Later, the arriving European settlers discovered the existence of extensive civilizations. In the southern reaches of North America (present-day Mexico and Central America) the Mayan civilization built sophisticated stone structures, developed an advanced numerical system and maintained extensive agricultural complexes. The Aztecs established a far-reaching empire that controlled much of present-day Mexico.
In the northern portions of North America the early native peoples are commonly divided into the following regional groups:
The Eastern Woodland culture was located in the drainage area of the Mississippi River east to the Atlantic Ocean and south from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Various groups of mound builders existed in this region.
The Plains culture existed on the open expanses of present-day Canada and the United States.
The Southwest culture occupied areas in present-day northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Notable within this grouping were the Pueblo societies in present-day New Mexico and Arizona.
The Northwest culture inhabited the coastal regions of the northwestern United States and western Canada
The Subarctic culture stretched across Canada north of the Great Lakes and south of the Arctic tree line, and across much of Alaska
The Arctic culture occupied the treeless expanses in the extreme northern portions of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland
Historical evidence for early European ventures to the New World is in dispute, but it appears that Norsemen, including Leif Eriksson, made voyages to the area toward the end of the 10th century.
Europe lacked the technological skills and motivation to immediately follow the Vikings into the New World. Conditions changed, however, during the 1400s. Portugal emerged as the first nation-state to engage in an organized effort to reach the lucrative Far Eastern markets by means of an all-water route.
Next, Spanish exploration of the New World followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus, 1492-1504. Settlements were established in the hope of finding mineral wealth, converting the native populations to Christianity, and for the thrill of a great adventure.
England and France followed Spain into the Americas in the early 17th century, later to be joined by Holland and, briefly, Sweden.
The white settlements in New England sparked interaction with local Native Americans, notably the Narragansett and the Pequot. The ultimate failure of the relationships was seen in the Pequot War (1637) and King Philip’s War (1675-76).
Britain ruled her worldwide empire, including the American colonies, under the terms of an economic theory known as mercantilism. It was the attempt to enforce this system that provided fuel for the American Revolution.
All of the colonies were to some degree impacted in the 18th century by a Contest for Empire, which pitted the great world powers, France and England, against one another. The most significant North American phase of this conflict was the French and Indian War (1754-63).
Beginning in the mid-1760s, Britain attempted to fine-tune its colonial control through the Stamp Act (1765), the Quartering Act (1765), and Townshend Duties (1767)—all of which tended to inflame public opinion rather than dampen it. Boston became the focus of colonial opposition in the Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773) and the Parliamentary response in the Coercive Acts (1774).
Early military engagements occurred at Bunker Hill (June 1775), in the Canadian campaign (1775-76) and in the South. Later, action shifted to the New York campaign (1776). Washington temporarily reversed a series of defeats at Trenton and Princeton (late 1776 and early 1777), but British forces succeeded in taking Philadelphia in late 1777.
The post-Civil War years witnessed a new industrial era with advances in industrial technology, the building of the transcontinental railroads, and the development of the corporation. The growth of the industrial society depended on the cheap labor of the poor and the immigrants, groups that turned to unions to improve their lives. Opposing sides debated the relative merits of the new capitalism.
The new industrial age featured such titans as John D. Rockefeller, who organized oil trusts to ensure greater profits and less competition; Henry Ford, "father of mass production and the assembly line;" ^Andrew Carnegie, who built the modern steel industry with the integration of all phases of the process; and J.P. Morgan, who marshaled financial resources to form the world’s first billion dollar corporation.
As the railroads began to tie the continent together, the West experienced unparalleled growth that featured mining booms, the growth of a cattle culture and plains farming. The relentless westward push increased friction with resident Native Americans. The Wounded Knee Masacre (1890) became the last major uprising of American Indians.
The silver question dominated economic discussions and led to the rise of William Jennings Bryan, a frequent presidential contender. However, the Election of 1896 was a conservative victory, bringing William McKinley to power. His first term was dominated by the war with Spain and the second was cut short by assassination.
A national reform movement known as Progressivism emerged and included advocates of women’s suffrage, municipal reform, state reform, temperance, immigration reform and a host of social reforms. The need for these changes was often expressed in terms of the “Social Gospel” or in the vivid prose of the muckrakers.
McKinley’s assassination in 1901 brought the American hero, Theodore Roosevelt, to the presidency. Breaking with his party, TR pursued a startling array of domestic reform legislation. The Election of 1908 brought in a more conservative leader, William Howard Taft. His domestic policy featured succcessful trust busting, but Taft broke with his predecessor over conservation issues. This split led to the emergence of the Bull Moose Party in the Election of 1912.
Woodrow Wilson benefited from the split between Roosevelt and Taft and continued with Progressive legislation: Federal Reserve Act (1913), Clayton Antitrust Act (1914) and Federal Trade Commission Act (1914).
The Supreme Court acted to counter the Progressives' liberalism in such decisions as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Lochner v. New York (1905). However, Muller v. Oregon (1908) revealed a Court more willing to challenge its laissez faire past.
Emerging from the war as a hero, Roosevelt followed an activist foreign policy, reinterpreting the Monroe Doctrine and engineering the independence of Panama. Taft continued the interventionist policies by sending soldiers to Nicaragua in 1912, in a display of Dollar Diplomacy. Wilson also was a foreign affairs activist, intervening in Santo Domingo and coming close to war with Mexico.
In the Far East, the United States proclaimed an "Open Door" policy for trade with China and mediated the Russo-Japanese War (1905).
War erupted in Europe in August 1914. The U.S. attempted to remain neutral, but its resolve was tested by German submarine warfare. Wilson was returned to office in the Election of 1916, reluctantly using the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Nevertheless, the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, and more than 1.4 million American soldiers served in Europe.
The U.S. sent soldiers to Russia during a civil war following the Bolshevik Revolution.
Postwar efforts were made by the major powers to secure disarmament and extract reparations from the defeated powers.
On the home front, America experienced a Red Scare and the Palmer Raids. Warren G. Harding assumed office after the Election of 1920, an administration tainted by the Teapot Dome Scandal. Calvin Coolidge became president upon Harding’s death and was elected in his own right in 1924. Major trends and events included efforts to limit immigration, the growth of American industry, the Roaring Twenties, and the stock market crash of 1929.
Herbert Hoover was victorious in the Election of 1928 and preached “rugged individualism” as the cure for the country’s economic woes.
Later programs were enacted to deal with social security and collective bargaining. The Election of 1936 was regarded as a referendum on both FDR and the New Deal. In 1937, the President was engaged in a Supreme Court fight.
The New Deal provoked critics and admirers, both in the 1930s and in the years thereafter.
In foreign affairs, Roosevelt pledged the United States to be a “good neighbor” to Latin America while strong sentiment for isolationism grew as problems deepened in Europe and Asia. Pacifism was effectively ended by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and Japanese Americans were faced with internment.
America's entry into World War II necessitated mobilization efforts on a massive scale. Military action occurred in the Pacific, North Africa, Europe and the North Atlantic.
Harry S. Truman, who assumed the office of the presidency when Roosevelt succumbed to a cerebral hemorage in April 1945, faced a critical decision regarding the use of the atomic bomb.
The Election of 1948 saw Truman elected in his own right and attempts were made to revive the Fair Deal.
International tensions were heightened in the Berlin Blockade and by the announcement that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb of their own. In 1950, the Korean War erupted and Truman dismissed General Douglas MacArthur.
Domestic highlights included the Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenburg cases and the anti-communist campaign of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
The Election of 1952 brought the Republicans and Dwight D. Eisenhower to power. Segregation and an emerging civil rights movement captured headlines throughout the nation, while the Suez Crisis, the launch of Sputnik, the triumph of Fidel Castro and the U-2 Spy Plane Incident were the prominent foreign affairs issues.
The Election of 1960 returned the Democrats to power with John F. Kennedy narrowly defeating Richard M. Nixon.
Despite anti-war turmoil in the colleges and universities, the war dragged on. Cambodia was invaded and peace talks were opened. Nixon visited China and negotiated the SALT I treaty with the Soviet Union. The Watergate burglary occurred with little initial notice, and Nixon retained office after the Election of 1972.
U.S. forces were withdrawn from Vietnam and the Arabs imposed an oil embargo. In August 1974, Nixon resigned from the presidency to avoid being impeached and was followed in the office by Gerald R. Ford. Also in 1974, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home run record. Some historians identify the last quarter of the 20th century as the postmodern acceleration of The Information Age.
Jimmy Carter defeated Ford in the Election of 1976. The Panama Canal treaty (1977) and Camp David Accords (1978) were signed. American citizens were seized and held hostage in Iran. China and the U.S. restored relations after a long break. The Election of 1980 brought Ronald Reagan to power with an anti-communist, conservative agenda.
The Election of 1992 brought Bill Clinton to the White House. He surfed the wave crest of the country’s greatest bull market, but was politically hobbled by the Monica Lewinsky and other scandals. The resulting impeachment by the House of Representatives was followed by a vote for acquittal in the Senate, thus leaving Clinton to finish out his term of office.
The Election of 2000^ was hotly contested due to voting irregularities and required the involvement of the U.S. Supreme Court to select the President.
The National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004, in Washington, D.C. Corporations increased outsourcing jobs to elevate profits. Influence of labor unions on political and economic policy continued to decline. The "middle class" began to disappear.