The date of the start of the history of the United States is a subject of constant debate among historians. Older textbooks start with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and emphasize the European background, or they start around 1600 and emphasize the American frontier. In recent decades American schools and universities typically have shifted back in time to include more on the colonial period and much more on the prehistory of the Native peoples.
Indigenous people lived in what is now the United States for thousands of years before European colonists began to arrive, mostly from England, after 1600. The Spanish had small settlements in Florida and the Southwest, and the French along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. By the 1770s, thirteen British colonies contained two and a half million people along the Atlantic coast east of the Appalachian Mountains.
In the 1760s the British government imposed a series of new taxes while rejecting the American argument that any new taxes had to be approved by the people (see Stamp Act 1765). Tax resistance, especially the Boston Tea Party (1774), led to punitive laws (the Intolerable Acts) by Parliament designed to end self-government in Massachusetts. American Patriots (as they called themselves) adhered to a political ideology called republicanism that emphasized civic duty, virtue, and opposition to corruption, fancy luxuries and aristocracy.
All thirteen colonies united in a Congress that called on them to write new state constitutions. After armed conflict began in Massachusetts, Patriots drove the royal officials out of every colony and assembled in mass meetings and conventions. Those Patriot governments in the colonies unanimously empowered their delegates to Congress to declare independence. In 1776, Congress declared that there was a new, independent nation, the United States of America, not just a collection of disparate colonies. With large-scale military and financial support from France and military leadership by General George Washington, the American Patriots rebelled against British rule and succeeded in the Revolutionary War. The peace treaty of 1783 gave the new nation the land east of the Mississippi River (except Florida and Canada, and Spain disputed the Mississippi Territory until 1795) and confirmed Great Britain's recognition of the United States as a nation. The central government established by the Articles of Confederation proved ineffectual at providing stability, as it had no authority to collect taxes and had no executive officer. Congress called a convention to meet secretly in Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation. It wrote a new Constitution, which was adopted in 1789. In 1791, a Bill of Rights was added to guarantee inalienable rights. With Washington as the Union's first president and Alexander Hamilton his chief political and financial adviser, a strong central government was created. When Thomas Jefferson became president he purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, doubling the size of the United States. A second and final war with Britain was fought in 1812.
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