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History Part I: The Colonial Period to the Civil War

The Colonization of America

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History Part I: The Colonial Period to the Civil War
The 1600s were a time when the new continent of America was colonized by several nations in Europe. These colonies soon were divided into three regions based on their climate and characteristics: the New England colonies to the north, the Middle Atlantic colonies, and the Southern colonies, all of which were most densely settled along the coastline.

The early colonies enjoyed self-representation, whether through the Mayflower Compact which declared self government, to the assemblies that represented the colonies in other areas. And these colonies grew quickly in a land filled with natural resources and with access to the ocean for trade.

By the mid 1700s, the colonies had a population of over 1 million. Their first great conflict occurred during the French and Indian war (1754-1763), and they enjoyed a victory which increased the area they could settle in.

England attempted to raise money from the colonies with a series of Acts which were vigorously protested and sparked the formation of patriotic groups, and eventually the Revolutionary War which gave them their independence from British rule. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 (our Independence Day) but the war actually ended in 1781 when the British General Cornwallis conceded defeat to the General of the American army, George Washington, who became the new nation's first president.

The early years of the United States were characterized by a tug of war between the Federalists (who favored a strong central government) and the antifederalists (who supported strong states' rights and feared a powerful national government). As time when on, a type of compromise in which the power was balanced between the two (dual federalism) occurred. But a tendency towards a stronger federal government was seen when Thomas Jefferson used his executive powers to purchase land from the French in the Louisiana Purchase, and with the efforts of chief justice John Marshall to increase the power of the federal government.

But issues came up which caused the question of how much power individual states have to occur. And both economic factors and national division over the question of slavery led to southern states asserting their right to secede, and the federal government declaring that right unconstitutional as the Civil War began. President Lincoln led the country during this difficult period, and tried to balance the rights of the states, while maintaining the power and authority of the federal government as the Union won the war and brought the states back into its fold.

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The Colonization of America

Settlers from many nations, and especially Europe, flocked to the new land that was called "America". Many came for economic reasons, others fled war, and others pursued personal religious freedom. Many of the colonies were originally started by chartered companies, who paid for the colonization in return for an interest in the products and resources.

The early colonies were divided into the New England colonies, where shipping, industry, and trade were important; the Middle colonies, where agriculture and trade were pre-eminent; and the agricultural Southern colonies which were the source of the first successful colony (Jamestown, Virginia, 1608) and the production of tobacco on large plantations. The colonists first settled most densely in the coastal regions, but eventually moved inland over time.

An early mandatory school system was instituted in New England and later adopted by other colonies (but private tutors taught in the agricultural areas where no towns existed), and newspapers were founded in the early 1700s. The early colonists in New Plymouth were self-governed under the Mayflower Compact, and other surrounding colonies adopted this method of government and independence from British rule; while other colonies were self-represented by assemblies and charters who were under the locally appointed governor. Most colonies viewed themselves as states or commonwealths with the full rights that were enjoyed by British citizens; and none recognized the authority of parliament; instead they believed they answered only to the king.

During the colonial period, relations with France deteriorated in part due to the French desire to expand their empire in the new world, represented by a line of forts and trading posts that stretched from Quebec to New Orleans along the Mississippi river. In 1754, a young colonial leader named George Washington helped lead during conflict at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eventually, the British defeated the French attempt at empire expansion in 1763, and the French gave up Canada and the Upper Mississippi valley to the British, opening these areas up to settlement by the colonies.

To finance this war and governing the growing colonies, the British adopted several taxes which the colonists vigorously opposed, including the Sugar Act (1764) which imposed a duty on molasses; the Stamp Act, which required affixing stamps to newspapers, pamphlets, and official documents, and finally duties on imported goods, including tea, in 1767. These tariffs caused colonial rebellion in part because they were passed by parliament, and the colonists had no voice (no representation) on parliament, and felt they only answered directly to the king. Patriotic groups such as the "Sons of Liberty" were created to fight these duties and move the colonists to oppose Britain.

The Revolutionary Period

By 1700, the population of the colonies had grown to roughly 1, 700, 000. And in 1770, angry Bostonians attacked British troops quartered there to impose British rule (the "Boston Massacre").

Over the next few years, relations between Britain and the colonies became increasingly strained, in part due to the efforts of patriots (who became known as "Whigs") such as Samuel Adams who used the taxation laws as a rallying point for dissension. On December 16, 1773, in retaliation for the East India Company drastically cutting its tea prices to undercut colonial traders, and the forced landing in Boston Harbor of tea-laden ships, Boston patriots disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and dumped the tea into Boston Harbor. In return, Britain imposed stringent laws against Massachusetts (the "Coercive Acts"), including closing Boston Harbor, and colonial resistance to Britain increased throughout the colonies as a result.

On September 5, 1774, 55 colonial delegates from every colony except Georgia met in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress. This patriot-driven Congress voted that the colonists did not owe obedience to Britain or the Coercive Acts, and refused to do trade with Britain or its loyalists ( known as "Tories").

By April 18, 1775, General Gage of Britain tried to enforce the Coercive acts by sending troops to seize military stores at Concord, Massachusetts. The colonists resisted, both at nearby Lexington and Concord, and the colonies rose up to fight Britain. The Second Continental Congress, which met on May 10, 1775, appointed George Washington commander-in-chief of the colonial militia.

On July 4, 1776, a committee of five including Thomas Jefferson drafted a Declaration of Independence which declared the independence of the colonies from British rule, and also proposed the importance of personal liberty and a government that represents the wish of the people. The Revolutionary war lasted for over six years, and included major battles, including colonial victories at Trenton and Princeton, the capture of New York by the British (1776); the British capture of Philadelphia in 1777 which forced General Washington and poorly supplied troops to winter in Valley Forge. But the colonists gained a major victory over British General Burgoyne in the fall of 1777 during his unsuccessful attempt to cut New England off from the lower colonies. His surrender caused France to decide to enter the war on the side of the Americans, and their naval support and troops (including the leadership of a young General Marquis de Lafayette) were a turning point in the war. Finally, on October 19, 1781, General Cornwallis of the British army surrendered to the Americans, and soon afterwards the British House of Commons voted to end the war. By 1783, the fledgling United States signed peace treaties with Britain which acknowledged their independent status.

The Rise of National Federalism: Our Government Centralizes (1789-1830)

Alexander Hamilton and those who supported the Constitution of the United States became known as Federalists. They believed that only a strong central government could help guide the new nation with the complex economic, military, and political decisions that it would be making. But many people in the newly formed states feared the power of a strong central government, having recently fought against a strong monarchical government in Britain.

These anti-Federalists wanted to curb the power of the new government, and believed that state and local government could best provide guidance. The original political parties were formed around these two positions: the federalists supported strong national government, while the Democrat-Republicans rejected this position. The first two American presidents, George Washington and Adams were federalists who worked to consolidate the position of the government in Washington. Alexander Hamilton worked at this time to create a central bank, and promote tariffs to generate revenue for the new nation. But the federalists also allowed the passage of the Alien and Sedition Act (which among other things forbade criticism of the government by the press), and in reaction, the public voted in Thomas Jefferson, the Democrat -Republican candidate (this party later became the Democratic party), in 1800. While Jefferson's party opposed a strong central government, he ironically used its power to purchase the Louisiana Territory (which effectively doubled the territory of the United States and ensured free navigation along the Mississippi river).

During the next few years, the government was run in a manner that has been described as dual federalism, with a division and even competition in some arenas, such as economic development, between the influence of state and national government. But there was also some partnership and cooperation, even at this early stage, between the states and national government to create new territories and the transportation needed to explore them. This became especially important after the Louisiana Purchase. And by 1819, the Supreme court upheld the establishment of a national bank in spite of the controversy surrounding this concept. And in this landmark decision (McCulloch v. Maryland), Chief Justice John Marshall established that the Constitution of the United States was not a compact between states, but a national constitution established by the people of the United States.

By 1823, President Monroe established the political position of the United States in support of the new Latin American countries in what became known as the Monroe doctrine. This statement opposed to the expansion of European powers into the Americas.

Dual Federalism: A Tug of War between States and National Government (1830-1860)

By 1828, Andrew Jackson was leading a movement in the Democratic party to challenge the power of the central government, and to increase the rights of states. His party also worked towards the concept of universal suffrage for white males, and the popular election of the president. He also wanted to limit the power of the federal government to impose taxes or tariffs.

By 1844, the issue of whether to annex Texas to the United States arose during the political campaign of Polk, a "Jacksonian" Democrat. Polk won with his commitment to the view of "Manifest Destiny" for the young nation and his stand that Texas should be re-annexed and the territory of Oregon "re-occupied". During his presidency, Polk negotiated the border between Oregon and Canada with the British, and the annexation of Texas, but these moves and the dispute over California caused war with Mexico.

Ironically, the candidate who stood for strong state's rights made many decisions based on the power of a strong federal government, including signing treaties and supporting the declaration of war by Congress by sending troops into Texas. But these newly won areas for the young nation also increased the controversy over the issue of slavery, and whether it should be allowed, as tension between the southern states and the national government increased.

The Civil War Period

The Civil War was a culmination of many factors. In November of 1960, President Abraham Lincoln was elected, and then on December 20, South Carolina seceded from the union, followed by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas soon after. In February 1861, the Confederate States of America formed and elected Jefferson Davis their president.

On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina was fired on and the Civil War began. By the end of April, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas seceded from the union and joined the Confederate States. Lincoln reacted by ordering blockades of southern ports (a critical move that kept the southern army from being supplied) and north clashed with south in several battles, including Bull Run (7/16/1861), the capture of Fort Henry in February of 1862, and the first use of iron covered ships (the Merrimac and the Monitor) in 1862.

In March of 1862, Lincoln relieves General McClellan of his command, and temporarily assumed direct command of the northern forces. In April sixth and seventh, the Battle of Shiloh was fought with heavy losses on both sides. And in July 1-3, 1863, the tide turned against the south in the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when the union army won. In 1864, Generals Sheridan and Grant began their sweep of the south, and on January 31,1865 the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution was passed, which abolished slavery. Finally, on April 9, 1865, General Lee of the southern armies surrendered to General Grant of the Union armies at Appomatox, Virginia.

The causes of the Civil war were complex, with slavery only one of the issues that caused division. For many in the southern states who fought, the issue was not slavery but the right of a state to secede, and the right to personal independence versus federal intervention. During his presidency, Lincoln also greatly increased federal powers by suspending the writ of habeas corpus throughout the Union, and authorizing military tribunals empowered to try, convict, and sentence people suspected of aiding the enemy or of sedition. Mandatory conscription was also begun in the North, and the issue of whether a state has the right to secede from the federal union was answered during the war years. But many of the changes both during Lincoln's term and afterwards did not reflect a strong central government as much as the strength of a strong Republican party.
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