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U.S.A: Culture

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American history began with the migration of people from Asia across the Bering land bridge some time prior to 12,000 years ago, possibly following large animals that they hunted into the Americas. These Native Americans left evidence of their presence in petroglyphs, burial mounds, and other artifacts. It is estimated that 2–9 million people lived in the territory now occupied by the U.S. before that population was diminished by European contact and the foreign diseases it brought (although both the number of Native Americans originally on the continent and the number who did not survive European immigration are the subject of continued research and thus are open to debate). Some advanced societies were the Anasazi of the southwest, who inhabited Chaco Canyon (and built sandstone buildings with up to 5 floors), and the Woodland Indians, who built Cahokia, located near present-day St. Louis, a city with a population of 40,000 at its peak in AD 1200.

European settlement
External visitors (including the Norse and possibly the Chinese) had arrived before, but it was not until after the discovery voyages of Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s and early 1500s that European nations began to explore the land in earnest and settle there permanently.

During the 1500s and 1600s, the Spanish settled parts of the present-day Southwest and Florida. The first successful English settlement was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Within the next two decades, several Dutch settlements, including New Amsterdam (the predecessor to New York City), were established in what are now the states of New York and New Jersey. In 1637, Sweden established a colony at Fort Christina (in what is now Delaware), but lost the settlement to the Dutch in 1655.

This was followed by extensive British settlement of the east coast. The British colonists remained relatively undisturbed by their home country until after the French and Indian War, when France ceded Canada and the Great Lakes region to Britain. Britain then imposed taxes on the 13 colonies to pay for the war. The colonists widely resented the taxes because they were denied representation in the British Parliament. Tensions between Britain and the colonists increased, and the thirteen colonies eventually rebelled against British rule.

First President of the United States under the Constitution, George Washington (1789-1797).In 1776, the 13 colonies Declared Independence from Great Britain and formed the United States, the world's first constitutional and democratic federal republic. The American Revolutionary War followed (1775 to 1783).

The original political structure was a confederation in 1777, ratified in 1781 as the Articles of Confederation. After long debate, this was supplanted in 1789 by the Constitution, which formed a more centralized federal government.

Civil War
From early colonial times, there was a shortage of labor, which encouraged unfree labor, particularly indentured servitude and slavery. By the mid-19th century, a major division over the issue of states' rights and the expansion of slavery came to a head.

The northern states had become opposed to slavery, while the southern states saw it as necessary for the continued success of southern agriculture and wanted it expanded to newer territories in the West. Several federal laws were passed in an attempt to settle the dispute, including the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850.

The dispute reached a crisis in 1861, when seven southern states seceded 1 from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America, leading to the Civil War. Soon after the war began, four more southern states seceded, and two states had both Union and Confederate governments.

During the war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, mandating the freedom of all slaves in states in rebellion. However, full emancipation did not take place until after the end of the war in 1865, the dissolution of the Confederacy, and the Thirteenth Amendment took effect. The Civil War effectively ended the question of a state's right to secede, and is widely accepted as a major turning point after which the federal government became more powerful than state governments.

American westward expansion is idealized in Emanuel Leutze's famous painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1861). The title of the painting, from a 1726 poem by Bishop Berkeley, was a phrase often quoted in the era of Manifest Destiny, expressing a widely held belief that civilization had steadily moved westward throughout history. (more)During the 19th century, many new states were added to the union as the nation expanded across the continent. Manifest Destiny was a philosophy that encouraged westward expansion in the United States: as the population of the Eastern states grew and as a steady increase of immigrants entered the country, settlers moved steadily westward across North America.

In the process, the U.S. displaced most American Indian nations. This displacement of American Indians continues to be a matter of contention in the U.S., with many tribes attempting to assert their original claims to various lands. In some areas, American Indian populations had been reduced by foreign diseases contracted through contact with European settlers, and US settlers acquired those emptied lands. In other instances, American Indians were removed from their traditional lands by force. Though some would say the U.S. was not a colonial power until it acquired territories in the Spanish-American War, the dominion exercised over land in North America the United States claimed is essentially colonial.

The 20th century
The 20th century has sometimes been termed "the American Century" because of the nation's influence on the world. Its relative influence was especially great because Europe, which had been the center of greatest influence, was devastated during the world wars.

The U.S. fought in World War I and World War II on the side of the Allies. Between the wars, the most significant event was the Great Depression (1929 to 1939), which was compounded by drought and dust. Like the rest of the developed world, the U.S. was pulled out of the great depression by its mobilization for World War II. The war left much of the developed world in ruins with the Americas largely spared. By 1950, more than half of the global economy (as measured in GNP) was located in the U.S.

During the Cold War, the U.S. was a major player in the Korean War and Vietnam War, and, along with the Soviet Union, was considered one of the world's two "superpowers". This period coincided with a major economic expansion. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, however, the U.S. emerged as the world's leading economic and military power.

During the 1990s, the United States became more involved in police actions and peacekeeping, including actions in Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia and Liberia, and the first Persian Gulf War. After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States and other allied nations declared themselves involved in what has come to be called the "War on Terrorism," which has included military action in Afghanistan.

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the United States has been involved in other military conflicts, notably the Iraq War and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan.

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