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Starting government: Liberalism
The United States of America is unique in that it was the first of several modern nations to consist entirely of the descendents of migrants settled in a new land in known history, compared to other contemporary republics such as those of the Netherlands or Italy, which were founded around a self-identified region (Netherlands) or long-established culture (Italy). The only other precedents notable of having the same political development were Carthage and the Greek colonies of ancient antiquity, but even so these nations had long perished by the time the American Constitution was ratified and sanctioned as law of the fledgling American nation.
Initially composed of communities of Protestant Anglo-Saxons and assimilated Amerindian tribes settled upon the Atlantic seaboard, this nation was formed in the crucible of a bitter uprising against the British, abetted by the French and Spanish, then expanded westward while assimilating new migrants from Europe and Asia. The United States first chose to cut itself off from the world and concentrated on the New World, deeming it its own sphere of influence, but eventually became strong enough to emerge as a global superpower in its own right, beginning in the middle of the Great War in 1917.
Although human habitation of the Americas is as old as time itself, and evidence of large, complex and prosperous civilisations have been unearthed in the form of archeological finds throughout Canada and the Southern United States, as well as having been attested to by Spanish visitors, it was not until the end of the 16th century that America began to make its presence felt globally. By then, Spain had seized Central America and was feeling her way around California and the Gulf Coast, while attempting to keep the Dutch, the French, the English and other European powers away from her gold-rich possessions. All four of these nations contributed something of their own culture that is still present to this day in modern America.
The Thirteen ColoniesBy the time of Elizabeth I's demise in 1603, the English had established several colonies along the East Atlantic Coast of North America. Chief among the reasons for doing so were to frustrate Spanish attempts at control of the Atlantic, as well as to accumulate exotic commodities for resale in England. These colonies were located mostly in Newfoundland and further south, centred around the colonial capital of Jamestown in what is present-day Virginia, named so after EIizabeth, who was known as the "Virgin Queen."
Life for the first few colonists from Europe was not a cakewalk. The English, however, were not the only European powers present in North America. The French were gaining footholds in present-day Canada, and were also engaged in costly rivalry with the Spanish in the Gulf of Mexico. In between Virginia and Newfoundland, the Dutch were making their presence felt at Nieuw Amsterdam (present-day New York), while the Swedes had settled upon the Delaware River. All this meant that clashes between the English and other European powers — especially with the French — were eventually inevitable. Equally troublesome were the native tribes. Despite being small and disunited, the many tribes settled in the region meant that resources were scarce, and everyone clashed often with one another. Although the English colonial government attempted to cool things down, tensions continue to build between the Virginian English and the local tribes, particularly the Powhatans, Narragansetts and Pequots, eventually leading to hostility between colonist and native alike. In the 18th century, these rivalries would be capitalised upon by England and France alike, each nation supporting a local tribe to raid their rivals and enemies.
Unlike developments in Canada and Australasia where most migrants were predominantly Anglo-Irish in nature, America was and has always been described as racially heterogeneous, especially with the addition of further European enclaves and the extensive use of slaves purchased from West Africa. Through a series of wars with the Netherlands and France, Britain managed to assimilate their possessions in North America into its American colonies. It is often suggested by scholars that the American republican constitution was inspired by the Dutch who were then under a republican government, although any links suggesting such have only proved to be insignificant.
The American Revolution
Nevertheless, the loosening of relations between Britain and the Colonies was inevitable. The first crisis may have been precipitated by George III's Royal Proclamation if 1763, which forbade further westward colonial expansion of the Thirteen Colonies in North America. While this was meant to ensure that British control over her increasingly burgeoning overseas empire could be consolidated, it also meant that the ability for the white landowner class in America to amass more real estate would be severely curtailed, without doubt causing resentment by the colonists. Over the next eleven years, more controversial legislation would be enacted by Westminster. Dubbed the Intolerable Acts, this legislation did not deal with taxation alone, but also with the conduct of the Royal Army in the Thirteen Colonies and also - in the case of the Boston Port Act of 1774 - to punish dissent and nonconformance. In this instance, the Boston Port Act sought the closure of Boston harbour as a means to punish the locals of Boston for the Boston Tea Party, in which shipments of tea were destroyed in a riot.
Although Westminster felt that these laws were fairly just, most colonists did not see them as such, and soon anti-British sentiment began to build up throughout American cities. A Continental Congress of all American cities was formed, while militia were raised to resist British troops. The first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in at dawn on 15 April, 1775 when the Royal Army moved in to apprehend local militias and their arms. The Congress declared independence on 4 July, 1776, but it would take seven years of bloody conflict throughout the Thirteen Colonies, abetted by France, the Netherlands and Spain, before the British Crown was made to accept the permanent loss of its colonies (although the northern half remained loyal to the mother country).
With the end of the war, the revolutionaries began the task of rebuilding the newly born country and a Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia set up the Federal Government, which hasnow ruled to this present day for more than two centuries. However, this process was not a smooth process: dissension regarding taxation, an issue made thorny by the arbitrary taxation of the colonies by Britain decades ago, made itself felt in several rebellions, which were successfully put down and for a while the future of the United States seemed in doubt.
A fortituous event however settled this issue once and for all: the War of 1812. By 1812, Britain was at war with Napoleon's France, and while the Americans were generally left alone, Franco-American traffic incensed the British, who incited raids by Native Indians on American territory in an attempt to destabilise the United States. Fought along the border with Canada and on the high seas, the war was inconclusive — on one hand, the Americans outwitted the Royal Navy, but on the other hand they could not penetrate into Canada, where they faced staunch opposition from Crown loyalists and even ethnic French disquieted with American anti-Catholicism. Peace was concluded in 1814 with the Treaty of Ghent, finally consolidating both American and British spheres in North America to this very day, but even then American suspicions of the outside world would result in mistrust of European power politics, culminating in the 1823 Monroe Doctrine which recognised further European expansionism in the Western Hemisphere as an act of war against the United States.
Expansion and Manifest Destiny
Although the American explorers Lewis and Clark had managed to reach the Pacific Coast and return back by 1806, it wasn't until the curbing of British power in North America and the purchase of French Louisiana (then covering not just the modern state of the same name but the entire middle United States) that the process of expansion and consolidation of American power could begin. Yet once this was done, scores of pioneers would now leave their homes in wagons, and move on until they found a new spot of land that took their fancy, build their home and then claim the land as their own. It was this lifestyle and the availability of unclaimed land and thus the opportunities posed that lured Americans westward into the hinterlands of uncharted territory, and migrants from war-weary Europe into American cities, beginning a precedent for the next two or so centuries to come.
Of course, however, this process was not always peaceful and was downright controversial. The seemingly unpopulated lands west of the Mississipi were in fact the home of scores of aboriginal peoples, and as westward migration intensified over the next few decades, relations between settler and native were often strained and resulted in violence. These so-called "Indian Wars" were fought between a variety of parties, but the result was usually the same: in the long run, Amerindian tribes would be dispossessed of their lands and eventually deprived of their own culture, especially if they had previously been nomadic hunter-gatherers, which did not endear them to the more agriculturally minded and sedentary white colonists.
However, as much as the Indian Wars have fascinated people, no one war with a rival nation or tribe ever completely changed the Americans as much as the Mexican War did.
The Mexican War and the Civil War
And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.
— John L O' Sullivan, 19th century American journalist
By 1821, Mexico was finally free of Spanish domination after almost three centuries. The new country was impoverished, war-weary and devastated, and one of the biggest challenges to the new government was economic growth. Thus, it was decided that colonists from the United States would be settled in Texas to grow food and build infrastructure. However, the Texans had other ideas: they would rather grow more profitable cotton, which could only be successfully cultivated using manual labour, in other words, via the use of slaves, which was also illegal in Mexico. Naturally, the Texans resented government intervention and took to arms in 1836. Despite British and French advice to recognise Texas, Mexico stubbornly continued, the government issuing an ultimatum to the United States that any attempt to annex Texas would result in war. War broke out in 1846 with the 1845 inclusion of Texas as one of the American states, but Mexico obtained more than she bargained for: American troops invaded Mexico, and imposed a humiliating treaty, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which forced Mexico to cede Texas and other territories to the United States of America. Overnight, Mexico was shorn of almost one-third of its territory, a humiliation which Mexican irredentists have not forgotten to this day.
Despite being victors, the Americans were not spared either. The brutality and horror of the long 9-year conflict between Mexico and her Texan and American opponents horrified the American public once they were made known. Equally disquieting to critics at home was the American government's preying on a weaker country, which smacked of the "tyrannical" regimes of Old Europe which they were eager for their nation to avoid, but the worst was yet to come.
For many decades, the American public had been debating the virtues of slavery. The northern United States, with its increasingly industrialised society, spoke out against it, even as the southern gentry depended greatly on agriculture and were unhappy about abolitionist sentiment, because they would lose greatly, financially, should abolition be introduced to their lands. The addition of slaveholding Texas resulted in the battle over pro-abolitionist and pro-slavery factions in the United States destabilised the political equilibrium at home, and suspicions began to mount into general unrest. Northerners feared the expansion of influence by slave-owning states in government; southerners rebelled against what they saw as increasing ultra vires interference by the Federal government. At the end of 1860, South Carolina seceded from the United States, citing the "tyrannical" rule of the Federal government. This was the formation of the Confederate States of America, also known as the Confederacy.
This was the start of the American Civil War, the very first conflict of the industrial era. The following year, Confederate rebels eventually seized Fort Sumter, resulting in a retaliatory strike by the Federal Government, but this turned a revolt into a full-blown war, as more and more states seceded to join the Confederacy. Although the Confederacy fielded skilled veterans of the Mexican War and the Indian Wars, the Union made up for this inadequacy in materiel and manpower: not only did they blockade the coast, but they also had the lion's share of industrial strength, as well as other resources which would be highly vital to the war effort: telegraphy and railway. Nevertheless, the war was a bloody and bitter attritional struggle which could only be accomplished once the Confederacy's resources began to give way. By 1865, Union troops had reached the Confederate capital of Richmond, finally subjugating the rebels once and for all. The war finally came to an end.
The Gilded Age
With the preservation of the Union and the power of America as a coherent entity intact, America continued to grow stronger as industry and social progress encroached their way across the continent to the Pacific. With the purchase of Alaska from Russia, and the annexation of Hawai'i as well as the remaining parts of Spain's overseas colonies after the Spanish-American War of 1898, America ruled supreme and was the largest country in the world, dwarfed only by the British Empire, Tsarist Russia and Qing China at the onset of the 20th century. American shipping traded with the entire world, especially in the Far East with China, while the assimilation of migrants from both east and west meant that the best minds and strongest bodies were often at America's disposal.
However, it would be mistaken to think that peace and plenty were enjoyed by all. On one hand, the relative emptiness of America and her seemingly endless riches beckoned all from Europe and Asia to come and seek their fortune and enrich American society through either crafty innovation or brute force. On the other hand, however, racial discrimination and abject poverty continued to fester. Blacks, recently emancipated from slavery following the Civil War, discovered that they were still unable to be fully integrated into American society. The Amerindian tribes fared no better as they were "weaned off" their hunter-gatherer lifestyles and forced to live on reservations, their culture and way of life thoroughly destroyed. The American Civil War only made things worse by pauperising scores of ethnic whites who were then driven westwards to take advantage of the more abundant resources of aboriginal lands. At the same time, American businessmen were sending their money abroad, patronising the caudillos in Latin America into granting concessions even as indigenous peoples continued to live in abject poverty, and social inequality gnawed at the edges of American society. This seeming appearance of American opulence in clashed with these social issues, thus bringing authors such as Mark Twain to dub the years of the 19th century after the American Civil War as "the Gilded Age".
Nevertheless, America continued to weather out these problems as a nation. Despite a stock market crisis in the 1870s, America continued to prosper. Separated from the rest of the world's troubles by the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, America could concentrate on reconstruction and development, while political revolution and the rise of Prussian Germany continued to destabilise Europe. By the end of the Spanish-American War, and the quelling of unrest in China (which was seen as America's sphere of influence in Asia) the American nation was on the verge of becoming a key player in global politics. It was simply a matter of the old Eurocentric colonial powers being dismantled, destroyed or simply dissolved, and then there would be no stopping America from taking its place in the sun as a superpower.