History of the United States
From Hobson's Choice
This article is under construction
The United States was established in 1786 through the adoption of a federal constitution; at this site, the demonym "Usonian" is used to refer to people or things of the United States. Normally the country is referred to as the "USA," with "US" being an adjectival form. There are fifty US states, a federal district, and fourteen territories. As with other nations of the Americas, it was originally settled by peoples from Northeast America who arrived via the Bering Strait (approximately 40-20 millennia ago). For thousands of years, a matrix of civilizations developed in the area presently occupied by the US. Then, beginning in the 16th century, adventurers from Western Europe arrived and began a drastic transformation of the Americas.
From 1513 to 1776, North America was subject to exploration, invasion, and ecological redemption by several European nations. These included England, Spain, and France. During this period the great majority of the indigenous population died as a direct result. Also, the Europeans brought a large cohort of captive Africans as slaves. The system of slavery in the Americas was an extraordinary and singular atrocity, and molded the culture of all American countries.
The United States emerged from the Usonian Revolution (1774-1783); it expanded rapidly into territory belonging to Native peoples, and destroyed the basis of their livelihood, thereby reducing them to a state of dependency. Slavery also expanded during the first 89 years of the Republic. It was liquidated as a result of a second revolution, the Usonian Civil War (1861-1865). Thereafter, the US expanded to become the leading economic power in the world.
The nations of the Americas in general, and the USA in particular, are the result of an extraordinary campaign of expansion and ecological redemption by the nations of Western Europe. While there are many cases of mass migration, conquest, and displacement of indigenous peoples by large organized rivals, the European conquest of the New World was distinguished by the area affected and the high degree of coordination. Moreover, the Europeans had to cross an ocean and bring tens of millions of human captives with them.
European encroachment into the future USA occurred along three main trajectories: the Spaniards arrived around 1513, in Florida; the French arrived in 1534, in Canada (i.e., up the St. Lawrence River); and the English established several settlements between Massachusetts Bay and Cape Hatteras (1584-1620). Several other countries, such as the Netherlands and Sweden also established colonies on the Eastern seaboard, but these failed to pose lasting challenges to the English beachhead.
The USA is unusual for modern nations in that its territorial boundaries have changed so much under its own supervision. Poland's boundaries have changed a great deal during the period 1773-1945, but seldom at Polish insistence. In 1783, at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War (independence from the UK), US territory extended westward to the Mississippi River, and southward to Florida. In 1803, Napoleon sold a swathe of Spanish territory to the new state (Louisiana Purchase ), nearly doubling the land area of the USA. In 1836, Usonian and European settlers in the Mexican state of Texas declared their independence from Mexico. In 1845, the US Congress agreed to the annexation of Texas as a US state, leading eventually to a war with Mexico (1848). An outcome of this war was that the USA absorbed almost half the land area of Mexico. In 1850, the Oregon Territory was divided between the USA and UK by agreement; the UK territory became a major portion of Canada. In 1867, the USA bought Alaska from Russia and in 1898, won control of Hawai'i, Puerto Rico, Samoa, and Guam.
In addition to the current territory mentioned above, the USA has held protectorates in Cuba (1898-1914) and the Philippines (1898-1946), plus periods of occupation in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, and Iraq. There are a very large number of US military bases around the world.
Making the situation somewhat more complicated, there has been a time lag between some territory being organized into states. Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam are all US territories, but not states. California and Texas entered the Union as states; so did the original 13 colonies. During the period December 1860 and April 1876, certain states were either in active rebellion against the USA (Civil War), or else had failed to ratify the US Constitution with the postwar amendments (Reconstruction).
A proper history of the United States is beyond the scope of this entry, but a few points relevant to this site need to be noted. Unfortunately, these are unhappy aspects of US history.
First, the United States began its existence as 13 (of 32) British colonies in North America. Of the other 19, five became provinces of Canada (five other provinces were founded afterwards); the other 14 became Caribbean nations of parts of Caribbean nations. In addition to the 13 British colonies, there were two Spanish colonies (Florida and Louisiana) plus a small Spanish-speaking population in the Mexican cession. The European proto-states (Spanish and British) conducted their affairs without any consideration of the Native American population. There had been brief episodes where the Seminoles, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Ojibwe, and Chocktaw peoples had functioning polities, but when these posed an obstacle to European desires, they were mostly swept aside. In a sense, the Native American was placed in a position as an immigrant to her own country, as the landmass was seized and transformed.
Second, the USA needs to be seen as part of an immense project of ecological redemption by the Trans-European Project (TEP). For the most part, Usonians are the descendants of European invaders; the European invasion transformed the European peoples into Whites, and the Native Americans into Indians (i.e., natives, or "invaded"). The invaders brought captive African laborers as slaves, thereby transforming them into Blacks. Of all the subaltern castes in history, the Blacks of America were the most cruelly treated. This extreme cruelty has left its residue throughout American culture, although it seems most prominent in Usonian and Brazilian culture. The cruelty is discussed in all of the links to this paragraph.
This pattern of three-fold racial division (invader, invaded, and subaltern) has been repeated all over the world, in many different ways. As a tri-racial society matures, it absorbs two additional races though immigration: "honorary invaders" and "auxilliary subalterns." These five races tend to mitigate and soften the ferocity of racial conflict, although in the USA progress in this matter has been arrested by the failure of social democracy.
The other side of the TEP has been its conscription of the US government as the "bad cop" in world imperialism; Usonian society had mounted a feeble but doomed resistance to militarization, which was crushed with astonishing thoroughness. This was closely linked to the dysfunctional pattern of growth in the Usonian city after the 1920's.
While the USA has bleak aspects to its history, it must be emphasized that all countries do. The passage above dwells on those aspects that lend tragedy to society. However, while Usonian culture has (for example) a remarkably cruel streak, it also has a powerful countervailing reflex to kindness and decency. The latter is usually ignored by critics because it is expressed individually, and hence assumed to be a property of a few miraculously gifted individuals. But it nonetheless is a powerful force, and much overlooked.
Political & Sectional Divisions of the USA
The obvious example of a sectional conflict is the one that raged between the CSA and the northern states, or residual of the US. Here, the most compelling difference between the two sections was that one relied heavily on slavery, while the other found slavery threatening. More schematically, one relied on the endless expansion of exactly the same system (gangs of slaves working on freshly cleared land to produce the same cash crop in ever-greater volume); the other was a diversified economy which ranged from semi-subsistence farming to large-scale industrial enterprise. This was the sort of tension that would not ordinarily have led to an especially strong incentive to secede, but for the expansionist motivations of both. The "sections" of the Union advanced fundamentally incompatible claims to the vast amounts of territory that the USA either bought, seized, or divided. Even when significant numbers of actual slaves were not present (Kansas) or never could be (as was alleged with New Mexico and Arizona), the dividing sectional principle was too basic to be resolved peacefully. A crucial claim of the Southern partisans was that, regardless of the merits of slavery, restrictions on slavery in the territories (or, for that matter, the states themselves) represented a violation of the equal protection of Southern slaveowners per se. Under slavery, captive humans in servitude were capital, but if slavery was illegal in a territory—or even in a neighboring state—then one type of capitalist was not allowed in. And while the great majority of Whites in the South owned few or no slaves, slaveowners usually had tremendous social authority; the urban population depended on capital and expenditures by the slaveowning households, while non-slaveowning Whites either dreamt of becoming owners, were retainers of big planters, or were too geographically isolated to have any political role. As a consequence, there was a strong tendency for poor Whites to identify with the interests of slaveowners.
An additional consideration was the social standing of individual Whites in different states. Association with Blacks brought a severe decline in economic prospects and status, which motivated individual Whites to be particularly jealous of their detachment from Blacks in living quarters, places of worship, occupations, and so on. In frontier states like Wisconsin, antislavery movements were typically "free soiler," i.e., they favored exclusively White settlement (as opposed to being opposed to slavery on moral principle). This explains why recent immigrants to the USA frequently embraced extremely aggressive racism immediately, and why lower income brackets were more intractibly hostile to competing ethnicities. Another issue was the curious historical coincidence of anti-Catholicism on the part of the early free soil parties, such as the "Know Nothings."  While abolitionists were not, of course, in conflict with Roman Catholics, their political parties often were. Additionally, New York City was a focal point of the textile and financial markets, which tended to place it in a confrontational stance with respect to the rest of the North.
The North also had sectional interests, ones that bound the East with the West: the industrial system that united them depended on a much costlier system of public works, public education, and governmental regulation. Slavery typically faired best in cases where law enforcement was cheap and crude, and dominated entirely by slaveowners. In industrial systems where there was rapid innovation and complex networks of contracts, patents, public services, and technical competition from established foreign companies. The most obvious example was tariff policy and public improvements, but additional issues concerned the nationalization of state debts, federal control over banking and securities, and land policy. The term "states' rights" and "nullification" were actually by Sen. John Calhoun in response to the 1828 Tariff ("Tariff of Abominations"), which he believed represented an imposition of Northern sectional interests on the entire country. While it was not normally a sectional issue, in March 1841 the Whig-dominated 27th Congress reacted to 12 years of do-nothing Democrat rule by passing a national bankruptcy act; the Democratic-dominated 28th Congress, in 1843, dismantled it. The fundamental difference was that the survival of the Northern economy required a reliable foundation for rapid technological innovation and implementation, while the South was highly sensitive to cost. Moreover, the South was threatened by the relative rise of the North as a political counterweight.
After the Civil War, the sectional interests shifted somewhat. The South was still hypersensitive to costs, such as taxes and rising wages; the North was still responding to rapid changes in technology and high fixed costs for plants. But Southern planters could no longer control the entire political structure as easily as before; there were now rival bases of political power (between 1868 and 1898, African American voters were such a base). Whereas before, the large planters could rely on supervision of voting by lower-income Whites (who knew their votes were being recorded, and could count on reprisals if they failed to vote as advised), now they had to form coalitions with them, and at the national level, with oppositional figures in the North. At the same time, the interests in the North who had demanded a strong government hand in the economy to ensure the creation of power industrial corporations, by the end of Reconstruction, were increasingly at swords points with the burgeoning populism of their workforce and small farmers. Tariffs were high, but labor was militant and populist democracy was corrupt; while the robber barons had tended to champion a strong government leading up to the Grant Administration, and bribed the one they had on a prodigious scale, they were faced with a sinkhole of malfeasance. In response, they favored the creation of the firm as surrogate to the state: the modern industrial corporation. This was to be the ultimate counterforce to social democracy in the United States, and it meshed with the sectional interests of the planters. Not only could planters form a permanent coalition with the corporate elites to defeat social democratic legislation at the federal level, they could also continue to use their rising economic hegemony as a unifying enemy for poor Southern Whites. The South remained totally dominated by one political party (the Democrats) until the late 1960's, but in Southern states the party actually housed multiple rival factions; the politically conservative faction sided with Northern Republicans, while the populist faction sided with the (weak) Northern Democrats.
Since the time of the Civil Rights Movement, sectional alignments have evolved further; they still have a decidedly economic orientation, with the Democratic Party corresponding to industry and the Republican Party corresponding to resource extraction, farming, financial services, and business management. Casual observers usually assume the Democratic Party is liberal (and hypocritical), while the Republican Party is conservative (and sincere). In reality, both parties are conservative, but oriented towards different sectional interests. The Democratic Party favors public education, public works, and a robust regulatory regime; the Republican Party sometimes claims it does also, but its position towards all three is hectoring and unsupportive. The Republican Party, in turn, favors minimal government role in the economy, and a compensatory maximal role of the state in enforcing market incentives. These are compatible with the "night watchman state" popular among extractive industries such as factory farming, mining, and fossil fuels; and the punitive enforcement of incentives popular with financial services and business management (as a separate political section).
- ↑ The fifty states adopted the constitution over the course of many years. Initially there were thirteen colonies: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia. Maine was created from territory claimed by Massachusetts (1820), and Vermont was organized during the course of the Revolution. Texas (1845) and California (1847) were admitted as breakaway republics from Mexico. The other 33 states entered the Union as territories
- ↑ France had defeated Spain in 1795, causing Charles IV to become a client of the Directory. In 1808, after a disgrace, Charles abdicated in favor of Napoleon's brother Joseph. French claims to the Louisiana territory were recognized by the European powers until 1763, when France was defeated in the Seven Years' War and "transferred" its claims to Spain. In 1802, probably under duress, the vulnerable Charles IV "returned" Louisiana to the personal estate of Napoleon.
- ↑ Jefferson Davis, A Short History of the Confederate States of America (complete text online); Belford & Co (1890); in particular, see the astonishing logical contortions of Chapter III. Davis is anxious not to be seen making a polemical defense of the most atrocious political and economic system that ever was; he merely insists it was a fundamental right of it to be extended to the entire area of the USA. Another famous apologia (this one ex ante) for the rebellion was made by Robert Toombs to the Georgia legislature (text here).
- ↑ Of the 6,184,477 Whites in the slave states, only 347,525 were listed by the census of 1850 as owners. See 1850 Census Data. Generally, historians of the period acknowledge that a quarter of households owned slaves. According to the same source, there were 3,204,313 slaves, so the average slave owner had 9.22 slaves. Patterns of ownership varied dramatically from state to state, with states farther south tending to have more slaveowners and more slaves per owner. For example, see Georgia: "Slavery in Antebellum Georgia," The New Georgia Encyclopedia.
- ↑ Generalizations are difficult, since the states—slave and free—were heterogeneous. Even a single state, such as Mississippi or North Carolina, had sharp regional differences. Measures of participation and influence are also difficult to test, since poor Whites in the antebellum South frequently voted (see 1850 Census table XXVII, p.50)., but there was no secret ballot and the votes of poor Whites were usually quite valuable to their planter neighbors. Generally speaking, the "Upper South" (Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware, and so on) had high rates of voter participation, while the lower South had low rates; New England had low rates, while the Middle West (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana) and the mid-Atlantic (New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey) had high rates.
Another starting point for analysis is the economic breakdown (Ibid., Part IV, p.169ff). Farms in the North were smaller, but had costlier equipment per acre ($1.61 worth of tools per acre in New Jersey, vs. $0.18 in Texas); and industrial employment in Southern states was small (Ibid., Part IV, p.179), ranging from 5.2% in Maryland to 0.5% in Texas, while it was medium-sized to high in the North—16.89% in Massachusetts, to 6.44% in New York; but it was low in the Northwest, also (1.42% in Illinois). Wages were low in Mississippi ($205 per year) but high in Illinois ($272 per year), very low in North Carolina ($144), and moderate in Massachusetts ($237).
- ↑ See Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, the Prairie Years, Harcourt, Brace & Co. (1926), p.71. The linkage between northern sectional politics and hostility to Roman Catholics is complex and involves an accident of history.
- ↑ For an outline of these issues, see "Sectional Issues 1815-1860," Sage History.
- ↑ John Niven , John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography, LSU Press (1993), p.134
- ↑ Edward J. Balleisen, Navigating Failure: Bankruptcy and Commercial Society in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press (2001), p.102ff'; for an interesting discussion of the sectional implications of bankruptcy law, see Balleisen "Bankruptcy and the Entrepreneurial Ethos In Antebellum American Law" (text online) Australian Journal of History
- ↑ Matthew Josephson, The Politicos Harcourt (1938); Henry J. Sage, "Politics in the Gilded Age," Sage History (2005-2006)
Resources at this site
- BBC country profile
- CIA World Factbook Listing
- (USA) Energy Information Administration
- Ethnologue linguistic information
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) country profile
- United Nations agencies & bureaux
- Wikipedia: United States Portal
News & Analysis
- SIPRI Arms Transfer Databases (not country specific)
- Amnesty Internationa
- Human Rights Watch
- Briefing Paper on U.S. Military Commissions (23 June 2006)
- Frank Smith World History Pages USA search results
- Library of Congress
- University of Groningen: From Revolution to Reconstruction