The United States of America is a relatively young nation compared to other countries in the world. The first people to live in America probably migrated from the Bering Land Bridge, which connected Siberia and Alaska, near the end of the last ice age, around 13,000 years ago. The first Europeans arrived in the late 15th century, searching for a quicker way to get to China and East Asia. European settlers began moving to North America in the early 17th century, and soon, the eastern coast of North America was filled with European settlers. With the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the United States officially became a nation.
First Explorers to the Region
Native people had lived in North America since the end of the ice age, but little was known about the continent by European traders and explorers. Although people often say that Christopher Columbus discovered America, a lot of his trips west actually landed in the Caribbean. Between 1492 and 1502, Columbus explored Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. The first documented exploration of what would become the United States was in 1513, by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who explored the coast of present-day Florida.
- First Americans Lived on Land Bridge for Thousands of Years
- Exploration of North America
- Christopher Columbus’s Confusion About the New World
- The Florida Expeditions of Ponce de Leon
First European Settlements and Colonial America
Eight years after he first explored the region, Ponce de Leon made an effort to settle in Florida. The people who already lived there resisted, however, and Ponce de Leon’s men had to flee to Cuba. Spanish settlers would go on to create the city of St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565. After the Spanish settlement in St. Augustine, many other groups set out to form new colonies in America. Jamestown, Virginia, was established in 1607 by the English. In 1620, members of the Puritan church, often referred to as the Pilgrims, establish the settlement of Plymouth in Massachusetts. By the late 18th century, 13 separate colonies had been set up along America’s eastern shore. In July of 1776, these 13 colonies, fed up that they were being taxed by England but weren’t given a say in the government, adopted the Declaration of Independence and sought to cut all ties to Great Britain.
- Jamestown: Facts and History
- The Pilgrims and the Plymouth Colony
- Colonial Settlements 1600s-1763
- The Declaration of Independence, 1776
An Independent Country
Although the United States formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, battles with Great Britain had been taking place since 1775. Tensions had been rising between the colonies and Great Britain for many years. Increased taxes and other measures taken against the colonies had led to a period of civil unrest in colonial America. On April 19, 1775, American fighters known as minutemen clashed with British troops in the battles of Lexington and Concord. Fighting raged on for years in the colonies, with the poorly trained, undisciplined troops attempting to defeat the more experienced British soldiers. But in 1778, after the Americans defeated the British in the Battles of Saratoga, France entered the war to help the colonies. The war continued until 1783, when the final British troops left New York. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Great Britain finally recognized the United States as an independent country.
- Lexington and Concord
- American Revolution
- French Allied With American Colonies
- Treaty of Paris of 1783
Following the end of the Revolutionary War, the United States needed to put in place a new form of government. The first attempt was the Articles of Confederation, which formed a weak government that gave most of the power to the states and nearly none to the president. Soon, Americans saw that this plan wasn’t working well, and so they created the Constitution, which went into effect on March 4, 1789. The first Electoral College voted unanimously for Gen. George Washington, a hero of the Revolutionary War, to be president, and since then, a presidential election has been held every four years. Washington only served two terms before leaving office, an example that most presidents followed, and the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution made this a law. Many of the presidents, like Washington, had served as commanders in the military before being president. Since Washington, 44 others have been elected as president. Many of history’s greatest men have held the office, including Thomas Jefferson (3rd), Abraham Lincoln (16th), Theodore Roosevelt (26th), Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd), and John F. Kennedy (35th).
- Articles of Confederation: 1777-89
- The First President
- Presidency of the United States
- America’s Nine Greatest War Hero Presidents
America Since Ratification
When the United States was founded, it was a small nation, but since then, the United States has become a world power. We’ve endured a civil war and the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s showed the power in peaceful protest and illustrated the idea that people in the United States are free to speak out against oppression. As long as people continue to speak up and use the freedoms promised to them by the founders of this nation, America will be an experiment with a bright future.