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© Copyright 2001, Jim Loy
On Oct. 12 1492, Christopher Columbus "discovered" the "new world," and claimed it for Spain. Before Columbus, this land of the western hemisphere was populated with many nations and tribes of people who we now call Native Americans, or American Indians. Once Europeans discovered them, they were doomed as an important power. The Europeans brought technology (weapons) and disease, and the native Americans almost died out completely. Vikings (about the year 1000) and perhaps other Europeans occasionally landed in the new world long before Columbus, but did not survive long.
Other explorers were John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) who explored the New England area for England (1497), Juan Ponce de Leon who explored Florida for Spain (1513), Giovanni de Verrazano who explored most of the east coast of the future United States for France (1524), Hernando de Soto who explored the gulf coast from Florida to the future Louisiana for Spain (1539-41), Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who explored what was to become the southwest U.S. (1540). Amerigo Vespucci claimed to have discovered the mainland of North America (1497), and both continents were named for him because he publicized his travels.
St. Augustine Florida was the first European (Spanish) settlement in North America (1565); it was attacked by Francis Drake (1586). In 1607 Jamestown (in what is now Virginia) was started by Capt. John Smith, for England. In 1609 Henry Hudson (England) explored eastern Canada and the north-eastern part of what is now the U.S. In 1609, the Spanish settled Santa Fe, in what is now New Mexico. In 1620, the Pilgrims (Puritans) sailed to America on the Mayflower, and settled in what is now Massachusetts; half of them died in the first harsh winter. In 1624 and 1626 Dutch settled in the New York area; Manhattan became New Amsterdam. In 1634, a Catholic colony began in Maryland. In 1636, Roger Williams began Providence Rhode Island, with a democratic government, and separation of church and state. In 1636, Harvard College was founded. In the early 1600's black slaves were first brought to North America. In 1650 slavery was made legal.
In 1664, British troops seized the New York area from the Dutch. In 1673, Jacques Marquette and Lois Jolliet explored the Mississippi River. In 1676, there was a bloody Indian war in New England. In 1682, the land around the Mississippi became a French territory, and was named Louisiana. In 1683 and 1684, William Penn started Pennsylvania. In 1692, in Salem Massachusetts, many women were accused of witchcraft, and were executed. In 1704 Deerfield Massachusetts was attacked by Indians, 40 settlers were killed, 100 were captured by the Indians.
In 1712, slaves revolted in New York. Six committed suicide, 21 were executed. In 1732, Georgia became the last of the thirteen (British) colonies. The colonies:
In 1740, Captain Vitus Bering (Russia) explored Alaska. In 1741, slaves revolted; 13 were hanged, and 13 were burned. In 1752, Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning was electricity, by flying a kite in a storm.
1754-1763, the French and Indian War was fought between England and France. England gained Canada, and other land. In 1774, Rhode Island abolished slavery.
1765, the Stamp Act was enacted by Parliament, it was a tax on business documents, it was repealed in 1766. Various other taxes were levied upon the colonies, without their consent (called by the American patriots: "taxation without representation"). In 1770 all of the taxes, except the tax on tea, were repealed. On Mar. 5, 1770 British troops fired into a mob in Boston, killing five of them. The incident became known as the Boston Massacre. John Adams defended the British troops at the trial; two soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. On Dec. 16, 1773, in protest of the tea tax, colonists in Boston threw tea overboard; the incident became known as the Boston Tea Party. In 1774 England, among other sanctions, banned the use of Boston harbor until the tea was paid for. The First Continental Congress called for civil disobedience against the British.
In 1775, Patrick Henry said "Give me liberty or give me death," before the Virginia Convention. Paul Revere and William Dawes rode to warn Patriots that the British troops were on their way to Concord, MA to seize weapons. On Apr. 19, 1775, the Minutemen attacked the British at Lexington MA. Eight Minutemen were killed, 273 British were killed. Thus began the American Revolution ("War of Independence" or "Revolutionary War"). Col. Ethan Allen (and Benedict Arnold) captured Ft. Ticonderoga, NY. The colonials held off the British at Breed's Hill, near Bunker Hill, before retreating. But the battle became known as the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Continental Congress named George Washington commander in chief.
In 1776, France and Spain began supplying arms to the colonies. On June 7, at the Continental Congress, Richard Henry Lee (VA) moved "that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states." His resolution was adopted on July 2, and the Declaration of Independence (drawn up by Thomas Jefferson) was approved on July 4, 1776. This event is considered the beginning of the U.S.A. A British fleet was repulsed at Charleston, SC. Washington lost the battle of Long Island. The British executed Nathan Hale as a spy. Benedict Arnold's fleet was defeated at Valcour, in Lake Champlain. Washington lost the battle of White Plains. Hessians (German troops fighting for England) captured Ft. Washington, on Manhattan and Ft. Lee, NJ. Washington recrossed the Delaware River, and defeated the Hessians at Trenton NJ, on Christmas night (and the next morning).
In 1777, Washington defeated Cornwallis at Princeton, NJ. The Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes, as their flag. Burgoyne (British) captured Ft. Ticonderoga, but was himself captured (with 5000 men) at Saratoga, NY. On Nov. 15, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress. In 1778, France signed a treaty with the U.S. and sent a fleet. The British abandoned Philadelphia. In 1779, John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard defeated the Serapis, in the North Sea.
In 1780 the British captured Charleston SC. The colonists won at Kings Mountain, NC. Benedict Arnold was found to be a traitor; he escaped and was made a brigadier general in the British army. Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, VA, on Oct. 19, 1781. Over 4,000 Americans had died in the war. The United States of America was recognized as an independent nation. The peace treaty was signed in Paris in 1783. The U.S. was now a country with 13 states (Florida was still owned by Spain; southern Maine was part of Massachussetts; northern Maine was claimed by both the USA and Britain; Vermont was part of New York).
In 1787, the Constitutional convention met in Philadelphia. The U. S. Constitution (which defined the new government and established certain laws) was accepted by the delegates on Sep. 17. The states then ratified it, one by one. Delaware was the first state to ratify it, and is thus considered to be the first state of the U. S. The Constitution was declared in effect on Mar. 4, 1789. George Washington was chosen as the first president of the U. S.; John Adams was vice president. Philadelphia became the temporary capital. Congress (made up the Senate and the House of Representatives) submitted the Bill of Rights, which are the first ten amendments to the Constitution, to the states for ratification. See Amendments to the Constitution for the later amendments. Also see The United States Constitution (summary).
In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a machine for separating cotton from cotton bolls. This made cotton a major crop, and made slavery more profitable. The Whiskey Rebellion, a protest of tax on liquor, was put down by the federal militia. In 1796, Thomas Jefferson became president. In 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts (designed to silence political opposition to the ruling party) were passed by Congress. War with France was narrowly averted. In 1800, the federal government moved to Washington, DC. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the election for president (both received 73 electoral votes), and the House of Representatives awarded the presidency to Jefferson.
In 1803, the Supreme Court first overturned a U.S. law as unconstitutional, in Marbury v. Madison. Also in 1803, Napoleon sold the Louisiana Purchase to the U.S., doubling the size of the nation. In 1804-06, the Lewis and Clark Expedition (led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark) explored the new territory, and further to the Pacific Ocean. In 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, in a duel. In 1805, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase was impeached (accused), and acquitted of sedition. In 1807, Robert Fulton invented the steam boat. The Embargo Act banned all trade with foreign countries. In 1808, importation of slaves was outlawed. Slaves continued to be illegally imported into the 1860's.
War of 1812
The War of 1812 lasted from 1812 to 1814, sort of. The U.S. declared war on England for a number of reasons: (1) England seized U.S. ships, (2) England seized U.S. sailors, and (3) England armed the Indians, who attacked U.S. settlements. The U.S. won numerous sea battles, but lost nearly all of the land battles. On Aug. 24 1814, the British burned Washington, DC., including the White House (home of the president) and the Capitol (Congress) building. Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, while watching the British attack Ft. McHenry. The Treaty of Ghent (with terms favorable to the U.S.) was signed, ending the war, on Dec. 24 1814. On Jan. 8 1815, British troops (unaware that the war was over) attacked U.S. troops near New Orleans, and Andrew Jackson became famous for decisively winning the Battle of New Orleans. Over 2,000 Americans had died in the war.
In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise limited slavery in the west. In 1823, President James Monroe declared the Monroe Doctrine, warning European militaries to stay out of the western hemisphere. In 1825, the Erie Canal opened. In 1826, former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, July 4. In 1831, Nat Turner, a slave, led a slave revolt in Virginia; 57 whites were killed, 100 slaves were killed, Turner was tried and hanged. In 1832, the Black Hawk War resulted in the Sauk and Fox Indian tribes being move to west of the Mississippi River. In 1835, the U.S. and the Seminole Indians began fighting. The war lasted until 1842, and they were forced to move from Florida to Oklahoma. In 1835, gold was discovered on Cherokee land in Georgia, and they were forced to move across the Mississippi. In 1835, Texas seceded from Mexico. In 1836, Mexican troops under Santa Anna wiped out the defenders of the Alamo. Later Sam Houston led the Texans to victory over Mexico.
In 1838, the Cherokee Indians were forced to move to Oklahoma, along the "Trail of Tears." In 1841, settlers began settling in California; in 1842, Oregon began to be settled via the Oregon Trail. In 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph (and the Morse Code). Texas became part of the U.S. in 1845. In 1846, President James K. Polk ordered Zachary Taylor to attack Mexico, in order to end Mexican claims to Texas, California, and other lands. This Mexican War ended in 1848, after U.S. troops took Vera Cruz and Mexico City. In 1846, the border between the western U.S. and Canada was fixed at the 49th parallel. Expansionists insisted on moving the border further into Canada, with the slogan "54-40 or fight" (They wanted to move the border to 54 degrees 40 minutes). Also in 1846, the Mormons, led by Brigham Young, moved from Illinois to Utah, and founded Salt Lake City in 1847. Elias Howe invented the sewing machine.
In 1848, gold was discovered in California, initiating the Gold Rush of 1849. In 1850, California became the 31st state. The Fugitive Slave Law made it illegal for slaves to run away into non-slave states. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. In 1853, Comm. Matthew Perry (by the use of threats) negotiated a trade treaty with Japan. In 1854, the Gadsden Purchase gained southern Arizona for the U.S. In 1856, a pro-slavery group attacked Lawrence KS. Abolitionist John Brown led an attack on Osawatomie, KS. In 1857, the Supreme Court gave the Dred Scott (Scott v. Sandford) decision; slaves did not become free in a free state; blacks could not become citizens, and Congress could not bar slavery from a territory (striking down the Missouri Compromise). In 1858, the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was laid by Cyrus W. Field. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were held in Illinois. In 1859, the first successful oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania. John Brown and 21 other men seized a U.S. armory at Harpers Ferry. He was later hanged for treason. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president. In 1860, the Pony Express was started, between Missouri and California. In 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph began, which put the Pony Express out of work. In 1864, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians who had surrendered were killed at the Sand Creek Massacre.
American Civil War
On Feb. 8, 1861, seven southern states seceded from the U.S., calling themselves the Confederate States of America, with Jefferson Davis as president. Eventually, there were 11 Confederate States. The main issues were the rights of states to govern themselves, and slavery. The American Civil War began when the South attacked Ft. Sumpter, at Charleston SC. The North was the Federal Army, or the Blue; the South were the Rebels or the Gray. Lincoln blockaded southern ports. The North conscripted (drafted) soldiers. In 1863, West Virginia split from Virginia, and became a non-slave state. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, calling for the outlawing of slavery. He gave his Gettysburg Address in 1863. The North went through several commanding generals (George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, and George Meade) until Lincoln settled on Ulysses S. Grant. The South had separate armies in each independent state. Robert E. Lee became commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. The major battles of the war (wins and draws are sometimes a matter of opinion):
- Jul. 21, 1861 - First battle of Bull Run (Manassas), VA (South won)
- Apr. 6-7, 1862 - Shiloh, TN (South)
- May 31-Jun. 1, 1862 - Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), VA (draw)
- Jun. 25-Jul. 1, 1862 - The Seven Days (near Richmond, VA) (draw)
- Aug. 29-30, 1862 - Second Bull Run (Manassas), VA (South)
- Sep. 17, 1862 - Antietem (Sharpsburg), MD (draw) [Bloodiest single day in U.S. history]
- Dec. 13, 1862 - Fredericksburg, VA (South)
- Dec. 31, 1862-Jan. 2, 1863 - Stones River (Murfreesboro), TN (draw)
- May 1-4, 1863 - Chancellorsville, VA (South) [Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was accidentally killed by Southern fire]
- Jul. 1-3, 1863 - Gettysburg, PA (North) [Bloodiest battle on American soil. Pickett's Charge was a disaster for the South]
- Sep. 19-20, 1863 - Chickamauga, GA (South)
- Nov. 23-25, 1863 - Chattanooga, TN (North)
- May 5-6, 1864 - The Wilderness, VA (South)
- May 8-19, 1864 - Spotsylvania, VA (South) [The South's J.E.B. Stuart was killed]
- Jul. 20-Sep 2, 1864 - Atlanta, GA (North)
- Dec. 15-16, 1864 - Nashville, TN (North)
- Apr. 1, 1865 - Five Forks, VA (North)
The war ended with Lee's surrender to Grant, on Apr. 9, 1865, at Appomattox, VA (J.E. Johnston surrendered to William T. Sherman nine days later, at Durham Station, NC). During the war, more than 600,000 men died (360,222 for the North, and 258,000 for the South), and 471,000 were wounded, making this war the bloodiest war in history for the U.S. (The U.S. lost 407,316 dead in World War II and 55,000 in Vietnam). Captain Henry Wirz was executed for the murder of 12,921 prisoners at Andersonville prison, GA. Thousands of prisoners died in the North, as well.
On Apr. 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, at Ford's Theater, in Washington DC. Lincoln died the next morning. Vice President Andrew Johnson became president. The Reconstruction of the South began: troops occupied the South; the slaves were freed; integration of blacks into society was attempted. In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery. In 1866, the Ku Klux Klan was formed to terrorize blacks who voted. Jim Crow laws were passed in the South, to promote segregation and keep blacks in a lower class.
In 1867, the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia, through the efforts of Secretary of State William H. Seward. Some called this "Seward's Folly." In 1868, President Johnson tried to remove Edwin Stanton from office as Secretary of War. Johnson was impeached (accused) by the House for violation of the Tenure of Office Act. He was tried in the Senate, and narrowly acquitted. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed, with the golden spike being driven at Promontory, UT. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed Chicago (there were rumors that it was caused by a cow kicking over a lantern). In 1872 the Amnesty Act restored rights to most people in the South. In 1873, banks failed, followed by panic; a depression lasted about five years. "Boss" William Tweed (of the Tweed Ring) was convicted of stealing public funds. In 1875, the Civil Rights Act gave equal rights to blacks; it was struck down in 1883, by the Supreme Court. In the 1876 presidential election, Samuel Tilden received more popular vote than Rutherford B. Hayes, but electoral votes were in dispute. Congress awarded the presidency to Hayes. On June 25, 1876, Col. George A. Custer's 7th Calvary was wiped out at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (also called Custer's Last Stand). In 1877, leaders of the Molly Maguires (Irish terrorists) were hanged for murder, in Pennsylvania. In 1879, Thomas A. Edison invented the light bulb. Other inventions of his were the phonograph, motion pictures, and many others.
In 1881, President James A. Garfield was shot, and died months later. In 1886, the Haymarket riot and bombing killed 7 police and 4 rioters; 4 anarchists were later hanged for murder. Geronimo, of the Apache Indians, surrendered after a lengthy war with the U.S. The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, was erected in New York Harbor. In 1889, Oklahoma (formerly Indian Territory) was opened to white settlement, causing the "Oklahoma land rush." The Johnstown flood killed 2,200 people in Johnstown, PA. In 1890, the Battle of Wounded Knee was fought; 200 Indian men, women, and children were killed; 29 soldiers were killed. The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed to begin curbing monopolies. In 1893, financial panic resulted in a four year depression.
In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court approved racial segregation, under the "separate but equal" plan. In 1898, the battleship Maine was blown up in Cuba, thus starting the Spanish American War. The Spanish fleet was destroyed at the Philippines. Spain ceded the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the U.S., and granted Cuba its independence. More than 2,000 Americans had died in the war. In 1898, the U.S. annexed the Hawaiian Islands. In 1900, the U.S. helped suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China. Carry Nation began tearing up saloons in protest against alcohol.
In 1901 (the first year of the 20th century), oil was discovered in Texas. President William McKinley was shot, and died a week later. In 1903, the U.S. signed a treaty with Colombia, for the U.S. to dig the Panama Canal. The treaty was rejected by Colombia. The U.S. got Panama to declare its independence from Colombia, and then Panama and the U.S. signed a treaty to build the canal. On Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright flew the first successful airplane at Kittyhawk NC.
In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire occurred. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed. In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T car. In 1909 Adm. Robert Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole, but he may not have made it. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded. In 1913, income tax went into effect (16th Amendment). In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the U.S. neutral the European war (World War I). The Panama Canal was opened. In 1915, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone with a call from New York to San Francisco. The U.S. seized Haiti. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin from Montana became the first woman member of the House of Representatives. In 1919, the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) was ratified.
World War I
World War I (WWI) began in 1914. The German Empire (including Austria-Hungary) expanded into neighboring countries (Serbia, France, and Belgium). Russia, France, and England allied against Germany. Germany used poison gas in battle. President Woodrow Wilson declared the U.S. to be neutral. In 1915, the British ship Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine; 128 Americans died; Germany apologized. In 1917, Germany send the encrypted "Zimmerman telegram," urging Mexico to declare war on the U.S. England decrypted it and passed it on to the U.S. The U.S. declared war on Germany on Apr. 6, 1917. Conscription (the draft) began. The German submarine blockade of the Atlantic was overcome by the use of convoys of ships. Eventually more than one-million U.S. troops were in Europe. Germany surrendered, and the armistice (Treaty of Versailles) was signed on Nov. 11, 1918. Over 100,000 Americans had died in the war (the death toll in other nations was much greater).
In 1918, an Influenza (flu) epidemic killed about 20 million people worldwide, 548,000 in the U.S. In 1920, the U.S. refused to join the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations), which Woodrow Wilson had started. In Red Scare, 2,700 communists and other radicals were arrested. Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested for murder, and were executed in 1927. Women were given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment. In 1921, Congress set immigration quotas for each nation, greatly limiting immigration. In 1922, 36 people died in a coal mine strike in Herrin, IL. In 1924, all American Indians were declared citizens of the U.S. In 1925, John T. Scopes was convicted of having taught evolution at Dayton TN high school. In 1926, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid fuel rocket.
In 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh flew the first solo flight across the Atlantic. The Jazz Singer, staring Al Jolson, was the first talking motion picture. In 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. In 1929, 7 gangsters were killed in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago. In the Teapot Dome Scandal, Albert B. Fall, former Secretary of the Interior, was found guilty of taking a $100,000 bribe. On Oct. 29, 1929, the Stock Market Crash began the Great Depression (worldwide economic slump and period of much unemployment), which lasted until 1934. In 1931, the Empire State Building was completed. Gangster Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion.
In 1932, 19 month old Charles Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped and killed; Bruno Hauptmann was executed for the crime four years later. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president for the first time. In 1933, Roosevelt's New Deal began with many economic law changes. The gold standard (as backing for U.S. money) was dropped. Prohibition ended when the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment. In 1935, Huey Long, senator from Louisiana was assassinated. In 1937, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were lost during an attempted around the world flight. In 1939, the New York World's fair was opened. In 1941, Roosevelt listed the Four Freedoms which he considered essential: freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from want and fear.
World War II
In 1939, World War II (WWII) began in Europe (with Germany's expansion into Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Holland, Denmark, France and elsewhere) and in Asia (with Japan's expansion into China and elsewhere). England and France declared war on Germany. Germany (led by Adolph Hitler), Japan and Italy were called the Axis powers, its opponents were called the Allies. Germany signed a treaty with the Soviet Union, and they divided up Poland. In the U.S., famous physicist Albert Einstein informed Roosevelt that Germany might build an atomic bomb, and this led to the U.S. Manhattan Project to build the bomb. The U.S. declared itself to be neutral. Roosevelt declared a national emergency. The U.S. sent aid to England and the USSR (Russia). In 1940, the U.S. began its first peacetime draft. Lend-Lease Act provided more aid to England and the USSR. In 1941, Germany invaded Russia. On Dec. 7, 1941 (which Roosevelt called "a day that will live in infamy"), Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, HI. The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan; then Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S.; then the U.S. declared war on Germany and Italy. In 1942, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were move from the west coast to detention camps. Major battles in the Pacific:
- Apr. 8, 1942 - Bataan peninsula
- May 6, 1942 - Corregidor
- Jun. 4-7, 1942 - Midway (first Japanese defeat, they never won another battle)
- Aug. 7, 1942-Feb. 9, 1943 - Guadalcanal
- Feb. 19-Mar. 16, 1945 - Iwo Jima
- Apr. 1-Jun. 21, 1945 - Okinawa
Also, England and the U.S. invaded North Africa on Nov. 8, 1942. They invaded Sicily on July 9, 1943, and Italy on Sep. 3, 1943. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), the allied forces invaded Normandy. In 1944, the U.S. invaded the Philippines. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was named supreme allied commander in Europe. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, Roosevelt, Winston Churchill (England), and Joseph Stalin (USSR) agreed that after the war their countries and France would occupy Germany, and that after Germany was defeated, the USSR would declare war on Japan. On Apr. 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died, and Vice President Harry S. Truman became president. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. On Jun. 26, the United Nations was created. The first atomic bomb (the A-bomb), produced at Los Alamos, NM, was exploded at Alamogordo, NM, on Jul. 16, 1945. On Aug. 6, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima Japan, killing about 75,000 people. On Aug. 9, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing about 40,000 people. Japan agreed to surrender, and formally surrendered on Sep. 2. Over 400,000 Americans had died in the war. At the Potsdam Conference, the US., England, and the USSR agreed on disarmament of Germany, occupation zones, and war crimes trials. Germany was divided into several zones, mainly east (Communist) and west (free), with Berlin (surrounded by the Communist zone) similarly divided between east and west. Gen. Douglas MacArthur took over supervision of Japan.
In 1946, the U.S. gave the Philippines its independence. In 1947, the U.S. began giving aid to Greece and Turkey, to help combat Communist terrorism (Truman Doctrine). Jackie Robinson, the first black in Major League baseball, joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Taft-Hartley Act, curbing strikes, was passed over President Truman's veto. The Marshall Plan gave monetary aid to European countries. In 1948, the USSR blockaded West Berlin. U.S. and England launched the massive Berlin Airlift to supply West Berlin. The blockade was lifted almost a year later. Alger Hiss was indicted for perjury for denying that he had not passed government secrets to Wittaker Chambers, a communist spy. He was convicted over a year later. Truman was elected president, in a surprise victory over Thomas E. Dewey.
In 1949, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was established by the U.S., Canada, and 10 western European nations, to protect each other against attack. Eleven leaders of the U.S. Communist Party were convicted of advocating violent overthrow of the U.S. government. In 1950, Brink's Inc. was robbed of $2.8 million; eight men were caught and sentenced to life in prison. President Truman authorized production of the hydrogen bomb (H-bomb). In 1951, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to kill President Truman. In 1952, the U.S. detonated the first hydrogen bomb at Eniwetok atoll.
On Jun. 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The UN asked for troops. The U.S. landed at Inchon Sep. 15. On Nov. 20, UN forces reached the China border. On Nov. 26, China invaded Korea. In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for Russia; they were executed in 1953. In 1951, President Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur as commander in Korea, for making unauthorized statements about the military policy. Cease fire talks began in July, 1951. Fighting ended July 27, 1953. The border between North and South Korea was re-established roughly where it had begun before the war (near the 38th parallel). More than 36,000 Americans had died in the war.
In the early 50's, Senator Joseph McCarthy led hearings (House U.N.-American Activities Committee, or HUAC) on Communist influence in the the entertainment industry, in government, in the army, and elsewhere. The resulting anti-Communist witch-hunt became known as McCarthyism. In 1954, the Senate condemned McCarthy for his actions. In 1954, the Supreme Court declared racial segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) was formed to protect Asian countries from attack. In 1955, the labor organizations AFL and CIO combined into the AFL-CIO.
In 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to bar nine black students from entering an all-white high school in Little Rock. He complied with a federal court order to withdraw the guardsmen, but local authorities barred the black students. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to get the students into school. The USSR launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite; this began the space race between the USSR and the U.S. (as these rockets could be used to deliver the H-bomb). In 1958, the U.S. launched the Explorer I satellite. In 1959, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as the 49th and 50th states. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the U.S. In 1960, a U.S. U2 spy plane was shot down over the USSR; the pilot, Francis Gary Powers was captured. The Kennedy-Nixon debates were held. John F. Kennedy was elected president.
In 1961, the U.S. severed relations with Cuba. Cuba's Communist government was run by Fidel Castro. The USSR put the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. The U.S. supported Cuban exiles, in the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs attack. Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American in space. In 1962, John Glenn orbited the earth three times. President Kennedy announced that the U.S. would go to the moon by the end of the decade. James Meredith became the first black student at the University of Mississippi, after federal troops put down riots. On Oct. 22, President Kennedy announced that the USSR was arming Cuba with missiles; thus began the Cuban missile crisis. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev backed down, perhaps averting nuclear war.
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled (in Miranda v. Arizona) that all criminal defendants had certain rights (called Miranda rights): the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney. Further, illegally acquired evidence could not be used against him/her. The University of Alabama was desegregated, when Governor George Wallace was confronted with federal troops. Civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated. The Supreme Court ruled organized prayer in public schools unconstitutional. The U.S., the USSR, and Britain agreed to a limited nuclear test ban treaty. In civil rights "march on Washington," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech. A Baptist church in Birmingham AL was bombed, and four black girls were killed. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated. On Nov. 22 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas TX. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged with the murder. He was shot and killed by Jack Ruby, who died while awaiting a second trial for the murder of Oswald.
In 1964, Panama suspended relations with the U.S. Later, a new canal treaty was agreed to. The civil rights bill banned discrimination in voting, jobs, and by local governments. In Mississippi, three civil right workers were murdered, seven men were convicted of conspiracy in federal court. Medicare health insurance was created. The Warren Commission declared that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing President Kennedy. In 1965, black leader Malcom X was assassinated. There was a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery AL. There were race riots in the Watts district of Los Angeles (called the Watts riots). An electric power failure blacked out much of northeast U.S. In 1967, Adam Clayton Powell, a black U.S. representative, was denied his seat because of misuse of government funds, he was later fined and stripped of seniority. Rachel Carson began the environmentalist movement. The USS Liberty was accidentally torpedoed by Israel. There were race riots in various cities. Thurgood Marshall became the first black Supreme Court Justice.
In 1968, the USS Pueblo was seized by North Korea; its crew was released almost a year later. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (a presidential candidate) was shot and killed in Los Angeles. Richard Nixon won the presidency. In 1969, Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11 commander) became the first man to step on the moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin. In 1971, Charles Manson and three followers were convicted in the 1969 murder of actress Sharon Tate and six others. In 1972, President Nixon became the first president to visit China; later he became the first president to visit Moscow. Bobby Fischer won the World Chess Championship. Governor George Wallace (and three bystanders) of AL was shot and seriously wounded. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled (in Roe v. Wade) that the states could not ban abortions during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned amid charges of income tax evasion; and Gerald R. Ford was appointed to replace him.
The U.S. sent advisors to French Indo-China (eventually called Vietnam or Viet Nam) way back in 1950. The U.S. began training the South Vietnamese army in 1955. In the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, two U.S. destroyers may have been attacked by North Vietnamese boats. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing President Johnson to retaliate. Bombing of North Vietnam began in 1965. In 1966, the U.S. began attacking North Vietnamese in Cambodia, and bombing Hanoi. In Jan. 1968, the Communist troops began their Tet offensive. Main attacks were at Hue, Saigon (U.S. Embassy), and Khe Sahn. The Communists lost heavily at all of these battles, but showed that they could continue fighting anyway. Peace talks began. There were antiwar demonstrations and riots. In Nov. 1969, reports became public that hundreds of women, children, and old people had been massacred at My Lai the previous year (Lt. William Calley was later convicted of 22 counts of murder, and even later was freed). In 1970, the Chicago Seven (antiwar protesters) were found not guilty of conspiring to incite riots during the Democratic National Convention. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia, to attack North Vietnamese forces. Four Students were killed at Kent State University, in OH, during antiwar protest. In 1971, the New York Times published the Pentagon papers, classified documents about Vietnam; the Supreme Court upheld their right to publish them. In 1972, the U.S. mined North Vietnamese ports. Peace was declared in 1973, at the Paris peace talks. The military draft was ended. In 1975, the Communist took over all of Vietnam; the U.S. evacuated their remaining people.
In 1972, five men ("plumbers") were arrested while breaking in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office building in Washington DC. President Nixon was reelected by a landslide. Five of seven defendants pleaded guilty, the other two were convicted. In 1973, top Nixon aides, H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman, John Dean, as well as Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigned because of charges of a White House cover-up involvement in the Watergate break-in. John Dean testified, at Senate hearings, that Nixon, his aides, and the Justice Department had conspired to obstruct justice. Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox threatened to force Nixon to turn over audio tapes to Judge John Sirica. Nixon fired Cox; Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned. Nixon named Leon Jawarski to replace Cox. In 1974, impeachment hearings began, against Nixon. Four of the White house "plumbers" (including John Ehrlichman) were convicted of violating the civil rights of Daniel Ellsberg's (leaker of the Pentagon Papers) psychiatrist, by breaking in to his office. The Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to turn over his tapes. The House Judiciary Committee voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Nixon. On Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon resigned. Vice President Gerald R. Ford became president. A month later, Ford pardoned Nixon. In 1975, John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and former Attorney General John Mitchell were convicted in the cover-up.
In 1975, the U.S. merchant ship Mayaguez was captured by Cambodia. U.S. Marines rescued the ship and crew. Publishing heiress Patricia Hearst was kidnapped by the "Symbionese Liberation Army." She was later convicted of bank robbery. 1976 was the U.S. bicentennial (200th year). Legionaire's Disease killed 29 people who attended an American Legion convention. Viking I and II spacecraft landed on Mars. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned most Vietnam draft evaders. In 1978, the U.S. turned the Panama canal over to Panama. The Supreme Court ruled against racial quotas in Bakke v. University of California.
In 1979, a partial meltdown cause release of radioactive materials into the air at Three Mile Island, in PA. At the American embassy in Tehran, Iran, 63 Americans (and some others) were taken captive by followers of the Ayatolla Khomeini (the Iran hostage crisis). In 1980, eight American were killed and five were wounded in a failed rescue of the hostages. The U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics, to protest the Soviet war in Afghanistan. In Washington state, 57 people were killed when Mt. St. Helens erupted. John Lennon, former Beatle, was shot and killed. In 1981, the Iran hostages were released within minutes of President Reagan's inauguration (some had been released earlier). President Reagan was shot and seriously wounded. The space shuttle Columbia became the first reusable spacecraft. Federal air traffic controllers went on strike. Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman on the Supreme Court.
In 1983, the USSR shot down a South Korean passenger airliner, killing 269 people. 241 U.S. Marines were killed by a suicide bomb in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off, killing the seven people aboard, including New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe. In 1987, the U.S. budget reached a trillion dollars. In the Iran-Contra hearings, Oliver North claimed that illegal aid the the Contras was authorized by his superiors in the White House; Reagan claimed no knowledge of it (North was later convicted, and then acquitted on appeal). Wall Street (the stock market) crashed. In 1988, the U.S. Vincennes mistakenly attacked an Iranian passenger airliner, killing all 290 people aboard.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef, and created one of the worst oil spills ever, in Prince William Sound, in AK. Just before a World Series game, an earthquake struck in San Francisco, killing 62 people. U.S. troops invaded Panama, and arrested its president, Manuel Noriega on drug charges. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. mobilized to protect Saudi Arabia. In 1991, the U.S. and its allies defeated Iraq, in Operation Desert Storm. In 1992, black motorist Rodney King was beaten by police in Los Angeles; a video tape of the incident caused national outrage. Four police officers were acquitted, and 52 people were killed in riots. In 1993, a bomb exploded beneath the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people; Islamic terrorists were convicted of the crime. Four federal agents were killed in an unsuccessful attack of the Branch Davidian (a cult) compound near Waco TX; a 51-day siege ended when the compound burned down, killing more than 70 men, women, and children. Eleven cult members were later acquitted of the deaths of the federal agents. Federal agents were later (2000) cleared of charges involving the fire.
In 1994, an earthquake killed 61 people near Los Angeles. Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of the 1963 killing of Medgar Evers. In 1995, the U.S. loaned $20-billion to Mexico, to prevent a government collapse. A bomb killed 168 people, at a federal office building in Oklahoma City. Former football star, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. U.S. peacekeeping troops were sent to Bosnia. In 1996, a bomb exploded at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, killing one person. In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate religious cult committed suicide.
In 1998, Theodore Kaczynski, called the Unabomber, pleaded guilty to three counts of murder. The House voted to impeach (accuse) President Bill Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice involving sex scandals. In 1999, the Senate failed to convict on both charges. Dr. Jack Kavorkian was convicted of second degree murder, for assisting people in committing suicide. Throughout the last half of the 1990's, several people were killed by "right to life" advocates at abortion clinics. And several mass murders were committed at public schools, including 13 killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO in 1999.
The year 2000 was the last year of the 20th century. The Y2K Windows bug, and the end of the world, apparently failed to appear. In a custody battle, six year old Elian Gonzalez was returned (from relatives in Florida) to his father in Cuba. Four New York policemen were acquitted of murder of an unarmed black man who they killed with 19 shots (41 shots were fired); they apparently thought he was pulling a gun. The courts found Microsoft Corp. in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Microsoft was forced to split into two companies, they are appealing the decision. The courts started awarding damages due to smoking deaths, in lawsuits involving the cigarette industry. Two former KKK members were convicted in the 1963 bombing deaths of four girls (a third man had been convicted in 1977). The independent counsel dropped all charges against President Clinton and his wife, in the Whitewater investigation of several charges of wrongdoing, perjury, and obstruction of justice.
There are a lot of facts above. Should they all be memorized? I don't think so. Certainly, some facts should be remembered forever, like the fact that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor started America's involvement in World War II. Should you know the date? Maybe.
Can we see any patterns in history? For one thing the various wars are considered very important. It is hard to argue with that. But in 1918, 548,000 Americans died of the flu. That is more than the number of American deaths in World War II. It is almost as many as died in the Civil War. These wars had a greater effect on history, but the flu epidemic was a great catastrophe which we should maybe remember. Above, you have read (scattered throughout the page) lots of things about native Americans, Slaves, civil rights, nuclear weapons, the Supreme Court, depressions, assassinations, and many other things. Several stories can be pieced together, about treaties and massacres of native Americans, for example.
Among the facts, you may sometimes see clues to the reasons these things happened. This is probably more important than the facts themselves. Why did this or that war happen? Above, you will see some clues. And you may see the absence of some clues. If you are intrigued by all this, please do further reading elsewhere.
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