A Short History of the United States

383 Pages · 2008 · 4.08 MB · English

  • A Short History of the United States


    Short History

    of the

    United States

    Robert V. Remini For Joan,

    Who has brought nothing but joy to my life Contents

    1 Discovery and Settlement of the New World 1

    2 Inde pendence and Nation Building 31

    3 An Emerging Identity 63

    4 The Jacksonian Era 95

    5 The Dispute over Slavery, Secession, and the Civil War 127

    6 Reconstruction and the Gilded Age 155

    7 Manifest Destiny, Progressivism, War,

    and the Roaring Twenties 187

    Photographic Insert

    8 The Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II 215

    9 The Cold War and Civil Rights 245

    10 Violence, Scandal, and the End of the Cold War 277

    11 The Conservative Revolution 305

    Reading List 337

    Index 343

    About the Author

    Other Books by Robert V. Remini




    About the Publisher 1

    Discovery and Settlement

    of the New World

    T here are many intriguing mysteries surrounding the peo-

    pling and discovery of the western hemisphere. Who w ere the

    people to first inhabit the northern and southern continents? Why did

    they come? How did they get h ere? How long was their migration? A

    possible narrative suggests that the movement of ancient people to the

    New World began when they crossed a land bridge that once existed

    between what we today call Siberia and Alaska, a bridge that later dis-

    appeared because of glacial melting and is now covered by water and

    known as the Bering Strait. It is also possible that these early people

    were motivated by wanderlust or the need for a new source of food.

    Perhaps they were searching for a better climate, and maybe they came

    for religious reasons, to escape persecution or find a more congenial

    area to practice their partic u lar beliefs. Who knows?

    Of course some scholars have argued that these ancient people came

    by sea, and several modern adventurers have sought to demonstrate

    how it was accomplished. But if a land route did provide the gateway to

    this New World, when did it happen? How long ago? The best g uess—

    and it is a g uess—is that it took place 50,000 years ago, if not more.

    But was it a single long migration stretching over a number of years?

    Or did it come in fits and starts during an extended period of time?

    Scholars have suggested that the migration continued until 2,000 years

    ago and that extended families came in groups. Over time, these people 2 a short history of the united states

    settled into every habitable area they could find, penetrating to the

    most southernly region and even occupying the many islands off the

    coast, especially the eastern coast. These ancients established them-

    selves along an 11,000-mile stretch from north to south, and a distance

    of 3,000 or more miles, in some places, from east to west. They devel-

    oped a diversity of cultures, depending in the main on the areas where

    they took up permanent residence; and they spoke at least 300 different

    languages. Their individual clans formed tribes or nations, and their

    governments usually consisted of a council of elders and clan chiefs

    selected by the elders. The highest ruling member of the tribe was the

    principal chief, chosen from one of the major clans. But many func-

    tions of government were normally handled by an individual clan or by

    a family.

    The economy was mostly agricultural, that is, hunting and gather-

    ing. But these natives w ere limited in what they could do by the fact

    that they had not invented the wheel; nor did they have important

    domesticated animals, such as the horse and cow. And they had not

    learned the skills of metallurgy, apart from the hammering of sheet

    copper to make primitive tools and gold and silver for personal orna-


    null of the hundreds of tribes who resided in the area north of

    present- day Mexico had an alphabet or a written language. Instead

    they resorted to pictographs to record important events, and they sub-

    stituted a sign language and smoke signals to communicate over long

    distances. In the south a more culturally advanced society emerged

    among the Aztec and Inca tribes. The Aztecs had a written language

    and a command of mathematics and architecture. Their great stone

    temples commanded the cities and towns in which they were built. It

    has been suggested that the cultural level of the southern tribes in the

    eighth century after Christ was more advanced than that of any of the

    countries in western Europe. If so, the question immediately arises why

    it came to a full stop and never advanced. That is another mystery that

    cannot be satisfactorily explained from evidence presently available.

    More mysteries. According to Norse sagas, sometime around AD

    1000 Vikings were blown off course while sailing west from Iceland to

    Greenland, and landed in the New World. Just where they found ref-

    uge is uncertain. A little later Leif Eriksson and his crew repeated this Distribution of American Indians 4 a short history of the united states

    journey and probably reached p resent- day Newfoundland, or possibly

    some place along the coast of modern-day New England. They made

    camp and explored a wide area, no doubt visiting sections that later

    became part of the United States. Further explorations by other Vi-

    kings may have taken them down the St. Lawrence River.

    In any event the Vikings never established permanent settlements in

    the New World, and nothing came of their discoveries. It took several

    more centuries for western Europe to begin to initiate important

    changes in its society that would result in the migration of many of its

    people to the New World.

    The Crusades undoubtedly triggered a good deal of these changes.

    In 1095, Pope Urban II called Christians to liberate the Holy Land

    from the Muslims who controlled it. Thousands of Europeans re-

    sponded and traveled to the East, where they were exposed to a differ-

    ent and more exotic culture, a way of life that excited their imagination.

    Later they returned home from their adventure with new tastes, new

    ideas, new interests, and new demands for foods and goods that they

    had experienced in the East, such as spices, cotton, and silk cloth.

    Their desire for the products of the East was further enhanced by

    Marco Polo’s account of his extensive travels and life in China, pub-

    lished in the thirteenth century. The gold and silver as well as the

    spices and silk clothing that Polo described captured the imagination

    of Europeans. Trade routes were developed to bring these products to

    an eager market. Soon the manorial, agricultural, closed economy of

    the medieval world gave way to a capitalistic economy based on trade,

    money, and credit. Existing cities flourished and new ones were

    founded. This urban development attracted artisans of every stripe

    who perfected their crafts and initiated a technological revolution.

    The printing press made possible the wide distribution of books and

    stimulated learning. It also contributed to the formation of universi-

    ties in a number of cities. The compass and astrolabe w ere introduced

    by which navigation of the seas became safer and encouraged seamen

    to seek new routes and new worlds beyond those already known.

    As a result of these and many other less notable changes the Middle

    Ages, with their authoritarian and rigid system of beliefs and practices,

    slowly disintegrated. The power of the pope and bishops who controlled Discovery and Settlement of the New World 5

    the Catholic church was supplanted by that of ruling monarchs and

    titled noblemen in emerging nation-states. And after Martin Luther

    posted his list of ninety-five theses on a cathedral door, the Christian

    religion no longer consisted of a single set of beliefs.

    Capitalism, Protestantism, and the nation-states ruled by ambitious

    sovereigns combined to bring about modern Europe.

    Once the astrolabe allowed navigators to determine the longi-

    tude of their ships at sea by measur ing the angle between the sun and

    the horizon, daring explorers ventured farther down the coast of Af-

    rica. Prince Henry of Portugal, known as Henry the Navigator, subsi-

    dized expeditions that ultimately crossed the equator and sailed down

    the length of Africa. In 1498, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of

    Good Hope, crossed the Indian Ocean, and reached India, where he

    announced to the natives that he had come to trade.

    Reaching the East by the shortest possible route and returning home

    with gold, silver, spices, and other exotic products became an ambitious

    quest for many seamen. An Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus,

    believed he could reach the Orient faster by sailing due west, not

    around the continent of Africa. Despite the objections of her advisers,

    who felt that the long voyage by small caravels into the unknown posed

    dangerous risks, Isabella the Catholic, queen of Castile, who married

    Ferdinand, king of Aragon, to form the nation-state of Spain, agreed

    to finance the trip. On August 3, 1492, three ships, the Nina, Pinta, and

    Santa Maria, manned by about ninety sailors, left Palos, Spain,

    and—after a brief stop at the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa—

    headed toward the setting sun. It took enormous courage and superb

    seamanship to undertake this voyage, but on October 12 at around two

    AM, Columbus and his crew made landfall on what he called San Sal-

    vador (it was later named Watlings Island), in the Bahamas. He next

    sighted a much larger island, Hispaniola, and called the natives who

    greeted him Indians, in the mistaken belief that he had arrived in India

    and that China was just a short distance farther west. He returned

    home to a hero’s welcome and made three further trips to this New

    World, but he never found the treasures and spices he desired, and he

    died still convinced that he had reached Asia.

    The subsequent exploration of a New World by Portuguese and

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