prohibited by the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Prohibition ended in 1933, a failure.
During most of the 1920s, the United States enjoyed a period of unbalanced prosperity: farm prices and wages fell, while industrial profits grew. The boom was fueled by a rise in debt and an inflated Stock Market.
The Stock Market crash in 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression led to government efforts to re-start the economy and help its victims, with Roosevelt's New Deal. The recovery was rapid in all areas except unemployment, which remained fairly high until 1940.
WORLD WAR II (1941-1945)
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's 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. Its first contribution to the Allies came 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.
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 itself. The American army's first ground action was fighting alongside the British, Australian and New Zealand armies in North Africa. The American navy also played an active role in the Atlantic protecting the convoys bringing vital American war material to Britain.
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 Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge resulting in Allied victories against the Germans. The battles took a heavy toll on the Americans, who lost 19,000 men during the Battle of the Bulge alone. The allied bombing raids on Germany increased to unprecedented levels after the D-Day invasion, with over 70% of all bombs dropped on Germany occurring after this date. 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.
Due to the United States commitment to defeating Hitler in Europe, the first years of the war against Japan was largely a defensive battle with the United States Navy attempting to prevent the Japanese Navy from asserting dominance of the Pacific region. Initially, Japan won the majority of its battles in a short period of time. Japan quickly defeated and created military bases in Guam, Thailand, Malaya, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Burma. This was done virtually unopposed and with quicker speed than that of the German Blitzkrieg during the early stages of the war. This was important for Japan, as it had only 10% of the homeland industrial production capacity of the United States. The turning point of the war was the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Following this, the Americans began fighting towards China where they could build an airbase suitable to commence bombing of mainland Japan. The Pacific war became the largest naval conflict in history. The American Navy emerged victorious after at one point being stretched to almost breaking point with almost complete destruction of the Japanese Navy. The American forces were then poised for an invasion of the Japanese mainland, to force the Japanese into unconditional surrender.
On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died and Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as the 33rd President of the United States. The decision to use nuclear weapons to end the conflict has been one of the most controversial decisions of the war. Supporters of the use of the bombs argue that an invasion would have cost enormous numbers of lives, while opponents argue that the large number of civilian casualties resulting from the bombings were still unjustified. The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. On August 15, 1945, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally ending World War 2. This day became known in the English-speaking countries as "V-J Day" (Victory in Japan). The formal Instrument of Surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
COLD WAR BEGINNINGS AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT (1945-1964)
Following World War II, the United States emerged as one of the two dominant superpowers. The U.S. Senate, on December 4, 1945, approved U.S. participation in the United Nations (UN), which marked a turn away from the traditional isolationism of the U.S. and toward more international involvement. The post-war era in the United States was defined internationally by the beginning of the Cold War, in which the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to expand their influence at the expense of the other, checked by each side's massive nuclear arsenal and the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. The result was a series of conflicts during this period including the Korean War and the tense nuclear showdown of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Within the United States, the Cold War prompted concerns about Communist influence, and also resulted in government efforts to encourage math and science toward efforts like the space race.
In the decades after the Second World War, the United States became a dominant global influence in economic, political, military, cultural and technological affairs. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it stands today as the sole superpower. The power of the United States is nonetheless limited by international agreements and the realities of political, military and economic constraints. At the center of middle-class culture since the 1950s has been a growing obsession with consumer goods.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960, known for his charisma, he was the only Catholic to ever be President. The Kennedys brought a new life and vigor to the atmosphere of the White House. During his time in office, the Cold War reached its height with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
Meanwhile, the American people completed their great migration from the farms into the cities, and experienced a period of sustained economic expansion. At the same time, institutionalized racism across the United States, but especially in the American South, was increasingly challenged by the growing Civil Rights movement and African American leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. During the 1960s, the Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation between Whites and Blacks came to an end.
COLD WAR (1964-1980)
The Cold War continued through the 1960s and 1970s, and the United States entered the Vietnam War, whose growing unpopularity fed already existing social movements, including those among women, minorities and young people. President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society social programs and the judicial activism of the Warren Court added to the wide range of social reform during the 1960s and 70s. The period saw the birth of feminism and the environmental movement as political forces, and continued progress toward Civil Rights.
The "second-wave" of the Feminist Movement, or the Women's Liberation Movement in the United States refers to a period of feminist activity which began during the early 1960s and lasted throughout the late 1970s. Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on overturning legal (de jure) obstacles to equality (i.e. voting rights, property rights), second-wave feminism addressed a wide range of issues, including unofficial (de facto) inequalities, official legal inequalities, sexuality, family, the workplace, and, perhaps most controversially, reproductive rights. In 1966, Betty Friedan and others established the National Organization for Women, or NOW. Protests began, and the new Women's Liberation Movement became the U.S.'s main social revolution. Marches, parades, rallies, boycotts, and pickets brought out thousands, sometimes millions.
As a result, 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 feminist debate today.
The Space Race, which effectively began after the Soviet Launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, became an important part of the cultural, technological, and ideological rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Four months after the launch of Sputnik 1, on February 1, 1958, the United States successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, with an alternate program on an accelerated schedule, becoming the second "space power". On July 29, 1958, the United States Congress passed the legislation creating NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), as well as the National Defense Education Act, the most far-reaching federally-sponsored education initiative in the nation's history. NASA's Mercury manned space program was initiated by 1959.
The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space when he entered orbit in the Soviet Union's Vostok on April 12, 1961. Twenty-three days later, on May 5, 1961, on sub-orbital mission Freedom 7, Alan Shepard entered space for the United States. On 20 February 1962, John Glenn became the first American to successfully orbit Earth, completing three orbits in Friendship 7. After the Soviet successes, especially Gagarin's flight, United States President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson looked for an American project that would capture the public's imagination. The Apollo Program met many of their objectives. After Johnson became President in 1963, his continuing support allowed the program to succeed. In December 1968, the United States became the front runner in the Space Race when James Lovell, Frank Borman, and Bill Anders orbited the moon.
While unmanned Soviet probes had reached the Moon before any U.S. craft, American Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the lunar surface on 21 July 1969, after landing the previous day. Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong received backup from command-module pilot Michael Collins and lunar-module pilot Buzz Aldrin in an event watched by over 500 million people around the world. Social commentators widely recognize the lunar landing as one of the defining moments of the 20th century, and Armstrong's words on his first touching the Moon's surface became similarly memorable: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
Johnson was succeeded by President Richard Nixon in 1969, who intitially escalated the Vietnam War but soon was able to negotiate 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. A new era of Cold War relations known as détente (cooperation) was begun. The OPEC oil embargo led to a period of slow economic growth in 1973. Nixon's administration was brought to an ignominious close with the political scandal of Watergate in August 1974.
The Watergate scandal began with the arrest of five men for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972. Investigations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and later by the Senate Watergate Committee, House Judiciary Committee and the press revealed that this burglary was one of many illegal activities authorized and carried out by Nixon's staff. They also revealed the immense scope of crimes and abuses, which included campaign fraud, political espionage and sabotage, illegal break-ins, improper tax audits, illegal wiretapping on a massive scale, and a secret slush fund laundered in Mexico to pay those who conducted these operations. Facing certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and the strong possibility of a conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned ten days later, on August 9, 1974, becoming the only U.S. president to have resigned from office. His successor, Gerald Ford, would issue a controversial pardon for any federal crimes Nixon may have committed while in office.
As the first person appointed to the vice-presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment, when Gerald Ford became President upon Richard Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974, he also became the only President of the United States that was not elected for either President or Vice-President. As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward détente in the Cold War. Compared with his predecessors, Ford's policies were less directed towards intervention in Vietnamese affairs. During his term of office, the fall of Saigon and the collapse of the American-backed South Vietnamese government, ended the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975. Domestically, Ford presided over the worst economy since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure.
Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 on the notion that he was not a part of the Washington political establishment. The U.S. was afflicted with a recession, an energy crisis caused by the OPEC oil embargo, slow economic growth, high unemployment, and high inflation coupled with high interest rates (the term stagflation was coined). 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. Carter lost the 1980 election to Republican Ronald Reagan, whose campaign message advertised that his presidency would bring "Morning in America."
END OF THE COLD WAR (1980-1991)
Ronald Reagan produced a major realignment with his 1980 and 1984 landslides. In 1980, the Reagan coalition was possible because of Democratic losses in most social-economic groups. "Reagan Democrats" were those who usually voted Democratic, but were attracted by Reagan's policies, personality and leadership, notably his social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy. Widely regarded as a hard-line conservative, 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. 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 to 7.5%, and the economic growth rate increased from 4.5 to 7.2%.
Reagan took a hard line against the Soviet Union, proclaiming it to be the Evil Empire. 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 by means of laser systems in space. Though it was never fully developed or deployed, the Soviets were genuinely concerned about the possible effects of the program and the research and technologies of SDI paved the way for the anti-ballistic missile systems of today. 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 of Nicaragua was mired in controversy. The arms-for-hostages scandal led to the convictions of such figures as Oliver North and John Poindexter. He shared many common views and goals with friend and ally Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Reagan met with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who ascended to power in 1985, four times, and their summit conferences led to the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) in the East Room at the White House on December 8, 1987.
In 1988, Ronald Reagan's vice-president George H. W. Bush launched a successful campaign to succeed Reagan as president, defeating Democratic Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. Foreign policy drove the Bush presidency. Military operations were conducted in Panama and the Persian Gulf at a time of world change. 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. Starting in the late 1980s, the regimes of the Eastern European Warsaw Pact began to collapse in rapid succession. The "fall of the Berlin Wall" in November 1989 was seen as a symbol of the fall of the Eastern European Communist governments. The Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, ending the US-Soviet Cold War. Domestically, Bush reneged on a 1988 campaign promise and after a struggle with Congress, signed an increase in taxes that Congress had passed. Economic recession and breaking his "no new taxes" pledge caused a sharp decline in his approval rating. Bush would later say that he wished he had never signed the bill.
MODERN ERA (1991-PRESENT)
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. The 1990s saw one of the longest periods of economic expansion.
During the 1990s, the United States and allied nations found themselves under attack from Islamist terrorist groups, chiefly al-Qaeda. In 1993, Ramzi Yousef, a Kuwaiti national, planted explosives in the underground garage of One World Trade Center and detonated them, killing six people and injuring thousands, in what would become the beginning of an age of terrorism. Yousef would be subsequently captured. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing by al-Qaeda was the first of many terrorist attacks upon Americans during the period.
In 1998, Clinton was impeached for charges of perjury and obstruction of justice that arose from an inappropriate sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and a sexual harassment lawsuit from Paula Jones. He was the second president to have been impeached. The House of Representatives voted 228 to 206 on December 19 to impeach Clinton, but on February 12, 1999, the Senate voted 55 to 45 to acquit Clinton of the charges.
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. 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.
At the beginning of the new millennium, the United States again found itself attacked by Islamic terrorism, with the September 11, 2001 attacks in which 19 extremists 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. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, that plane was intended to hit the US Capitol Building in Washington. The twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, destroying the entire complex. The United States soon found large amounts of evidence that suggested that a terrorist group, al-Qaeda, spearheaded by Osama bin Laden, was responsible for the attacks.
In response to the attacks, under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States (with the military support of NATO and the political support of some of the international community) launched Operation Enduring Freedom which overthrew the Taliban regime 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 (a key demand of the UN as well, though later investigations found parts of the intelligence reports to be inaccurate) and the liberation of the Iraqi people. This second invasion proved to be unpopular in many parts of the world, even amongst long-time American allies such as Canada and France, and helped fuel a global wave of anti-American sentiment.
Hurricane Katrina of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest hurricane, as well as one of the five deadliest, in the history of the United States. It formed over the Bahamas on August 23, stroke Florida on August 25 and Louisiana and Mississippi on August 29, 2005. Katrina's storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans submerging eighty percent of the city. The preparation and the response of the federal, state and local governments were criticized as ineffective and slow. Conversely, the United States Coast Guard, the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service were widely commended for their actions, accurate forecasts and abundant lead time. At least 1,836 people, mainly from Louisiana (1,577) and Mississippi (238), lost their lives in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. Thousands of displaced residents in Mississippi and Louisiana are still living in trailers.
In December 2007, the United States entered the longest post-World War II recession, which included a housing market correction, a subprime mortgage crisis, soaring oil prices, and a declining dollar value. 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 Brothers. This economic crisis was considered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression by leading economists, with its global effects characterized by the failure of key businesses, declines in consumer wealth estimated in the trillions of U.S. dollars, substantial financial commitments incurred by governments, and a significant decline in economic activity.
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". This, coupled with the economic crisis, helped aid his and running-mate Joe Biden's victory against the Republican ticket of Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin. On November 4, Obama became the first African American 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. The act included increased federal spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals, 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, the Public-Private Investment Program, and the Automobile Industry Bailout. In the third quarter of 2009, the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.2% annual pace, after contracting for four consecutive quarters. However, the unemployment rate continued to rise to 10.2%, the highest level since 1983, and the underemployment rate continued to rise to 17.5%, the highest since records began being kept in 1994.
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. He also announced that same month that the amount of troops in Afghanistan would be boosted by 17,000. In December 2009, Obama announced that an additional 30,000 troops would be deployed to Afghanistan over a period of six months, and also proposed to begin troop withdrawals 18 months from that date.
As of 2010, debates continue over abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, climate change, health care reform, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the new Democratic Congressional majority promised to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, Congress continues to fund efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan (however a withdrawal agreement has been agreed upon between the US and Iraqi governments). In the area of foreign policy, the U.S. maintains ongoing talks, led by United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham 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. China, holding an estimated $1.6 trillion of U.S. securities, is the largest foreign financier of the record U.S. public debt.