English Americans - History

English Americans - History

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According to the 1790 census, most Americans were of English ancestry. Most New Englanders were English-Americans, as were many in the Mid-Atlantic region. In the Mid-Atlantic states, however, other groups of settlers; such as the Dutch, Germans and Scotch-Irish; were also present in large numbers. The English had a strong presence in the South as well, but were also rivaled by the number of African, Scotch-Irish, Scottish, German and French residents in the region.

Among the English-Americans were those who had opposed the American Revolution and remained loyal to Britain. At the start of the Revolutionary War, at least one third of the colonists were loyalists. By the end of the war, however, this number seemed to have dwindled. By the end of the war, there were still people who chose to oppose the patriot side. Many of these loyalists moved to Canada or England, since returning to their homes could be a deadly risk. Nevertheless, some loyalists chose to remain in the United States. Those who remained were required to pledge an oath of allegiance to the new nation. Refusal meant that they would lose the right to vote or take a case to court. Most loyalists who had fled, and some who had remained, had their property confiscated. Some were tarred and feathered and carried out of town. It would be many years before the resentment between former loyalists and patriots would fade away.

Americans and Brits Have Been Fighting Over the English Language for Centuries. Here’s How It Started

T he British and Americans have never gotten along very well where the English language is concerned. British mockery and indignation over what Americans were doing with and to the language began long before Independence, but after that it blossomed into a fully-fledged, ill-spirited, relentless attack that is still going on today. The conservative British politician and Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, has been defended as “one who dares to eschew the current, Americanized, mode of behaviour, speech, and dress.” In our own time, as has been the case for more than two centuries, fights about nationalism easily turn into skirmishes over language.

British ridicule of American ways of speaking became a vitriolic and crowded sport in the 18th and 19th centuries. New American words were springing up seemingly out of nowhere, and the British had no clue what many of them meant. Although he greatly admired America and Americans, the expatriate Scottish churchman John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and member of Congress, had no taste for the language he heard cropping up in all walks of life in the country. &ldquoI have heard in this country,&rdquo he wrote in 1781, &ldquoin the senate, at the bar, and from the pulpit, and see daily in dissertations from the press, errors in grammar, improprieties and vulgarisms which hardly any person of the same class in point of rank and literature would have fallen into in Great Britain.&rdquo Among the Americanisms he said he heard everywhere were the use of “every” instead of “every one” and “mad” for “angry.” He particularly disliked “this here” or “that there.”

The British cringed over new American accents, coinages and vulgarisms. Prophets of doom flourished the English language in America was going to disappear. &ldquoTheir language will become as independent of England, as they themselves are,&rdquo wrote Jonathan Boucher, an English clergyman living in Maryland. Frances Trollope, mother of the novelist Anthony Trollope, was disgusted by &ldquostrange uncouth phrases and pronunciation&rdquo when she travelled in America in 1832. &ldquoHere then is the ruination of our classic English tongue,&rdquo mourned the British engineer, John Mactaggart. Even Thomas Jefferson found himself on the receiving end of an avalanche of British mockery, as The London Magazine in 1787 raged against his propensity to coin Americanisms: “For shame, Mr. Jefferson. Why, after trampling upon the honour of our country, and representing it as little better than a land of barbarism &ndash why, we say, perpetually trample also upon the very grammar of our language? &hellip Freely, good sir, will we forgive all your attacks, impotent as they are illiberal, upon our national character but for the future, spare &ndash O spare, we beseech you, our mother-tongue!”

But such protests did not stop Americans from telling the British to mind their own business, as they continued to use the language the way they felt they needed to in building their nation.

Independence, it was felt by many, was a cultural as well as political matter that could never be complete without Americans taking pride in their own language. On the part of the more zealous American patriots like Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster, the goal was national unity fostered by a conviction that Americans now ought to own and possess their own language. Jefferson led the charge by declaring war against Samuel Johnson’s famous Dictionary of the English Language, which continued to reign supreme for a century after its publication in 1755. Unless Johnson were toppled from his perch as the sage of the English language, he argued, America could remain hostage to British English deep into the 19th century. Webster, the self-styled grammarian who egotistically claimed for himself the role of “prophet of language to the American people,” was by far the most hostile to British interference in the development of the American language. He wrote an essay entitled, &ldquoEnglish Corruption of the American Language,&rdquo casting Johnson as &ldquothe insidious Delilah by which the Samsons of our country are shorn of their locks.”

“Great Britain, whose children we are,&rdquo he claimed, &ldquoand whose language we speak, should no longer be our standard for the taste of her writers is already corrupted, and her language on the decline.”

Yet, not all Americans were on board with Webster&rsquos ideas and many Americans fought back, thoroughly and lastingly mocking him for his egregious reforms of the language, especially spelling, as a way of banishing the persistent American subservience to British culture. Pointing to him, one of his many American enemies remarked, “I expect to encounter the displeasure of our American reformers, who think we ought to throw off our native tongue as one of the badges of English servitude, and establish a new tongue for ourselves. … the best scholars in our country treat such a scheme with derision.”

We have to give it to Webster that he did write, as he made a point of putting it in his title, the first comprehensive unabridged &ldquoAmerican&rdquo dictionary of the language. That effort, such as it was, 30 years in the making, brought on the golden age of American dictionaries &mdash that is, those written in the U.S. The great historical irony, in light of decades of British ridicule of what Americans were doing with the language, is that Americans, like Webster&rsquos superior and forgotten lexicographical rival Joseph Emerson Worcester, quickly surpassed British writers of dictionaries and continued to do so for more than half a century, until the birth of the monumental Oxford English Dictionary finally began to replace Johnson&rsquos as Britain&rsquos national dictionary.

Nonetheless, the flow of bad blood shed throughout the tortuous language and dictionary wars in the 19th century continued well into the 20th century, confirming that America and Britain were then and still are, as is often said, two nations &ldquodivided by a common language.&rdquo Divided, indeed, as with the same language they have always been able to understand their insults of one another.

Peter Martin is the author of the book The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight over the English Language (Princeton University Press 2019). He is also the author of the biographies Samuel Johnson and A Life of James Boswell. He has taught English literature in the United States and England.


Norsemen Edit

Norse explorers are the first known Europeans to set foot on what is now North America. Norse journeys to Greenland and Canada are supported by historical and archaeological evidence. [4] The Norsemen established a colony in Greenland in the late 10th century, and lasted until the mid 15th century, with court and parliament assemblies (þing) taking place at Brattahlíð and a bishop located at Garðar. [5] The remains of a settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada, were discovered in 1960 and were dated to around the year 1000 (carbon dating estimate 990–1050 CE). [6] L'Anse aux Meadows is the only site widely accepted as evidence of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact. It was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1978. [7] It is also notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland, established by Leif Erikson around the same period or, more broadly, with the Norse colonization of the Americas. [8] Leif Erikson's brother is said to have had the first contact with the native population of North America which would come to be known as the skrælings. After capturing and killing eight of the natives, they were attacked at their beached ships, which they defended. [9]

Spain Edit

While some Norse colonies were established in north eastern North America as early as the 10th century, systematic European colonization began in 1492. A Spanish expedition headed by the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a new trade route to the Far East but inadvertently landed in what came to be known to Europeans as the "New World". He landed on 12 October 1492 on Guanahani (possibly Cat Island) in The Bahamas, which the Lucayan people had inhabited since the 9th century. Western European conquest, large-scale exploration and colonization soon followed after the Spanish and Portuguese final reconquest of Iberia in 1492. Columbus's first two voyages (1492–93) reached Hispaniola and various other Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and Cuba. In the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, ratified by the Pope, the two kingdoms of Castile (in a personal union with other kingdoms of Spain) and Portugal divided the entire non-European world into two areas of exploration and colonization, with a north to south boundary that cut through the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern part of present-day Brazil. Based on this treaty and on early claims by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, discoverer of the Pacific Ocean in 1513, the Spanish conquered large territories in North, Central and South America. They started colonizing the Caribbean, using islands such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola as bases.

The Spanish had different goals in their exploration of the land than the later European powers. They had three goals for exploration: “Conquer, convert, or become rich”. [10] [ failed verification ] The Spanish justified their claims to the New World based on the Ideals of the Reconquista. [11] They saw their reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula out from the Moor's control as evidence of the “divine help". They believed it to be their duty to save the natives from eternal damnation by converting them to Christianity. In 1492 the first Spaniard had finally become Pope and Spain justified their right to implement Christianity throughout the world. [12]

Over the first century and a half after Columbus's voyages, the native population of the Americas plummeted by an estimated 80% (from around 50 million in 1492 to eight million in 1650), [13] mostly by outbreaks of Old World disease. Some authors have argued this demographic collapse to be the first large-scale act of genocide in the modern era. [14] [15] Ten years after Columbus's discovery, the administration of Hispaniola was given to Nicolás de Ovando of the Order of Alcántara, founded during the Reconquista. As in the Iberian Peninsula, the inhabitants of Hispaniola were given new land masters, while religious orders handled the local administration. Progressively the encomienda system, which granted tribute (access to indigenous labor and taxation) to European settlers, was set in place. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés took over the Aztec Kingdom and from 1519 to 1521, he waged a campaign against the Aztec Empire, ruled by Moctezuma II. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, became Mexico City, the chief city of what the Spanish were now calling "New Spain". More than 240,000 Aztecs died during the siege of Tenochtitlan, 100,000 in combat, [16] while 500–1,000 of the Spaniards engaged in the conquest died. Other conquistadors, such as Hernando de Soto, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, pushed farther north, from Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean, respectively, in the early 1500s. In 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and led the first European expedition to see the Pacific Ocean from the west coast of the New World. In an action with enduring historical import, Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean and all the lands adjoining it for the Spanish Crown. It was 1517 before another expedition, from Cuba, visited Central America, landing on the coast of Yucatán in search of slaves. To the south, Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire during the 1530s. As a result, by the mid-16th century, the Crown of Castile had gained control of much of western South America, and southern North America, in addition to its earlier Caribbean territories. The crown established the laws of the Indies to assert its power against the encomenderos and conquistadors and to regulate the incorporation of the natives into colonial society. The centuries of continuous conflicts between the North American Indians and the Anglo-Americans were less severe than the devastation wrought on the densely populated Mesoamerican, Andean, and Caribbean heartlands. [17] To reward their troops, the Conquistadores often allotted Indian towns to their troops and officers. Black African slaves were introduced to substitute for Native American labor in some locations—including the West Indies, where the indigenous population was nearing extinction on many islands.

On Columbus's return to Hispaniola in 1493, he arrived with 17 ships and 1,200 men but there was little gold left. They "roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.” [18] In 1500, Columbus wrote that “there are many dealers who go about looking for girls those from nine to 10 are now in demand.” [18] Due to the shortage in gold, the Spanish established the “Practice of Tribute” under the encomienda system which required every Indian male to turn in a certain amount of gold every ninety days or face death. The reading of The Requerimento before war was both unintelligible to the natives and used as a manipulation tactic. The document stated that the indigenous were subjects of the Spanish Crown and would be tortured if they resisted. [19] As the indigenous population declined, the Europeans abducted people from other islands, like the Lucayan, to labor in the fields and mines of Hispaniola. By the 1600s, the island had been deserted for over a century. [18]

Portugal Edit

Over this same time frame as Spain, Portugal claimed lands in North America (Canada) and colonized much of eastern South America naming it Santa Cruz and Brazil. On behalf of both the Portuguese and Spanish crowns, cartographer Americo Vespuscio explored the American east coast, and published his new book Mundus Novus (New World) in 1502–1503 which disproved the belief that the Americas were the easternmost part of Asia and confirmed that Columbus had reached a set of continents previously unheard of to any Europeans. Cartographers still use a Latinized version of his first name, America, for the two continents. In April 1500, Portuguese noble Pedro Álvares Cabral claimed the region of Brazil to Portugal the effective colonization of Brazil began three decades later with the founding of São Vicente in 1532 and the establishment of the system of captaincies in 1534, which was later replaced by other systems. Others tried to colonize the eastern coasts of present-day Canada and the River Plate in South America. These explorers include João Vaz Corte-Real in Newfoundland João Fernandes Lavrador, Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real and João Álvares Fagundes, in Newfoundland, Greenland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia (from 1498 to 1502, and in 1520).

During this time, the Portuguese gradually switched from an initial plan of establishing trading posts to extensive colonization of what is now Brazil. They imported millions of slaves to run their plantations. The Portuguese and Spanish royal governments expected to rule these settlements and collect at least 20% of all treasure found (the quinto real collected by the Casa de Contratación), in addition to collecting all the taxes they could. By the late 16th century silver from the Americas accounted for one-fifth of the combined total budget of Portugal and Spain. [20] In the 16th century perhaps 240,000 Europeans entered ports in the Americas. [21] [22]

France Edit

France founded colonies in the Americas: in eastern North America (which had not been colonized by Spain north of Florida), a number of Caribbean islands (which had often already been conquered by the Spanish or depopulated by disease), and small coastal parts of South America. French explorers included Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 Jacques Cartier (1491–1557), Henry Hudson (1560s–1611), and Samuel de Champlain (1567–1635), who explored the region of Canada he reestablished as New France.

In the French colonial regions, the focus of economy was on sugar plantations in Caribbean. In Canada the fur trade with the natives was important. About 16,000 French men and women became colonizers. The great majority became subsistence farmers along the St. Lawrence River. With a favorable disease environment and plenty of land and food, their numbers grew exponentially to 65,000 by 1760. Their colony was taken over by Britain in 1760, but social, religious, legal, cultural and economic changes were few in a society that clung tightly to its recently formed traditions. [23] [24]

England Edit

British colonization began with North America almost a century after Spain. The relatively late arrival meant that the British could use the other European colonization powers as models for their endeavors. [25] Inspired by the Spanish riches from colonies founded upon the conquest of the Aztecs, Incas, and other large Native American populations in the 16th century, their first attempt at colonization occurred in Roanoke and Newfoundland, although unsuccessful. [26] In 1606, King James I granted a charter with the purpose of discovering the riches at their first permanent settlement in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. They were sponsored by common stock companies such as the chartered Virginia Company financed by wealthy Englishmen who exaggerated the economic potential of the land. [27]

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century broke the unity of Western Christendom and led to the formation of numerous new religious sects, which often faced persecution by governmental authorities. In England, many people came to question the organization of the Church of England by the end of the 16th century. One of the primary manifestations of this was the Puritan movement, which sought to "purify" the existing Church of England of its residual Catholic rites. The first of these people, known as the Pilgrims, landed on Plymouth Rock, MA in November 1620. Continuous waves of repression led to the migration of about 20,000 Puritans to New England between 1629 and 1642, where they founded multiple colonies. Later in the century, the new Pennsylvania colony was given to William Penn in settlement of a debt the king owed his father. Its government was established by William Penn in about 1682 to become primarily a refuge for persecuted English Quakers but others were welcomed. Baptists, German and Swiss Protestants and Anabaptists also flocked to Pennsylvania. The lure of cheap land, religious freedom and the right to improve themselves with their own hand was very attractive. [28]

Mainly due to discrimination, there was often a separation between English colonial communities and indigenous communities. The Europeans viewed the natives as savages who were not worthy of participating in what they considered civilized society. The native people of North America did not die out nearly as rapidly nor as greatly as those in Central and South America due in part to their exclusion from British society. The indigenous people continued to be stripped of their native lands and were pushed further out west. [29] The English eventually went on to control much of Eastern North America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. They also gained Florida and Quebec in the French and Indian War.

John Smith convinced the colonists of Jamestown that searching for gold was not taking care of their immediate needs for food and shelter. The lack of food security leading to extremely high mortality rate was quite distressing and cause for despair among the colonists. To support the colony, numerous supply missions were organized. Tobacco later became a cash crop, with the work of John Rolfe and others, for export and the sustaining economic driver of Virginia and the neighboring colony of Maryland. Plantation agriculture was a primary aspect of the colonies in the southeast US and in the Caribbean. They heavily relied on African slave labor to sustain their economic pursuits. [10]

From the beginning of Virginia's settlements in 1587 until the 1680s, the main source of labor and a large portion of the immigrants were indentured servants looking for new life in the overseas colonies. During the 17th century, indentured servants constituted three-quarters of all European immigrants to the Chesapeake region. Most of the indentured servants were teenagers from England with poor economic prospects at home. Their fathers signed the papers that gave them free passage to America and an unpaid job until they became of age. They were given food, clothing, housing and taught farming or household skills. American landowners were in need of laborers and were willing to pay for a laborer's passage to America if they served them for several years. By selling passage for five to seven years worth of work, they could then start on their own in America. [30] Many of the migrants from England died in the first few years. [27]

Economic advantage also prompted the Darien Scheme, an ill-fated venture by the Kingdom of Scotland to settle the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s. The Darien Scheme aimed to control trade through that part of the world and thereby promote Scotland into a world trading power. However, it was doomed by poor planning, short provisions, weak leadership, lack of demand for trade goods, and devastating disease. [31] The failure of the Darien Scheme was one of the factors that led the Kingdom of Scotland into the Act of Union 1707 with the Kingdom of England creating the united Kingdom of Great Britain and giving Scotland commercial access to English, now British, colonies. [32]

When Pope Alexander VI issued the Inter caetera bull in May 1493 granting the new lands to the Kingdom of Spain, he requested in exchange an evangelization of the people. During Columbus's second voyage, Benedictine monks accompanied him, along with twelve other priests. Through a practice called the Mission System, supervised communities were established in frontier areas so that Spanish priests could preach the gospel to the indigenous population. These missions were established throughout the Spanish colonies which extended from the southwestern portions of current-day United States through Mexico and to Argentina and Chile. In the 1530s, the Spanish Roman Catholic Church, needing the natives' labor and cooperation, evangelized in Quechua, Nahuatl, Guaraní and other Native American languages. This contributed to the expansion of indigenous languages, including the establishment of tribal writing systems. One of the first primitive schools for Native Americans was founded by Fray Pedro de Gante in 1523.

As slavery was prohibited between Christians and could only be imposed in non-Christian prisoners of war or on men already sold as slaves, the debate on Christianization was particularly acute during the 16th century. Later, two Dominican priests, Bartolomé de Las Casas and the philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, held the Valladolid debate, with the former arguing that Native Americans were endowed with souls like all other human beings, while the latter argued to the contrary to justify their enslavement. In 1537, the papal bull Sublimis Deus definitively recognized that Native Americans possessed souls, thus prohibiting their enslavement, without putting an end to the debate. Some claimed that a native who had rebelled and then been captured could be enslaved nonetheless. The process of Christianization was at first violent: when the first Franciscans arrived in Mexico in 1524, they burned the places dedicated to pagan cult, alienating much of the local population. [33] Consequently, the indigenous were forced to denounce their intergenerational tribal beliefs and subjugate their history.

The practice of slavery was not uncommon in native society prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Captured members of rival tribes were often used as slaves and/or for human sacrifice. But with the arrival of white colonists, Indian slavery "became commodified, expanded in unexpected ways, and came to resemble the kinds of human trafficking that are recognizable to us today". [34]

While disease was the main killer of the Indians, the practice of slavery was also significant contributor to the indigenous death toll. [12] With the arrival of other European colonial powers, the enslavement of native populations increased as these empires lacked legislation against slavery until decades later. It is estimated that from Columbus's arrival to the end of the nineteenth century between 2.5 and 5 million Native Americans were forced into slavery. Indigenous men, women, and children were often forced into labor in sparsely populated frontier settings, in the household, or in the toxic gold and silver mines. [35] To further extract as much gold as possible, the Europeans required all males above the age of 13 to trade gold as tribute. This practice was known as the encomienda system and granted free native labor to the Spaniards. Based upon the practice of exacting tribute from Muslims and Jews during the Reconquista, the Spanish Crown granted a number of native laborers to an encomendero, who was usually a conquistador or other prominent Spanish male. Under the grant, they were bound to both protecting the natives and converting them to Christianity. In exchange for their forced conversion to Christianity, the natives had to pay tributes in the form of gold, agricultural products, and labor. The Spanish crown saw the severe abuses going on and tried to terminate the system through the Laws of Burgos (1512–13) and the New Laws of the Indies (1542). However, the encomenderos refused to comply with the new measures and the indigenous people continued to be exploited. Eventually, the encomienda system was replaced by the repartimiento system which was not abolished until the late 18th century. [36]

In the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Pueblo tribe led an uprising that resulted in the death of 400 Spanish colonizers and the reclaiming of indigenous land. Andrés Resendez argues this to be "the greatest insurrection against the other slavery". [34] Resendez also argues that the perpetrators of native slavery were not always European colonists. He claims that the rise of powerful Indian tribes in what is now the American Southwest, such as the Comanche, led to indigenous control of the Native American slave trade by the early 1700s. The arrival of European settlers in the West increased the slave traffic by the nineteenth century. [35] There is debate over whether the indigenous population of the Americas suffered a greater demographic decline than the African continent, despite the latter having lost roughly 12.5 million individuals to the transatlantic slave trade. [34]

By the 18th century, the overwhelming number of black slaves was such that Amerindian slavery was less commonly used. Africans, who were taken aboard slave ships to the Americas, were primarily obtained from their African homelands by coastal tribes who captured and sold them. Europeans traded for slaves with the slave capturers of the local native African tribes in exchange for rum, guns, gunpowder, and other manufactures. The total slave trade to islands in the Caribbean, Brazil, the Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, and British Empires is estimated to have involved 12 million Africans. [37] [38] The vast majority of these slaves went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished. At most about 600,000 African slaves were imported into the United States, or 5% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa. [39]

Even though slavery went against the mission of the Catholic Church, the colonizers justified the practice through the belts of latitude theory, supported by Aristotle and Ptolemy. In this perspective, belts of latitude wrapped around the earth and corresponded with specific human traits. The peoples from the "cold zone" in Northern Europe were "of lesser prudence", while those of the "hot zone" in sub-Sahara Africa were intelligent but "weaker and less spirited". [34] According to the theory, those of the "temperate zone" across the Mediterranean reflected an ideal balance of strength and prudence. Such ideas about latitude and character justified a natural human hierarchy. [34]

During the Gold Rush of the 1800s, Indian enslavement flourished. American landowner, John Bidwell, coerced Indian children to work on his ranch by scaring them with tales of man-eating grizzly bears. He justified his protection and offering of food and clothing as fair payment for indigenous labor. Captain John Sutter paid the Indian slaves with metal disks that were punched with star-shaped holes to keep track of how much work they did. Two weeks of work meant they could receive a cotton shirt or a pair of pants. Andrew Kelsey organized the enslavement of five hundred Pomo Indians, where they flogged and shot these people for entertainment. They also raped young Indian women. In 1849, the Indians finally rebelled and murdered Kelsey in what became known as the Bloody Island Massacre. Other laws legalized a peonage system that allowed trial and punishment of any Indian who was traveling without a proper certificate of employment. These documents listed the "advanced wages" as a debt to be repaid before the Indian could be free to leave. This system allowed ranchers to control the migration of Indians and subject them to the labor draft. The Indian Act of 1850 legalized all types of exploitation and atrocities of indigenous people, including the "apprenticeship" of Indian minors which in practice gave the petitioner control of both the child and their earnings. Thus, the establishment of encomiendas, repartimientos, selling of convict labor, and debt peonage replaced formal slavery by instituting informal labor coercive practices that were nearly impossible to track, thus enabling the slave trade to continue. [34]

Roman Catholics were the first major religious group to immigrate to the New World, as settlers in the colonies of Portugal and Spain, and later, France, belonged to that faith. English and Dutch colonies, on the other hand, tended to be more religiously diverse. Settlers to these colonies included Anglicans, Dutch Calvinists, English Puritans and other nonconformists, English Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians, French Huguenots, German and Swedish Lutherans, as well as Jews, Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and Moravians. [40]

A Brief History of America

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The first Europeans to establish colonies in North America were the Spanish. In 1526 a Spaniard called Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon attempted to found a colony in Carolina. (He also brought the first black slaves to North America). However, the attempt failed. Many Spaniards died of disease and the survivors abandoned the colony. In 1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded a settlement at St Augustine, Florida, the first permanent European settlement in what is now the USA.

The first English attempt to colonize North America was made by a man named Sir Humphrey Gilbert. In 1578 Queen Elizabeth granted him permission to establish a colony there. In 1583 Gilbert sailed with a small fleet of ships to Newfoundland. However, Gilbert soon abandoned the venture. Gilbert was lost on the voyage home.

However his half-brother, Walter Raleigh made another attempt to found a colony. In 1584 he sent two ships to explore the coast. They found what they thought was a suitable place for a colony. In January 1585 Queen Elizabeth the ‘Virgin Queen’ allowed him to call the place Virginia, after her. In April 1585 an expedition was sent led by Richard Grenville. They arrived in July 1585. Grenville left men on Roanoke Island then left for England to obtain more men and supplies.

However, while he was gone the colonists ran very short of supplies. In 1586 the colonists abandoned Virginia and returned to England. n In 1587 another attempt to found a colony was made by a man named John White. He led an expedition of men, women, and children to Virginia. However White returned to England to seek more support for the colony. Because of a war between England and Spain he was unable to return to Virginia until 1590. When he did he found the colony deserted. The fate of the colonists is unknown.

The first attempts to found a colony in North America were made by gentlemen adventurers. Success came only when a group of men joined together and pooled their resources to found a colony. The Virginia Company was founded in 1606. They sent two expeditions to North America. Raleigh Gilbert (Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s son) led one of them. They landed in Maine but soon gave up. They returned to England in 1609. The second expedition founded Jamestown on 14 May 1607.

More settlers arrived in 1609. However, the shortage of food, disease, and conflict with the natives caused many deaths among the colonists. In 1610 the survivors were on the verge of leaving. They were dissuaded from doing so only when more ships from England arrived. In 1611 Sir Thomas Dale became the Governor of the colony. He introduced strict discipline with a code of laws called ‘Laws, Divine, Moral and Martial’. Penalties for disobedience were severe.

In 1612 a man named John Rolfe began growing tobacco. In 1614 the first Virginian tobacco was sold in England. Exports of tobacco soon became the mainstay of the Virginian economy.

Gradually the colony expanded. In 1618 the Company offered 50 acres of land to anyone who could pay for the cost of their voyage across the Atlantic. If they could not pay they could become indentured servants. When they arrived they were not free. They had to work for the company for several years to pay back the cost of their passage. In 1619 the first slaves arrived in Virginia. Also in 1619, the first representative government in North America was created when the House of Burgesses met.

In 1624 the Virginia Company was dissolved and the Crown took over the colony. By 1660 the population of Virginia was 27,000. By 1710 it had risen to 78,000. However, in 1699 the seat of government of Virginia was moved from Jamestown to Middle Plantation (Williamsburg). Afterward, Jamestown went into decline.


Another English colony was founded 1620. In England, people called Separatists were strongly critical of the Church of England and they did not wish to belong to it. They faced persecution in England so in 1608 a group of them fled to Holland where they were allowed to practice their religion. However, they grew dissatisfied there and a London joint-stock company agreed to finance a voyage across the Atlantic. The colonists set out in a ship called the Mayflower and they arrived at Plymouth in December 1620. Many of the colonists did not survive the first winter. However, a Native American taught them how to grow crops. Another colony was founded at Salem in 1628.

The Massachusetts Bay Company was formed in 1629. From 1630 large numbers of settlers were transported to New England and its population swelled. Furthermore, English colonists spread over the coast of North America. In 1634 people from Massachusetts founded the town of Wethersfield in Connecticut. In 1636 a group of people left the Massachusetts Bay Colony and settled on Rhode Island. The first settlement was at Providence.

Meanwhile a fishing settlement was founded in New Hampshire in 1623. In 1629 the area between the Merrimack River and the Piscataqua River was granted to a man named Mason. It was named New Hampshire. Portsmouth, New Hampshire was founded in 1630. Officially New Hampshire was part of Massachusetts until 1679.

Unlike the southern states, which were overwhelmingly agricultural New England developed a partly mercantile economy. Fishing was an important industry. Exports of timber and barrels were also important. There was also a shipbuilding industry in New England.

The Europeans introduced many diseases to which the natives had little or no resistance. As a result, many natives died and their number declined sharply. As the British colonies grew they inevitably came into conflict with the natives. The Pequot War was fought in 1637-1638 and it ended in the destruction of the Pequot tribe.

Another desperate struggle took place in 1675-1676. the colonist’s heavy-handed treatment of the natives led to King Philip’s War. King Philip was actually a native called Metacom and the war ended with his death. Although great damage was done on both sides the defeat of the natives effectively meant that the colonists now had mastery of New England.

In 1624 the Dutch West India Company founded a colony called New Netherland. The first settlement was at Fort Orange (Albany). In 1638 Swedes formed a colony at Fort Christina (Wilmington). The Dutch captured this colony in 1655 and made it part of New Netherland. The British captured New Netherland in 1664 and renamed it, New York, in honor of the king’s brother the Duke of York. King Charles II granted the colony to his brother. He, in turn, granted the land between the Delaware and the Hudson to two men, Lord John Berkeley (1607-1678) and Sir George Carteret (1615-1680). Carteret came from the island of Jersey in the English Channel and he named the area New Jersey after his home.

In 1676 the colony was divided into East and West Jersey. Carteret took East Jersey. In 1681 his widow sold it to William Penn and 11 other Quakers. Penn hoped to turn this new colony into a haven of religious tolerance for Quakers and others. In 1682 the area now called Delaware was ceded to William Penn. In 1704 it was allowed its own assembly. However, until the revolution, Delaware and Pennsylvania shared a governor. Meanwhile, East and West Jersey were reunited in 1702.

Maryland was founded as a haven for Catholics (though by no means all the early colonists were Catholic, some were Protestant). A man named Cecil Calvert was granted territory north of the Potomac River. His brother Leonard led 200 settlers there to found a colony in 1634. It was named Maryland after the king’s wife, Henrietta Maria. By 1640 there were about 500 people in Maryland. It soon became another tobacco-growing colony.

Charleston, South Carolina was founded in 1670. Settlers in Carolina came from islands in the Caribbean as well as from Virginia and New England. However, from the end of the 17th century, many African slaves were transported to work on the plantations. In the early 18th century the African slave population in North America increased rapidly. In 1701 Carolina was divided into North and South Carolina. Georgia was founded in 1732 when George II gave it a charter. It was named after him. The first settlement in Georgia was Savannah, which was founded in 1733.

In the mid 18th century there was a great religious revival in the North American colonies. (Later it was given the name ‘The Great Awakening’). Leading figures in the revival were William Tennent 1673-1745, a Scottish-Presbyterian preacher, Jonathan Edwards 1703-1758. The English preacher George Whitefield 1714-1770 also visited the colonies and won many converts.

As the North American colonies grew tension with Britain was inevitable. The British felt that the colonies existed for the benefit of the mother country and this attitude was bound to cause resentment. As early as 1651 the British Parliament passed a navigation act. It stated that any goods grown or made outside Europe must be transported to England in English ships. Other Navigation Acts followed it. The 1660 Navigation Act stated that certain goods (cotton, indigo, sugar, and tobacco) could only be exported from the colonies to England or to other colonies. It was followed by acts in 1670 and 1673. However the British made little attempt to enforce these acts and they were widely ignored by the colonists. (After 1763 the British tried to enforce them more rigorously, causing great resentment among the colonists).

In the early 18th century the population of the North American colonies grew rapidly. It was probably about 300,000 at the end of the 17th century but by 1760 it was over 1 million. By 1780 it had doubled. In the early 18th century the population was boosted by immigrants from Northern Ireland (most of them descended from Scottish Presbyterians). There were also many immigrants from Scotland. Also in the early 18th century, there were many German immigrants. The land was cheap in North America and it attracted many people hoping for a better life.

However relations between the colonists and the mother country turned sour after 1763. The British had just finished fighting the Seven Years War against France. They had won Canada but the war was very expensive. The British were keen to prevent any wars with the Native Americans, which might prove expensive. In 1763 a royal proclamation known as the Great Proclamation sought to ban any further westward expansion. It forbade people to settle in ‘any lands beyond the heads or sources of any of the rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West or Northwest’. This proclamation was ignored by the colonists but it also caused great resentment. The colonists objected to being told by the British government that they could not expand westwards.


Furthermore in 1763 Americans paid few taxes, certainly less than the British. The British felt that the Americans should pay a greater contribution to the cost of their defense. In 1764 the British Prime Minister, George Grenville, passed the Sugar Act. (So-called because it affected imports of molasses from the West Indies. Its proper name was the American Revenue Act.) The act actually reduced the duty on molasses but steps were taken to make sure it was collected! (Smuggling was widespread). The Sugar Act infuriated the Americans and they were alienated further by the Currency Act of 1764. The colonies were printing their own money because of a shortage of currency but the act banned the issue of paper money in the American colonies (and so hindered trade).

However, the most offence was caused by the Stamp Act of 1765, which imposed a duty on legal documents, newspapers and playing cards. It was not just that the Americans hated paying the tax but that they felt a constitutional issue was involved. They believed that since they were not represented in the British parliament they had no right to impose taxes on them. In the immortal phrase ‘no taxation without representation’. The Stamp Act soon proved to be unenforceable. Colonial assemblies denounced it and in October 1765 a number of colonies sent delegates to a ‘Stamp act Congress’ to organize resistance. Imports of British goods were boycotted and debts to British merchants were suspended. Rioters attacked tax collectors and their property.

Eventually in March 1766, the British were forced to repeal the Stamp Act. However, at the same time, they passed the Declaratory Act, which said that parliament was sovereign over all American colonies. This stupid act simply annoyed the colonists.

In 1767 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend, imposed duties on lead, glass, paint, oil and tea. Once again the colonists boycotted imports of British goods and once again the British government was forced to back down. By March 1770 all duties except those on tea were removed.

However American public opinion was galvanized by an event in March 1770. A group of people in Boston threw stones at British soldiers. The soldiers opened fire, killing 5 people and wounding 6 of them. Worse all 6 of the 8 soldiers put on trial for the deaths were acquitted. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and branded on the thumbs. The British failure to execute anybody outraged American opinion. The event became known as the Boston Massacre.


Then in 1773, the British East India Company sent tea to the American colonies to sell. Three ships were sent to Boston with 298 chests of tea. However, Boston was a center of resistance to the British. On 16 December 1773 men dressed as Indians boarded the ships and threw the tea into the sea.

The British Prime Minister, Lord North, behaved very unwisely. In 1774 a series of laws were passed called the Coercive or Intolerable Acts. The port of Boston was closed and the seat of government was moved to Salem. The charter of Massachusetts was changed to give the royal governor more power.

The Americans were also annoyed by the Quebec Act of 1774. This was an attempt by the British parliament to make the French Catholics loyal to the British Crown. The Act extended the boundaries of Quebec southward and westward. The Americans feared the king intended to settle loyal French-speaking Catholics in the West to increase his own power in the region.

Finally in September 1774 a Continental Congress met to decide policy. They demanded the repeal of the Coercive Acts and of the Quebec Act. Congress also denounced British interference in American affairs and asserted the right of colonial assemblies to pass laws and raise taxes as they saw fit.

In September 1774 a man named Joseph Galloway put forward a compromise plan. The king would be allowed to appoint a president-general and the colonial assemblies would elect a grand council. However, Congress rejected his plan. Furthermore the British refused to compromise with the Americans. In February 1775 they declared that Massachusetts was in a state of rebellion. British troops were given a free hand to deal with it.

However the American colonies had militias made up of civilians and they resisted the British. Fighting began on 19 April 1775 when British soldiers attempted to seize a colonial arms dump near Concord. The militia was warned that the British were coming. At Lexington, the British were met by the militia. Meanwhile, the Americans had removed the weapons. The British advanced to Concord and fired upon the militia but then withdrew. They retreated back to Boston with the Americans firing at them along the way. During the march, the British lost 73 dead and 200 wounded or missing. The American Revolution had begun.

From April 1775 to March 1776 the British army was besieged in Boston. They could be supplied by sea by the British navy. Nevertheless, they soon ran short of supplies. On May 25 the British were reinforced but they were unable to break out. Eventually, they were evacuated by sea to Canada.

The Continental Congress met again in May 1775 and agreed to raise an army. George Washington was made its commander in chief. Congress hoped they could force the British to negotiate but George III refused to compromise. Instead in August 1775, he declared that all the American colonies were in a state of rebellion.

Meanwhile, rule by the royal governor broke down and the people demanded government without royal interference. In May 1776 Congress decided that the royal government should cease and the government should be ‘under the authority of the people’. Subsequently, the colonies drew up state constitutions to replace their charters.

The fire was stoked by Tom Paine (1737-1809). In 1776 he published a pamphlet called Common Sense, which rejected all talk of negotiation with the British and demanded complete independence. Common Sense became a bestseller.

On 7 June 1776 Richard Henry Lee of the Virginia Assembly presented Congress with resolutions declaring the independence of the colonies, calling for a confederation, and expressed the need to find foreign allies for a war against Britain. On 11 June The Continental Congress appointed a committee to write a declaration of independence. It was adopted on 4 July 1776.

At first sight, the British had many advantages. They greatly outnumbered the Americans and had much greater resources. However, they were handicapped by long lines of communication. (In those days it took a sailing ship 6 to 8 weeks to cross the Atlantic). The British won the battle of Long Island in August 1776 and in September 1776 they captured New York. Washington was forced to retreat.

However, Washington won victories at Trenton in December 1776 and at Princeton in January 1777. The Americans were defeated at Brandywine in September 1777 but they won a decisive victory at Saratoga in October. A British force led by Burgoyne marched south from Canada but was surrounded and forced to surrender.

Saratoga convinced the French that the Americans might win the war. In 1778 France joined the war. French naval activity in the Atlantic made it even harder for the British to supply their forces in America. Spain joined the war in 1779.

Furthermore, the Americans won victories at Kings Mountain in October 1780 and at Cowpens in January 1781. Cornwallis, the British Commander, unwisely concentrated his forces on the coast at Yorktown, Virginia. However, the French navy blockaded him while the Americans besieged him from the land. The British were forced to surrender. Yorktown was a catastrophic defeat for the British and ended any hope of them ending the war. Nevertheless, it continued for 2 more years before the Treaty of Paris ended it in September 1783.


In 1777 Articles of Confederation were drawn up which joined the states into a loose federation. They were adopted in 1781. However, the arrangement proved unsatisfactory. In 1787 each state sent delegates to a convention in Philadelphia to remedy this. Between May and September 1787 they wrote a new constitution. The first Congress met in 1789 and George Washington became the first President. In 1791 ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights were ratified.

In the late 18th century and the early 19th century, the population of the USA grew rapidly. Immigrants from Europe poured into the country including many from Germany. Meanwhile, the USA expanded westward. In 1791 Vermont was admitted to the union as the 14th state. Kentucky became the 15th state in 1792 and Tennessee the 16th in 1796. In 1803 Ohio became the 17th state.

Also in 1803 American territory was greatly increased by the Louisiana Purchase. France claimed a vast amount of land in central North America around the Missouri River and the Arkansas River. In 1803 Napoleon agreed to sell the lot for $15 million. Buying the French land meant there was now no bar to the USA spreading across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Louisiana became the 18th state of the union in 1812.

Meanwhile the Americans and British fought another war. This war came about partly because, after 1807, the British navy blockaded European ports during the war with Napoleon and they prevented American ships from delivering their cargoes. They also boarded American ships looking for deserters. Some of the men they arrested were not deserters at all. Finally, some Americans wished to invade Canadian territory. War was declared on 18 June 1812. The senators voted 19 to 13 for war.

However, not all Americans actively supported the war. Some were, at best, lukewarm in their support. This dissension weakened the American war effort. On the other hand, American sailors were all volunteers while many sailors in the British navy were forced to join by press gangs. Volunteers were, generally, better than pressed men, one reason why America did well in naval battles.

However, an American attempt to invade Canada failed. However, the American navy had more success. They won a victory on Lake Erie in September 1813. However, Napoleon abdicated in April 1814 allowing the British to send more forces to North America. In August 1814 a British expedition landed and captured Washington. They withdrew after a few weeks. A peace treaty was signed at the end of 1814. However, a major battle was fought after it was signed. The British were severely defeated at the Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815.

In 1804 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to explore what is now the northwest United States. In 1805 they followed the Missouri River to its headwaters then crossed the Rocky Mountains and reached the Pacific. They returned in 1806.

By 1810 the population of the USA was over 7.2 million and it continued to grow rapidly. By 1820 it was over 9.6 million and by 1840 over 17 million. More and more states were added to the union. Indiana was admitted in 1816. Mississippi followed in 1817. Illinois became a state in 1818 and Alabama in 1819. Missouri became a state in 1821. It was followed by Arkansas in 1836 and Michigan in 1837.

The American economy also grew rapidly. In the south cotton expanded rapidly after Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. It also grew because Britain was industrializing. There was a huge cotton industry in Britain in the early 19th century, which devoured cotton from America.

In the North trade and commerce grew rapidly. By 1860 more than 60% of the world’s cotton was grown in the USA. In the decades after the war of 1812, the Northern States began to industrialize. Coal mining and manufacturing industries boomed. In 1817 the New York legislature authorized a canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The canal was completed in 1825 and it cut the cost of transporting freight. Furthermore, the first railroad was built in the USA was built in 1828.

After 1814 there was fighting between Seminole Indians from Florida and settlers from Georgia. The Seminoles also allowed runaway slaves to live among them, which annoyed the Americans. Eventually, in 1818 Andrew Jackson led a force into Florida (although it was Spanish territory). This was the first Seminole War. Spain ceded Florida to the USA in 1821. Florida became a US state in 1845.

In the 1820s the Mexican government welcomed Americans who wished to settle in its thinly populated territory of Texas. However in the American settlers soon quarreled with their Mexican masters and in 1835 they began a rebellion. On 1 March 1836 a convention met and on 2 March 1836 they signed a Texas Declaration of Independence. Meanwhile, a force of Mexicans under Santa Anna besieged about 189 men in the fortress at Alamo. All the defenders were eventually killed and the Alamo passed into legend. Apart from Americans Scots fought at the Alamo, so did Irishmen and Englishmen. There was also a Welshman and a Dane.

However on 21 April 1836 Texan troops under Sam Houston routed the Mexican army under Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto. Texas became independent and Sam Houston became its first president. In 1845 the USA annexed Texas and it became the 28th US state. However, the Mexicans never accepted the independence of Texas and they were infuriated when the Americans annexed the territory. The US annexation of Texas led directly to war with Mexico.

In 1845, fearing the Mexicans would invade Texas, President Polk sent troops under Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande. The Mexicans ambushed an American patrol north of the river. However, the Americans defeated the Mexicans at the battles of Palo Alto on 8 May 1846 and Resaca de la Palma on 9 May 1846. On 13 May 1846, Congress declared war on Mexico. On 21 September Taylor attacked Monterrey. An armistice was agreed and the Mexican troops withdrew.

Santa Anna counterattacked on 22 February 1847 but he was defeated. Then General Scott captured Veracruz on 28 March 1847. He then marched on Mexico City and captured it in mid-September 1847. The Mexican War was ended by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848. Mexico ceded New Mexico and California to the USA.


The population of California boomed when a gold rush occurred. Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill on 24 January 1848. In the fall of 1848 newspapers in the East published the news that gold could be found in California and a gold rush began. By early 1849 large numbers of men set out for California hoping to make their fortune. By 1852 the population of California reached 250,000. The huge wave of migrants created a huge demand for industries products and the Californian economy prospered. California was admitted to the union as a state in 1850.

Meanwhile, in the 1840s and 1850s, many settlers traveled along the Oregon Trail. The trail was used by trappers from the early 19th century but the first wagon train traveled along it in 1842. It was followed by many others but railroads eventually made the trail obsolete. Oregon was admitted to the union as a state in 1859.

As the USA expanded westward there were many wars with the Indians. In 1790 Chief Little Turtle of the Miami defeated an American force under Josiah Harmar. The next year the Americans were defeated again. However in 1794 American troops decisively defeated the natives at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. By the treaty of Greenville, 1795, the natives were forced to cede most of Ohio to the Americans.

During the war of 1812 some natives sided with the British. The Creeks won a battle against the Americans at Fort Sims in 1812. However, troops led by Andrew Jackson defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in 1814. The Treaty of Fort Jackson forced the Creeks to cede more than half their land to the Americans. (It later became the state of Alabama).

Andrew Jackson later became President and in 1830 he signed the Indian Removal Bill which forced Indians east of the Mississippi River to move to Oklahoma. The Choctaws were forced to move. So were the Creeks and the Chickasaw. The Cherokees were forced to move in 1838-39. (So many of them died on the trail it was called the ‘Trail of Tears’).

However, one tribe, the Seminoles of Florida, resisted deportation. In the years 1835-1842, they fought a guerrilla war against the Americans. This was the Second Seminole War. However, in 1837 their leader, Osceola, was captured. Most of the Seminoles eventually surrendered and were forced to move to Oklahoma but several hundred escaped and fought another war in 1855-1858. This was the Third Seminole War.

In the 1850s the USA also fought wars with the natives of the Northwest. The natives were defeated in the Rogue River War of 1855-56 and the Yakima War of 1855-58. Afterward, they were forced onto reservations.


The USA continued to grow rapidly and by 1860 its population was 31 million. New states were added. Iowa was added to the union in 1846. Wisconsin followed in 1848. Oregon was admitted in 1859 and Kansas was admitted in 1861.

However, the rapidly growing nation was torn apart by the issue of slavery. When the constitution was written in 1787 many people hoped that slavery would die out of its own accord. However, Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 gave slavery new importance in the southern states. In the northern states, slavery was gradually abolished and the USA became divided into ‘free states’ and ‘slave states’.

In 1803 the USA bought land from France. This was known as the Mississippi purchase. In 1819 part of the territory asked to be admitted to the union as a state in which slavery was allowed. However, at that time the USA was evenly divided between free states and slave states. Another slave state would upset the balance. Furthermore, northerners feared that more slave states would be created in the future. Representative James Tallmadge of New York proposed an amendment, which would have ended slavery in Missouri. However, it did not become law.

A row occurred between northerners who believed that Congress had the power to ban slavery in new states and southerners who believed that new states had the right to allow slavery if they wished. Eventually, an agreement was reached. Missouri was admitted as a slave state but at the same time, part of Massachusetts became the state of Maine so the balance of slave and free was preserved. Furthermore, a line was drawn across the continent. States north of it were to be free, south of it they were to be slave-owning.

However, the Missouri compromise was only a temporary solution. Gaining new territory from Mexico created new tensions. In 1846 a man named David Wilmot introduced the Wilmot Proviso, which stated that slavery should not be allowed in any territory taken from Mexico. It was added as an amendment to bills but was never passed by Congress. Nevertheless, the Wilmot Proviso alienated the south.

Eventually, a compromise was reached. The Compromise of 1850 stated that the territories of New Mexico and Utah could decide for themselves whether they wished to allow slavery or not when they applied to become states. A fugitive slave law was also passed which said that slaves who ran away to the north should be returned to their masters.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 organized the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It also ended the Missouri Compromise. The compromise drew a line across the continent and banned slavery north of it. Although Kansas and Nebraska were north of the line the Act allowed them to choose whether to permit slavery or not when they applied to become states. n In Kansas supporters and opponents of slavery came to blows in a series of violent incidents called ‘Bleeding Kansas’. Feeling against slavery in the north was strengthened by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published in 1852.

In the Dred-Scott case of 1857 the southern-dominated Supreme Court decided that slaves were not and never could be US citizens. It also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. The case enraged public opinion in the north.

The civil war was not caused just by the question of slavery. North and south were also divided over tariffs. The northern states began to industrialize in the early 19th century. By the middle of the century, the north was becoming an industrial, urban society. Northerners wanted tariffs to protect their industries. However, the south remained an agricultural society. Its economy was based on plantations worked by slaves. Southerners objected to tariffs because they bought goods from the north or from Europe and tariffs made them more expensive. North and south were quite different economically and culturally.


The civil war was finally provoked by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president. Lincoln did not believe he had the power to abolish slavery in states where it already existed. However, he firmly opposed the expansion of slavery into territories of the USA, which were likely to become states in the future. His policy meant that in the future free states would outnumber slave ones. As a result of his election, South Carolina ceded from the union on 20 December 1860. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed it early in 1861. Together they formed the Confederate States of America on 4 February 1861. Jefferson Davis(1808-1889) became the President.

Fighting began on 12 April 1861. Fort Sumter was a Unionist stronghold under Major Robert Anderson. On 12 April the Confederate General Beauregard ordered the Unionists to evacuate the fort. The Unionists rejected his terms and that day southern artillery bombarded the fort. Fort Sumter was forced to surrender the next day but the Unionist soldiers were allowed to retreat to the north. Afterward, both sides began arming for war. Following Fort Sumter, Arkansas ceded from the union on 6 May 1861. It was followed by Tennessee and North Carolina.

However, the south was easily outmatched by the north. In the south, there were only 5 1/2 million whites and over 3 1/2 million slaves. The north outnumbered the south 4 to 1 in men of military age. Furthermore, while the north had begun to industrialize the south remained an agricultural society. About 90% of the manufacturing industry was in the north of 2/3 of US railroads. Furthermore, the south suffered from disunity. Since they were firm believers in n rights the Confederate states could not form a firmly united federation. Despite these disadvantages, the south won some early victories.

In July 1861 General Beauregard was in charge of 22,000 Confederate troops at Manassas Junction by the Bull Run River. General McDowell marched south with over 30,000 unionist soldiers. They attacked the Confederates on 21 July 1861. However, they were held in check by troops led by Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Eventually, the Unionists retreated.

However, in the west, the Unionists won a significant victory at Shiloh on 6-7 April 1862. On the first day, the Confederates had some success but they were unable to drive the unionists off the field completely. Unionist reinforcements arrived that night and on 7 April the Confederates were forced to retreat with heavy losses. In Louisiana, Unionists occupied New Orleans on 1 May 1862.

In April 1862 the Army of the Potomac, led by General McClellan began the Peninsular Campaign. They captured Yorktown on 4 May 1862. By late May McClellan reached the outskirts of Richmond. However, in late June 1862, General Robert E. Lee attacked and fought a series of battles called ‘The Seven Days’. McClellan was forced to retreat.

In August 1862 the two armies clashed at a battle known as Second Bull Run or Second Manassas. It was a decisive southern victory and the northern army retreated. Lee invaded the north and the two armies fought at Antietam. Lee was forced to retreat into Virginia. However, the Unionists were severely defeated at Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862. Robert E. Lee won another brilliant victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863.

Lee invaded the north again in June 1863. The turning point of the war was at Gettysburg in July 1863. The two armies clashed on 1-3 July. At first, the Confederates had some success. Eventually, however, they were forced to retreat with heavy losses. The south also suffered defeat at Vicksburg on the Mississippi. General Grant laid siege to the town and captured it on 4 July 1863. From the middle of 1863, the South’s fortunes gradually waned. In November the south suffered another defeat at Chattanooga.

In May 1864 both sides suffered heavy losses at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. The Unionists were unable to capture Petersburg or Richmond for many months. n Meanwhile, after Chattanooga, General Sherman began to advance through Georgia towards the sea. His army entered Atlanta on 3 September 1864. On 21 December 1861 Sherman’s troops captured Savannah on the coast. The Confederacy was cut in half.

Then, in February 1865, Sherman headed north into South Carolina. He reached Columbia on 17 February 1865. Then he pressed on into North Carolina. n Further north Robert E. Lee faced increasing pressure from Grant’s forces in Virginia. On 2 April 1864, the Confederates abandoned Petersburg and Richmond. Finally, on 9 April 1865 Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. That was effectively the end of the civil war. The rest of the Confederate forces surrendered soon afterward. Johnston surrendered to Sherman on 18 April and the last Confederate army surrendered on 26 May 1865.

However Lincoln did not live to see the end of the war. John Wilkes Booth shot him on 14 April 1865. Lincoln was watching a play in Ford’s Theater when Booth shot him in the head. The president died the next day. Andrew Johnson took his place.

At first Lincoln was reluctant to abolish slavery in the south. However, he eventually changed his mind. On 23 September 1862, he made the Emancipation Proclamation. Slaves would be made free in any states still in rebellion on 1 January 1863. However, this only applied to areas occupied by the unionist army n that date it did not apply to areas n under unionist control. However, the proclamation was followed by the 13th amendment, which banned slavery. It was ratified by December 1865.


Johnson appointed provincial governors for the former Confederate states. In each of them, a constitutional convention was elected to draw up a new constitution. However although they were forced to accept the end of slavery southern governments drew up ‘black codes’ which restricted black people’s rights, such as depriving them of the right to vote or to sit on juries. Southern whites were completely unwilling to accept the former slaves as equals. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. It stated that all people born in the USA were now citizens regardless of race, color, or previous condition (i.e. if they were former slaves). Johnson vetoed the act but Congress overrode his presidential veto.

Johnson’s refusal to take firm action against the south alienated Congress. They passed the first Reconstruction Act in 1867. (It was followed by other acts). The southern governments were removed from power and the former Confederate states were placed under military rule again. They were forced to allow black men the right to vote. n However the southern states were gradually re-admitted to the union and allowed to send senators and representatives to Congress again.

In 1875 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. By it, all people regardless of race, color, or previous condition, were entitled to full and equal treatment in ‘inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters and other places of public amusement’. However, in 1883 the Supreme Court decided the Act was unconstitutional.

When Rutherford Hayes was inaugurated as President in 1877 he withdrew troops from the south. The former Confederate states were then left to go their own way without any interference from the north. In the south white people re-asserted their rule and black people were forced to become subservient. Between 1890 and 1908 black people were deprived of the right to vote in all the former Confederate states. Furthermore, in 1866-1867 the Ku Klux Klan was formed to terrorize black people. They played an important role in restoring white rule by scaring black people into not voting.


In the late 19th century the population of the USA grew very rapidly. In 1860 the population was 31 million. By 1900 it was almost 76 million. Immigrants from Europe poured into the USA hoping for a better life. Many people were lured by the Homesteader Act of 1862. Settlers were offered 160 acres of land free provided they agreed to till it for 5 years. (However Chinese immigration into the USA was ended by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882).

American industry also boomed. In the late 19th century the USA was the fastest-growing industrial nation in the world. By the end of the century, it had surpassed Britain in the production of iron and steel. The American railroad network also grew rapidly. In 1850 there were 9,000 miles of railways. By 1900 there were 190,000 miles. The first transcontinental railroad was built in 1869. Meanwhile, in 1859, Edwin Drake (1819-1899) struck oil in Pennsylvania. Soon there was a flourishing oil industry in Pennsylvania. The first oil pipeline was built in 1865.

The Statue of Liberty

An increasing number of Americans lived in cities. By 1900 almost 1/3 of them did. by then there were more than 40 cities with a population of over 100,000. (It wasn’t until 1920 that the majority of Americans lived in cities). Conditions in the industrial cities were often appalling. Many people lived in overcrowded slums.

Meanwhile American agriculture continued to boom. It was helped by new technology. Cyrus McCormick invented a mechanical reaper in 1834. John Deere (1804-1886) invented the steel plow in 1838. In 1854 the first successful self-governing windmill (that changed direction automatically to face the wind) was made. In 1874 barbed wire was patented.

Westward expansion inevitably meant wars with the Plains Indians. From the 1860s to the 1880s a series of wars were fought. Eventually, all the Indian Wars were won by the whites because of their superior technology. They also hunted the buffalo, the main food supply, almost to extinction. The plains tribes such as the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux were all forced to move onto reservations. n Conditions on the reservations were appalling. Rations were inadequate and in some cases, there was near starvation.

Then in 1888 a Paiute Indian called Wovoka claimed that soon North America would be restored to the Natives and the plains would run black with buffalo again. His followers did the ghost dance. This new religious movement alarmed white men. It ended with a massacre at Wounded Knee on 29 December 1890. Soldiers were sent to disarm a group of Indians but one man refused to surrender his gun. Somebody started shooting and the rest of the soldiers followed killing many Indians (possibly as many as 350). The massacre at Wounded Knee marked the end of the Indian Wars and the final triumph of the white man.

Meanwhile, in 1881 Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor which showed how unjustly the native people had been treated. However, in 1887 the Dawes Act was passed. It stated that tribal lands should be divided up into individual holdings. The intention was to undermine the tribal way of life and force the natives to adopt the white way of life.

Furthermore, after the land was divided a great deal was leftover. It was declared ‘surplus’ and sold. As a result, the amount of land held by Indians declined drastically. The year 1890 was significant for another reason. By then the frontier had disappeared as settlers moved across the continent.

In the late 19th century several new states were added to the union. West Virginia was admitted in 1863. Nevada followed in 1864. Nebraska was admitted in 1867. It was followed by Colorado in 1876. In 1889 four new states were admitted to the union, North and South Dakota, Montana, and Washington. In 1890 Idaho and Wyoming were admitted. Utah followed in 1896.

In 1898 the USA fought a war with Spain. In the 1890s Cuba rebelled against Spanish rule and the Spanish dealt with the rebels very harshly. That enraged American public opinion.

On 15 February 1898 an American battleship, Maine, blew up in Havana Harbor, killing 260 men. It is not certain what caused the explosion but many people blamed the Spanish. On 25 April 1898, the USA went to war. On 1 May Spanish ships were destroyed in Manila Harbor. US soldiers landed in the Philippines and they captured Manila on 13 August. Meanwhile, a Spanish fleet was destroyed outside Santiago on 3 July. US soldiers landed in Cuba and captured Santiago on 17 July. The last Spanish troops in Cuba surrendered on 26 July. An armistice was signed on 14 August. By a peace treaty, which was signed in Paris on 10 December 1898, Cuba became independent while the USA took the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

The Spanish War proved the USA was now a great power. By 1910 the USA had overtaken Britain as the richest and most powerful nation in the world. By then the population of the USA had reached 92 million.

In the early 20th century three new states were admitted to the union, Oklahoma in 1907 and Arizona and New Mexico in 1912. Also in the early 20th century, the USA built the Panama Canal. President Theodore Roosevelt decided to build a canal across Panama in 1902. In 1903 the USA leased a 6-mile wide canal zone for 99 years. The canal was built in the years 1904-1914.


When the First World War began in 1914 the USA remained neutral. However, Germany alienated American public opinion on 7 May 1915 when a German submarine sank the Cunard liner Lusitania, without warning. Among the 1,198 people killed were 128 Americans. Nevertheless, Woodrow Wilson fought the 1916 election partly on the slogan ‘he kept us out of the war’.

However, on 1 February, 1917 Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare. That meant that any neutral ship attempting to trade with Britain was a target for submarines. Furthermore, British intelligence intercepted a telegram from Arthur Zimmermann, German Foreign Secretary. It stated that in the event of a war between Germany and the USA efforts should be made to persuade Mexico to attack the USA. The Mexicans were offered parts of the USA as a reward if they did so.

On 6 April 1917 the USA declared war on Germany. America had a strong navy but a relatively small army. However, conscription was introduced and the USA began to raise a huge army. The first US troops were sent to France in June 1917 but it was the spring of 1918 before large numbers arrived. By September the US commander General John J. Pershing was able to begin an offensive against the Germans. In September 1918 US troops destroyed a German salient at St Mihiel. They then launched an attack on the Meuse-Argonne area. German troops were pushed back until Germany surrendered on 11 November 1918.

Meanwhile women gained the vote. In April 1917 only 11 states allowed women to vote. However, in 1918 the House adopted the 14th amendment, which allowed women to vote. It was ratified in 1919 and came into effect in 1920.

The early 20th century saw internal migration in the USA. Many black people moved from the south to the north, especially to the big cities. The National Association For The Advancements of Colored Peoples was founded in 1909 to improve conditions for black people. However, there were race riots in several cities in 1919. However, immigration n the USA was severely restricted after 1921 when the Emergency Quota Act was passed.

For most people (not all) the 1920s were a time of prosperity. In 1912 only 16% of homes had electric light. By 1927 it had risen to 63%. Electrical appliances became common, refrigerators, irons, and fans. Radios also became common. By 1930 40% of homes had one. Cars also became common in the 1920s. Americans enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world.

The 1920s were also the era of prohibition. The eighteenth amendment was ratified in 1919 and came into force in 1920. It banned the ‘manufacture, sale, or transportation’ of alcohol. However, people simply made alcohol illegally and drank it in ‘speakeasies’. Worse, prohibition boosted organized crime as gangsters tried to control the supply of alcohol. Prohibition ended in 1933.

In 1929 the American economy began to falter. The demand for new cars fell and house building slowed down. However, the stock market continued to boom in the late 1920s. Many people bought stocks with borrowed money. As a result, the stock market became inflated. Prices rose to a very high level.

However, inevitably, some people began to sell. From mid-September, prices fell. On 24 October 1929, known as Black Thursday, panic selling began and prices fell catastrophically, an event known as the Wall Street Crash. Business confidence disappeared, banks failed and industry slumped. By 1932 industrial production in the USA had fallen by half and exports fell to one-third of their 1929 level. Unemployment went through the roof. By 1932 about one-quarter of the workforce was unemployed. When people lost their jobs they could no longer buy goods and demand fell so more people lost their jobs. There had been economic slumps in America before but his one was more severe than anything previously experienced. It was known as the Depression.

President Hoover did try and help. He persuaded employers to maintain wages at their present levels. He also increased spending on roads, bridges, and public buildings. However, Hoover refused to introduce federal unemployment relief. He believed in what he called ‘Rugged individualism’. He believed too much state help would make people dependent. For the unemployed life during the depression was very harsh. Many were reduced to attending soup kitchens run by charities. (The soup was sometimes called ‘Hoover stew’). Destitute people lived in shantytowns they called Hoovervilles. Hoover became deeply unpopular and in 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President.

Roosevelt assured the American people that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. He promised the American people ‘A New Deal’. However, between 1933 and 1939 he had only limited success. Unemployment fell to between 14% and 15% by 1937. However, in that year the economy dipped again. (It was called the recession) and unemployment rose to 17%. However industrial production rose to its 1929 level again by 1939.

At first, Roosevelt persuaded Congress to pass a number of laws in a hectic period known as ‘The Hundred Days’. One of the first things Roosevelt did was to close all the banks in the USA by law. The Emergency Banking Act of 9 March 1933 meant they would only open again if the Federal government declared they were solvent. This measure persuaded people it was safe to deposit their savings in banks. Restoring faith in banks was the first step to dealing with the Depression.

On 12 May 1933, the Federal Emergency Relief Act was passed to help the unemployed. The states were given grants to provide work like repairing roads and improving parks and schools. Also in 1933 Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed young men on conservation projects. A Public Works Administration was created which built public buildings, bridges, and dams. Also, the Tennessee Valley Authority was created to build dams and hydroelectric plants.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 tried to raise the price of farm produce by reducing supply. The land was set aside and deliberately not used. In 1937 the Farm Security Administration was formed to lend money to tenant farmers to buy their land.

However, farmers on the plains suffered terribly during the depression. Overplanting, overgrazing, and drought combined to create a ‘dust bowl’. Many farmers abandoned the land and went to California in search of work.

In 1935 the Social Security Act created old-age pensions and an unemployment insurance scheme. Also in 1935 the National Labor Relations Act or Wagner Act upheld worker’s right to collective bargaining. In 1938 a Fair Labor Standards Act created a minimum wage. However mass unemployment only ended with the coming of war.

In 1940 Germany conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France. In response, Roosevelt started to expand the American armed forces. He introduced conscription. Although American public opinion was opposed to joining the war Roosevelt declared that America must be ‘the arsenal of democracy’. In January 1941 he introduced the lend-lease bill to Congress. It empowered him to sell, lend or lease arms, food, or any other supplies to any country whose defense he deemed vital to the United States. At first, lend-lease applied only to Britain but in August Roosevelt extended it to Russia. American troops also occupied Iceland.


On 7 December 1941, the Japanese attacked the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. The next day Congress declared war on Japan. On 11 December 1941 Germany and Italy declared war on the USA. The USA mobilized all its resources for war. Industrial output doubled during World War II and by 1943 there was full employment. Only 2,000 aircraft were made in 1939 but by 1944 the figure was 96,000. The American public suffered less than people in other countries because the USA escaped occupation or air raids.

During World War II many black people migrated from the south to the north and west. Black people became increasingly dissatisfied with their position in American society. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples increased its membership. The Congress for Racial Equality was formed in 1942.

From March 1942 people of Japanese descent, on the west coast, were interned. By September over 100,000 of them had been moved inland. Yet many Japanese Americans served in the US armed forces. The USA’s massive industrial strength made the defeat of the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) inevitable. Unfortunately, Roosevelt did not live to see the end of the war. He died on 12 April 1945.

After World War II the USA was by far the richest and most powerful nation in the world. However, relations between the USA and the Soviet Union quickly cooled after 1945. By 1947 the Cold War had begun. In 1946 the British were helping the Greek government fight, communist guerrillas. However, Britain was exhausted after World War II and could not continue.

On 12 March 1947 Truman announced that the USA must ‘support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.’ Truman hoped the aid would be primarily financial. The USA gave money to both Greece and Turkey. The USA also provided massive aid for Europe, which was devastated by war. The aid given was called the Marshall Plan after Secretary of State George C. Marshall who first proposed aid for Europe in June 1947. The aid was given in 1948-1951 and it greatly assisted European recovery. However, in 1950 the USA was drawn into the Korean War.

In his domestic policy Truman tried to extend the New Deal (his policies became known as the ‘Fair Deal’. but he was frustrated by Congress which refused to pass most of his proposed laws.

However, in 1946 the Employment Act committed the federal government to the aim of full employment. In 1949 Congress increased the minimum wage and extended state benefits to another 10 million people. Furthermore, in 1949 the Housing Act provided for slum clearance and for public housing for more than 800,000 people.

The early 1950s was the era of McCarthyism. At that time there was a great fear of communist infiltration. In 1946 Winston Churchill announced that an ‘iron curtain’ was descending across Europe. Puppet communist regimes were installed in Eastern Europe in countries like Hungary and Bulgaria. However, in Czechoslovakia elections were held. For a time democratic government ruled the country. Yet in 1948 it was overthrown by a communist coup.

Fear was fanned by the case of Alger Hiss. He had been a high-ranking government official. In 1948 a former communist called Whittaker Chambers told the House Un-American Activities Committee (which investigated ‘un-American’ activity) that Hiss was a spy for the Soviet Union. Hiss denied the charge. He could not be arrested for spying because of a statute of limitations. However, he was charged with perjury and he was convicted in January 1950. The case increased fears of communist subversion.

Furthermore in 1949 the Russians exploded an atomic bomb. The American people were shocked to hear that spies had helped the Russians to develop a bomb by leaking the information. Into this atmosphere of fear stepped Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957). In February 1950 McCarthy claimed that he had a list of communists employed by the State Department. McCarthy then began a witch-hunt in which many people lost their jobs. However, eventually, McCarthy overreached himself and he began to accuse too many important people. Public support ebbed away and in December 1954 McCarthy was finally censured by the Senate.

Despite McCarthy, the 1950s were a prosperous period for America. Unemployment was low, living standards rose and TV became common. The USA launched its first satellite in 1958. However, the prosperity was not shared by everyone.


The struggle for civil rights really began in the 1950s. In the south at that time schools were segregated. In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was constitutional as long as equal facilities were provided for both groups. In reality, of course, facilities for black people were always inferior. In 1954 the Supreme Court recognized this and overturned the previous decision. However, most white people in the south were strongly opposed to desegregation and they dragged their feet. In 1957 when Little Rock Central High School was desegregated 9 black students were prevented from entering, first by the Arkansas National Guard than by the local people. Eventually, Eisenhower had to send troops to allow the black students to enter.

In the south most black people did not register to vote. In 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts were passed to try and remove obstacles to them doing so. Neither was very successful.

However black Americans or African Americans had great success with non-violent campaigning. In 1955 Montgomery Alabama had a law, which said black people must sit at the back of buses. In December 1955 a woman called Rosa Parks sat at the front of a bus and refused to move. She was arrested. Black people then organized a boycott of the buses. Finally, segregation on buses was ruled unconstitutional. One of the leaders of the boycotts was to become famous. He was the Baptist Minister Martin Luther King (1929-1968).

In 1960 black students in Greensboro, North Carolina were refused service in a restaurant. They then staged a sit-in. The sit-in movement quickly spread to shops, hotels, theaters, and parks and had some success in forcing them to desegregate.

In 1962 President Kennedy sent troops to the State University of Mississippi to enforce a court order that a black student should be admitted. In 1963 a quarter of a million people marched on Washington to demand civil rights legislation. Martin Luther King made a speech beginning with the immortal words ‘I have a dream’, in which he outlined his vision of racial harmony.

However black campaigners met with violence. In 1963 a campaigner named Medgar Evers was shot and killed. Also in 1963, a bomb exploded in a Baptist church in Birmingham Alabama, killing four black girls. In 1965 the militant black leader Malcolm X was assassinated.

In 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which gave all people equal rights in voting, education, public accommodation and federally assisted programs.

However in 1965 black anger and resentment boiled over into rioting. Riots in Los Angeles left 34 people dead. More riots followed in 1966 and in 1967. On 4 April 1968, the great orator Martin Luther King was assassinated. His death provoked further riots.

Native Americans also began to protest about their treatment. In 1968 they formed the American Indian Movement. In 1969 they occupied Alcatraz Island. In 1972 they marched on Washington in the Trail of Broken Treaties and occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1973 they occupied Wounded Knee village.


In the early 1960s, Kennedy strengthened the American armed forces. He also committed the USA to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy also created the Peace Corps, which sent volunteers to help with various educational, economic, and welfare schemes in poor countries. Furthermore in 1963 Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act which made it illegal to pay men and women different amounts for doing the same work.

In his foreign policy Kennedy agreed to a plan to send 1,500 Cuban refugees to overthrow Cuba. The refugees landed at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and were quickly routed by the Cuban forces. After that fiasco was the Cuban missile crisis. The Russians placed long-range missiles on Cuba that were capable of hitting the USA. In 1963 Kennedy also signed a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was ratified by the Senate in June 1963. Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963.

Lyndon B. Johnson called for an ‘all-out war on poverty’, recognizing that while the USA was the richest country in the world a considerable part of her population was poor. During his presidency, several important acts were passed, which it was hoped would tackle the roots of poverty. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 provided for adult education and job training. The Medicare Act of 1965 provided health and hospital insurance for over 65s. The Secondary Education Act of 1965 provided aid for schools with large numbers of poor and deprived children. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally removed obstacles to black people voting. It banned the use of literacy tests and gave the federal government power to oversee voter registration and elections in certain circumstances.

In the early 20th century the French ruled Vietnam but in 1941 it was occupied by the Japanese. The Americans did not approve of European colonialism and had no wish to see Vietnam handed back to the French after the war. Nevertheless, after World War II the French tried to rule Vietnam again. However, they were opposed by communist guerrillas.

With the onset of the Cold War American sympathy for the Vietnamese cooled and from 1950 financial aid was given to the French to prop up their rule in Vietnam. Senator John Kennedy said that the USA had ‘allied itself to the desperate effort of the French regime to hang on to the remnants of an empire’. He was soon proved right. In 1954 the French were utterly defeated by the guerrillas at Diem Bien Phu.

Afterward, they withdrew and Vietnam was split into north and south. In the late 1950s, communist guerrillas infiltrated the south. After they attacked US installations in October 1957 the USA began to provide the South Vietnamese dictator with money and materials.

In the 1960s American policy in Vietnam was influenced by the ‘domino theory’, which said that if one country fell to communism neighboring states would also fall. American involvement in Vietnam really began in 1961 when Kennedy sent the first soldiers.

American involvement increased after August 1964 when North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked US warships. Congress agreed to a resolution allowing the president to ‘take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression in Southeast Asia’.

Afterward, American forces in South Vietnam rapidly increased and reached half a million by the end of 1967. The USAF also carried out the strategic bombing of the north. However, the Vietcong continued to fight a successful guerrilla war. The Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular at home. From 1965 onward anti-war demonstrations were held.

Then on 30 January 1968 came the Tet offensive. The Vietcong attacked towns and cities in South Vietnam. Eventually, they were repulsed but American public opinion hardened. On 3 April 1968 peace talks began. From 1970 President Nixon slowly withdrew US troops from South Vietnam proposing to let the South Vietnamese defend themselves. The last US troops left in 1973.

The USA was also troubled when its President became involved in a scandal and was forced to resign. On 17 June 1972 five men broke into the Democratic Party Headquarters in the Watergate Building. The five were arrested. Later two other men, both former White House officials, were also arrested. All the men worked for the Committee for Re-election of the President or CREEP. However, President Richard Nixon denied that his administration had anything to do with the break-in.

The seven men were all convicted but at the sentencing, in March 1973 one of them claimed the White House had arranged a ‘cover-up’ of its involvement in the break-in. Subsequently, investigations revealed that a number of White House staff were involved in planning the break-in and in arranging a ‘cover-up’.

Nixon firmly denied that he was personally involved in any attempted ‘cover-up’. However, he refused to surrender tapes of conversations in his private office, which would prove his guilt or innocence. In April 1974 he agreed to hand over-edited versions. In July 1974 the Supreme Court ordered him to hand over n relevant tapes. On 5 August 1974 Nixon surrendered tapes which made it clear that he n involved in an attempted ‘cover-up’. Having lost all support Nixon resigned on 9 August 1974.

After Vietnam and the Watergate scandal the USA suffered a recession in the mid-1970s. Unemployment rose to 8.5% in 1975. Despite its troubles, the United States remained by far the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

In 1980 the USA was in the grip of a recession. However, in the mid and late 1980s, the economy grew steadily. Unemployment was almost 11% in 1982. It fell to 7% in 1985 and 5.5% in 1988. In 1999 it stood at 4.2%. Meanwhile, inflation fell from 12.5% in 1980 to 4.4% in 1988.

Meanwhile, the Cold War came to a sudden end in 1989 when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 leaving the USA the world’s only superpower.


In the 21st century, the population of the USA continued to grow rapidly, partly due to immigration. In 2018 the population of the USA was 328 million. The USA suffered a recession in 2008-2009 but soon recovered. Afterward, its economy grew steadily. Meanwhile, in 2008, Barack Obama was elected the first African American president. In 2020 like the rest of the world the USA was affected by the COVID 19 virus However the USA is still rich and it’s still the most powerful country in the world.

Legends of America

“Freely, good sir, we will forgive your attacks upon our national character, but spare our mother tongue!”
— Thomas Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia, which appeared in the European Magazine and London Review in 1787.

Almost from the time that the first Englishman set foot upon American soil, our language began to evolve. A continuous process throughout the centuries, “Americanisms” have been created or changed from other English terms to produce a language that differs from our forefathers, signifying our uniqueness and independence.

By 1790 when the United States took its first census, there were four million Americans, 90% of whom were descendants of English colonists. This, of course, left no question that our official native language would be “English,” but it would not be the same as that spoken in Great Britain.

By 1720, the English colonists began to notice that their language was quite different from that spoken in their Motherland. How did that come to be?

The reasons are numerous, the most obvious being the sheer distance from England. Over the years, many words were borrowed from the Native Americans, as well as other immigrants from France, Germany, Spain, and other countries. Other words that became obsolete across the pond continued to be utilized in the colonies. In other cases, words simply had to be created in order to explain the unfamiliar landscape, weather, animals, plants, and living conditions that these early pioneers encountered.

The first “official” reference to the “American dialect” was made in 1756 by Samuel Johnson, a year after he published his Dictionary of the English Language. Johnson’s coinage of the term “American dialect” was not meant to simply explain the differences but rather, was intended as an insult.

Years earlier, however, as early as 1735, the English were calling our language “barbarous” and referred to our “Americanisms” as barbarisms. The English sneering at our language continued for more than a century after the Revolutionary War, as they laughed and condemned as unnecessary, hundreds of American terms and phrases.

However, to our newly independent Americans, they were proud of their “new” American language, wearing it, as yet, another badge of independence. In 1789, Noah Webster wrote in his Dissertations on the English Language:

“The reasons for American English being different than English English are simple: As an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”

Our leaders, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, agreed — it was not only good politics, but it was also sensible.

Early examples of words that had become obsolete in England that continued to be used in the United States were:

  • allow, guess, reckon, meaning to think.
  • bureau, meaning a chest of drawers.
  • fall, meaning “autumn.”
  • gotten, where “got” was being used as the past participle of “get.”
  • wilt

Other words that were simply “created” included such terms as “groundhog,” an animal that didn’t exist in England “lightning rod” for whiskey “belittle,” coined by Thomas Jefferson in 1787 “bamboozle,” meaning to swindle, and hundreds of others.

Of other terms, the meaning was changed, such as:

  • Bluff – Instead of using the British river “bank,” bluff began to be used in the South in the late 17th century and was the first word that was “officially” attacked as being a “barbarous” American term.
  • Fork – Though it continued to be used as a term for an eating utensil, Americans began to also use the term to mean a branch of a road or a river.
  • Help – Americans began to refer to servants as help beginning around 1630.

The English thought we were particularly barbaric as the pronunciations of words changed:

  • Bhar – instead of “bear.”
  • Knowed – instead of “knew.”
  • Lay – instead of “lie.”
  • Missionary – instead of “mission’ry.”

But, most atrocious to the English was the heavy use of contractions such as ain’t, can’t, don’t, and couldn’t.

However, the feelings of the “rest of the world” mattered little to Americans as the language changed even more during the western movement as numerous Native American and Spanish words became an everyday part of our language.

The evolution of the American language continued into the 20th century, as well as American pride. After World War I, when Americans were in a patriotic and anti-foreign mood, the state of Illinois went so far as to pass an act making the official language of the state the “American language.” In 1923, in the State of Illinois General Assembly, they passed the act stating in part:

The official language of the State of Illinois shall be known hereafter as the “American” language and not as the “English” language.

A similar bill was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives the same year but died in committee.

Ironically, after centuries of forming our “own” language, the English and American versions are once again beginning to blend as movies, songs, electronics, and global traveling bring the two “languages” closer together.

“Americanism” means a word or expression that originated in the United States. The term includes outright coinages and foreign borrowings, which first became “English” in the United States, as well as older terms used in new senses first given them in American usage.

— Milford M. Mathews in his preface to A Dictionary of Americanisms, 1951.


CHANCE: Why are some people so critical of Ebonics? Now what is Ebonics? Ebonics is Black-American English or what some people call ghetto English, black slang or street English. But Ebonics didn’t come from the ghetto or streets of Black-America. Black English existed Three hundred years before the ghettos and the street life. Ebonics came from Black slaves whom had to learn English so they could communicate with their white slave Masters.

The word ebony means Black and phonics means sound, so the two words were combined and the word Ebonics was born. Ebonics means black sounds and Ebonics means black sound, symbolizing the type of English that many Black-Americans can speak.

This English is what many Black-Americans speak among themselves, just like many other people speak another language besides English inside their homes.

Also, if you go to London-England there are people who speak cockney English – and cockney English is not considered proper English by the British. When many Black-Americans go on job interviews, the overwhelming majority of them don’t start speaking Ebonics with their potential employers they speak standard American English this is a fact.

Well some people and employers will say, they have seen and heard a Black-American speak Ebonics at a job interview. But those Black-Americans are the exception to the general rule.

The major reason why many people from other ethnic groups criticize Ebonics is because it is a sign of "change in America.&rdquo Many White-Americans see Ebonics (Black English) as Black-Americans coming into their own way of saying and expressing.

How they feel in their own verbal style of English – and this makes some White-Americans feel they no longer have supreme major control over the behavior of Black-Americans. It makes some white-Americans feel much more powerless now not all White-Americans feel this way, but some do.

Black Slaves From Africa And Learning English

CHANCE: When Africans were brought over to America as slaves, they did not speak English. They only spoke African &ldquotribal languages" the majority of the slaves were sent to southern states.

The white "slave masters" themselves did not speak proper American English. And matter of fact, the majority of white people living in the southern states did not speak proper American Standard English either.

The first group of slaves from Africa, who made it to America – the majority of them never, learned English. But their children did and their children were bilingual. They spoke "English and the African tribal language" that their parents taught them.

Then the slave masters told them too only speak English, so the children of the African slaves when they became adults and had children. They only taught their children English because the white slave master had told them too only speak English. The grand-parents whom were brought from Africa to be slaves were now old, and could only speak the tribal languages – that they spoke back in Africa.

So some of the grand-children could not even communicate with their own grand-parents whom were living on the same slave plantation sad Huh? Now some grand children were secretively taught by their parents the old tribal language that there grand-parents spoke back in Africa. Some grand children learned a few words some learned how to speak the tribal language fluently.
But when the grand-parents generation died off the grand-children started teaching their children English only like the white slave masters demanded.

Also the whites living in the southern states passed a law that said, slaves are not allowed to be educated or taught how to read and write. If any white person was caught teaching a slave how to read or write, they could be arrested and put in jail. So the slaves were not taught proper American Standard English, also the white southern slave masters who could read and write, did not speak proper American Standard English themselves. The whites living down south taught black slaves pronounce their English words like them (whites).

And, we know that the English spoken in the southern states is considered improper American English. Even in our own modern times, the way Americans who live down south pronounce their words are considered incorrect by American grammar scholars. Also, the rest of America considers the English spoken in southern states incorrect and improper.

The Major Reasons Why Black-Americans Speak Black English (Ebonics)

Here are some reasons why Black-Americans speak Black English

1. The African slaves were slave immigrants and they and their children had to learn English which was a foreign language to them.

When you try to learn a new language as an immigrant it is not easy just like immigrants who leave their countries today – and go to another country. They have to learn the language of that country if they really want to fit in.

2. The black slaves were not allowed to be taught how to read and write during the times of black slavery in America. Black slaves were not allowed to go to school and they were not allowed an education, and this was the law.

3. The white slave masters and white people in general living down south did not speak proper America English themselves. And many whites were educated and some whites were not educated – but that did not matter. The majority of whites living down south did not speak proper standard American English.

So if you can’t speak proper English yourself, the only English you can teach others to speak is the improper English you speak. Also, during the civil war between the North and the South
When General Robert E. Lee with his confederate troops invaded state of Pennsylvania. The people living in the state of Pennsylvania said the white southern confederate soldiers from the southern states. Spoke a type of English, which was difficult to understand. The northern people living in the northern states thought and felt that the white southern confederate troops spoke an improper and "awful" type of English.

Also the people in the north made fun of the way southern white people spoke English. And some scholars&rsquo say that Black-American English (Ebonics) came from those small islands (Isle of Man and other small islands next to England) located next too Great Britain.

History scholars know, that many White-Americans in the southern states during the time of slavery. Descended from the Isle of Man and other small islands located next to England. Some white southerners descended from the white people of England also.
These white islanders spoke English that sounded different from white people living in the country of England. But they all spoke English, whether they were from the Isle of Man or the main land country of England.

Now the whites living down in the southern states did influence the way black slaves pronounced their English words. But if you observe the descendants of black slaves you can clearly hear and see – that the Black English they speak is not spoken by White-Americans. This Black English is a type of English, that White-Americans themselves publicly acknowledge (agree) that it came from Black-Americans.

When you hear a white person or another person from a certain minority ethnic group "speak" Ebonics. It simply means they have been listening to Black-Americans speak their type of English, and these people like what they hear nothing more. If you listen to White-Americans living in the southern states you can clearly listen to them speak and you will know just from hearing them speak. That they are not speaking Ebonics some White-Americans will be offended if you say they are the ones who started Ebonics.

If White-Americans started Black English why would they be offended at their own thing? Some Black-Americans are ashamed of Black English, why? Because they see that many whites don’t like Black English.

Also, they feel whites will job discriminate against them or view them as inferior if they speak Ebonics. I say to those Black-Americans who feel this way. Why would you speak Ebonics to those certain types of white-Americans who feel uncomfortable with Ebonics?

And, why would you speak Black English to them in the first place unless you can intuitively sense they will understand or a least won&rsquot be offended. You should only speak Ebonics (black-English) with Black-Americans and other people who understand Black English. Why speak a type of lingo to a person when they don’t understand you. You must be-aware of your surroundings, environment, and people around you. Other people who speak another language besides English only talk in that "foreign language" with people who understand it.
Also many people believe that Black-Americans who speak Black English, don’t Know how to speak Standard American English. The majority of the Black-Americans can speak ebonics and standard American English.

Often people see and hear Black-Americans speaking with fellow Black-Americans and they are speaking Ebonics. So based on this the hearers (listeners) from the other ethnic groups some of them "assume" that, the Black-Americans they hear speaking Ebonics only are able to speak Ebonics. That’s like hearing an American who learned French at a university, speak French to a French tourist who is visiting the United States of America. Then assuming that the American must only speak French and not English.
Do you see the lack of insight on the part of the assumers? Why do many Black-Americans speak Black English most of the time? Simply because they are around other Black-Americans who understand them.

Also, take serious notice of all the other non-white racial groups (colored ethnic groups or people who are not born white) and observe their children, teenagers, young adults in their 20s and 30s many of them can speak Ebonics or know and understand some of it.
Also many White-American children, teenagers, young adults in their 20s and 30s some of them can speak Ebonics or know and understand some of it.

When their mothers and fathers don’t understand a lot black English. This is not by coincidence either it comes from "imitation and admiration" and imitation that is unforced comes from love, admiration, enjoying, and wishing to be a part of what you see those people you admire do and say. Whether it is because of something positive or negative those people do or say the fact is you admire something about them. There is nothing wrong with expressing loving feelings towards another ethnic group’s general culture or their sub-culture we need to express more love towards our fellow humans.

Here Are Some Examples Of Ebonics Yea Check This Out!

1. What’s up meaning – hello, how are you, or tell me what is happen with a particular situation and circumstance or how is everything going in your life.

2. Mos def meaning – most definitely

3. Fissintu or Fissinto meaning – getting ready to do something, getting ready to go somewhere example I’m fissinto to go to sleep, I’m fissinto go to the store.

7. Hood meaning – Neighborhood whether it be a good neighborhood or bad neighborhood it doesn’t matter it is a hood.

15. Playar or Playa meaning – Player He is a good basketball playa or playar. It could mean other things depending on what the conversation is about. A person could be a playa in any type of situation or circumstance.

17. Frien or fren meaning- Friend.

19. Rollin meaning – Rolling.

20. Country grammar meaning – A person who has a southern accent when he or she speaks.

21. Hounaa (pronounced ounna) meaning – Honor.

22. Where u at meaning – Where are you.

24. Over dere meaning – Over there.

25. Mauu meaning – Ma. Ma is short for mother.

28. Rainin meaning – Rainning.

32. sittin meaning – sitting.

34. Da bezt meaning – The best.

35. Lata (pronounced lada) meaning – later.

36. Brotha meaning – Brother.

38. Callin meaning &ndash Calling.

Ebonics Has Two Levels

Like all languages and dialects Ebonics has two sides (two levels) the first side is the pronunciation of words and spelling of words. The second side is called metaphors another name for metaphors is slang.

Two levels (two sides) of Ebonics

1. Pronunciation of words and spelling of words.
2. metaphors (slang)

Now black slang is an offshoot of Ebonics but the two are different, now what are the differences?

1. Ebonics – has to do with the pronunciations of words and the spelling of words.

Example poor is pronounced poo so black English has to do with the pronunciation of words.

2. Slang – is using metaphors to substitute for the original name of something example kicks meaning shoes. Black-American slang is a part of Ebonics.

Ebonics is the general formal speech that is spoken in a general conversation and slang (metaphors) is used as a substitute for the original name of an object, situation, circumstance, person etc.

Here Are Some Examples Of Black Slang Peep this

1. Ghetto bird the bird meaning – Police helicopter

2. Wanksta meaning – a gangster or gang member who never progress – he is still where he started he never gets ahead he is worthless because he can’t produce and progress in the gang life style.

3. Rollin meaning – Driving a car or riding in a vehicle- it could be a bicycle, tricycle, roller skates, skate board and anything with wheels that can make you move especially a car or truck.

4. 411 OR Low down meaning – Information or knowledge about something or someone-it could be information about a person, place, thing, or situation and circumstance. Example what’s the latest low down> (information) about the war in Iraq.

5. Down low meaning – a man or woman who is an undercover bisexual, the man has sex with men but he likes women also and may have a girlfriend or wife and never tell her that he also has sex with men. A woman who likes both men and women sexually but she doesn’t tell her boyfriend or husband that she sleeps with women also. The expression down low use to mean keep what I said or told you a secret, but now it means a person who is secretively bi-sexual.

6. Fits meaning – Clothes example Observing his fits I can tell he isn’t rich.

7. Hurtin(ebonic spelling) English hurting meaning – in need of something- example He is hurtin (in need of) for money. It could also mean you are in pain pysically, mentally, emotionally, etc.

8. Dawg meaning – Friend example He is my best dawg.

9. Coolin meaning – Relaxing example I’m just sitting here with my wife just coolin.

10. Playa hata (hater) or Playar hata (hater) meaning – A jealous person example the scribes and pharisees where playa hating (jealous) on Jesus Christ because he had become a popular religious teacher. The scribes and Pharisees where playa haters (jealous people).

11. 5-0, one time, or popo these three names meaning – Police this is not talking about the number 50 this is talking about the number 5 and 0. But it is pronounced 5-0. one time and popo are other names that are used to refer to the police.

12. Jacket meaning – Record and Reputation example O.G. has a jacket (record and reputation) that says he is estranged from his wife and he is behind on his rent. David’s jacket (record and reputation) is he an outstanding young man and he is the manager of a. Department store he loves his wife and kids. Your jacket is everything that you have done in life both good and bad.

13. Slippin meaning – caught off guard or not alert.

14. Balla (ebonic spelling) Baller (American Standard English spelling) meaning – a person with money and a lot of material possessions.

15. Shot calla (ebonic spelling) Shot caller (American Standard English spelling) meaning – the leader who makes all of the decisions of for the group or the decision maker.

16. Homie also spelled homey meaning a close friend or close associate.

17. Sittin phat or sittin fat meaning – living wealthy got a lot of money, or doing well financially.

18. Frontin (fro-in ) meaning – Phony, Fake , fraud, facade, trying to be something you are not.

Here Are Some Examples of Ebonic Spellings Of Words And Numbers So Fresh and Unique!

5. Def represents Definite or Definitely

7. Gangsta represents Gangster.

8. Amerika represents America.

12. Nine-duce represents One year. Some people say nine-duce means 11 months because duce means two but nine-duce means one year not eleven months Example if you are in the month of January you don’t count January because you are currently in the month of January so it is automatically counted. You count February to December. It’s 9-2 (nine-duce) not ninety two. The numbers 9 and 2 a separate so you have nine-duce.

13. Prezident represents President

14. Cuz reprsents Cause. The word cuz can also represent a member of the notorious crip gang. When crip gang members see and greet each other they say what’s up cuz. How you doing the other gang member will say I’m doing alright cuz. But the word cuz represent the word cause-cuz is the ebonic spelling of the word cause just because a person says cuz it doesn’t mean he or she is a crip gang member.

15. Sho meaning Sure I’ll be at the music concert for sho (sure).

16. Crossroads or crossroad meaning Heaven or to meet someone who died before you in heaven or crossroad could mean when I see next time. Example my friend Ralph died and when I die I will meet him again on the crossroad (heaven). Crossroads could be the next time you see a person example Today is Friday I will see you next Tuesday. So Tuesday will be the crossroad meaning the next time you and I see and encounter each other.

18. Sounds meaning Music, I&rsquom listening to my sounds (music).

19. Nickel meaning 5 or $5.00 (five dollars) or it could mean 5 cents it all depends on the context.

20. Dime meaning 10 or $10.00 (ten dollars) or it could mean 10 cents it depends on the context.

21. Dub meaning 20 or $20.00 (twenty dollars) a Dub in general means $20.00

These are just some examples of Black English, also, observing American society we all can clearly see. That all ethnic groups have members whom are using both Black-American ebonics and standard American English especially the younger generatioon.
This is something that can’t be denied.

And there is nothing – That can be done to stop them because they are the future they are the future politicians, doctors, police officers, lawyers, firemen, teachers, professors, scientist, and all other career fields.

Black-American influence and culture can be seen in television commercials, general television, Radio, sports, news, music, politics, and all other spheres of American life.

There is an old saying, that if you want to get even with someone or people then you just become successful. Black-Americans are progressing and becoming popular in American and in other countries.

We should all learn from one another, because all ethnic groups have something to offer one another when it comes to "culture." This is just a brief history of Black English also known as Ebonics I hope it was insightful.

Written during the 21st century by Chance (Chancellor)

Spelling differences

British and American English have some spelling differences. The common ones are presented in the table below.

British English

American English

-oe-/-ae- (e.g. anaemia, diarrhoea, encyclopaedia)

-e- (e.g. anemia, diarrhea, encyclopedia)

-ed (e.g. burned, dreamed, leaped)

-ence (e.g. defence, offence, licence)

-ense (defense, offense, license)

-ell- (e.g. cancelled, jeweller, marvellous)

-el- (e.g. canceled, jeweler, marvelous)

-ise (e.g. appetiser, familiarise, organise)

-ize (e.g. appetizer, familiarize, organize)

-l- (e.g. enrol, fulfil, skilful)

-ll- (e.g. enroll, fulfill, skillfull)

-ogue (e.g. analogue, monologue, catalogue)

-og (e.g. analog, monolog, catalog)

*Note that American English also recognizes words spelled with –ogue

-ou (e.g. colour, behaviour, mould)

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The perfect insults lost to history

Two labels that are five centuries old, but the individuals they describe are still instantly recognisable.

The curious 'laws' of speaking English

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Who invents new collective nouns?

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The fascinating history of the f-word

It's one of the most versatile words in the English language.

How a playwright coined a famous phrase

Why the phrase stealing someone&rsquos thunder comes from London&rsquos theatre district.

British Perspective American Revolution

On November 23, 1765, Francis Bernard, the royal governor of Massachusetts posed this question in a letter in which the answer would result in blows ten years later between the colonies and the mother country.

“The question whether America shall or shall not be subject to the legislature of Great Britain..”

From that central question the British populace, Parliament, military, and monarchy would mull on as the decade of the 1760s turned to the 1770s and eventually as the proverbial “shots heard around the world” were fired in April 1775.

In the twelve years from the conclusion of the Seven Years War or French and Indian War as North Americans remembered it, the British Parliament, saddled with a huge war debt and the responsibility of administering the world’s largest empire at that time, levied new taxes and duties on their American brethren. Multiple ministers, five within the first ten years of King George III’s rule, plied their hand to these until finally, the king settled on Lord Frederick North in January 1770. North eventually served until 1782. The decrees from London enacted a series of measures, both peaceful and violent, between colonists and the British government. As the colonists split themselves, into pro-revolutionary and eventual independence supporters and loyalists as those who remained committed to the British crown and government were called, so too did British politicians and subjects pick sides.

"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor" lithograph

Like their king, the British public initially hardened against the rebels in the colonies. After the Boston Tea Party, King George III wanted stronger more coercive measures against the colonists, perceiving that leniency in British regulation as the culprit of the escalating tension in North America. His stance in 1774 was to “withstand every attempt to weaken or impair” royal sovereign authority anywhere in the empire. The following year, he thought the “deluded Americans [should] feel the necessity of returning to their Duty” and in that regard declined to even lay eyes on the “Olive Branch Petition” sent by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania as a document asking for royal help to solve the differences between colonists and the British Parliament.

With the fighting that erupted in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, a “Rubicon”, as the patriot John Adams called the change from words to bullets, was crossed. Hardening resolves on either side of the Atlantic caused the rupture to grow, with independence declared in Philadelphia and the stance of subduing the rebellion in London. With the popularity of newspapers and communiques, such as letters and dispatches, the British public was kept aware of the opening events in America especially with the first shots at Lexington and Concord.

On July 22, 1776, the Third Duke of Portland received a letter from his wife in Nottinghamshire of “unpleasant news, that from America I trust in God is not true, it is really shocking.” The same duke received another type of letter from a fellow Englishman asking him to “preserve this country” and find a way to “cut Britain’s losses” with the war seeming to grow in North America. In the same vein but looking from a different perspective, an English author warned in pamphlet form that the loss of America would cut a swath into the British Empire and result in “inclosing us within the confined seas of England, Ireland, and Scotland.”

With a hardening resolve from the monarchy which was witnessed as well in Parliament, there was still, obviously, some of the British public that were anxious about hostilities between the colonies and the mother country. One set was merchants, who had a fair amount to lose with trade being disrupted by conflict. A group of Bristol, England merchants wrote to King George III in 1775 voicing their “most anxious apprehensions for ourselves and Posterity that we behold the growing distractions in America threaten” and ask for their majesty’s “Wisdom and Goodness” to save them from “a lasting and ruinous Civil War.” In addition, those of the working class of Britons viewed the affair in the North American colonies through a more positive prism and one that may usher in a new era for the world and possibly reform for their disenfranchisement.

"Surrender of General Burgoyne," painted by John Trumbull in 1821. This scene depicts General John Burgoyne surrenders to American General Horatio Gates at Saratoga on October 17, 1777.

The king would stay steadfast in his belief that war should be prosecuted until the colonies were subdued. Even after the defeat at Saratoga, New York in 1777, the entry of France which globalized the conflict, and even over the debates of his government officials to the contrary. In the king’s mind, ultimate victory in America was paramount to the very survival of the British Empire. However, as noted above, the same could not be said of all Britons, as some, like the Right Honorable Thomas Townshend had seen as early as October 1776, that “the Government and Majority have drawn us into a war, that in our opinions is unjust in its Principle and ruinous in its consequences.” Prophetic words at the opening stages of the long conflict.

After the defeat and capture of the British and Hessian force under General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, Lord North looked for ways to find an accommodation and end the war prior to France’s official entry, arguing that the war “would ruin her [Great Britain].” North tried resigning multiple times, but the king would not accept it, knowing that a replacement would have to be vetted through concessions to the opposition party, which would extract considerations to ending the war in America.

By 1780, there was unrest, both in Parliament and in the country in opposition for the continuance of the war and in rumblings of domestic reform at home. Even before the news of the disaster at Yorktown reached England, all the ministers in North’s cabinet, save one, Lord Germain, Secretary of State for America and in charge of prosecuting the war, were looking for a way to cut the losses and mediate an end to the war. He, with the backing of the king, still thought the war was winnable.

Members of Parliament, speaking for the opposition to the American war remarked by the summer months of 1781, that “opinion was that those who could understand were against the American war, as almost every man is now…” read James Boswell’s diary entry. Others attributed anti-continuation simply to the “majority of the rabble” which will “always be for the Opposition.” Historians now know that Boswell was more accurate and by the end of summer, William Pitt, the son of the former prime minister, with powerful words in support of a motion of Charles James Fox “into the management of the war in America” summed up the concerns in an impromptu speech in Parliament.

Last page of the Treaty of Paris, which was signed in Paris on September 3, 1783.

The younger Pitt stood up in the House of Commons and spoke in part with great passion:

“I am persuaded and I will affirm, that it is a most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust, and most diabolical war…The expense of it has been enormous. and yet what has the British nation received in return? Nothing but a series of ineffective victories or severe defeats.

Even though Pitt’s remarks received praise from both sides of the issue, nothing changed and unfortunately for the peace movement, Fox’s motion was defeated. A “severe defeat” was needed to shake the resolve of the monarchy and his current government. By the time Parliament reconvened in November of that year, that “severe defeat” happened and just the time it took for news to cross the Atlantic Ocean kept the British from knowing it by that month. When the prime minister did receive the news, his reply is now well known, “Oh God! It is all over.” Apparently, the shock was akin to him having “taken a [musket] ball to the chest.”

By March of 1782, Lord North’s ministry was coming to an end and although peace would not be fully cemented by treaty until the following year, the war was winding down in North America. Negotiators traveled to Paris, France, and began the discussions that would lead to American independence. On December 5, 1783, King George III gave a speech to the House of Lords in Parliament. Within that address, the king would have to mention the recently agreed-upon peace treaty. In attendance was a foreign representative to the French foreign minister. He would write later “in pronouncing independence the King of England did it in a constrained voice.”

The “constrained voice” is a good synopsis of how the British viewed the American Revolutionary War. From anxiety to a foreboding sense of the conflict being a civil war, to some admiration, and to a hardened resolve most present in their monarchy. The “constrained voice” furthermore would also symbolize the first decades of coexistence between Great Britain and her former colonies.

FreedomBox 8328.JPG

The United States of America has a reputation as a beacon of freedom and diversity from the colonial period of its history. From the beginning, however, Americans' freedoms were tied to a mixture of religious and ethnic affiliations that privileged some inhabitants of North America over others. Although European ideas of liberty set the tone for what was possible, those liberties looked somewhat different in colonial North America, where indigenous and African peoples and cultures also had some influence. The result was greater freedom for some and unprecedented slavery and dispossession for others, making colonial America a society of greater diversity—for better and for worse—than Europe.

America's indigenous traditions of immigration and freedom created the context that made European colonization possible. Since time immemorial, the original inhabitants of the Americas were accustomed to dealing with strangers. They forged alliances and exchange networks, accepted political refugees, and permitted people in need of land and protection to settle in territories that they controlled but could share. No North American society was cut off from the world or completely autonomous. Thus, there was no question about establishing ties with the newcomers arriving from Europe. Initially arriving in small numbers, bearing valuable items to trade, and offering added protection from enemies, these Europeans could, it seemed, strengthen indigenous communities. They were granted rights to use certain stretches of land, much in the way that other Native American peoples in need would have been, especially in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. However, Europeans, and all they brought with them—disease, beliefs regarding private property, ever more immigrants, and, occasionally, ruthless violence—undermined indigenous liberty. When Native Americans contested this, wars erupted—wars they could not win. Those who were able to avoid living as slaves or virtual servants of the Europeans (as some did) were driven from their homes.

Occasionally, a colonial ruler who wanted to preserve peace, like William Penn, would strive to respect the rights of indigenous Americans. However, given that both indigenous and European ideas of liberty rested on access to land and its resources, it was difficult for both Europeans and Native Americans to be free in the same territory at the same time without some sort of neutral arbiter. On the eve of the American Revolution, it seemed as if the British government might be able to play that role. After all, British Americans also looked to the monarchy to guarantee their liberties. American independence ended that option. Thereafter, America's original inhabitants had no one to mediate between them and the people who gained so much from exploiting them. Nor did the Africans brought as slaves to work what had once been their land.

For Africans, as with Native Americans, liberty was inseparable from one's family ties. Kinship (whether actual or fictive) gave an individual the rights and protection necessary to be able to live in freedom. To be captured by enemies and separated from one's kin put a person in tremendous danger. Although some captives could be adopted into other societies and treated more or less as equals, most were reduced to a condition of slavery and had little influence over their destiny. Even before they arrived in North America, Africans brought to the New World as slaves had already been separated from their home communities within Africa. Without kin, they had to forge new relationships with complete strangers—and everyone, including most fellow Africans they encountered, was a stranger—if they were to improve their lot at all. Escape was very difficult, and no community of fugitive slaves lasted for long. Unlike Native Americans, who could find a degree of freedom by moving away from the frontier, Africans had to struggle for what liberty they could from within the British society whose prosperity often depended on their forced labor.

Europeans, particularly those with wealth enough to own land or slaves, possessed the greatest freedoms in early America. The French, Spanish, and Dutch established colonies on land that would eventually become part of the United States. Each brought a distinct approach to liberty. For the French and Spanish, who came from societies where peasants still did most of the work of farming, liberty lay in the avoidance of agricultural labor. Aristocrats, who owned the land and profited from the peasants' toil, stood at the top with the most freedom. Merchants and artisans, who lived and worked in cities free of feudal obligations, came next. In North America, the French fur traders who preferred to spend their lives bartering among Native Americans rather than farming in French Canada echoed this view of freedom. Missionaries attempting to convert those same peoples could be seen as another variant of this tradition of liberty, one unknown to the Protestant British. In every colony, Europeans lived in a range of circumstances, from poor indentured servants to wealthy merchants and plantation owners.

Religion was inseparable from the experience of liberty in the European empires. The French and Spanish empires were officially Roman Catholic and did all within their power to convert or expel those who would not conform. The Dutch, on the other hand, had a different approach, befitting their condition as a small, newly independent, but economically dynamic nation. Though only Reformed Protestants enjoyed the full benefits of Dutch citizenship, they displayed an unusual openness to talented foreign immigrants, like Iberian Jews, while they relegated native-born Roman Catholics to second-class status. It was through their ties to Amsterdam, Dutch Brazil, and the Dutch Caribbean that Jews first staked a claim to live and work in North America.

The English colonies played the definitive role in early America's experience of liberty. As immigrants from Scotland, Germany, France, Scandinavia, and elsewhere became incorporated into the Anglo-American world, they staked a claim to liberty through British culture and institutions. The heritage on which the British Empire rested was complicated, however, encompassing a great deal of political conflict (two revolutions in the seventeenth century alone) and religious diversity. The British colonies in North America were home to the Puritans of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, and the Roman Catholics of Maryland, as well as to Anglicans, members of the Church of England. Living in America offered an excellent chance to claim the rights and liberties of Englishmen, even when it seemed like those liberties were imperiled back in Europe. Indeed, the desire to preserve those liberties from the threat of a new British government prompted colonists to fight for independence in 1776.

Liberty in eighteenth-century Britain was associated with the national representational body of Parliament and the Protestant religion, which had been declared the official faith of England in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, a long cycle of constitutional crises, civil wars, and revolution drove home what by the eighteenth century was a commonplace ethos for many Englishmen: liberty depended on Protestantism, property ownership, and a monarchy mixed with representative government. Conversely, Catholicism and absolute monarchy, as existed in Spain and France, brought tyranny and a loss of liberty.

Liberty thus began in America with a peculiar mix of religious, ethnic, political, economic, and legal associations, all of them based on denying civil, religious, and economic liberty to others. Among the free, European-descended, Protestant colonists who enjoyed the most liberty, only men with property—who were deemed eligible to vote and hold public office—gained the full benefits. The liberties of women, children, and men without property depended on their connections to propertied men, whether as relatives, patrons, or employers. As most British colonists understood history, English liberties had been secured only after a long, hard fight, and these liberties were under constant threat—from Roman Catholics, the French, or the greed and corruption that, they thought, inevitably arose when those in government grew too powerful. Liberty, they believed, was limited. The idea that everyone could enjoy similar liberties did not cross their mind they worried instead about the possibility that everyone in America could be a slave or servant to someone else.

In many ways, the story of American liberty is about how people of different religious and ethnic origins gradually acquired rights that had been associated only with Protestant English men of property. Despite their original association with a particular national, ethnic, and religious group, English liberties proved fairly flexible in America. Americans lived in a society with more chances to attain the ideal of liberty associated with owning property—particularly a farm of one's own—than was possible in England, where property ownership was increasingly restricted to a small elite. Colonies like Pennsylvania granted far more religious freedom than existed in England. The colonial charters granted by the British monarchy protected these liberties, and, in fact, Pennsylvania celebrated the anniversary of these constitutional freedoms guaranteed by the English crown when it the commissioned the liberty bell.

The early American belief in the limited nature of liberty helps us to understand why it was so difficult for those who had it to extend it to others. Americans lived in a world full of slavery—the ultimate opposite of freedom—an institution that had not been present in England for hundreds of years. And yet, the colonial history of America, tied very early to the promotion of slavery, convinced many colonists that the ability to hold non-European people (mostly African, but also Native American) as slaves was a fundamental English liberty. Some even returned to England with their slaves, and expected English laws to protect their property in people as they did in the colonies. Free colonists were surrounded by people—servants and slaves—who either lacked liberty or, as in the case of Native Americans, were rapidly losing it. This paradox helps explain the reluctance of colonial Americans to allow others, like more recent German immigrants, to share the same liberties they enjoyed. In many ways, their prosperity depended on those peoples' lack of liberty and property. All could try for freedom in colonial America, but not all had equal access to it.

America's history of liberty is inseparable from its history of immigration and colonization dating back to the first Native American treaties. Unfortunately, the liberty Europeans claimed in America was accompanied by slavery and reduced liberties for many others. The possibility of liberty for some was always accompanied by a struggle for freedom for many others.

Evan Haefeli is Associate Professor of History at Columbia University, where he researches and teaches on Native American history, colonial American history, and the history of religious tolerance.


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