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A Short US History to 1812

Early Settlement

European search for trade routes led to discovery and exploration of the Americas in the late 1400's with the first permanent settlements at St. Augustine in 1565 and Jamestown in 1607. England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Sweden established colonies with the Swedish and Dutch colonies soon taken by the British in 1664. A series of wars were fought beginning around 1690 that paralleled European dynastic upheavals culminating in the French and Indian war, or the Seven year war as it was called in Europe where the the disputes were carried over to the New World colonies of France and England and the tense relationships with Native Americans were exploited by all sides with the settlers caught in between till hostilities were ended with the first Treaty of Paris in 1763.

The intellectual movement, The Enlightenment, and the Protestant Reformation that developed in 15th through 17th centuries, brought many people to the New World to escape the monarchial theocracies of Europe that were largely seen as having descended into hypocrisy, intolerance, and corruption. While most people of the time were religious, Enlightenment philosophers, such as Voltaire and Thomas Paine, sought to connect faith with natural law and reason, self evident truths and a new age of scientific discovery. The Protestant Reformers such as Luther and Calvin sought reform of the Roman Catholic Church and challenged Papal claims of Divine Authority. The Protestant branch of Christianity was created, and a number of denominations, such as the Puritans and Quakers came to the New World seeking an unhindered expression of their faith away from the entrenched religious establishments of Europe.

The Great Awakening, a Protestant evangelical movement that existed between 1720 and 1740, was exemplified by Johnathan Edwards sermon 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God', originating the phrase, 'Fire and Brimstone'. While these sermons drew large audiences, the movement's proponents came to be regarded as divisive and overwrought.

The Pre-Revolution Period

The increasing development and independence of the American colonies began to conflict with the interests of their European rulers, who, in an effort to maintain control, imposed additional laws and taxes which led to boiling points such as the 1770 Boston Massacre, where 5 Colonists were killed by the British during a riot, and the Boston Tea Party, where goods imported from England were thrown overboard in protest of excessive taxation.

The Revolutionary War

The colonies formed a Continental Congress and drafted the Articles of Confederation in 1775, and, in 1776 with Thomas Jefferson's writing of the Declaration of Independence, declared national sovereignty.

The fight for independence began at dawn, April 19th, 1775 with "The Shot Heard Around the World " as 70 Massachusetts Militiamen who had been warned the night before by galloping Paul Revere faced off against British forces

The Revolutionary war pitted the British against the Americans as well as Americans loyal to the British against those supporting independence. Led by General George Washington, the Americans found themselves facing a superior British military, and lost many of the early battles. The American forces gained strength as they added men and munitions and loyalists either left or joined the patriots. General Washington was himself a successful businessman and had six frigates of his own to guard Massachusetts Bay. A pivotal battle at Trenton, New Jersey where General Washington's night crossing of the ice clogged Delaware River and subsequent capture of 900 hessian mercenaries began to turn the war towards the American's favor. The British eventually recognized colonial independence in 1784 with the second Treaty of Paris.

Creating a Constitutional Government

Delegates from the states met in Philadelphia in 1787 to rework the Articles of Confederation which, after 12 years, began to see the states drift apart over differing and factional interests. These delegates, however, went on to create an entirely new document that created a republican federation of states with a strong federal government. Compromises were made to give smaller states equal representation in the Senate and to continue the practice of slavery. Debates over the Constitution led to general agreement of the importance of a unified nation for military defense and promotion of economic and commercial strength to compete with the powerful economies of Europe. It is also a document of ethical values, declaring a government tolerant of religion and serving the general welfare of the people. Constitutional debates played out under two areas of thought; Federalism, which supported a strong central government and Anti-Federalism, which still mostly supported the Constitution, but with more state and individual rights. The momentum and leadership of the convention delegates, as well as a fledgling nation's need for national unity led most people to support Federalism. A series of essays, The Federalist Papers were written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay under pseudonyms, principally to convince a reluctant New York state to ratify the Constitution.

A Growing New Nation

The two terms of president Washington's leadership were a time of building the institutions of the national government, including Treasury Secretary Hamilton establishing a federal banking system, the creation of a U S Army of approximately 1000 men, appointment of a six judge Supreme Court, and construction of the city of Washington as the nation's Capitol. The issues of Constitutional debate, however, began to re-emerge under the names of Federalist and Democratic Republican or Jeffersonian Republican. Although all groups supported the Constitution, debates centered on state's rights, trade, and Federal authority. The presidency of John Adams was seen as posing a threat to individual liberty with such things as the Alien and Sedition acts, and began to turn popular sentiment toward the Democratic Republicans, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, although Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase stirred additional debate over presidential power and constitutional authority.

Andrew Jackson's presidency was viewed as monarchial by some, and led to the Democratic Republicans split into the Jackson supporting Democrats and the Adams supporting National Republicans, who came to be called Whigs from the party who opposed Tory and Stuart rule in 17th century England. These parties and the issues of central versus state and individual rights remained the focus of debate till Westward expansion, slavery, and the Industrial Revolution combined to create the insurmountable divisions that led to the American Civil War.

The War of 1812

This war spilled over from Napoleons' war against the British, who, after many years of fighting the French, grew increasingly needful of resources and began taking ships and sailors under the pretense of enforcing embargos or recovering deserters. A weakened Napoleon sold Louisiana to the Americans at a discount price, but it was feared that the British may attempt to take it if they prevailed over the French. President Jefferson ordered a shipping embargo which was economically devastating and angered the New England states to the point of talk of secession.

At this time, in American politics, a group of young congressmen including Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun were elected on expansionary nationalistic aims including Westward expansion and the promise of an easy conquest of Canada. Calling it the Second War of Independence, they made exaggerated claims of threats posed by northern Midwest Indians and of British forces in Canada, earning themselves the name 'War Hawks'. Congress, under President Madison, declared war even as the British announced an end to their embargo.

Battles in those two years were fought along the Atlantic coast, the Gulf, the northern Midwest (Tecumseh was killed), eastern Canada, on Lake Champlain, and included the sacking and burning of much of the new Capitol city of Washington including the White House and Capitol buildings in retaliation for similar acts of destruction in York (Toronto).

As the war progressed, the Americans were able to muster more forces against a British military of diminishing strength, culminating in a decisive American victory By General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans.