The United States of America was formally established in 1787 after the Revolutionary War. This war effectively granted the country independence from the British Empire. In 1787 the US Constitution was drafted by the “Founding Fathers”: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Monroe. George Washington was elected in 1789 as the first President of the United States and upon his passing in 1799 was succeeded by John Adams. During Washington’s presidency, the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments to the Constitution were added to the Constitution. These amendments guaranteed the rights of freedom of speech, religion, and the press; the right to bear arms; the right to not have soldiers quartered in one’s home in a time of war; freedom against unreasonable searches and seizures; the right to a fair trial by jury; the right of indictment for capital crimes; no excessive bail or cruel or unusual punishments; no rights that lead to the denial of privileges already afforded to the populace; and the ability for states to set their own laws apart from those of the government.
Another pivotal moment in this new country’s history occurred in 1803 when France, under the authority of Napoleon Bonaparte, allowed the United States to succeed in the transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase added 530 million acres of territory for the price of $15 million dollars. This was the first major transaction by the US government and allowed the country to expand beyond the Mississippi River.
A renewed conflict with England deemed the War of 1812 began over restrictions on US trade during the Napoleonic Wars. During the war the nation’s capital, Washington DC, was captured and burned in August 1814. The end of the war was inconclusive but led to a greater sense of patriotism in the United States and the writing of what was to become the national anthem by Francis Scott Key, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, there was a wave of immigration to the United States from Europe, and settlements established west of the Mississippi as part of a migration known as “Manifest Destiny.” This migration led to an increase in the number of states from 17 to 45. Even more territory was added between 1846 and 1848 after the Mexican War with California, and New Mexico was acquired from Mexico.
The states, however, were to engage in conflict with one another over the question of whether slavery was legal. Between 1860 and 1865 the Civil War occurred - one of the bloodiest wars in American history - and pitted the anti-slavery Union forces against the Southern pro-slavery forces, also known as the Confederacy. The Union was led by General Ulysses S. Grant who was later to become president of the United States while the Confederacy’s commander was Robert E. Lee. The Union reigned triumphant in the Civil War and in 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared that all slaves in Confederate states had earned their freedom. Slavery was fully abolished in 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the United States had acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba after the Spanish-American War, and annexed Hawaii. This was also the period when President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Park Service naming Yellowstone National Park the first national park. In 1917 the United States entered World War One, which was then a European conflict after the sinking of the USS Lusitania by German U-boats.
After World War One there was an economic boom in the US and women received the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. This was also the decade of Prohibition where purchasing and manufacturing alcoholic beverages was outlawed. In 1924 Native Americans were granted citizenship. The economy tanked in 1929 with the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the “New Deal” which helped to create jobs and financial relief for many unemployed Americans.
In 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, a naval base in Hawaii, and launched the United States into another global conflict. This war had already begun when the US entered in 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Adolf Hitler’s forces. During the war, Japanese-American citizens were placed in internment camps which was a sad chapter in US history. The war did not end until 1945 when the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two atomic bombs. The end of the war also signaled the birth of the United Nations.
After World War II, fears of nuclear power arose and the US entered into the Cold War with what was then the Soviet Union. Bomb drills were conducted in schools amid fears of atomic bombs being launched on American soil. In regards to schools, they remained segregated which meant that white and African-American students were in separate and unequal schools. Schools were desegregated in 1954 after the Supreme Court declared that segregation was unconstitutional in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
In the early 1960s, an era of youthful liberation and freedom was ushered in and in 1960 John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon to become president. During his presidency the US was able to persuade the Soviet Union to withdraw their nuclear weaponry in Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, and Lyndon Johnson, the vice president, was sworn into office.
In 1964 Johnson increased the number of American troops in Vietnam and passed the Civil Rights Act which sought to end discrimination based on race, color, religion, and nationality. US involvement in the Vietnam War was controversial but by 1969 there were over 500,000 American military personnel in Vietnam. This war killed over 58,000 Americans by its end in 1973 during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Nixon later resigned after confessing his guilt in the 1972 break-in at the Watergate Hotel, the Democratic Party headquarters. Gerald Ford was his successor followed by Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Carter’s presidency was impacted by the 1979 Iran hostage crisis in Tehran at the US Embassy by radical students. This affected his popularity and in 1980 he was succeeded as president by Ronald Reagan. Reagan was anti-Communist and supported cutting taxes which led to a large budget deficit. His inauguration day was in January 1981 and that same month Iran freed its 52 American hostages. Reagan’s presidency was marked by the invasion of Grenada due to concerns over its ties with Cuba, the first explosion of a manned spacecraft, and the bombing of Libyan cities by US warplanes.
George H. Bush was elected in 1988 and only a year into his tenure there was an American invasion of Panama which ousted its president, a former CIA informant, General Manuel Noriega, due to charges of drug-trafficking. In 1991 there was involvement in the Persian Gulf war against Iraq because of the country’s invasion of Kuwait that ended with the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The war also involved a dispute over oil in Gulf countries.
Clinton was the first president of the 1990s and he helped pass the North American Free Trade Act or NAFTA which was meant to create free trade between the US, Canada, and Mexico. In 1995 there was the worst bombing in US history in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh killing over 160 people. Impeachment proceedings were brought against Clinton in 1998 over discussion of his rumored sexual impropriety with an intern at the White House, Monica Lewinsky. Two years later George W. Bush was elected president and put the Republican Party back in power.
On September 11, 2001, he was challenged by a massive terrorist attack that toppled the World Trade Center, killing over 3,000 American citizens, and also led to casualties at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. After 9/11 the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq as part of its newly minted “war on terror.” In his fight against terrorism, Bush authorized air strikes against Afghanistan and helped oust the Taliban from the country and declared in his State of the Union address in 2002 that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea were an “axis of evil.” That same year he created the Department of Homeland Security whose purpose was to protect the country against terrorist attacks. Bush was re-elected in 2004 and throughout the remainder of his presidency the Democrats regained control over the Senate and House of Representatives and the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned from his position. The war in Iraq continued to intensify as an increasing number of troops were sent abroad to Baghdad.
The second great economic collapse occurred in September 2008 due to chaos within US and international financial markets after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a major Wall Street investment bank, and issues with other financial institutions. Loan companies faltered and credit issues occurred. The recession continues to this day but the unemployment rate has improved and more jobs have been added in the economy.
The first black president of the US was elected in November 2008, Barack Obama, who was formerly a junior senator in Illinois. Obama’s presidency had triumphs such as the March 2010 passage of the healthcare reform act otherwise known as “Obamacare.” Obama’s new defense policy limited the circumstances under which nuclear weaponry would be employed. In 2011 Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by Navy seals. That year was also the birth of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that protested against corporate greed and increasing debt. Protests were sparked around the world in other major cities.
Obama was re-elected in 2012 with a narrow victory over Republican Mitt Romney. The following month was when Adam Lanza, armed with an assault rifle, engaged in one of the worst school shootings in American history killing twenty first graders and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut leading to pressure for gun reform that continues today. The 2013 Boston Marathon was racked by two bombs that killed three people and injured over 170 people.
Meanwhile, the economy continued to falter leading to a 2014 Senate bill raising the country’s borrowing limit. In December of 2014 Congress was able to reach a $1.1 trillion spending bill deal that would fund the government until September 2015 and avoid a government shutdown in January 2015.
Obama began taking diplomatic steps to restore a relationship with Cuba after more than 50 years of sanctions and embargoes against the island nation in December 2014. He ordered in March 2015 that 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan as advisors until 2016. In July of that year Cuba and the United States reopened embassies in their countries. Overseas, however, there was the growing threat of Islamic extremism with the advent of the Islamic State or ISIS that became a domestic threat when two extremists were killed after opening fire on a Texas conference. This was its first attack on US soil and they currently remain an international threat.
In November 2016, Donald Trump in a great upset won the presidency with a narrow victory over Hillary Clinton. He was inaugurated in January 2017. Trump began his tenure in office with executive orders that sought to restrict visas from predominantly Muslim countries and block funding for so-called “sanctuary cities” or cities that harbored illegal immigrants. In regards to foreign policy, the US intervened in Syria after the Syrian government attacked civilians, armed Kurdish forces, and destroyed an ISIS cave network in Afghanistan. North Korea was also warned by Trump that military retaliation could occur if nuclear tests in the country continued. Trump will meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to discuss its denuclearization.
As of today, there remains domestic turmoil resulting from racial tensions involving White supremacists and alleged unfair treatment of African Americans by law enforcement agencies. Trump’s Cabinet continues to change with many seats still lying vacant. His use of social media has led to conflicts both domestically and international. His claim is that he wants his own words heard, not those of the news media.
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