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History of the United States
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The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in 1776, yet its territory was occupied first by the Native Americans since prehistoric times and then also by European colonists following the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. The Thirteen Colonies won independence from the British Empire in the American Revolution and as states ratified the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution in 1789 as the basis for the United States federal government. The young nation continued to struggle with the scope of central government and with European influence, spurring the first political parties, the War of 1812, and the Monroe Doctrine.
U.S. territory grew westward across North America but was opposed on the frontier by Native Americans, Mexico, and others, and domestically by those fearing the expansion would shift the balance of power from one region to another. Slavery of Africans in the Southern states became the divisive issue between North and South, requiring compromises for further expansion. The election of Abraham Lincoln sparked a crisis as eleven slave states seceded to found the Confederate States of America in 1861, and led to the catastrophic, four-year American Civil War. The South was defeated and, in the Reconstruction era, the U.S. ended slavery, began extending rights to African Americans, and readmitted secessionist states with loyal governments. The present 48 contiguous states were admitted by early 1912.
The U.S. rose as an industrialized power by the early 20th century. Changes in lifestyle led to the Progressive movement, which pushed for reform in industry and politics and is associated with women’s suffrage and Prohibition (the latter failed by 1933). Initially committed to neutrality, the U.S. eventually entered World War I in 1917, and despite U.S. attempts to foster the League of Nations, popular support remained isolationist. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 punctuated the onset of the Great Depression, to which the federal government responded with New Deal recovery programs. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 pulled the nation into World War II alongside the Allies, and helped defeat Nazi Germany in Europe and, with the detonation of newly-invented atomic bombs, Japan in Asia and the Pacific.
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