The discovery of America is attributed to Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailor. But the first white men, who had reached the shores of North America, were the Vikings around the year 1000.
In 1492 Columbus thought he had reached Asia, but in fact, he had discovered the Bahama Islands. Columbus originally sailed to India and that’s why he called the natives „the Indians“ and then on account of the colour of their skin they were called Red Indians.
America recieves its name from an Italian, Amerigo Vespuci, who explored the coast of Brasil in the early 1500s.
After the explorations of the Spanish and French in the New World, the English were among the last to settle the North American continent. The real British colonozation began at the beginning of 17th century. The first English colony was called VIRGINIA (in honour of the Queen Elizabeth I) and the first successful settlement in Virgina was established in 1607, under King James I. After whom it was called JAMESTOWN. Huge tobacco plantations brought settlers considerable profit and they naturally wanted to increase their profits and enlarge their plantations, but more workers were needed. The Red Indians weren’t good workers because they weren’t used to hard physical work (their main tasks were hounting and fighting) and their close knowledge of nature made it easy for them to escape. The result was that planters found the solution in the Negro People of Africa. Thus the first shipload of African slaves landed in North America in 1619 and slavery became most firmly established in the Southern colonies.
In 1620 a group of Puritan refugees from England, known as the Pilgrim Fathers, reached the coast of North America in their ship called „Mayflower“. They landed on the Massachussetts coast and founded a settlement there, which they called PLYMOUTH, in memory of the English port of the same name. This was the beginning of the northern English colonies in America, called New England. The puritans emigrated from England to escape the religious persecution under the Stuarts. The first year in America was difficult. After a very hard work, the newcomers and Indians gave thanks to God for the first harvest and made a huge meal together. It was on the fourth Thursday in Novermber 1621. In memory of it Thanksgiving Day is celebrated annualy. The northern colonies were prosperous from the very start.
The English colonies in the South (Virginia, North Carolina) were separated from the North (New England) by a Dutch colony. Its chief town was New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. In 1664 New Amsterdam was captured by the English and Charles II granted this area to his brother James, Duke of York, after whom it was renamed NEW YORK.
THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
13 original colonies were developing rapidly. The British Parliament, protecting the interests of the British manufacturers, passed a number of laws to paralyse the rising industry and commerce in the colonies. The British government imposed duties on tea, paper, glass and other articles of general consumption.
On December 16th, 1773, North Americans, dressed as Indians, threw a cargo of tea into Boston harbour as a protest against the duties imosed on tea. This event is known as „The Boston Tea Party“.
In September 1774 the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. The colonies declared a boycott of English goods.
In 1775 the firts shots of the war were fired, when the English soldiers were trying to seize an illegal store of arms at Concord.
On July 1776 the Second Continental Congress met again in Philadelphia. The colonies declared themselves independent and signed the famous „Declaration of Independence“. The author of the document was Thomas Jefferson. The Congress appointed George Washington to take command in the American Continental Army.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE included the famous declaration „that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unlienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.“
The WAR OF INDEPENDENCE (1775-1781) lasted over 6 years. The fighting ended when Washington, aided by the French army and navy, surrounded the British forces at Yorktown in October 1781. The piece settlement signed two years later recognized the independence, freedom and sovereignity of the colonies.
Not all the citizens were united behind the revolution. A large group called „Loyalists“ supported the British monarchists and many of them returned back to England after the victory of the colonies. The revolutionary forces themselves were split into the conservative wing headed by G. Washington and the progressive wing headed by T. Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.
George Washington became the first president. The new Constitution wasn’t addopted (1789) by all states unanimously and ratification took a long time (until 1792) because people under the leadership of Jefferson demanded additional safeguards for their liberties. And so Ten Amendents, known as the „Bill of Rights“, were added under the pressure of public ippinion. They contain the basic rights and freedoms of individual citizens. The Constitution was at that time the most demoratic in the world.
Throughout the 19th century, the US expanded its teritory but economic and political differences grew between the Northern and Southern states. In the south, the economy was based on agriculture and slavery. Northern states were more industrial and slavery was illegal. This led to the events of the years 1860 and 1861, when 11 southern states seceded from the Union and attempted to form their own government. This caused the beginning of the „Civil War“ under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, lasting from 1861 to 1865. The North was victorious and slavery was abolished (Emancipatin Procalmation in 1863).
The twelwe years tht followed the Civil War are called the period of Reconstruction. The black people were given the right to vote and a number of the were elected into the U.S. Comgress. Although blacks were free, they remanied completely segregated in US society until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s led by Martin Luther King Jr.
Industrial growth started after the Civil War. Major was around coal mining, oil, railways, manufacturing of steel goods. Urbanization was the main trend, especially in the North. During this period the usa became he world’s leading industrial power.
In 1914 the First World War started. On one side there were the Allies (France, Great Britain and Russia). On the other side the main countries were Germany and Austria, who were called the Central Powers. The Americans wanted to keep out of the war. But they found it difficult to stay imperial for long. The trade between the USA and the Allies grew quickly, German leaders decided to sink American ships sailing towads Allied ports. In April 1917 Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. The first American military mobilization on foreign soil wasn’t until 1917 when the US entrad the WWI against Germany and helped France and England. US president W. Wilson helped negotiate a peace treaty in 1918. When the war was over, the USA was the richiest credit country in the world.
The „Roaring Twenties“ brought large economic growth until the Great Depression started after the stock market crash in1929. In the next decade unemployment was high and poverty widespread. The Depression lasted till the beginning of the WWII.
In 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democratic Party candidate, was elected president. He introduced a series of measures, which were called the New Deal. These made Roosevelt very popular. He was the only American president who served three successive terms and was elected to a fourth (but he died in 1945)
In 1941 the Japaneese launched an air raid, which targeted the naval base of Pearl Harbour and the USA entred the WWII on the side of the Allies. President Harry Truman ordered the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima nad Nagasaki. During the war Roosevelt and later Truman were negotiating with the Soviets ( led by Stalin ) and the British about how the war should be fought, about founding the United Nations Organization and about structuring the post-war world.
The „Cold War“ period after the WWII saw increasing mistrust between the USA and the Soviet Union. There were several war conflicts e.g. Korean War, but generally the enemy countries tried to limit each other’s influence around the world.
The post-war period was a time of economic expansion. The US continued as a world leader in scientific, medical and technological achievements. The Soviet Union was the first to put a man in space, the US has the first man to walk on the Moon (1969, Neil Armstrong)
The 60s saw great social change and unrest. American blacks demanded an end to racial discrimination through the civil right movement – civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The assassinations of president John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Robert Kennedy in 1968 shocked the world.
The Vietnam War brought further internal unrest. This continued until the 70s with the political corruption – the Watergate Scandal and the resulting resignation of president Richard Nixon (he was forced to resing). US troops were finally withdrawn from Vietnam in 1975.
After the Watergate Scandal Gerald Ford replaced Nixon and had to deal with serious economic recession.