The original thirteen United States clung to the Atlantic coast. As a result of the Revolutionary War, England ceded her holdings east of the Mississippi River.
The new states of Vermont in New England, Kentucky, and Ohio had been admitted by 1803, when President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France, doubling the size of the new nation. Jefferson thus obtained the outlet of the Mississippi River and her tributaries at New Orleans. Louisiana was made a state in 1812 to solidify the acquisition of this key port.
In 1812 a second war began with Great Britain. British Canada was attacked on the Great Lakes; Washington DC was burned; and a British invasion of New Orleans was foiled by Andrew Jackson. The war ended in a stalemate in 1815.
The states of Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Main, and Missouri were quickly admitted to the Union. Three were slave states; three were free.
This maintained an equal number of slave and free states in the Senate, and the south's ability to stall legislation and maintain slavery in the Union. However, under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, future slavery was prohibited north of the southern boundary of Missouri.
Friendlier relations ensued with Great Britain. In 1818, the 49th parallel, or latitude, was agreed upon as the border west to the Rocky Mountains. Beyond that lay the Oregon Country, to be settled by citizens of both nations.
Spain, a waning power, held the land to the west and south of the new nation, including much of Central and South America. In a treaty of 1819, Spain agreed to the 42nd parallel as a limit to northern expansion. For certain adjustments, she ceded Florida to the United States.
As this treaty was signed, Latin America was in revolt. All the South American nations were independent by 1824. Mexico achieved independence in 1821.
Unlike Spain, Mexico opened her borders to American settlers. Texas was colonized in 1821. The Texans revolted against the Mexican government in 1835, and became an independent nation the following year.
As the nation expanded, the native American tribes east of the Mississippi River were removed west, in forced marches, to the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.
Arkansas was admitted in 1836 as a slave state, and Michigan in 1837 as a free state.
The settlement of the west began in earnest in the 1840's. Many people followed the Oregon Trail, which ran across the Great Plains along the Platte River, past the Great Salt Lake in the Rockies, and ending in Oregon on the Pacific coast.
Florida was admitted as a slave state in 1845, as was Texas, including all the land north of the Rio Grande River claimed by Texas.
Mexico could not accept what she considered a land grab of her territory, and the Mexican War of 1846 to 48 followed. The Americans won in New Mexico, California and northern Mexico, but only the conquest of Mexico City in 1847 forced the Mexican government to surrender.
Mexico ceded to the United States Texas and the entire southwest, including California, where gold was discovered just as this peace treaty was signed.
In 1846, as this war was beginning, Great Britain agreed to extend the 49th parallel as the northern border to the Pacific coast, thus adding the Oregon Territory to the United States.
During this war, the Mormons, persecuted in the east, trekked across the Great Plains and settled by the Great Salt Lake.
Iowa and Wisconsin were admitted as free states during the war.
California became a free state in 1850. At the same time, Texas was reduced in size.
The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 completed the territory of the continental United States.
No more slave states were admitted after Texas. Minnesota became a free state in 1858, and Oregon a free state in 1859.
In the 1850's the battle between slave and free turned to the territories. By 1860 each territory was allowed to make the choice.
The Kansas territory became the most contested. But slavery was inappropriate for small farms, and Kansas was admitted as a free state in 1861.
The south now saw its cause collapsing. Slavery, relentlessly expanding since 1800, could not be stopped. It had made the south the leading cotton exporter of the world, and the richest area of the nation. This expansion could continue to the Caribbean or to Mexico; but only if the south became a sovereign nation.
In late 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Lousiana, and Texas quickly followed, forming the Confederacy in early 1861. The Union disallowed this, and preparations for war began.
The border slave states had to choose sides. Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware stayed with the Union. Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined the Rebellion. Northwest Virginia sided with the Union and was admitted as the state of West Virginia in 1863.
In Virginia an intense war began between Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, and Washington, DC. But the decisive war was fought in the west, where the Mississippi River was controlled by Union forces by 1863, thus cutting the Confederacy in two.
Union troops cut through the remaining old south in 1864 with a march to the sea, burning Atlanta along the way. Meanwhile Grant finally drove Lee out of Richmond. The south surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Six days later President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Within five years all the confederate states had been readmitted to the union.
During the war years, the western territories were reorganized.
Nevada became a state in 1864. Nebraska was admitted in 1867. In the same year, Alaska was purchased from Russia. Colorado became a state in 1876.
The native American nations in the west resisted the occupation of their lands, but the U.S. Army, buffed up by the Civil War, defeated them after many battles. By the 1880šs, most native Americans were confined to tribal reservations. In 1889, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington were admitted.
In 1890, Idaho and Wyoming were admitted. The Mormon settlement became the state of Utah in 1896.
Railroads interconnected the continent. The population expanded and the economy grew, such that by the early 20th century the United States was the leading industrial power of the world.
In 1898, America defeated Spain in her shortest declared war. The U.S. obtained Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and Guam and the Philippines in the far east. Cuba was given her independence in 1902, and the Philippines in 1946.
In 1898, the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific were annexed.
Oklahoma was admitted as a state in 1907, including the Indian territory. In 1912, New Mexico and Arizona were admitted, completing the 48 contiguous states.
In 1959, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted, completing the growth of the nation with fifty states.
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