The early history of the United States begins long before a nation called “the United States” came into being. It begins with the indigenous peoples of North America and transitioned into an age of European colonization and conquest. It continued with the increasing dominance of the British in North America and the subsequent separation of 13 of those British colonies and the formation of the United States—more than two centuries after European colonization began.
The United States’s story progressed from its fitful revolutionary and “confederation” period, into a decades long struggle to separate itself from the diplomatic and economic machinations of Britain, France, and Spain. From the 1820s onward, the US focus on internal economic growth and territorial expansion (at the expense of Native Americans, Mexico, and others).
While this expansion took place, a debate over the existence and expansion of African American slavery raged in newspapers, on the streets, and in political circles. By the 1850s, the conflict between the northern and southern sections of the nation threatened to become irreconcilable and, eventually led to the southern states seceding, forming the Confederate States of America. A Civil War (1861-1865), won by the northern states, followed as did a lengthy period known as Reconstruction during which the defeated Confederacy was politically reintegrated into the United States and the federal government undertook to dismantle the institution of slavery.
A Note on the Resources
The resources in this section are organized primarily chronologically and, from there, topically. I have made an effort to include documents and resources that are not as readily available in survey textbooks. I say this mostly as an explanation as to why I included the Declaration of the Causes & Necessity of Taking Up Arms and its companion, the Olive Branch Petition, but not the Declaration of Independence.
While most sources are textual, there are some political cartoons and other illustrations (with transcriptions where necessary) as well as maps.
MCC Course Objectives for HIST-154
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of European colonization in North America. [154-1]
- Compare the factors contributing to the territorial, economic and population growth of the various English North American colonies/sections of the United States.[154-2]
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of cultural and ethnic diversity in the English North American colonies/sections of the United States. [154-3]
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of slavery and indentured servitude in the English North American colonies/sections of the United States. [154-4]
- Evaluate the factors contributing to the growth of an American consciousness in the English North American colonies/United States. [154-5]
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of the American Revolutionary War [154-6]
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of the ratification of the Constitution of the United States.[154-7]
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of the establishment of political parties in the early American republic. [154-8]
- Evaluate the causes for, consequences of, and limitations to the extension of civil rights in United States history. [154-9]
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of reform movements in United States history. [154-10]
- Evaluate the causes for and consequences of the United States Civil War. [154-11]
- Evaluate the successes and limitations of Reconstruction in the post-Civil War United States. [154-12]
- Interpret a variety of primary sources in United States history. [154-13]
North America before Europeans
The Earliest European Contact
Rival Empires and the “Middle Ground”
Some Episodes from British North America
The War for Independence
Concerns and Causes: The Massachusetts Circular Letter of 1768
Anti-British Activism and the Role of Women
Violence vs. Reconciliation: The Continental Congress Explains the War
Garret Watts’s Recollection of the Battle of Camden
The Early Republic
Instability during the Confederacy Period: Shays’s Rebellion
The New Constitution: For and Against
The New Constitution Tested: Creating the Bank of the United States
The Age of Jefferson
The War of 1812: Opposing Voices