Christopher Columbus stumbled into the Americas, trying to sail to China – In 1492 the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, who sailed with the support of the Spanish crown, arrived in the Americas. His original intention was to reach the Indies by sailing west instead of east. This would ensure the Spanish crown a new trade route to the lucrative markets of the East. Instead of reaching the Indies, his first expedition sighted land in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. He named the first island San Salvadore (Holy Savior).
Founding of Jamestown, Virginia — the first permanent, English colony in America – In 1607, representatives of the Virginia Company of London established the first permanent English settlement in North America. The Virginia Company, a joint-stock company founded by investors in England, called it Jamestown in honor of King James I of England. Several factors encouraged settlement including peace with Spain; willing settlers lured by adventure, markets and the prospect of religious freedom; financial support provided by the Virginia Company; and the company’s assurance that colonists could remain subjects of England.
Declaration of Independence – On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia representative to the Second Continental Congress, moved that “These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states. . . ” Congress appointed a committee to draft an inspirational document to explain to the world the reasons the colonies were asserting their independence in the hopes of gaining broad colonial and international support. The committee included Thomas Jefferson who was charged with drafting the document. In it he asked for protection of the “unalienable rights” of humankind, in addition to British rights, and listed other British actions which prompted the quest for independence. Congress adopted Lee’s motion on July 2, and on July 4, fifty-six representatives from the thirteen original colonies unanimously approved the Declaration of Independence. Six months prior to the official declaration, Thomas Paine published his influential political pamphlet Common Sense. It presented a clear and persuasive argument for independence, and convinced many undecided colonists to support the movement for independence.
Convention in Philadelphia drafts what will become the U.S. Constitution – Between May 25 and September 17, 1787, delegates gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. Instead they drafted, debated, compromised, and finally approved for ratification the Constitution of the United States. It was then sent to the states to adopt or reject based on the votes of delegates to ratification conventions. The debate over ratification continued into 1788 as Federalists and Anti-Federalists faced off over issues of states’ rights, human liberties, and governmental authority. Ratification of the new constitution required acceptance by nine of the thirteen states. Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution and it was followed by Pennsylvania and New Jersey in 1787. Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire ratified it in 1788. The ninth state (New Hampshire) guaranteed that the new United States had a government. Virginia and New York approved the document later in 1788, and North Carolina and Rhode Island adopted it last, in 1789 and 1790, respectively.
Louisiana Purchase – In 1803, the United States acquired, under the leadership of President Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon Bonaparte, ruler of France, for $15 million dollars. The purchase more than doubled the area of the United States. It gave the new nation access to 828,000 square miles of fertile territory and navigable waterways between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains at a cost of approximately three cents per acre. All or parts of 13 states were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase (in order of admission): Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Oklahoma.
The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, with the firing on Fort Sumter and ended with the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House in early April 1865. South Carolina, the first state to leave the Union, seceded in 1860, prompted by the election of the Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. Six more followed in early 1861 (Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas). They formed the Confederate States of America. 1861: President Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861 and sought to maintain ties with eight border states which remained with the Union. The Civil War began on April 12 with the firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. Four more states seceded after war was declared: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The first battle of the war at Bull Run, near Manassas Junction, Virginia, ended in a Confederate victory due to poor Union generalship. 1862: The Confederacy started to draft soldiers to meet the demand for troops and the Union followed suit in 1863. The Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single-day battle of the war, occurred in Maryland on September 17, 1862. Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on September 23, following the Union victory at Antietam. 1863: From July 1 to 3, 1863, 92,000 Union troops fought 76,000 Confederates at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The fate of the Confederacy was sealed on July 4 with Union victories at Gettysburg, turning back a Confederate invasion of the North, and Vicksburg, ceding control of the Mississippi River to the Union. The war continued for two more years as the South sought independence and Lincoln demanded union. 1864: Ulysses S. Grant, appointed commander of the Union army following Vicksburg, crafted a more aggressive military offensive than previous generals. It included a march of destruction into the heart of the South by General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Grant’s own assault on Lee in Virginia. Sherman’s men captured and burned Atlanta in September 1864. Grant’s engagements with Lee involved destructive battles including the Wilderness Campaign and the assault on Cold Harbor. 1865: Union troops captured Richmond and surrounded Lee in April. On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. On April 15, 1865, President Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet and Vice-President Andrew Johnson assumed office.
Military Reconstruction ended in the South with the Compromise of 1877. The compromise solved a political impasse caused by the close election of 1876 in which Democratic nominee Samuel J. Tilden gained more popular votes than his Republican opponent Rutherford B. Hayes, but not a majority of electoral votes. The southern states of Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina each submitted two sets of returns, one Democratic and one Republican. The Compromise consisted of the Electoral Count Act which established a commission drawn from the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court to count disputed votes. Even this commission split on partisan lines. The Compromise prevented further deadlock by recommending that Hayes become president in exchange for withdrawing federal troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. As a result, Republicans abandoned efforts to ensure equality for African Americans and Democrats regained control of southern politics.
The Spanish-American War was triggered by the explosion of the Maine on February 15, 1898, in Havana harbor. American officials refused to accept the Spanish report that the cause of the explosion was internal and accidental. On April 11, 1898, President William McKinley asked Congress to authorize armed intervention against Spain to free the oppressed Cubans. The Navy, commanded by Commodore George Dewey, sailed into Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1 and with the assistance of military troops, captured it on August 13, a day after the armistice was signed. Hawaii was annexed by the United States on July 7 to secure a coaling and supply station in the Pacific Ocean. The “Rough Riders,” led by Theodore Roosevelt, rushed San Juan Hill, Cuba, on July 1 and the American fleet destroyed Spanish ships in Santiago Harbor, Cuba, on July 3. Disease ravaged U.S. forces; 400 died in battle or due to injuries while more than 5,000 succumbed to malaria, typhoid, dysentery, and yellow fever. In peace negotiations late in 1898, the Cubans received their freedom from Spanish rule, and the United States acquired Puerto Rico, the island of Guam, and the Philippines.
In 1914 World War I began in Europe, triggered when a Serb assassinated the heir to the Austria-Hungary throne. The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and later Turkey and Bulgaria faced off against the Allies including France, Britain, and later Japan and Italy. President Woodrow Wilson declared neutrality but both the Central Powers and the Allies sought U.S. support. England and France benefited from American products which aided their war efforts and businessmen in the United States prospered even as anti-German sentiment increased. Trade with the Central Powers was limited because Britain controlled shipping channels in the Atlantic and diverted U.S. ships to British ports. German U-boats (submarines) sank the British passenger liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, at the cost of 128 American lives. Wilson won re-election in 1916 on the assumption that he would not ask Congress for a declaration of war but Germany announced its plan to wage unlimited submarine warfare in early 1917 and sank four U.S. merchant marine vessels in March. On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war. After the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) arrived in France, the German threat increased, and the Allied forces united under French Marshal Foch. By September, General John J. Pershing demanded separate command. The U.S. troops under Pershing participated in the last major offensive of the war, the Meuse-Argonne which lasted 42 days and involved 1.2 million U.S. troops. In the battle of Argonne Forest, one-tenth of all U.S. troops died in the heavy fighting. Germans surrendered on November 11, 1918. Peace negotiations began late in 1918 and continued into 1919.
The Great Depression began in 1929, with the Stock Market Crash on Tuesday, October 29. President Herbert Hoover’s efforts to slow the speculation in paper profits through the Federal Reserve Board had little effect. In October, U.S. and foreign investors began selling shares at a panic pace. The stock market fluctuated considerably during the Fall of 1929. Erratic sales on “Black Thursday,” October 24, caused investors concern and on October 29, “Black Tuesday,” 16,410,030 shares were sold on the stock exchange. By late 1929, investors lost $40 billion in paper values, an amount greater than total U.S. expenditures for World War I. The collapse of the stock market preceded a world-wide economic depression. All industrialized nations suffered. By the end of 1930, more than 4 million workers were jobless in the United States and by 1932, 12 million were unemployed.
The United States entered World War II in 1941 on both the Pacific and European fronts. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, prompted the United States to declare war on Japan. Germany responded by declaring war on the United States. Nearly 15 million men and more than 200,000 women enlisted. More than six million women worked outside the home to keep the economy going. In 1942 U.S. troops invaded north Africa and in 1943 the Allied troops invaded Italy. Also in 1943 the Japanese were driven from Guadalcanal. On June 6, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower led 3 million Allied troops in the cross-channel invasion of France, landing at Normandy and pushing German forces out of France, liberating Paris in August. Adolf Hitler countered with a concentrated attack on American forces in the Ardennes forest on December 16, 1944. Over ten days, the German advance was stalled and then repulsed in the Battle of the Bulge. Eisenhower’s troops advanced through Germany, meeting Soviet troops at the river Elbe in April 1945 and pushed on to Berlin. President Franklin Roosevelt died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, nearly a month before German officials surrendered unconditionally on May 7. May 8 is designated V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). War with Japan continued with the United States dropping fire bombs on Tokyo, March 9-10, 1945, in an effort to force its unconditional surrender. On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on the military-base city of Hiroshima. A total of 180,000 were killed or missing. A second bomb fell on the naval-base city of Nagasaki on August 9 with 80,000 killed or missing. The Japanese agreed to surrender on August 10 if their emperor Hirohito remained as head of state. The surrender ceremony occurred on the U.S.S. Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
The year 1957 marked the start of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. On October 4, the Soviets launched the world’s first space satellite, called Sputnik and one month later launched Sputnik II, which carried a dog into space. The Communist success caused U.S. military and political leaders concern because it appeared to narrow the gap between the “backward” Soviet Union and the United States. Scientists quickly developed a small satellite and launched it in early 1958. The education system in the United States also came under scrutiny. The National Defense and Education Act, passed in 1958, authorized $887 million for loans and grants to improve science, mathematics, and language education.
Apollo 11 lands on the Moon, the first time humans have ventured to a planet other than Earth. For the first time, two humans landed on the moon.
End of the Cold War