Viking expeditions to Canada—The first exploration of the American continents by Europeans that was definitely recorded in the historical records of the time is the voyage of Leif Ericsson, which occurred around 1000 A.D. The height of Viking exploration and expansion were the 9th through 11th centuries, during an extended period of "global warming", when the climates of Iceland, Greenland, and the Nordic countries are thought to have been considerably more temperate than they currently are. Leif Ericson's voyages occurred during this period, and he reported finding so many grapes and berries in the regions of Canada he discovered (probably the coast of Newfoundland), that he referred to the region as Vineland.
Although the Viking explorers found the harbors and climate of the new continent to their liking, the land was populated by hostile natives. Since they were greatly outnumbered, they abandoned the colony after a few years. Their journey, however, was recorded in the Icelandic Chronicles of the age.
The two most famous Spanish explorers of the southern United States were Ponce de Leon, and Hernando De Soto. Both were ambitious explorers, driven by prospects of riches and glory. Ponce de Leon was a governor of Puerto Rico, who led several expeditions to Florida in early 1500's supposedly in search of the "Fountain of Youth". Although it is certain he explored the regions, he encountered hostile natives, and failed to find either gold, or magical waters, and he was killed when one of his early settlements was attacked by natives.
Hernando de Soto was already a wealthy and famous conquistador when he undertook an ambitious expedition to the Southeast United States. He played a dramatic role in the conquest of Peru, but sought even more glory for himself, so in 1439, with a party of over 600 men, he embarked on an inland trek through what is now the southeast United States. He traveled for three years several thousand miles from Florida, through Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, before dying in Arkansas. Although he explored a great deal of territory, and is credited with discovering the Mississippi River, his expedition was considered a failure because he failed to find gold or other treasures. His party had many encounters with southeast Indian tribes, the most famous of which was his battle with Tuscaloosa.
Other early Spanish explorers in North America were Cabeza de Vaca, one of the few survivors of the disastrous Panfilo de Narvaez expedition; Pedro Menendez, founder of St. Augustine and first Spanish governor of Florida, and Juan Pardo, who led another disastrous Spanish expedition into the inland territories of the southwest. Far to the west, Francisco de Coronado led an expeditition through New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Although most of his followers returned alive, he failed to find significant cities, gold, or minerals that had been the object of his expedition. The Spaniards did not establish a permanent colony in the west for another fifty years, when Juan de Onate founded the city of Santa Fe.
Whereas the early Spanish explorers sought gold and often enslaved natives to work on their mines or plantations, the French primarily sought to trade furs and developed positive relationships with the Indians. French Jesuits, such as Isaac Jogues, and other missionaries lived among the Indians and attempted to convert them to Christianity without disrupting their livelihood. In most of its wars with the British colonies in later years, the French depended heavily on the support of their Indian allies.
The most important French exploration and expansion in the New World occurred in the early 17th century. Samuel de Champlain founded the permanent settlements of Quebec and Montreal. Pere Marquette and Joliett explored the upper Mississippi and Great Lakes region, and Rene La Salle led an expedition from the Great Lakes to the mouth of the Mississippi, claiming the entire Mississippi Valley for France.
The first explorer to sail to the New World under the English flag was John Cabot, who sailed for Henry VII only a few years after Columbus. He landed briefly in Newfoundland and claimed the territory for England, but further English exploration did not occur for another fifty years. The reign of Queen Elizabeth was the hey-day of English exploration, when English sailors such as Martin Frobisher, Humphrey Gilbert, and John Davis explored the northern regions of Canada, in search of a Northwest passage. Meanwhile Walter Raleigh and Richard Grenville worked unsuccessfully to establish a British colony at Roanoke in Virginia, and other famous sailors, such as Thomas Cavendish and Francis Drake, sailed around the southern tip of the Americas and harrassed the Spanish galleons in the region.
The most important English explorer of the age was Henry Hudson, after whom both the Hudson river in New York, and Hudson Bay in Canada, are named. He was a fearless explorer, but was killed when his crew mutinied, and cast him and his son adrift in Hudson Bay. By the time the English planted permanent colonies in the New World, a great deal of the coastline had been charted, trade with Indians had already been established and ambitious fishermen had already discovered the shoals of cod off the coast of Newfoundland.
English Settlement in the New World began in earnest near the beginning of the 17th century, over 100 years after Spanish explorers first discovered the continent. By that time, the the Spanish empire had become over-extended and English sailors had proven their ability to resist Spanish domination.
An important factor that drove colonial development in the 17th century was the growing religious and political strife in England. The "Royalist" faction supported a strong monarchy and favored the traditional Anglican Church. The "Parliament" faction favored freedom of worship and more rights for democratic assemblies. As power in England shifted between these poles, disgruntled Englishmen sought refuge in the colonies. In general, Royalists tended to migrate to Virginia and Puritans tended to migrate to New England, but many colonists came to the New World for personal as well as political reasons. The colonial population grew to about 300,000 by the end of the 17th century, and to over 2 million by the time of the Revolutionary War. The most important early settlements were in Virginia and Massachusetts, and for almost one hundred years, most English colonial development was along the 600 miles of coastline between these two cities.
While the relationship of the colonists with the surrounding Indians was never good, Chief Powhatan stayed at peace with the Virginia colonists. Shortly after his death, however, the next Powhatan rose against the colonists and massacred hundreds of white settlers. The ensuing Powhatan Wars nearly obliterated the local tribes. A generation later, however, Indian trouble rose again, and was at the root of Nathaniel Bacon's Rebellion. It occurred when a group of rural farmers, led by Nathaniel Bacon, sought a commission to fight Indians that threatened their remote farms, and were able to get no help from Governor William Berkeley.
The population of Virginia and nearby regions swelled greatly during the English Civil Wars, when it became a refuge for Royalists. Many landed, aristocratic families sought to rebuild their fortunes there, and imported slaves from Africa in order to establish large plantations. Several generations later, Virginia was one of the most prosperous and populated colonies.
Perhaps the most idealistic founder of a colony was James Oglethorpe, who founded Georgia as a refuge for debtors. He prohibited both slavery and rum in his colony and envisioned a society of sober, self-sufficient farmers. But shortly after his death, the new governors reversed these prohibitions, and Georgia became a slave-owning state.
Although the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts Colony sought religious freedom for themselves, they were intolerant of those whose ideas of worship differed from their own. For that reason, religious dissenters, such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, left Massachusetts to found nearby colonies in Connecticut and Rhode Island. In this way, the idea of religious pluralism—the idea that people were free to form independent communities of faith, rather than submit to a single religious authority, took firm hold in the colonies, at a time when most European nations had an established church.
The relationship between the British colonists and the New England Indians was complicated by intertribal rivalries. Indians tribes, such as the Wampanoag, who originally befriended the Pilgrims, did so partly because they were too weak to stand against their Indian enemies, and nearly two generations later, when they did decide to oppose the colonists, it was because they preferred to fight the white settlers than to retreat into the terrain of their mortal enemies, the Iroquois. King Philip's War was a devastating war, costing the lives of over 500 colonists, but utterly destroying the native Indian population of New England.
French colonies in America were not as numerous, or as populated as English settlements, partly because France refused to permit religious dissidents to develop colonies. Colonization was directed by the central government rather than private companies, and many of the early settlers were Catholic missionaries, intent on converting the native population. The French relied much more on their Indian allies for both trading and military support, and many French settlers married Indian women. For this reason the Indian allies of the French were numerous and loyal, and a major threat to the English colonies.
Rebellion in the Colonies—The revolutionary period in American history began with the victory of England over France in the French Indian Wars. As long as France controlled territories to the North and west of the English colonies and England's army was required to fend off the French and their Indian allies, there was no talk of rebellion. In 1759, General Wolfe conquered the French capital of Quebec for England, and soon after all of North America was in English hands. Once the French threat was relieved, the colonists no longer desired British troops in the colonies and resented being taxed to provide for services they no longer saw as necessary.
In the years leading up to the war, a series of laws were passed by the British parliament that affected the colonies. The purpose of most of these laws was to raise revenue from the colonies, control colonial trade, and suppress rebellion. The Stamp Act was the most famous of these laws and it was so unpopular that it encouraged resistance and boycotts in the throughout the colonies. The Boston Massacre, a riot during with British soldiers fired on citizens, and the Boston Tea Party, during which patriots sabotaged a cargo of British Tea, were two well-known incidents of patriot resistance, but even more hurtful to British interests were widespread boycotts and smuggling. All these measures made it difficult for Britain to raise revenues, and strengthened colonial resistance.
Instead of softening its stance towards the colonies, Britain passed more oppressive laws to retaliate against rebellion, and in 1774 the First Continental Congress was called to organize an economic boycott. Although there was considerable disagreement among the delegates, all agreed that a unified resistance to Britain was necessary. Only a year later the first battles of the war were fought at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill.
The early fighting of the Revolutionary War involved the defense of the city of Boston, and the conquest of Fort Ticonderoga. These events were related because once Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen took the northern fort, almost all its cannon and munitions were moved to Boston, and the British soldiers there were driven out. This successful campaign gave confidence to many wavering patriots and encouraged the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The important campaigns of the following year, 1776-1777, saw the conquest of New York by British General Howe, and patriot victories at Trenton and Princeton led by George Washington. The most critical campaign of the war, however, was fought the following year in upstate New York. The Saratoga campaign began in Canada as General Burgoyne's army recaptured Ticonderoga and headed south towards New York City. The Patriots won several important battles, culminating in the victory at Saratoga, where Burgoyne's army of over 6000 men were forced to surrender, thanks largely to the heroism of Benedict Arnold.
The Patriot victory at Saratoga was a significant blow to Britain, and a critical factor in the decision of France to ally itself with the new nation and declare war on Britain. The war in the colonies was unpopular in Britain to begin with and the situation became dramatically worse when France entered the war in 1778. France's greatest contribution as an ally was not in helping the American patriots fend of Britain directly, but rather, they drew England into a worldwide naval war, forcing her to defend her far flung colonies. France's involvement made it impossible for Britain to bring the rebellion in America to a swift close, making victory almost certain for the patriots if they could hold out long enough.
Unfortunately, the Patriots were even more hard-pressed in terms of resources than the British. Washington suffered a series of defeats at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth between 1777 and 1778. The losses, however, were not debilitating, and once it was heard that France had joined the war, morale greatly improved. Most of the major battles in the last few years of the war were in the south, most critically at Camden, Eutaw Springs, and Yorktown. By 1781 it was clear that Britain did not have either the will or the resources to defeat the patriots, but due to the complicated worldwide conflict with France, peace was not declared for two years.
The problems with the Articles of Confederation were apparent very early. They gave each state great autonomy, reserving only a few powers, such as conducting foreign policy, to the federal government. The weak central government, however, had no mechanism to enforce even the few powers that were reserved to it. Some problems that arose during the early years often involved money and revenues, while others were caused by the inability of the legislature to pass any laws without a 9 of 13 majority.
A number of the founding fathers were in favor of a stronger central government, and called a constitutional convention in 1787 to work out the details. As expected, there was disagreement among the states regarding how to organize the federal government, but eventually a compromise was reached. Important features of the new constitution involved a strong executive branch, a two-house legislature, and an independent judiciary. In order to encourage skeptics to accept the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published the Federalist Papers, defending the precepts of the American Constitution. It was ratified in 1788, and George Washington was elected the first president by a unanimous vote.
Early Presidents—The early years of the new Republic were prosperous and optimistic. George Washington provided leadership and credibility at a critical time, and Alexander Hamilton and others worked hard to resolve contentious economic issues. The first five presidents were all founding fathers, committed to republican ideals, and all sought to increase commerce and keep the nation out of war as long as possible.
The greatest boon to befall the United States in its early years was the Louisiana Purchase. The claim that Napoleon had to the territory was somewhat dubious in the first place, but Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of establishing the rights of the United States to settle the region, so he arranged the purchase and and sent Merriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the territory as soon as possible.
The United States did fight two wars during its early years, both brought about by the necessity of protecting American shipping and commerce. The first was against the Barbary Pirates of the Mediterranean, who began attacking American ships as soon as they stopped flying under the British flag. The Barbary War was a naval operation lasting almost 14 years that established the United States as an independent sea power.
The second war was the War of 1812 with Britain, in order to oppose trade restrictions brought about by the ongoing continental wars. The official casus belli had to do with British tyranny at sea, but other issues included the British support of northwest Indian tribes who attacked settlers on the American frontier, and disputes regarding the Canadian border. The War of 1812 involved several important naval battles, land battles on the western frontier, and the conquest of Washington D.C. by the British, and was finally resolved by a treaty.
The first American settlement in the Ohio Valley was at Marietta, founded by Rufus Putnam, a Revolutionary War General. Several battles between the settlers and the Northwest Indians were fought over the next ten years, and Ohio became the 17th state admitted to the Union in 1803. Ten years later, Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader, sought to organize the Ohio valley tribes to resist encroachment of the colonists. His cause was lost when the Shawnee were defeated by William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, but he continued to resist the colonists by joining forces with the British during the War of 1812. He was killed in the conflict, but his honor and courage during the war won him respect among whites as well as Indians.
The most resilient of the Southern tribes were the Seminoles, led by the fierce warrior Osceola. The Seminoles were not a purely a native tribe, but were a collection of peoples that included runaway slaves from the southern colonies, Creek Indians who refused to be relocated, and Florida tribes that traded with the Spanish. In 1830, the United States resolved to remove most southern Indian tribes to Oklahoma territory, and during this time Oscoela, who was himself of mixed Indian-Anglo heritage, arose to lead Indian resistance. He led a valiant resistance and beat the Americans in most engagements until he was treacherously captured and imprisoned during "peace talks" with the U.S. Army. The Seminoles fought on for years after the death of Osceola, but were eventually driven from Florida.
While British inventors were responsible for many important inventions of the industrial era, such as the Steam Engine, power loom, and the Railroad, American inventors also contributed. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, a development that transformed the whole economy of the south. Robert Fulton introduced the first commercial steam-boat in 1807. Samuel Morse oversaw construction of the first telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore in 1838. And Cyrus McCormick demonstrated his mechanical reaper in 1831. All these inventions, along with dramatic improvements in transportation brought about by railroads and canals, transformed the American economy and brought enormous prosperity to the region in a short period of time.
From the earliest years of Independence, many American frontiersmen and ambitious statesmen desired to annex Spanish territories north of the Rio Grande. In the early 1800's vice-president Aaron Burr plotted to start a war with Spain and sieze its territories, but nothing came of the effort. In the 1820's, when Mexico declared itself independent from Spain, American operatives supported the most radical Republican faction, knowing that a divided Mexico would be easier to partition than a country with a strong central government. While U.S. interference cannot be blamed for the chaotic state of Mexican government, disorder south of the border served long-term American interests.
The border incident that set off the Mexican American War was a flimsy excuse for a war that was fought explicity to force Mexico to cede territory. No terms other than surrender of all Mexican claims to territories in the American southwest were considered, and after soundly defeating the armies sent against them in Northern Mexico, the United States sent a Naval expedition and fought its way to the capital city in order to affect an unconditional surrender. Mexico, which had already been weakened by years of civil war, was unable to resist, and in 1848 ceded most of the territory that later became the American states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
During the early 19th century the political interests of the north and south diverged sharply on other issues besides slavery. The north had industrialized while the south remained largely dependent on cotton, and the states differed on tariffs, states' rights, and foreign policy. As more states were admitted to the union, southern politicians became fearful that the critical balance of power between free and slave states would be in jeopardized. In 1820 the Missouri Compromise was passed, an act which attempted to force the balance of power.
The issue arose again in 1850, when California sought to be admitted as a free state, and this time, the dispute was papered over with the Kansas-Nebraska act and Fugitive Slave Law. Both of these acts, however, were controversial and created more problems than they solved. At the same time, opposition to slavery in the north was becoming more strident and in 1854 the Republican Party was formed. Led by anti-slavery activists, it quickly became the dominant political party in the North. When Abraham Lincoln, an outspoken opponent of slavery was elected president, the southern states realized they could not maintain their institutions under a Republican government and voted to secede. By the time Abraham Lincoln took office, in March 1861, seven states had voted to leave the Union, and the country was on the brink of war.
The war got off to a rough start in the north. Union forays into central Virginia during the first two years of the war resulted in a series of defeats and inconclusive battles. The southern states were well-drilled and led by Robert E. Lee, an exceptional commander. Lincoln struggled to find a general for the Union troops with comparable skill and replaced the commander-in-chief several times in the first few years.
In spite of battlefield losses in Virginia, the North made excellent progress on several important fronts. It used its navy to good effect by taking several key southern ports and blockading most ships provisioning the south. In 1862, the Union navy under Admiral Farragut took New Orleans and closed off access to the Mississippi River from the south. The navy then worked its way up the river, cutting off Confederate access to supplies from their western allies.
Late Battles: 1863-1865—By the summer of 1863 the Confederacy was surrounded and cut off from outside provisions, but the Union still had not taken significant Confederate territory. However, Grant's success in the west convinced Lincoln that he was the man to lead the Union armies, and from the time he was appointed commander-in-chief, the Union took a much more aggressive stand.
Under Grant's direction, William Sherman took command in the west and conducted his famous "March to the Sea" across Georgia, destroying everything in his path. This further weakened the Confederacy and isolated Lee's army, who were still resisting Union forces in Virginia. Grant understood that the North could survive a war of attrition much better than the South, so he forced Lee to fight continuous battles on all sides. The Confederates were irrepressible, but Grant did not retreat even after suffering losses. Unable to get adequate provisions or replace men lost in battle, Lee understood he had no other option and surrendered at Appomattox in April 1865.
Five days after Lee's surrender, President Lincoln was assassinated and the leader who could have been most effective in healing the wounds of war was lost to history.
There was no easy way forward for the south after the war, but vicious partisan politics managed to make things worse. Both Lincoln and Johnson favored a gradual reconciliation with the south and did not want to impose harsh terms on ex-confederates. The Radical Republicans in congress, however, sought to force the south to change their economic structure, grant equal rights to freedmen immediately, and backed a military occupation of the region to enforce their agenda. They first dis-enfranchised all men who had taken arms against the Union and then worked with former slaves to elect their Republican allies to Congress.
The intentions of many of the Republican reformers were good, but the southerners could not be coerced. Many southern states willingly passed the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, but balked at the 14th amendment, which guarentees "equal protection" to all citizens. Southerners who had been stripped of their ability to govern themselves legally felt justified in forming secret societies and militias to oppose the northern schemes. The Klu Klux Klan was the most famous of these groups, but it was only one of many ways that southerners conspired to frustrate unwelcome interference.
While some progress was made in favor of the freed slaves, the effects of Reconstruction were mostly negative. After the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1877, Congress agreed to remove the federal troops who were propping up Republican governments in the southern states. Left to their own devices, southern whites elected Democrats and passed laws permitting segregation of races.
The decades following the Civil War were peaceful and prosperous overall but involved a great deal of change and disruption. Economic booms were often followed by busts; large influxes of immigrants enabled a great expansion of industry while at the same time depressing wages, and new inventions created entire newly industries while displacing old ones. Although the overall standard of living of most Americans improved during the late 19th century, it improved more for some than others, and many large fortunes were concentrated in a few hands. Even worse, almost all the growth occurred in the North and West, leaving the post-confederate south still economically backward and segregated.
1) Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the movie camera, the lightbulb, the electrical grid system and many other familiar items. 2) James Eads built the first road and rail bridge across the Mississippi river. He later designed a jetty system for the Mississippi river. 3) Charles Goodyear invented a system to vulcanize, or toughen rubber. 4) Alexander Graham Bell invented the Telephone. 5) Orville and Wilbur Wright invented the Airplane. 6) George Eastman invented photographic film. 7) Cyrus Field layed the first transatlantic cable.In addition to these heroes of invention, there were a great many fortunes made by titans of industry who came to dominate a growing field. Among the most famous industrialists and bankers of the late 19th century were these. 1) John Rockefeller controlled Standard Oil Co. 2) Andrew Carnegie dominated the Steel Industry. 3) Cornelius Vanderbilt built his empire on shipping and railroads. 4) Henry Ford built the first automotive empire. 5) J. P. Morgan made much of his fortune in Banking and Electrification projects.
Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy—Late 19th century presidents included Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley. It was an era of party politics and political bosses, and one of the important issues of the days was "civil service" reform. This issue came to the forefront when James Garfield was assassinated by an office seeker. There was need of reform in many other areas of govenment as well, since the age of large fortunes and monopolies inevitably led to political corruption and backroom deals. Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, had a reputation for integrity and was elected for two terms with the help of Reform-minded Republicans.
In the realm of foreign policy, the main conflict in the post Civil War era was the Spanish American War. The war was provoked by war-mongering journalists who favored Cuban independence from Spain. When the Maine exploded in the Havana harbor, Americans considered it an act of war, even though there was no proof of Spanish involvement. The war was one-sided, lasted only a few months, and ended with American possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
Two famous reform movements of the early 20th century required amendments to the constitution. These were the prohibition of alcohol (18th amendment, passed 1917), and women's suffrage (19th amendment, passed 1919). Many other reform movements resulted in Acts of Congress. A few examples of this were Anti-trust Acts of 1890 and 1915 and the Civil Service reform act of 1883.
Social reform movements were popular across the political spectrum in the early twentieth century. Both Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, were considered leaders of the "progressive movement". Roosevelt was a critic of business monopolies and known as a "trust buster". At the same time he was a conservationalist, and helped to establish the national park system. He was also a science and technology enthusiast, and promoted the building of the Panama canal, the most ambitious technological feat of the age. Wilson promoted laws that prohibited child labor, imposed an 8-hour work day, helped farmers get loans, and opposed business monopolies.
By 1848, the United States had established state governments in the entire region east of the Mississippi, and had wrestled control of much of the American southwest from Mexico. Within fifty years the rest of the mainland was settled and all but five of the eventual 50 states were admitted to the union.
At the time the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, there were about 1500 Americans and non-Hispanic whites in California, and about five times that many Mexican Californios. As soon as rumors of hostilities reached the settlers a small group of Americans and other foreigners seized the garrison at Sonoma and declared California an Independent Republic. As soon as John C. Fremont arrived on the scene however, they turned over control of the government to the American army.
Scarcely a year after Mexico ceded California to the the United States, gold was discovered at John Sutter's Mill, and the immigrant population swelled. Speculators came from all over the world, including hundreds of immigrants from China. Within a year, California became the 31st state in the union. At first almost all settlers came by boat, so San Francisco became the largest and most important commercial center in the region. In 1869, only twenty years after gold was discovered, the first transcontinental railroad made travel easier and opened up a larger areas for settlement.
In the early 19th century both Britain and the United States had fur-trading operations in the Pacific Northwest, but neither founded permanent settlements. Beginning slowly in the 1830's and much faster after 1846, a steady stream of pioneers began to settle the area. Marcus Whitman started one of the first missionary settlements in the region in 1836 and seven years later lead the first wagon train into southwest Washington (before they were massacred by Indians). Other early settlers, such as the Denny Party that settled Seattle in 1851, arrived by boat.
Once the boundary disputes between the United States and Canada were resolved, migration to the Northwest states began in earnest. Over 400,000 pioneers arrived by way of the Oregon Trail, and when the transcontinental railroad system became established, the population of all the Northwest states grew so quickly that all of the northwest States, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, were admitted to the union by 1890. Six years later, gold was discovered in the Klondike, and the economy boomed.
The American Indian unit of Heritage Academy's Early American course is under development. At this time, most study questions about American Indians are interspersed with those of the Colonial Era, Early Republic, and Westward Expansion units. We plan to add additional books on this topic and develop a more comprehensive approach in the future. For the time being, however, we have completed a core reading list, a timeline, and a list of prominent characters.