United States history

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The history of the United States begins with the thirteen British colonies that declared independence in 1776 . When the constitution came into force in 1788, the previously sovereign individual states became part of a federal republic . With the western expansion of the white settlers, which went hand in hand with the displacement of the indigenous indigenous population, new territories were added to the Union as states , most recently in 1959 Alaska and the Hawaiian archipelago . Today the United States is the third largest state in terms of area and the largest economy on earth.

Territorial expansion of the United States 1776–1959.
The year of accession as a state is given.
  • 1776-1790
  • 1791-1799
  • 1800-1819
  • 1820-1839
  • 1840-1859
  • 1860-1879
  • 1880-1899
  • 1900-1950
  • 1950-1959
  • Indian cultures

    Ruins of an Anasazi settlement in Mesa Verde National Park , around 1200
    Totem Pole of the Tlingit in Ketchikan, Alaska

    The colonization of North America began over 15,000 years ago. Siberian hunters and gatherers reached what is now Alaska via a land bridge that still existed at that time over the Bering Strait and penetrated south over the west coast and from there eastward. The oldest finds in the United States are the Paisley Caves in Oregon and the Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas . The first widespread culture on the continent is the Clovis culture , dated to an age of 11,000 to 10,800 years , whose characteristic projectile tips can be found at numerous sites throughout the state. They and the following cultures of the Paleo-Indian period were based on hunting and thus on the megafauna , which died out towards the end of the last Ice Age either as a result of this hunting or as a result of climate change. In the following millennia, the archaic period , the differentiation of regional cultures can be observed. The end of this period is marked by the transition to agriculture and the settling of the hunter cultures. This development reached the southwest of the USA starting from Central America around 5000 years ago, but in the following millennia only covered parts of the continent. For example, the tribes of the Pacific coast did not go over to agriculture until historical times, but lived mainly from fishing.

    After the turn of the century, there were approaches to city building, for example in the cultures of the Hohokam and the Anasazi in the dry southwest. Most of the tribes between the Mississippi and the Atlantic coast also became sedentary. Some of their settlements grew into cities, for example the population of Cahokia in today's Illinois is estimated at around the year 1100 at up to 20,000 people. Unlike the Central American high cultures , however, these large-scale systems remained without writing.

    At the time of the " discovery " of America by the Europeans in 1492, an estimated 7 million Indians lived in diverse cultures on the North American continent north of Mexico. The development and settlement of the country by white colonists led to a demographic catastrophe over the next few centuries. The number of Native Americans decreased by about 90 percent within a hundred years of first contact with Europeans. At the beginning of the English colonization around 1570, around 3 million natives lived on the east side of the North American continent up to the Mississippi around 1570; in 1670 there were still 300,000. In southern New England, the number fell from 120,000 to 12,000 over the same period. Tribes were decimated, partly died out or were pushed into increasingly inhospitable regions, particularly by infectious diseases that were brought in, but also by an often ruthless expulsion policy. Today the Indians make up barely one and a half percent of the total population. However, this is again just under five million people.

    Colonial times

    Voyages of discovery and early colonization approaches

    For around a century after the "discovery" of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the interests of the European powers (Spain, Portugal, England and France) concentrated on South and Central America. It was not until 1524 that Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European in search of the Northwest Passage to explore what is now the east coast of the United States. The first expeditions inland and to the Pacific coast started with the Spaniards: From 1539 to 1542 Hernando de Soto explored the southeast, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado the southwest of today's United States, and at the same time the navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo reached the coast of California in 1542. These first voyages of discovery did not herald gold or other riches, but rather repellent, almost deserted landscapes, so that North America remained largely untouched by European colonization efforts for decades. The fishing grounds off what is now Canadian Newfoundland alone attracted European ships more frequently, but it was not until the rise of the fur trade with the Indians that the first permanent trading posts were established here around 1600. The first permanent European settlement in the area of ​​today's USA was the Spanish Fort San Augustín on the east coast of Florida, today's St. Augustine . However, it was not designed as a settlement colony, but as a military base that was supposed to protect the sea route of the Spanish galleys from Mexico to Europe from pirate attacks.

    The English claims to North America were based on Giovanni Caboto's voyages of discovery (1497), but the English colonization efforts only got underway from 1580, promoted in particular by the writings of Richard Hakluyt and Walter Raleigh's voyages of discovery . In contrast to its European rivals - in particular France, later also the Netherlands - in the case of England not only the exploitation but also the permanent settlement of North America became the main motive from the beginning. In 1585 and 1587, however, the first attempts to establish an English colony on Roanoke Island off the coast of what is now North Carolina failed ; the settlers left behind were killed by the Indians, died of starvation or disease. It was not until 1607 that England succeeded in gaining a permanent foothold with the establishment of Jamestown , but this success was also bought at a high price: of the 105 settlers, only 33 survived the first seven months. A second English colony, Sagadahoc in what is now Maine, had to be abandoned after barely a year in 1608.

    Religiously motivated colonization

    In 1620 the next major immigration followed by the Puritan " Pilgrim Fathers ". With the ship Mayflower they reached Cape Cod in what is now Massachusetts and founded the colony of Plymouth (see Mayflower Treaty ). 1630 a larger settlement in Boston was founded by Puritans, the " Massachusetts Bay Colony ". The Puritans had originally emigrated to North America because of their opposition to the Anglican faith of their homeland, which they thought contained too many Roman Catholic practices. But religious tensions among the Puritans gave rise to new beliefs within the community. As early as 1635, some of the settlers there emigrated to what is now Connecticut because they could not agree on religious issues with the leadership of the Massachusetts Bay Colony . Roger Williams , a Puritan from Massachusetts, advocated separation of church and state . He left the group and founded the Rhode Island Colony . The Maryland colony emerged as a refuge for Catholics . Pennsylvania , founded in 1681 by the Quaker leader William Penn , was notable for its religious tolerance. Many German farmers settled in this region.

    Enslavement of Africans

    The burden of the introduction of slavery in the British colonies must be seen as comparable to the destruction of indigenous Indian cultures. From 1619, Africans were brought to Virginia. At first they were roughly equal to white servants, but had to serve their ship passage. Some even gained their freedom in return for converting to Christianity. Sexual contact between blacks and whites was the rule, but was punished by the church. From 1660 the status of blacks was increasingly worsened by legal regulations. These laws ( slave codes ) stipulated extremely harsh penalties for minor offenses, with the aim of nipping escape attempts and collective resistance in the bud. At the beginning of the 18th century, slaves were " chattel slavery " and degraded to goods. North America took in “only” about five percent of the displaced Africans. Until the War of Independence, however, there were around 300,000 and around 1770 around 500,000 slaves in the then thirteen colonies of the United States. In the southern states, they made up more than a third of the total population. At that time, the economic system there was already based entirely on exploitation through slavery. The majority of white settlers saw the price of their own survival and economic progress - the decimation of the indigenous people and the disenfranchisement of Africans - as reasonable.

    Non-British colonization

    European colonies in America around 1750
    Dutch settlements in North America

    Swedish emigrants founded the colony of New Sweden in what is now Delaware . As early as 1626, Dutch merchants bought the island of Manahatta (today: Manhattan ) from the Indians living on the Hudson River and founded the city of Nieuw Amsterdam there . In 1664 the colony was annexed by England and was henceforth called New York . This name also prevailed for the entire colony, which was previously called " Nieuw Nederland ".

    Initially six European powers - French, Dutch, Swedes, Russians, British and Spanish - fought for supremacy in North America. Over time, however, the Spanish, French and British emerged as the most ambitious powers. Spain expanded to the south and west of North America, the French to the northeast and along the Mississippi . The British, on the other hand, claimed the east for themselves. In 1733, the North American continent comprised Spanish and French mandate areas as well as 13 British colonies . The area stretched from New Hampshire in the north to Georgia in the south.

    The motivations of the colonizing powers, however, differed greatly. France was mainly interested in the fur trade and in proselytizing the people living there. To do this, they formed alliances with various Indian tribes. The British immigrants, on the other hand, were mostly farmers . They were looking for land on which they could settle permanently. They tried to achieve this through treaties with the Indians or through wars against them. Overall, the British were known for their harsh Indian policy.

    The "French and Indian War"

    The Seven Years' War in Europe between Great Britain and France, which lasted from 1756 to 1763 , was also fought in the colonies, where it was referred to as the French and Indian War . The reason for the war on site was the expansion of British traders and settlers across the Appalachians into the Ohio valley claimed by France . The British fought against the French, each with their Indian allies. The French achieved some defensive successes, but with their superior Royal Navy , the British were able to prevent French reinforcements. Between 1758 and 1760, British troops captured the most important French positions in what is now the United States and Canada, and on September 13, 1759, they were victorious in the decisive battle on the Plains of Abraham near Québec . France accepted the loss of almost all possessions in North America in the Paris Peace Agreement of 1763; the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi plus New Orleans went to Spain, Canada and the rest of the Louisiana Territory to Great Britain. After the very popular French had been ousted, the Indians were now forced to trade with the British. These were seen as stingy and unkind. They did not give generous gifts to the Indians, as the French used to do. The resentment against the British increased. In the same year joined twelve to fifteen, otherwise partly with each other warring tribes under the leadership of Ottawa - Chief Pontiac together to form an alliance against the British. After some successes, the alliance broke up in the attack on Fort Detroit . To normalize the relationship with the Indians, the British government issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 , by which the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River should be reserved as an Indian Reserve for the Indians. The colonists ignored this protection of the Indians and their land; he increased their resentment towards the British Crown . Furthermore, after the French and Indian War, the British government ended its previously pursued policy of salutary neglect , namely to largely leave the colonies to their own devices, which contributed significantly to the emergence of a settler movement.

    The American Revolution and Declaration of Independence (1763–1783)

    British public finances were in disarray after the war. In the opinion of the British, the people of the colonies should also bear part of the cost of the war ; however, the settlers felt that they had already contributed enough and that the European part of the war was none of their business. Smugglers were now regularly stopped when they were caught. Customs offenses were tried in military courts and without a local jury. Additional taxes on sugar, coffee, textiles and other goods further worsened sentiment. The Quartering Act forced the colonists to house and feed British soldiers. After the Stamp Act was introduced , special tax stamps had to be affixed to all newspapers, legal documents and licenses.

    The situation was made worse by the fact that the settlers had no political representation in the British Parliament in London. The colonists were of the opinion that taxation without a say was unlawful (“ No taxation without representation ”) . In 1765 there was a first meeting of representatives from nine colonies who rejected the Stamp Act . The British government had to give in to pressure but was able to get the Quartering Act through. The introduction of a tariff on tea helped to increase resistance from the colonists. It was only when the new British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord North, freeze all taxes except the tea tax, that there was a certain relaxation.

    Nevertheless, the Boston Tea Party came about in 1773 . Radical American patriots disguised themselves as Indians, attacked British ships in Boston harbor and threw a total of 342 boxes of tea into the harbor basin. The British government responded with the Intolerable Acts : troops were moved to Boston, the port closed and trade stopped. The Americans then convened the first continental congress in Philadelphia in September 1774 . All colonies were asked to oppose British repression and stop trading with the British. It was also decided to set up militias and collect weapons.

    On April 19, 1775, about 700 British soldiers marched from Boston towards Concord , a nearby town. The British had learned that there was an illegal weapons depot in the place. At Lexington , they were 70 members of a vigilante group stopped. This started the American War of Independence . The British took Lexington and Concord. Hundreds of Massachusetts volunteers chased the army unit and began the siege of Boston . By June 10,000 Americans had gathered for the siege and the British had to leave the city in March 1776.

    In May 1775, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to coordinate insurgent action between the colonies. Congress established an army and a navy during the sessions. The Continental Army and Navy were placed under the command of George Washington , a Virginia plantation owner and veteran of the French and Indian War. Money was printed and diplomatic relations were established with various countries, including France. Thomas Jefferson , a Washington compatriot from Virginia, wrote the Declaration of Independence with the assistance of others . On July 4, 1776, the text of the declaration was approved by the Congress after a motion for a declaration of independence had already found a majority on July 2.

    For the Americans, the war didn't go particularly well at the beginning. The British captured New York in September 1776 and Philadelphia a year later. It was only with the victory in the Battle of Saratoga that the situation changed. France seized the opportunity and entered the war alongside the United States. The hostilities ended in 1781 after the Battle of Yorktown . General Charles Cornwallis was defeated by the American-French alliance in one of the fiercest battles of the war. In September 1783, the warring parties signed the Peace of Paris . This made the United States of America recognized by Great Britain.

    The young republic (1783-1825)

    Articles of Confederation and the New Constitution

    The articles of confederation passed by the Second Continental Congress soon proved to be unsuitable for guiding the fortunes of a sovereign nation. After some uprisings by disaffected taxpayers in Shays' rebellion , the (still in session) Continental Congress called a constitutional convention in Philadelphia. George Washington became chairman. After heated debates, a draft constitution was passed on September 17, 1787, which, although it decisively strengthened the powers of the central government, nonetheless reserved a high degree of autonomy for the individual states. This draft now had to be ratified by 9 of the 13 states ( Connecticut , Delaware , Georgia , Maryland , Massachusetts , New Hampshire , New Jersey , New York , North Carolina , Pennsylvania , Rhode Island , South Carolina , Virginia ) to enter into force . In 1791 Vermont became the 14th member state. The dualism between proponents of a strong federal government (known as federalists) and advocates of state sovereignty (so-called anti-federalists) gave birth to an early predecessor of the modern two-party system of the United States. Only after ratification by all 13 states and the conclusion of the first Congress was Bill of Rights in the form of ten additional articles adopted.

    States and Territories of the United States 1782–1802

    With the constitution, the states ceded the areas west of the Appalachian Mountains to the federal government in order to later create their own states ( territories ) there.

    Four thematic blocks determined the new constitution: firstly, the relationship between the individual states and the central government ( federal government ), secondly, the distribution of power within the central government, thirdly, the representation of large and small states in the future parliament, and fourthly, the conflict of interests between northern and southern states, mainly the slavery question. In addition to import duties, the federal government was given the right to levy taxes for defense and common welfare purposes. It regulated trade between states and abroad. The individual states were prohibited from printing money or minting coins. This created the basis for a common internal market and a common economic, monetary and trade policy. The constitution guaranteed the states a republican form of government and protection from external attacks and internal unrest. The federal government was able to maintain an army and a fleet for this purpose.

    First president

    George Washington, first President of the United States 1789–1797

    The first President of the United States under the new constitution became former revolutionary general and chairman of the constitutional convention George Washington , a wealthy slave and plantation owner from Virginia . He won the election in 1789 unanimously. As early as 1791 the new state of Vermont was formed from an area disputed between New York , New Hampshire and Massachusetts , and a year later the state of Kentucky was formed from the part of Virginia west of the Appalachians . The areas north and south of the Ohio River were administered as Northwest and Southwest Territories . In 1796 Tennessee became the 16th state to join the Union.

    In terms of foreign policy, Washington pursued a course of neutrality in order not to be drawn into the revolutionary wars in Europe. Domestically, however, the dispute over how to evaluate the French Revolution polarized broad sections of the population. This was evident in the crisis surrounding the recall of the French ambassador Edmond-Charles Genêt in 1793 and led to the development of the first party system. In this development, the ideological rift that had already become clear in the constitutional debate continued: The Federalist Party around Washington Finance Minister Alexander Hamilton advocated a conservative, hierarchical model of society and felt closer to Great Britain, while the one that emerged from the anti-federalists was democratic -Republican Party around Foreign Minister Thomas Jefferson felt connected to the egalitarian social ideal of the French Republic. Washington was able to avoid another war with Great Britain with the Jay Treaty of 1794, which was very unpopular in the country . The treaty led to protests, some of which were violent, but the government achieved the evacuation of forts in the west that had previously been occupied by the British ( Fort Oswego , Fort Niagara ), opening these regions to settlers. In his farewell address in 1796, Washington urged the USA not to participate in alliances with European powers and to look for temporary allies only in emergencies.

    Louisiana Purchase 1803 (dark green area), territories through 1810 (light blue), territorial claims (light green)

    The federalist John Adams followed Washington in 1797 . In 1801, co-author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, became the third President of the United States. Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory for the United States from the French government in 1803 ( Louisiana Purchase ) for 80 million francs (15 million US dollars). Spain had transferred this back to France in 1800 in the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso . The Lewis and Clark expedition from 1804 to 1806 was intended to explore the interior to the Pacific coast and prepare for further westward expansion. In 1810 , the United States annexed the territory of West Florida (today the area around Mobile, Alabama) , Biloxi (Mississippi) and Louisiana east of the Mississippi River ; although this claim was not recognized by Spain until 1819, settlers and troops from the US had de facto control of the land. In 1803 the first of the states formed from the Northwest Territory , Ohio , joined the union as the 17th state; In 1813 Louisiana became the first state to be approved from the former Louisiana Territory. After that, under the Missouri Compromise of 1820 federal states only joined the federal government in pairs, a state with legal slavery ( slave state ) south of the parallel of 36 ° 30 'and a free state north of it, in order not to disturb the balance in the US Senate .

    The war of 1812

    The Napoleonic Wars in Europe repeatedly caused tension between the United States and the United Kingdom . American ships were repeatedly seized by British ships and the Americans were assumed to be partisans of the French; it also happened that the ship's crew was forced into the British army. In 1812 this conflict resulted in the British-American War . The Americans had some victories at sea, yet they were hopelessly inferior to the greatest naval power in the world. The American attempt to invade Canada failed miserably, and in August 1814 the British briefly occupied the newly founded capital Washington, DC and devastated the city. The office of the President, the White House and the Capitol were not spared. However, an attempt by the British to conquer New Orleans failed. General Andrew Jackson , with the help of the French pirate Jean Laffite , managed to repel the British units. The bombing of Fort McHenry near Baltimore by a British fleet in September 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem, the setting of which has been the national anthem of the USA since 1931 .

    After Great Britain had ended the war with France, it was feared that Great Britain would now act with all its might against the USA. Therefore, the two warring parties agreed the peace of Ghent (now Belgium ) on December 24, 1814 . The treaty merely restored the status quo ante bellum (condition before the war) and provided for a peaceful settlement of controversial border issues by arbitration commissions. All other points of conflict, such as the forced recruitment of American seafarers, were not mentioned in it, but were resolved automatically with the end of the Napoleonic wars. Subsequently, both governments succeeded in publicly presenting the end of the war as a victory.

    More new states

    Seminole Wars, 1817–1858

    When Florida Indians, provoked by raids by US settlers who had settled in Florida at the invitation of the colonial government, attacked villages in Georgia in 1817, the US government sent General Jackson to the First Seminole War . Jackson not only attacked the Indians, but also took some Spanish fortresses. Spain, weakened by the impending independence of its Latin American colonies, was forced to negotiate and in a treaty in 1819 gave Florida to the USA in return for a cash payment. In this treaty, Spain also accepted the annexation of West Florida by the USA and the two parties agreed on the Sabine River as the western border of Louisiana (and the eastern border of Texas, which was still Spanish).

    At the same time, the population of the Western Territories continued to grow, and between 1816 and 1821 a northern state and a southern state were annually admitted to the federal government: Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819) ), Maine (1820) and Missouri (1821). The further expansion of the area in which slavery was permitted became increasingly controversial in the northern states, so the Missouri Compromise had to be entered into.

    With the independence of the Spanish colonies on the American mainland between 1810 and 1826 (see Mexican War of Independence and South American Wars of Liberation ), the USA and Great Britain discovered their first common foreign policy goals. Encouraged by the British, the Americans formulated the Monroe Doctrine ("America for the Americans, Europe for the Europeans") in 1823 , which forbade the European colonial powers to undertake any further colonization of the western hemisphere . In return, the United States promised to stay out of European affairs. This also included questions about the existing colonies in Canada, the Caribbean and South America.

    The market revolution

    The Market Revolution ( market revolution ) is time between the political revolution and the industrial revolution settled and changed the face of the United States enormously. It covers the period from 1815 to 1848 and was triggered by four mutually dependent factors: the rapid increase in the population in the northeast and the Midwest, the expansion of the transport system (canals, beginning of railway construction ), the expansion of agriculture and the beginning of industrialization . At the beginning of the 19th century the population of the United States doubled (the population of New York even quadrupled during this period). This was due to the low average age of the immigrants and the high birth rate of the residents. The increasing population led to the development of new settlement areas further west, so that throughout the 19th century the settlement border shifted steadily in this direction. This expansion meant that the infrastructure of the transport system in the western areas had to be improved. The waterways played an important role in this. After the war of 1812 , the era of canal construction began, including the construction of the Erie Canal . The canals stimulated the economy and were nevertheless replaced by new technical developments in transport and communication from the 1830s. The railroad and the telegraph became more and more important.

    Deportation of the Indians under President Jackson (1830–1838)

    President Andrew Jackson , a former general, believed that trying to civilize the Indians was futile. According to the thinking of many of his contemporaries, he considered the natives to be "savages". They had to be separated and given way so that the vision of the white settlers of the Empire of Liberty could be realized. Jackson's goal was therefore to displace the "five civilized tribes" Cherokee , Creek , Chickasaw , Chocktaw and Seminoles in much smaller areas west of the Mississippi. These Indian tribes inhabited South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida at that time. They were highly assimilated, had introduced writing, and kept slaves. The President ignored that. He withdrew the military for their protection and got Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act . In this law, areas west of the Mississippi were awarded to the Indians as compensation. The Cherokee then sought justice in the Supreme Court because the new law did not recognize their 1827 constitution. However, the Supreme Court did not see itself as having jurisdiction. On the other hand, Supreme Judge John Marshall sided with the Indians , who held that state authority was responsible for affairs of the indigenous people. In practice, this view remained ineffective, since the individual states promoted the deportation of the Indians. There were massacres of 800 warriors of the Fox and Sauk , and in 1837 the expulsion policy reached a sad climax with the " Trail of Tears " ( trail of tears ) became known 2,000 km long train of Cherokees to Oklahoma in the 4000 of 17,000 tribal members perished. In 1840 there was no organized Indian presence east of the Mississippi, with the exception of the protracted Seminole Wars in Florida that lasted until 1858 . In the 20th century, the Indians resorted to John Marshall's regulations to justify property claims.

    Aging of the slavery question (1825–1861)

    Slave States and Free States in the United States from Independence to the Civil War

    With the election of John Quincy Adams as President (1824) and his narrow victory over Andrew Jackson, a more impartial era in US history came to an end. The following years saw enormous economic fluctuations. Despite the economic crisis of 1837 , however, the time was generally marked by growth. The infrastructure was continuously expanded and industrialization took the first steps. In addition to the construction of a national road - today US 40 or I-70 from Washington via the Cumberland Gap to Columbus (Ohio) and Vandalia (Illinois) - the construction of the canals ( Illinois-Michigan Canal , Erie Canal ) and the first railway lines are also closed here mention.

    The question of slavery in particular led to more and more arguments. The federal system of the USA allowed the individual states to decide for themselves on this question. The already partially industrialized north was not dependent on slaves, especially since immigrants poured into the country here and the climate was less favorable for the cultivation of labor-intensive agricultural products. In 1833 the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed here . For the southern states, on the other hand, the slaves were of great economic importance: The descendants of the Europeans did not want to undertake the hard work in the cotton fields under the scorching sun.

    Both the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and the imposition of trade tariffs are related to the emerging North-South conflict. Some historians see this as the beginning of isolationism in American foreign policy, through which the southern states lost their most important sales market for agricultural products, along with Europe. For the north, on the other hand, the isolationist policy was favorable, as it would strengthen its own industry and protect it from competition.

    The number of states continued to grow with the accession of the states of Arkansas (1836) and Michigan (1837).

    Mexican-American War
    Battle of Molino del Rey in the war against Mexico, 1847

    Texas , which gained independence from Mexico as the Republic of Texas after the Texan Revolution in 1835/36 , joined the United States in 1845 as the largest state in the federal state in terms of area. One of the reasons for delaying accession was fears that it might tighten the balance in the conflict between the industrial north and the agriculturally dependent south. Accession was one of the prerequisites for further western expansion under the motto of the Manifest Destiny , which was particularly pursued by President James K. Polk (1845-1849) ( Oregon Treaty 1846).

    Shortly after the accession of Texas there were occasions for border conflicts with Mexico, from which the Mexican-American War 1846-1848 developed. Since the aim of this war was the further land reclamation in the southwest and further slave states could develop on the conquered land, there was strong resistance to the war, especially in the northeast of the republic. The most violent resistance and even impulses for secession came from the religious milieu in which abolitionism was particularly strong . The United States achieved in early 1848 in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the cession of the entire area between Texas and the Pacific north of the Rio Grande and Gila River . In the same year the California gold rush began , which drew hundreds of thousands of new settlers to the west coast. After the compromise of 1850 , California became the 31st state to join the Union. Later, with the Gadsden purchase , other areas of Mexico were taken over.

    The slave issue was resolved by the Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford , in which the judges stated that blacks, slaves or not, could never receive citizenship of the United States. Furthermore, the abolition of slavery by Congress is unconstitutional, as it represents an expropriation of the slave owners without a fair trial. Over the future of the Kansas Territory as a slave or slave-free state, there was a long-standing conflict, which went down in history as Bleeding Kansas . The slave question also led to the decline of the Whig Party , when the Republican Party emerged as a new political force in 1854 .

    In 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Lincoln, an avowed opponent of slavery, was intolerable for many people in the southern states, and so it came to secession . Lincoln and his government at that time declared large areas of the west to US territory, including Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Montana. Settling these areas was important to them. Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862 . Individuals over the age of 21 could take possession of and work 160 acres of land. If they lived in the country for five years, it was theirs.

    The American Civil War (1861-1865)

    A few weeks after Abraham Lincoln was elected , but before his inauguration, the state of South Carolina renounced the Union. A few weeks later the states of Mississippi , Florida , Alabama , Georgia and Louisiana follow . These states declared themselves a separate, new nation - the Confederate States of America . Arkansas , Virginia , Texas , Tennessee, and North Carolina later joined the Confederate States. For Lincoln, the secession meant war, as the preservation of the Union was his primary goal.

    Officially, from the perspective of the south, it was about safeguarding national rights, from the point of view of the north it was about preserving the Union. The deeper reasons were made clear by Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg Address : The question was whether a democracy can endure at all if the minority has the right to terminate the unity of the state at any time after a resolution by the majority that does not suit it. The conflict was sparked by the slave issue and the different economic views and interests that arose from it.

    President Lincoln favored Union General Robert E. Lee to lead Union forces . But Lee chose Virginia , his homeland - so he fought on the Confederate side. That should prolong the war decisively. The southern states, under their President Jefferson Davis , had brilliant commanders and a well-motivated army at the time , because they had fundamental interests. The northern states, on the other hand, were outnumbered and better equipped, but had problems in military leadership. This was particularly evident in the first months of the war. After the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter, the first open field battle at Bull Run broke out . The battle was quickly decided and the south had won its first victory. More successful battles for the south followed. There was no success for the north.

    In addition, the South could hope for support from Europe, which was dependent on cotton. This fact made the liberation of the slaves an important war goal of the north. Lincoln issued the Black Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, justifying the war as a fight against slavery. This made it difficult for European politicians to get the public excited to intervene against the North. For reasons of trade policy, this would have been of particular interest to Great Britain, which wanted to exchange industrial products for agricultural products from the US South (especially cotton for the British textile industry). The northern states had previously provided protective tariffs in favor of their own industry, which would disappear with the independence of the south.

    The turn of the war came after two years for the north. General Robert E. Lee wanted to bring about a decision in the war and invaded Pennsylvania . In the battle of Gettysburg , which lasted three days, the northern states were able to assert themselves for the first time. General Ulysses S. Grant simultaneously took the strategically important city of Vicksburg on the Mississippi. The backbone of the south was literally broken with the capture of this city, as the south no longer had an area that belonged together. In 1864, General William T. Sherman invaded the Confederate State of Georgia, leaving scorched earth behind .

    General Ulysses S. Grant pursued General Lee and engaged him in constant new engagements. On April 2, 1865, Lee Grant had to hand over the Confederate capital, Richmond . A week later, Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House . The war was over.

    More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in this civil war. Slaves became free citizens with the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, but they were far from having equal rights. This conflict is still being fought in some parts of the United States today. In the south, with the loss of slavery, the large plantations were divided up and over time a medium-sized company was formed. The economic and financial strength went to the north.

    The aftermath of the bloody war can still be felt today. Nonetheless, Lincoln had achieved one goal: the United States was no longer a nation of loosely connected states, but an inseparable nation state. But Abraham Lincoln could no longer witness these effects; he was murdered while going to the theater that same year.

    Reconstruction and industrialization (1865-1914)

    North America at the end of the 19th century

    In the post-Civil War era, the United States faced the difficult task of rebuilding the South and constitutionally anchoring the abolition of slavery. The latter happened with the 13th , 14th and 15th Amendment to the Constitution . Most historians do not consider the process of reconstruction a success. In many states, the so-called Jim Crow laws were passed from 1876 onwards , which drastically reduced the rights of former slaves and thereby increased racial segregation . The last phase of the Indian Wars also fell in the years 1862 to 1890 .

    Another formative motif of American history towards the middle of the 19th century was the land grabbing towards the west, which shifted the frontier - the border to the open, "uncivilized" country - further and further towards California. This open country at that time is remembered in folklore as the “ Wild West ”. This historical period was shaped by the Indian wars that dragged on until 1890 ( wounded knee ), the " gold rush " in 1848/49 after gold was found in California, the settlement by wild settlers ( squatters ) and the often violent "grazing wars" to take possession of it of the open country (best known example: the Lincoln County War in New Mexico in 1878 with the participation of John Chisum and Billy the Kid ).

    An 1884 map opposed to the issuance of 139,403,026 acres of land to the railroad companies for 871,268 160 acres of farms. This redistributed 278,806,052 worth of land at $ 2 / acre. Dimensions: 60 × 42 cm, year of printing: 1884, in the Cornell University Library

    The " Homestead Act " of 1862, which transferred state-owned land free of charge to those willing to settle, also had a significant influence on the increasing settlement of the West . The development was accelerated by the construction of the railways from the Midwest to California from 1862 (see History of the Railroad in North America ). The American rail network grew between 1870 and the turn of the century from 53,000 to 200,000 miles. It was thus longer than all rail lines in the rest of the world as a whole. This process of continental expansion of the USA was also expressed in the fact that new states were formed and accepted into the Union: Texas (1845), Iowa (1846), Wisconsin (1848), California (1850), Minnesota (1858), Oregon (1859), Washington (1882) and others. In 1867, the United States bought Alaska from Russia for $ 7.2 million (in gold) . The era of the development of the West came to an end with the end of the Indian Wars (1890). In the 1900 census, fewer than 240,000 Indians were recorded. The Native Americans had largely lost their cultural identity. Their existence depended on the goodwill of the federal government and private donations. The frontier was declared closed according to the Census report of 1890. This census proved that there was no longer a continuous settlement border in the USA, the continent was completely developed.


    Steel mill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, circa 1905

    In 1877 the military reconstruction officially ended; the time after the reconstruction is known as the Gilded Age . American society was increasingly shaped by industry and business. The world exhibitions of Philadelphia in 1876 and Chicago in 1893 demonstrated this upswing to the outside world. The west of the country attracted many speculators and adventurers . New states gradually joined the union.

    European immigration to the United States peaked in the 1880s and the decade from 1905 to 1915 , which was subsequently restricted in the Immigration Act of 1924 . In addition to New York, two other cities, Philadelphia and Chicago, exceeded the number of one million inhabitants by 1890; the total population of the United States increased from 38.5 million to 106 million between 1870 and 1920.

    The second wave of industrialization 1865–1914 made the United States the world's leading economic power. Names like Bell , Edison , Carnegie , Westinghouse , Vanderbilt , Rockefeller , JP Morgan and William Jennings Bryan shaped history from then on. In 1869 the connection between the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad completed the first transcontinental railroad.

    In 1883, the civil service was reformed with the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act . The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was a first attempt to curb the monopoly tendencies of the American economy. During this time, the first large unions, including the American Federation of Labor, emerged . Strikes such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Haymarket Riot of 1886, and the Pullman Strike of 1894 attracted national attention. With the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) the triumphant advance of progressivism began .


    The Philippines as a stepping stone to China, cartoon around 1900
    "The German Peril", speech by the former US Ambassador to Germany James W. Gerard from 1917 (excerpt - duration: 2 min 54 s, English)

    As early as 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry had opened the Japanese ports to trade with America. With the open door policy towards China under William McKinley (US President 1897–1901), another expansionist phase of US foreign policy began. In 1898 the USA waged the Spanish-American War and conquered the last Spanish colonies of Cuba and - after the long-term Philippine-American War against the independence movement there - the Philippines . While Cuba became independent, the United States came to their first colonies in the Philippines and Puerto Rico .

    Under President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), the United States adapted the policy of the big stick . In 1904, with the Roosevelt Corollary , an addition to the Monroe Doctrine , he laid the foundation for a more expansionist foreign policy, according to which the United States should act as an international police force. An important component of this policy was the construction of the Panama Canal between 1903 and 1914 (opening: 1920), which spurred American exports and gave the American fleet greater flexibility. Numerous US interventions in Latin America followed. The presidency of William Howard Taft (1909–1913) marked the transition to dollar diplomacy .

    First World War (1914-1918)

    At the beginning of the war in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson was closer to the Western powers than to the German Reich, which for him embodied autocracy and militarism. In contrast, Great Britain had long cooperated with the USA in terms of foreign policy and economics. The US government condemned the German submarine warfare, which was not in conformity with international law, with the intention of sinking ships with war goods by sea to Great Britain and isolating Great Britain by sea blockade. However, the US did not move in a straight line from its initial neutrality towards participating in the war. The sinking of the passenger steamer RMS Lusitania in May 1915 with war goods by a German submarine was significant , killing 128 American civilians. The German Reich government then withdrew from unrestricted submarine warfare, which led to a defusing and temporary stabilization of relations, while at the same time relations between the USA and France and Great Britain deteriorated over war trade issues. A peace movement and a minority of "interventionists" faced each other. The latter saw the German Reich as a troublemaker of the international structure. In 1916, as before, the people's belief in peace prevailed. Wilson won re-election and continued to plead for a "peace without victory" with delaying tactics. In 1917 the German Reich resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, whereupon Wilson broke off relations with Berlin in early February 1917. New peace movements did not allow a war to enter. It was not until the intercepted German Zimmermann telegram , which touched the sensitivities of American foreign policy, that the further process accelerated, which led to the declaration of war on the Reich on April 6, 1917. From then on the USA was an "associated" power on the side of the "allied" Western powers.

    Conscription was introduced on September 16, 1914 and 3 million soldiers were recruited, 2 million of whom were deployed in France. Armaments were increased, but made up no more than a quarter of total economic production. The overall economic growth spurt was enormous, however, with an increase from $ 40 billion in 1914 to $ 90 billion in 1920.

    In the fall of 1917, American troops under General John Pershing arrived in France. Wilson sums up the war goals in his 14-point program and called for, among other things, open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, unhindered world trade and the establishment of a League of Nations . The war ended on November 11, 1918, with subsequent tough peace conditions for the Reich that contradicted Wilson's intentions. Wilson had overestimated his ability to prevent France and Great Britain from weakening Germany too politically and economically.

    Between the wars (1918–1941)

    Women's suffrage in the individual states before the adoption of the 19th Amendment 1920:
  • Full voting rights for women
  • Right to vote in presidential elections
  • Right to vote in the primaries , that is, area codes
  • Municipal suffrage
  • Right to vote in school, tax and debt matters
  • Local voting rights in some cities
  • Local voting rights with the primaries in some cities
  • No right to vote
  • After the First World War it came to the Red anxiety (Red Scare) , an anti-communist wave in the wake of the revolution in Russia , culminating in the Palmer Raids , a large-scale persecution of leftist organizations by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer found. In 1919, the 18th amendment to the constitution on the nationwide ban on the production, sale and consumption of alcohol ( alcohol prohibition ) was passed. (In 1933 this was reversed by the 21st Amendment.)


    At the state level, women's suffrage had been achieved at different times. In New Jersey , wealthy women had had the right to vote since 1776 and began voting in 1787. When universal male suffrage was introduced there, women lost the right to vote. In 1918, Oklahoma , Michigan , South Dakota and Texas (women suffrage in primary elections) were at the bottom of the list. In some states, restrictions such as reading and writing tests and voting taxes were still used after 1920 to prevent blacks from voting. At the federal level, the constitution of September 13, 1788 did not provide for any gender restrictions for the two chambers of the electorate. However, it was not until 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States came into force, that all restrictions on the right to vote based on gender were explicitly prohibited in the USA, giving women full suffrage at all levels. The American presidential election of 1920 was the first to give women the right to vote .

    In the course of a change in Indian policy in the United States , the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 also gave Indians full civil rights and thus for the first time the right to vote at the federal level.

    Foreign policy

    President Wilson's intention to influence international politics through the League of Nations established in the Versailles Treaty was prevented by the contrary vote of Congress. The United States was one of the few countries that stayed away from the League of Nations. The United States rejected the Allied Treaty of Versailles with the German Reich and, as a result of the weakening of the European powers by the war, recorded a significant increase in its economic influence, but otherwise returned to isolationism and a policy of neutrality. The Immigration Act of 1924 , which ended the phase of mass immigration for four decades , also belonged in this context ; For the time being, the USA has largely closed itself off, particularly to migrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

    Notable foreign policy initiatives of the period were the holding of the Washington Naval Conference of 1922, various mediations in the reparations dispute with Germany and the Briand-Kellogg Pact of 1928 to outlaw war. On the occasion of the Manchurian Crisis , the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine was formulated in 1932 on the non-recognition of border changes by military means.

    Roaring Twenties

    People gathered outside the New York Stock Exchange after Black Thursday of 1929

    The 1920s were characterized by a great intoxication that ran through the economy ( Roaring Twenties , see Golden Twenties ). Based on the theories of Fordism , according to which high wages and thus increasing demand would be the cure for economic crises, a consumer and affluent society emerged for the first time . The presidency for that decade was held by Republicans Warren G. Harding , Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover .

    The disillusionment with the modernist zeitgeist was expressed by the artists of the Lost Generation . Afro-American artists founded the Harlem Renaissance . The 1920s also saw the heyday of jazz , dance music and the emergence of the large film and radio companies. The 1920s were also the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan , which at the time had over four million members.

    Great Depression and New Deal

    Abandoned farm in Dust Bowl , South Dakota, 1936

    The great stock market crash of 1929, which began on Black Thursday on October 24th, ushered in a global world economic crisis . The United States helped worsen the crisis through the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act , as the retaliatory tariffs imposed on all of its trading partners caused world trade to shrink by about 60% by 1933. The USA was hit particularly hard by the crisis, among other things because President Herbert Hoover rejected state interventions in the economy on fundamental grounds . The unemployment rate rose from 3% in 1929 to its high of 24.9% in 1933. Unlike Europe, the United States did not have a social safety net at the start of the Great Depression. There was also no deposit insurance fund. When thousands of banks went bankrupt, many citizens lost all their savings. Numerous unemployed and underemployed people lived in " Hoovervilles ", named after President Hoover . The economic misery was joined by a period of drought in the Great Plains area, which led to the emigration of large parts of the population (see Dust Bowl ).

    To overcome the desperate state of the economy and to alleviate high unemployment, a series of economic and social reforms, later known as the New Deal , were implemented under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from 1933 to 1938 . Some of these measures only served to alleviate the plight of the unemployed and poor in the short term, while other measures, such as changing monetary policy and countering deflation, were intended to get the economy going again. The reform measures that still exist today included a. the regulation of the banking system, the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation , the control of securities transactions by the Securities and Exchange Commission created in 1934, and the introduction of social security . The economy has been recovering from the crash since 1933. Unemployment fell only slowly, however, and full employment did not enter into World War II until the start of the war.

    Second World War (1941–1945)

    During the Second World War , the USA tried for a long time a policy of standing still, but began rearming in the West after Hitler's war in 1940. The initial reluctance was mainly due to a strong isolationist attitude among the American people, which was taken up by the opposition Republican Party . The American public believed that before, during World War I, Americans would have had to die to wage a European war. Although the US government supported the British defense effort material ( lend-lease / lend-lease bill ), but took the attitude that will not even be drawn into the war to want. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor , which took place without a declaration of war (December 7, 1941), rendered these considerations meaningless. After Japan was de facto at war with the US as a result of the attack, the US declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941. Thereupon Germany and Italy declared war on the USA on December 11th .

    Japanese surprise attack on the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
    Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944

    The destruction of the American fleet, which, however, did not include the strategically important aircraft carriers , could be compensated for by concentrating all resources and a series of government regulations for industry .

    The USA formulated the “Germany first strategy” during World War II. 60% of the American military potential was then destined for war in Europe. Churchill , however, was against forming a front in France; he preferred the route of conquest via Italy, begun in the summer of 1943, and via the Balkans against Germany. The USA, on the other hand, relied on the Second Front demanded by Stalin . It was decided at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. On June 6, 1944, D-Day , the Allies landed in Normandy in what was the world's largest landing operation with 200,000 men, the support of 2,700 ships and massive air superiority ( Operation Overlord ). German border areas were reached in the west in December 1944, the Rhine crossed at Remagen on March 7, 1945 , and the western part of the Reich was occupied by more than a million Americans along with British, Canadians and French. After the unconditional surrender of the German Reich on May 8, 1945, the Western Allied forces withdrew to the line of demarcation established by the European Advisory Commission in London.

    The turning point in the Pacific War between the US and Japan was the naval battle of the Midway Islands in June 1942, in which the US destroyed four Japanese aircraft carriers, thereby breaking the Japanese’s offensive power. After the Japanese armed forces had gradually lost a sea battle against the Americans for over three years, the political leadership was still not ready to end the war with the United States. Only after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 with a total of between 110,000 and 150,000 civilian deaths, was Japan, which was also due to the increased use of its Soviet neighbor after this with his American ally had ended the war in Europe, was threatened and ready to surrender. The two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan during the term of office of Harry S. Truman, who had succeeded Roosevelt in the office of President after his death and was officially elected President in the election of 1948 as head of state (and surprisingly for many contemporary observers).

    As a result of the Second World War, the USA had made great sacrifices. Their total losses were 300,000 dead and 670,000 wounded, more than ever in any other war before and almost half more than in the Civil War . As a proportion of the total population, however, the losses were below 0.5% and thus much lower than those of other main war participants. The country was the only one to emerge economically stronger from the war and at the end of the war it had only one nuclear weapon of mass destruction . The US had risen to become a superpower with a global presence. In 1945 the American economy had a 50% share in the world’s gross national product, produced 60% of all industrial products and accounted for almost half of world trade.

    The Bretton Woods system , which was founded in 1944, established the dollar as the international reserve currency with the gold standard . It corresponded to the American ideas of free world trade and open markets.

    Beginning of the Cold War (1945–1964)


    When the Second World War officially ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, the south-east of Germany and the north-west of Austria became the American zone of occupation . The division of Germany created the Iron Curtain , which divided Europe into the areas of interest of the USA and the Soviet Union . After the end of the war in Asia in autumn 1945, Japan and the south of Korea were occupied by the Americans, while the sparsely populated north of Korea was occupied by the Soviets. After the communists conquered mainland China in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 , about a third of the world was ruled by communists, while the other two thirds were taken by the United States, its allies and colonies.

    There were fundamental differences between the United States, with its market economy and democratic system, and the communist one-party system of the Soviet Union.

    After 1945, under President Harry S. Truman, the United States was able to achieve its goals in the western world. Most of these come from the Atlantic Charter of 1941. Furthermore, the World Bank and the IMF were founded with their headquarters in Washington. The Soviet Union did not participate.

    The Soviet Union enforced communist one-party systems in Eastern Europe and thus failed to fulfill its promise at the Yalta Conference to hold free elections in these states.

    Containment policy

    Beginning in 1946, the United States pursued the containment policy, based on an article titled "X" by George F. Kennan in Foreign Affairs magazine, for firm containment of communism and Soviet influence in the world. In order to secure its position as the most powerful country in the world, arms spending was kept at a high level. This included the Marshall Plan for the Reconstruction of Western Europe and the entry into force of the North Atlantic Pact (NATO) on April 24, 1949. The United States supported the royalists in the Greek Civil War , South Korea in the war against the communist north ( Korean War ) and France in the Indochina War , in which later the Vietnam War broke out. With Turkey and Iran , two western-oriented Islamic states were protected from territorial claims by the Soviet Union. Truman warned that without help, Greece and Turkey would fall into communist hands, which could have a domino effect around the world. In 1946 the School of the Americas was established to train Latin American military personnel. In 1947 the CIA was founded.

    With his speech in Stuttgart on September 6, 1946, the American Secretary of State James F. Byrnes heralded a turning point in American policy on Germany: the United States turned away from the Morgenthau Plan and advocated a policy of reconstruction in several war-torn states. With the Marshall Plan , America invested around 14 billion dollars in grants and loans in a total of 16 countries, including countries in Western Europe, Japan, South Korea and the Republic of China (Taiwan) . With a share of 1.6 billion dollars, the German western zones and the Federal Republic of Germany were fourth on the recipient list after Great Britain, France and Italy. However, the Germans again received the same amount from the GARIOA program. The Soviet Union refused to integrate the western sectors of Berlin into the Federal Republic, which led to the Berlin blockade in 1948/49. The US Army supplied the Berlin population for almost a year via the so-called Berlin Airlift . In 1949 NATO was founded; for the first time in its 170-year history, the United States was in a defense alliance with other countries. This was followed by the first Soviet nuclear tests in 1949 and the signing of an alliance with the People's Republic of China and the establishment of the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

    It is considered the most important foreign policy achievement of the USA after 1945 that it actively participated in the reconstruction of Western Europe and the reintegration of the two former main opponents of the war, Germany and Japan, into the international community.

    At the beginning of the 1950s, the USA had plans to form a West German army ( Bundeswehr ) and a peace treaty with Japan that would include the stationing of US troops in East Asia.

    The United States supported France in the First Indochina War to defend the colonies of French Indochina against the communist independence movement Việt Minh .

    Korean War

    During the Korean War , the US was able to prevent communism from spreading to the entire Korean Peninsula. In June 1950 Stalin had a plan to invade South Korea from the communist north. President Truman then stationed US forces in the south of the country. This was done not by the approval of Congress, but by the United Nations to reunite the Koreans.

    After initial defeats in the West, the war turned in the Battle of Incheon (Operation Chromite) by General Douglas MacArthur . After that, the Americans were able to conquer almost the entire Korean Peninsula, but were soon pushed back again. The war resulted in a stalemate with 33,000 dead and 100,000 wounded US soldiers. President Truman sacked MacArthur who was unable to end the war. In 1953 President Eisenhower ended the war with an armistice, and there is still no peace treaty.

    Eisenhower government (1953–1961)

    John Foster Dulles

    In the 1952 election , a Republican was elected to the presidency for the first time in 20 years, namely General Dwight D. Eisenhower , who was also considered a candidate for the Democrats. Its foreign minister was John Foster Dulles until 1959 . Dulles put an end to Truman's containment policy and began the rollback policy , which was also aimed at reducing the influence of the Soviet Union. Part of that policy was massive retaliation and brinkmanship . The US wanted to secure peace by deterring the Soviet Union from attacking the West.

    Both world powers tried to expand their spheres of influence. The new Soviet head of state Nikita Khrushchev improved relations between the Soviet Union and India and other third world countries. In 1957 the Soviet Union sent the first satellite ( Sputnik ) into earth orbit, which led to the so-called Sputnik shock , as they believed they were behind in the space race (which was also understood as part of the "peaceful competition of systems" proclaimed by Khrushchev).

    What was more serious, however, was that the Soviet Union was the first country to have an operational ICBM , which undermined the US nuclear doctrine, which had been in effect until then, and gave the arms race a further boost. The Cold War was also fueled by events such as the Berlin Crisis in 1958 and the deployment of US medium-range missiles in Turkey the following year. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959 under Fidel Castro , the Soviet Union formed an alliance with the state in the immediate vicinity of the United States. The Cold War reached its climax in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis when Soviet weapons were stationed in Cuba .

    Kennedy government (1961–1963): ideals of freedom, civil rights movement, Cuba crisis

    John F. Kennedy was president for only 1036 days, but important events occurred during this short time, so that Kennedy is considered one of the most important presidents today. These include the civil rights movement , the escalation in the Vietnam War , the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Bay of Pigs invasion . Kennedy appointed his brother Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general .

    President Kennedy with the Soviet party leader and Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961

    A characteristic of the Kennedy era, as a high point of the “liberal consensus”, was his appeal to idealism and the willingness of citizens to make sacrifices, especially the younger generation. An extraordinary sense of national identity, moral superiority, and responsibility for the United States for the good of all humanity has been created. Kennedy recognized the imminent threat of global annihilation through nuclear weapons, but at the same time spurred the nation on to defend freedom. For this, America is ready "to pay any price, to bear any burden, to endure any privation, to support every friend and to resist every opponent". The president was cautious on the race issue. He knew the era of discrimination against African Americans was drawing to a close because it contradicted Kennedy's ideal of freedom and equality. Kennedy said the nation "will not be truly free until all citizens are free". However, it was not until the summer of 1963, accompanied by unrest, that the government drafted a new law banning racial discrimination in public institutions. Kennedy did not live to see the adoption of this new Civil Rights Act by Congress.

    Under Kennedy, the Apollo space program was announced that same year in response to advances made by the Soviet Union, which launched the first human into space in 1961 . It had the goal of a first manned flight to the moon , which took place in 1969.

    On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas (see assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy ). Four days after his death, his successor convened the Warren Commission to investigate the crime.

    Johnson government (1963–1968): civil rights, Vietnam War, continuation of détente

    Immediately after Kennedy's death, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the office of president. During Johnson's tenure, who was landslide re-elected in 1964 and remained in office until early 1969, important domestic events fell, notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act , which abolished national segregation, as well as electoral and civil rights for African Americans and other minorities were empowered. The Civil Rights Act marked the greatest advance in race and gender relations since the liberation of slaves in 1865. The government also initiated dozens of social programs with the Great Society , which reduced the poverty rate to nearly half and reforms in the areas of education and health .

    President Johnson meets with civil rights leader Martin Luther King in the White House

    The increasing influence of the civil rights movement falls under Johnson's presidency . It marked a "profound change in attitudes among the American population," "which made advances on the racial issue irreversible." In 1967 the ban on marriage between people of different races was lifted by the Supreme Court . The civil rights movement was embodied by its charismatic leader Martin Luther King . He followed the principle of nonviolent resistance. The action shifted to the cities of the south, where the black population brought their protests to the streets. The formal organization was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In his speech on August 28, 1963 in Washington, Martin Luther King sketched the image of a harmonious American society of all races with the now famous phrase “I have a dream”. King continued to gain popularity as a result. As a result, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 . He was murdered by a white man in Memphis in 1968. The result was race riots in 29 states and in 125 American cities, which were fought with the use of the National Guard and the military.

    Under Johnson, the Immigration Act of 1965 made immigration new, more open, and multi-ethnic than the Immigration Act of 1924 . Annual limits for immigrants have now been set for the western and eastern hemisphere. They were initially 120,000 immigrants for the west and 170,000 for the east. No single country was allowed to send more than 20,000 immigrants a year. These quotas were later increased. In the long term, this led to a significantly increasing proportion of citizens with East Asian and Latin American roots.

    During the Vietnam War, more bombs were dropped by the US Air Force than in the Second World War in all theaters of war combined.

    In terms of foreign policy, the Vietnam War was in the foreground in Johnson's reign . Johnson's attempt to expand US military influence in Southeast Asia without compromising the implementation of civil rights reforms domestically failed. The fate of his administration was decided by the Vietnam War. On the one hand, the United States refused to resume the Geneva Indochina Conference , which had the neutrality of South Vietnam as its subject. On the other hand, the US government blocked the Vietnam issue from being dealt with by the UN. With the Tonkin resolution on August 7, 1964, the President and thus the executive were authorized by both Houses "to take all necessary measures to ward off armed attacks against US troops and to prevent future aggression". This meant practically a free hand for the presidential war policy. As a result, the number of American soldiers in South Vietnam rose from 23,000 to over 500,000 within three years. Despite the extensive military commitment, the Viet Cong could not be pushed back. This showed an enormous willingness to make sacrifices, while the US government failed to develop an overarching strategy and formulate clear war goals. The government did not succeed in hiding the spectacular war events in South Vietnam from the population. The media was confronted with shocking images. The critical climax came at the end of January 1968 with the Tet offensive by the Viet Cong, during which they gained access to the grounds of the US embassy in Saigon. The previous US warfare had failed. Public opinion called for an end to the military operation. Members of the political elite increasingly refused their allegiance to Johnson. Dean Acheson published the view that the national security of the USA is more threatened by the internal turmoil than by the possible communist victory in South Vietnam. At the end of March 1968, Johnson announced that he would not be re-elected.

    Johnson strove to continue the policy of détente with the Soviet Union that John F. Kennedy had begun ; z. B. The Glassboro Summit Conference (June 1967, also on disarmament) attracted great attention. On July 1, 1968, three of the then five nuclear powers (USA, Soviet Union and Great Britain) signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty .

    Development of the affluent society 1945–1965

    After the war, the United States entered a sustained economic prosperity that has been dubbed the "heyday of modern American capitalism". The economic dynamism benefited broad sections of the population. Economic fluctuations could be minimized. The national product experienced more than a doubling from 213 billion dollars in 1945 to over 500 billion dollars in 1960. In 1970 it was one trillion dollars in real terms, in each case measured against the dollar exchange rate of 1958. Real economic growth was sustained at 4%. More and more women found jobs and thus contributed to the increase in consumption. In 1970, 43% of women had a job, in 1950 it was less than 30%. The proportion of young people with a college degree tripled from 15% in 1940 to 45% in 1960. A change was evident in agriculture, where the proportion of Americans living in the countryside fell from 17.5% to 4.5% between 1945 and 1970 - that is, 25 million people migrated to cities. The agro-industry replaced family farms. Average life expectancy increased with advances in medicine. It was 64.2 years in 1940 and 70.6 years in 1960 for the white population.

    The situation in the rural south and in the slums and ghettos of the big cities contrasted with the development of prosperity. Afro-Americans and new immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean in particular contributed to the 45 million people who lived below the officially defined poverty line of $ 3,000 per family per year in 1960. Politics has long ignored social inequality, abundance and neglect.

    Post-Vietnam Era: Weakened geopolitical position

    Jimmy Carter and the Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat during negotiations at Camp David to find peace between Israel and Egypt

    After the end of the Vietnam War and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system , the undisputed position of the United States came to an end and the question arose as to whether it was still able to act in foreign policy. Richard Nixon , president from 1969 to 1974, resigned in August 1974 when he was facing impeachment over the Watergate affair . President Ford was a co-signatory of the Helsinki Final Act in the framework of the newly established Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). It should guarantee the territorial security of the divided European continent. In 1978, under President Jimmy Carter and Foreign Minister Henry Kissinger, the Camp David Agreement was reached , establishing peace between Israel and Egypt.

    Reagan administration (1981–1989): recession, economic liberalism, new patriotism

    Since the end of the 1960s, there has been a decline in macroeconomic dynamism in the USA compared with increasing forces in Europe and Asia. The growth of the gross domestic product fell from 4% after the Second World War to 2.9% in the 1970s. The USA's share of the world gross national product fell from 50% in 1945 to 30% and in 1990 the gross national product per inhabitant was only ninth worldwide. At the same time, the US was able to create 43 million new jobs between 1970 and 1990, albeit many badly paid and inadequately protected. In 1990, 33.6 million people in the United States, or 13.5%, were poor.

    The 1970s saw the disappointment of Keynesian demand policies . In return, they oriented themselves towards the alternative supply policy based on the US economist Milton Friedman , the unleashing of market forces by eliminating unnecessary state intervention, the privatization of public tasks and the dismantling of the overgrown state apparatus. This reorientation under President Ronald Reagan was known as Reagonomics . This, along with a massive armament and arms race , was accompanied by a drastic increase in national debt of $ 2.6 trillion in 1988 compared to $ 914 billion in 1980. The USA had become the world's largest debtor nation in a short time.

    In terms of foreign policy, Reagan initially propagated the orientation towards the size and superiority of the USA with threats to Moscow. This was linked to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a missile-based space defense system . The confrontation with the Soviet Union thus experienced a new, threatening climax. In his second term in office, Reagan made a complete U-turn that ushered in the end of the Cold War. For Europe, the double zero solution was implemented between Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev in 1987 , the complete dismantling of medium- and short-range nuclear missiles. By 1989, within the framework of the CSCE , the prerequisites for the dismantling of both strategic nuclear weapons and conventional weapons were created.

    Economic upturn and global crisis interventions (1989–2008)

    In the 1990s, under the Democratic President Bill Clinton (1993–2001) , the USA experienced a sustained economic upswing (“ New Economy ”). The further neglect of the cities was halted - so the New York boroughs Bronx and Harlem awoke to new life. There was a major intervention in social legislation in 1996 when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act shortened the receipt of social assistance to two years in a row for a total of five years. There has been a significant decline in the number of social assistance programs and increasing pressure to take up work.

    Clinton was also responsible for foreign policy between the end of the Cold War and the inauguration of George W. Bush, with the help of Secretary of State Warren Christopher (first term) and Madeleine Albright (second term), the first Secretary of State in the history of the UNITED STATES. Observers have claimed that Clinton's foreign policy is arguably aiming to “do the world's social work”, as many of the activities focus on changing values ​​in rather poorer, strategically marginal countries, including Somalia , Haiti , and Bosnia-Herzegovina . The engagement in Somalia, under George Bush Sr. began with the disempowerment of the warlords as its goal, especially that of Mohammed Aidids . After television stations broadcast images showing the body of a US soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the special forces left the country to its fate. With the invasion of Haiti in 1994, the democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide was brought to power and the military dictator Raoul Cédras was deposed; the other problems of the country, which had lived under US occupation from 1915 to 1934 and which was affected by a US embargo under Cédras, were not resolved.

    After the European states had shown themselves to be incapable of pacifying the Balkans after the collapse of Yugoslavia, American troops intervened in Bosnia and Serbia within the framework of NATO in 1995 and 1999 , which resulted in the overthrow of dictator Slobodan Milošević . Attempts to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East suffered a serious setback with the attack on Yitzchak Rabin . Clinton reacted to provocations by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with sporadic air strikes as well as "retaliatory attacks" against institutions in Sudan and Afghanistan after terrorist attacks on the US embassy in Nairobi and on a warship in Yemen , which is part of the then already known al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden blamed. These individual actions, which mostly took place in the context of UN or NATO resolutions and led to little or no diplomatic differences among the Western European allies, were not justified in public as part of a permanent state of war, as was later the case with George W. Bush's war against terror was the case.

    During Clinton's presidency, there was a sustained shift to the right among the opposition Republicans. In 1994 they won a majority in the House of Representatives. After the president was accused of lying to the public in connection with an extramarital affair, the Republicans initiated an impeachment process , which failed.

    The 2000 presidential election was overshadowed by irregularities in the counting of votes; finally, a Supreme Court decision cleared the way for Republican candidate George W. Bush to win . This was the first US president in 112 years who could not unite the relative majority of the votes cast ( popular vote ). Soon after President Bush took office on January 20, 2001, his tendency towards unilateralism became evident, which found expression in the distrust of multinational and multilateral institutions. Bush was critical of the United Nations , which he refused to employ soldiers. In addition, Bush believed he was jeopardizing his country's ability to act in foreign policy by making binding commitments to comply with multinational treaties (example: Kyoto Protocol ).

    Echoes of this new republican foreign policy could be found in speeches and proposals by Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms as early as the mid-1990s . Neither the more “traditional” Republicans such as Bob Dole , John McCain or Richard Lugar , or the Democrats, agreed with this policy.

    Images like this have shaped politics since 2001: the burning New York World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty on September 11, 2001

    As a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, war broke out in Afghanistan after the Taliban regime there had decided not to extradite the UN Security Council , Osama bin Laden , the alleged perpetrator of the attacks, to the USA afford to. The war that led to the overthrow of the Taliban was the first in a series of measures in the " war on terrorism, " which has since been a major focus of American foreign policy.

    In this "fight against terrorism" at the end of 2002, Iraq increasingly became the focus of government interest. The Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein has repeatedly been accused of violating human rights, of supporting terrorism and, in particular, of al-Qaeda , and of violating UN Security Council resolution 1441 with the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction .

    On March 20, 2003, American and British troops under the leadership of the USA began the Third Gulf War , although there was no UN mandate for it and despite worldwide protests. Critics questioned the legitimacy of the war under international law . After only three weeks, Baghdad was occupied and the end of the war was announced. In December 2003, the fugitive Saddam Hussein was captured. As a result, the occupying powers were busy gaining and maintaining control of the country and were confronted with a guerrilla war of insurgents. The inability of American and British forces, which had since largely withdrawn, to restore security and order in Iraq heightened doubts about the strategic consistency of the Bush administration's policy . Bush Vice President Dick Cheney , as a representative of an oil lobby, exerted a great influence on Bush's decisions in connection with the Iraq war. The Halliburton group, which is closely related to Cheney , received contracts worth $ 7 billion in Iraq without tendering.

    This also had domestic political consequences: the Republican Party suffered a defeat at the mid-term elections in 2006, which was mainly due to the Iraq war. The attack on Iraq was justified by Bush as a preventive war "to ward off an impending threat," but claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and supported terrorist activities abroad could not be substantiated. Alleged evidence of the purchase of weapons- grade plutonium from Niger even turned out to be forgery. In the opinion of many critics, the Iraq war of the USA and the coalition of the willing was therefore not a preventive war in the sense of the United Nations ( see also: Caroline criteria ), but rather a war of aggression contrary to international law .

    The United States has come under increasing criticism on allegations that it violates international law . The government was charged with torture methods such as waterboarding , which was used in the Guantanamo prison camp , for example (see also Torture in the USA ). The US was also charged with numerous war crimes ; primarily the are torture scandal at Abu Ghraib , or the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks revealed July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike to name.

    Between 2004 and 2006, a particularly large number of loans were granted to debtors with poor credit ratings. About 22% of all mortgage loans were so-called “subprime loans”, the majority of which were securitized.

    Since mid-2007, the public has also become increasingly aware that the real estate market , on which the credit market and thus the financing of private consumption were based, was collapsing. But this not only threatened to decline in consumption, but the banks were sitting on " bad loans ". Even banks like Bear Stearns could only be saved through government intervention. At risk were the main carriers of mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac . Despite interest rate cuts by the central bank , banks' willingness to lend money was lower than it had been in decades. The financial crisis was also reflected in the real economy , but the sectors were affected to different degrees. Unemployment rose to over 10 percent, and in the long term the low interest rate policy destroyed the business model of many lending companies.

    Financial crisis, de-industrialization and beginning of the withdrawal from international trouble spots (since 2008)

    In this phase of heightened uncertainty, the election of the new president took place on November 4, 2008 , in which Senator Barack Obama from Illinois emerged victorious as the Democratic candidate against the Senator from Arizona, John McCain , who ran for the Republicans. Was sworn in as the 44th President of the USA on January 1st, 2009. After his victory, Barack Obama, whose black father was born in Kenya and who is therefore the first black president, despite having a white mother, suspended all of his predecessor's regulations that had not yet come into force. He also had the ongoing military court proceedings against inmates of the Guantanamo prison camp suspended for 120 days, which was seen as the beginning of the liquidation of the camp. He also promised to withdraw troops from Iraq within 18 months. Overall, he relied more on diplomacy than on confrontation, but held on to a continuation of the mission in Afghanistan. In 2009 Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize . On December 19, 2009, his administration passed the largest defense budget in history, amounting to $ 636.3 billion, an increase compared to Obama's predecessor George W. Bush. Obama put a cap on government income, an executive order that allowed states to introduce stricter emissions regulations.

    In terms of economic policy, the Obama administration was based on the recipes of the Clinton era, but relied more on renewable energies and fracking in order to conserve natural resources, but also to become more independent in foreign policy and to improve the trade balance. The recovery from the recession triggered by the financial crisis has been very slow despite various programs to support the auto industry. The deindustrialization of large parts of the Rust Belt , the industrial region between the Great Lakes and the east coast, could not be stopped, especially as imports of finished products from China rose sharply; while there was a decline in domestic investment. The decline of infrastructure and industrial metropolitan areas like Detroit continued. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country's contribution to global gross domestic product (GDP) decreased from 26 to 21.9 percent between 1980 and 2012. In 1980, the USA accounted for 16.4 percent of global goods exports; in 2012 this figure was only 10.9 percent. The share of the global stocks of foreign direct investments in 1980 was 39.2 percent, in 2012 the USA came to only 22 percent. The US has had a rising current account deficit since the early 1990s, largely due to a huge trade deficit. In 2008, that deficit was $ 872 billion, or about 6 percent of US gross domestic product . After a slowdown in 2009-2013, there has been another increase since 2014 to 2017: 863 billion dollars.

    Rising imports and a lack of investment led to a loss of, above all, relatively well-paid industrial jobs. In connection with the mortgage crisis, there was also the impoverishment of the white middle class as well as a drug crisis, which is partly caused by massive pharmaceutical advertising and an increase in the unregulated prescription of opioids . Between 2000 and 2015 alone, around half a million Americans died of opioid overdoses, mostly in New England, Appalachia and the Rust Belt.

    The issue of social security , especially health insurance, was passed into law in 2010 with Obamacare , a large-scale reform of the health system for broader sections of the population. The Republicans categorically refused to cooperate with Obama; after gaining a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, this therefore led to a large-scale standstill in legislation and a growing division in American society.

    At the end of 2011, the withdrawal of troops in Iraq was completed and the occupation of Iraq formally ended. On December 31, 2014, the combat mission of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan under NATO leadership was ended and US troops were withdrawn except for a small unit that remained in the follow-up mission, Resolute Support .

    After 53 years of diplomatic isolation between the United States and Cuba , the heads of state of both countries announced in December 2014 that they wanted to resume diplomatic relations. The bilateral rapprochement involved, among other things, the easing of trade barriers, easing travel regulations, the release of prisoners and the opening of embassies. At the end of May 2015, it was announced that an embassy would be opening in Havana in a few weeks' time and that Cuba would be removed from the list of countries supporting terrorism.

    The Republican Donald Trump surprisingly won the presidential election on November 8, 2016 against the candidate of the Democrats , Hillary Clinton . Like George W. Bush in 2000, Trump received only a minority of the votes cast. The election by the Electoral College took place on December 19, 2016, the inauguration took place on January 20, 2017. The Republicans initially also controlled Congress and used this to implement massive tax breaks for companies. The attempt to abolish Obamacare, however, failed in 2017 due to resistance from some Republican senators. In terms of foreign policy, Trump became alienated from traditional allies such as Canada, France and Germany; at the same time, the president turned away from free trade and imposed protective tariffs , especially on Chinese imports. Inside, the polarization of the population and the harshness of the political conflict increased considerably. In the mid-term elections in November 2018 , the Democrats were able to win a majority in the House of Representatives.

    See also


    Overview works

    Epochs and time periods

    Foreign policy

    • Stephan Bierling : History of American Foreign Policy. C. H. Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-49428-5 .
    • Mark C. Carnes: The American Nation. A History of the United States. 15th edition. Pearson, Boston 2016, ISBN 978-0-2059-5850-4 .
    • Klaus Schwabe : World Power and World Order. American Foreign Policy from 1898 to the Present. Schöningh, Paderborn 2006.
    • The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations. Volume 1: William Earl Weeks: Dimensions of the Early American Empire, 1754-1865 ; Volume 2: Walter LaFeber: The American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1913 ; Volume 3: Akira Kiriye: The Globalizing of America: 1913-1945 ; Volume 4: Warren I. Cohen: Challenges to American Primacy, 1945 to the Present , Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    Cultural history

    • Bernd Engler , Oliver Scheiding (Eds.): A Companion to American Cultural History. From the Colonial Period to the End of the 19th Century. WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, Trier 2009, ISBN 978-3-86821-112-2 .
    • Angela Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan Jay Wolf, Jennifer L. Roberts: American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity. Pearson, London 2007, ISBN 978-0-13-030004-1 .


    • Susan Sleeper-Smith, Juliana Barr, Jean M. O'Brien, Nancy Shoemaker, Scott Manning Stevens (Eds.): Why You Can't Teach United States History without American Indians , The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2015.

    Historic sites

    Web links

    Commons : History of the United States  - Collection of Images


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