Рефераты. The USA: its history, geography and political system

The USA: its history, geography and political system


|A brief history of the USA | |

|The colonial era |1 |

|A new nation |2 |

|Slavery and The Civil War |2 |

|The late 19th century |3 |

|The progressive moment |4 |

|War and peace |4 |

|The great depression |5 |

|World War II |5 |

|The Cold War |6 |

|Decades of change |7 |

|Geography and regional characteristics | |

|Short facts |8 |

|Regional Variety |10 |

|New England |10 |

|Middle Atlantic |11 |

|The South |11 |

|The Midwest |12 |

|The Southwest |12 |

|The West |13 |

|The Frontier Spirit |13 |

|A responsive government | |

|The constitution |14 |

|Bill of Rights |15 |

|Legislative Branch |16 |

|Executive Branch |16 |

|Juridical Branch |16 |

|The court of last resort |17 |

|Political parties and elections |17 |



A brief history of the United States.

The first Europeans to reach North America were Icelandic Vikings, led by

Leif Ericson, about the year 1000. Traces of their visit have been found in

the Canadian province of Newfoundland, but the Vikings failed to establish

a permanent settlement and soon lost contact with the new continent.

Five centuries later, the demand for Asian spices, textiles, and dyes

spurred European navigators to dream of shorter routes between East and

West. Acting on behalf of the Spanish crown, in 1492 the Italian navigator

Christopher Columbus sailed west from Europe and landed on one of the

Bahama Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Within 40 years, Spanish adventurers

had carved out a huge empire in Central and South America.


The first successful English colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in

1607. A few years later, English Puritans came to America to escape

religious persecution for their opposition to the Church of England. In

1620, the Puritans founded Plymouth Colony in what later became

Massachusetts. Plymouth was the second permanent British settlement in

North America and the first in New England.

In New England the Puritans hoped to build a "city upon a hill" -- an

ideal community. Ever since, Americans have viewed their country as a great

experiment, a worthy model for other nations to follow. The Puritans

believed that government should enforce God's morality, and they strictly

punished heretics, adulterers, drunks, and violators of the Sabbath. In

spite of their own quest for religious freedom, the Puritans practiced a

form of intolerant moralism. In 1636 an English clergyman named Roger

Williams left Massachusetts and founded the colony of Rhode Island, based

on the principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state,

two ideals that were later adopted by framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Colonists arrived from other European countries, but the English were far

better established in America. By 1733 English settlers had founded 13

colonies along the Atlantic Coast, from New Hampshire in the North to

Georgia in the South. Elsewhere in North America, the French controlled

Canada and Louisiana, which included the vast Mississippi River watershed.

France and England fought several wars during the 18th century, with North

America being drawn into every one. The end of the Seven Years' War in 1763

left England in control of Canada and all of North America east of the


Soon afterwards England and its colonies were in conflict. The mother

country imposed new taxes, in part to defray the cost of fighting the Seven

Years' War, and expected Americans to lodge British soldiers in their

homes. The colonists resented the taxes and resisted the quartering of

soldiers. Insisting that they could be taxed only by their own colonial

assemblies, the colonists rallied behind the slogan "no taxation without


All the taxes, except one on tea, were removed, but in 1773 a group of

patriots responded by staging the Boston Tea Party. Disguised as Indians,

they boarded British merchant ships and dumped 342 crates of tea into

Boston harbor. This provoked a crackdown by the British Parliament,

including the closing of Boston harbor to shipping. Colonial leaders

convened the First Continental Congress in 1774 to discuss the colonies'

opposition to British rule. War broke out on April 19, 1775, when British

soldiers confronted colonial rebels in Lexington, Massachusetts. On July 4,

1776, the Continental Congress adopted a Declaration of Independence.

At first the Revolutionary War went badly for the Americans. With few

provisions and little training, American troops generally fought well, but

were outnumbered and overpowered by the British. The turning point in the

war came in 1777 when American soldiers defeated the British Army at

Saratoga, New York. France had secretly been aiding the Americans, but was

reluctant to ally itself openly until they had proved themselves in battle.

Following the Americans' victory at Saratoga, France and America signed

treaties of alliance, and France provided the Americans with troops and


The last major battle of the American Revolution took place at Yorktown,

Virginia, in 1781. A combined force of American and French troops

surrounded the British and forced their surrender. Fighting continued in

some areas for two more years, and the war officially ended with the Treaty

of Paris in 1783, by which England recognized American independence.


The framing of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of the United States

are covered in more detail in chapter 4. In essence, the Constitution

alleviated Americans' fear of excessive central power by dividing

government into three branches -- legislative (Congress), executive (the

president and the federal agencies), and judicial (the federal courts) --

and by including 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights to safeguard

individual liberties. Continued uneasiness about the accumulation of power

manifested itself in the differing political philosophies of two towering

figures from the Revolutionary period. George Washington, the war's

military hero and the first U.S. president, headed a party favoring a

strong president and central government; Thomas Jefferson, the principal

author of the Declaration of Independence, headed a party preferring to

allot more power to the states, on the theory that they would be more

accountable to the people.

Jefferson became the third president in 1801. Although he had intended to

limit the president's power, political realities dictated otherwise. Among

other forceful actions, in 1803 he purchased the vast Louisiana Territory

from France, almost doubling the size of the United States. The Louisiana

Purchase added more than 2 million square kilometers of territory and

extended the country's borders as far west as the Rocky Mountains in



In the first quarter of the 19th century, the frontier of settlement moved

west to the Mississippi River and beyond. In 1828 Andrew Jackson became the

first "outsider" elected president: a man from the frontier state of

Tennessee, born into a poor family and outside the cultural traditions of

the Atlantic seaboard.

Although on the surface the Jacksonian Era was one of optimism and energy,

the young nation was entangled in a contradiction. The ringing words of the

Declaration of Independence, "all men are created equal," were meaningless

for 1.5 million slaves. (For more on slavery and its aftermath, see

chapters 1 and 4.)

In 1820 southern and northern politicians debated the question of whether

slavery would be legal in the western territories. Congress reached a

compromise: Slavery was permitted in the new state of Missouri and the

Arkansas Territory but barred everywhere west and north of Missouri. The

outcome of the Mexican War of 1846-48 brought more territory into American

hands -- and with it the issue of whether to extend slavery. Another

compromise, in 1850, admitted California as a free state, with the citizens

of Utah and New Mexico being allowed to decide whether they wanted slavery

within their borders or not (they did not).

But the issue continued to rankle. After Abraham Lincoln, a foe of

slavery, was elected president in 1860, 11 states left the Union and

proclaimed themselves an independent nation, the Confederate States of

America: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana,

Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The American

Civil War had begun.

The Confederate Army did well in the early part of the war, and some of

its commanders, especially General Robert E. Lee, were brilliant

tacticians. But the Union had superior manpower and resources to draw upon.

In the summer of 1863 Lee took a gamble by marching his troops north into

Pennsylvania. He met a Union army at Gettysburg, and the largest battle

ever fought on American soil ensued. After three days of desperate

fighting, the Confederates were defeated. At the same time, on the

Mississippi River, Union General Ulysses S. Grant captured the city of

Vicksburg, giving the North control of the entire Mississippi Valley and

splitting the Confederacy in two.

Two years later, after a long campaign involving forces commanded by Lee

and Grant, the Confederates surrendered. The Civil War was the most

traumatic episode in American history. But it resolved two matters that had

vexed Americans since 1776. It put an end to slavery, and it decided that

the country was not a collection of semi-independent states but an

indivisible whole.


Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, depriving America of a leader

uniquely qualified by background and temperament to heal the wounds left by

the Civil War. His successor, Andrew Johnson, was a southerner who had

remained loyal to the Union during the war. Northern members of Johnson's

own party (Republican) set in motion a process to remove him from office

for allegedly acting too leniently toward former Confederates. Johnson's

acquittal was an important victory for the principle of separation of

powers: A president should not be removed from office because Congress

disagrees with his policies, but only if he has committed, in the words of

the Constitution, "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and


Within a few years after the end of the Civil War, the United States

became a leading industrial power, and shrewd businessmen made great

fortunes. The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869; by

1900 the United States had more rail mileage than all of Europe. The

petroleum industry prospered, and John D. Rockefeller of the Standard Oil

Company became one of the richest men in America. Andrew Carnegie, who

started out as a poor Scottish immigrant, built a vast empire of steel

mills. Textile mills multiplied in the South, and meat-packing plants

sprang up in Chicago, Illinois. An electrical industry flourished as

Americans made use of a series of inventions: the telephone, the light

bulb, the phonograph, the alternating-current motor and transformer, motion

pictures. In Chicago, architect Louis Sullivan used steel-frame

construction to fashion America's distinctive contribution to the modern

city: the skyscraper.

But unrestrained economic growth brought dangers. To limit competition,

railroads merged and set standardized shipping rates. Trusts -- huge

combinations of corporations -- tried to establish monopoly control over

some industries, notably oil. These giant enterprises could produce goods

efficiently and sell them cheaply, but they could also fix prices and

destroy competitors. To counteract them, the federal government took

action. The Interstate Commerce Commission was created in 1887 to control

railroad rates. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 banned trusts, mergers,

and business agreements "in restraint of trade."

Industrialization brought with it the rise of organized labor. The

American Federation of Labor, founded in 1886, was a coalition of trade

unions for skilled laborers. The late 19th century was a period of heavy

immigration, and many of the workers in the new industries were foreign-

born. For American farmers, however, times were hard. Food prices were

falling, and farmers had to bear the costs of high shipping rates,

expensive mortgages, high taxes, and tariffs on consumer goods.

With the exception of the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, American

territory had remained fixed since 1848. In the 1890s a new spirit of

expansion took hold. The United States followed the lead of northern

European nations in asserting a duty to "civilize" the peoples of Asia,

Africa, and Latin America. After American newspapers published lurid

accounts of atrocities in the Spanish colony of Cuba, the United States and

Spain went to war in 1898. When the war was over, the United States had

gained a number of possessions from Spain: Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto

Rico, and Guam. In an unrelated action, the United States also acquired the

Hawaiian Islands.

Yet Americans, who had themselves thrown off the shackles of empire, were

not comfortable with administering one. In 1902 American troops left Cuba,

although the new republic was required to grant naval bases to the United

States. The Philippines obtained limited self-government in 1907 and

complete independence in 1946. Puerto Rico became a self-governing

commonwealth within the United States, and Hawaii became a state in 1959

(as did Alaska).


While Americans were venturing abroad, they were also taking a fresh look

at social problems at home. Despite the signs of prosperity, up to half of

all industrial workers still lived in poverty. New York, Boston, Chicago,

and San Francisco could be proud of their museums, universities, and public

libraries -- and ashamed of their slums. The prevailing economic dogma had

been laissez faire: let the government interfere with commerce as little as

possible. About 1900 the Progressive Movement arose to reform society and

individuals through government action. The movement's supporters were

primarily economists, sociologists, technicians, and civil servants who

sought scientific, cost-effective solutions to political problems.

Social workers went into the slums to establish settlement houses, which

provided the poor with health services and recreation. Prohibitionists

demanded an end to the sale of liquor, partly to prevent the suffering that

alcoholic husbands inflicted on their wives and children. In the cities,

reform politicians fought corruption, regulated public transportation, and

built municipally owned utilities. States passed laws restricting child

labor, limiting workdays, and providing compensation for injured workers.

Some Americans favored more radical ideologies. The Socialist Party, led

by Eugene V. Debs, advocated a peaceful, democratic transition to a state-

run economy. But socialism never found a solid footing in the United States

-- the party's best showing in a presidential race was 6 percent of the

vote in 1912.


When World War I erupted in Europe in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson urged

a policy of strict American neutrality. Germany's declaration of

unrestricted submarine warfare against all ships bound for Allied ports

undermined that position. When Congress declared war on Germany in 1917,

the American army was a force of only 200,000 soldiers. Millions of men had

to be drafted, trained, and shipped across the submarine-infested Atlantic.

A full year passed before the U.S. Army was ready to make a significant

contribution to the war effort.

By the fall of 1918, Germany's position had become hopeless. Its armies

were retreating in the face of a relentless American buildup. In October

Germany asked for peace, and an armistice was declared on November 11. In

1919 Wilson himself went to Versailles to help draft the peace treaty.

Although he was cheered by crowds in the Allied capitals, at home his

international outlook was less popular. His idea of a League of Nations was

included in the Treaty of Versailles, but the U.S. Senate did not ratify

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