Category An Illustrated History Of The USA

Fighting for Independence


On the night of April 18, 1775,700 British soldiers marched silently out of Boston. Their orders were to. seize weapons and ammunition that rebellious colonists had stored in Concord, a nearby town.

But the colonists wrere warned that the soldiers were coming. Signal lights were hung from the spire of Boston’s tallest church and two fast riders, Paul Revere and William Dawes, jumped into their saddles and galloped off with the news.

In the village of Lexington the British found seventy American militiamen, farmers and tradesmen, barring rheir way. These part-time soldiers were known as “Minutemcn.’’-This was because they had promised to take Lip arms immediately-in a minute-whenever they were needed.

The British commander ordered the Minutemcn to return to their homes. They refused. Then someone, nobody knows who, fired a shot. Other shots came from the lines of British soldiers. Eight Minutemcn fell dead. The first shots had been fired in what was to become the American War of Independence.

The British soldiers reached Concord a few hours later and destroyed some of the weapons and gunpowder there. But by the time they set off to return to Boston hundreds more Mimuemen had gathered. From the thick woods on each side of the Boston road they shot down, one by one, 273 British soldiers. The soldiers were still under attack when they arrived back in Boston. A ring of armed Americans gathered round the city.

The next month. May 1775, a second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and began to act as an American national government. It set up an army of 17,000 men under the command of George Washington. Washington was a Virginia landowner and surveyor with experience of fighting in the French and Indian War. The Continental Congress also sent representatives to seek aid from friendly European nations-especially from France, Britain’s old enemy.

British soldiers firing on the Mimuemen at Lexington in і 775. .4 contemporary engraving based он a sketch by an eye-witness.


By the following year the fighting had spread beyond Massachusetts. It had grown into a full-scale war.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress finally took the step that many Americans believed was inevitable. It cut all political ties with Britain and declared that “these United Colonics are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” Two days later, on July 4, it issued the Dec/aranon of Wepen с/енсе.

The Declaration of Independence is the most important document in American history. It was written by Thomasjcfferson, a landowner and lawyer from Virginia. After repeating that the colonies were now “free and independent states.” it officially named them the United States of America.

One of the first members of the Continental Congress to sign the Dec/a radon of Independence was

John Hancock of Massachusetts. Hancock picked up the pen and wrote his name in large, clear letters – “large enough,” he said, “for King George to read without his spectacles."

The Declaration of Independence was more than a statement that the colonics were a new nation. It also set out the ideas behind the change that was being made. It claimed that all men had a natural right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ” It also said that governments can only justly claim the right to rule if they have the agreement of those they govern —“the consent of the governed.”

Ideas such as these were a central part of the political traditions that the colonists’ ancestors had brought with them from England. Colonial leaders had also studied them in the writings of an English political thinker named John Locke. Men likcjcffcrson combined Locke’s ideas with their own experience of

A New World

Henry Ford and mass production

I Icnry Ford is famous for making automobiles. But what makes him important is how he made them.

Ford began to make automobiles in the 1890S: One day in 1903 he was talking to a friend about the best way to do this. “The real way is to make one like another, as much alike as pins or matches,’’ he said. The friend said that he did not believe that this was possible. “The principle is just the same,” Ford replied. “All you need is more space."

Ford tried out his idea with an automobile called the Model T. Like Whitney’s guns, every Model I was put together or “assembled” from exactly the same parts, l’he cars were even painted the same color. “A customer can have an automobile painted any color that he wants,” Ford is supposed to have said, “so long as it is black.”

This use of identical parts in manufacturing is called “standardization.” Ford added to it the idea of a moving assembly line. The idea of the assembly line is to save time. It does this by positioning workers in a factory in one place and taking work to them.

Ford first used an assembly line to make magnetos for his Model ГІ s. By the old method one man on his own did this job from start to finish. Ford divided the work into twenty-one separate actions. A different man carried out each one as the magneto moved past him on a moving belt called a “conveyor.” The change reduced the time taken to put together a magneto from twenty minutes to five.

In 1913 Ford started to use assembly-line methods to make the complete Model T. As the cars moved along on a conveyor, dozens of workmen each carried out a single operation – tightening certain nuts or fixing certain parts. By the time a car reached the end of the line it was complete. It was filled up with gasoline and driven off ready for the road. Making a car in this new way took 1 hour and 33 minutes. Making one previously had taken 12 hours and 28 minutes.

By combining standardization and the assembly line Ford showed manufacturers of all kinds how to produce goods cheaply and in large quantities. Because of this he is seen as the father of twentieth-century mass production.

The giant industrial organizations that such men created were known as “corporations.” As they grew bigger and more powerful still, they often became “trusts.’ Bv the early twentieth century trusts controlled large parts of American industry. One trust controlled the steel industry, another the oil industry, another the meat-packing industry, and there were many more. The biggest trusts were richer than most nations. By their wealth and power—and especially their power to decide wages and prices —they controlled the lives oi millions of people.

Many Americans were alarmed by the power of the trusts. The United States was a land that was supposed to offer equal opportunities to everyone. Yet now it seemed that the country was coining under the control of a handful of rich and powerful men who were able to do more or less anything they wished. Some bribed politicians to pass laws which favored them. Cithers hired private armies to crush any attempt by their workers to obtain better conditions. Their attitude to the rights of other people was summed up in a famous remark of the railroad “king” William H. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was asked whether be thought that railroads should be run ;n the public interest. “The public be damned!” he replied.

The contemptuous way in which leaders ofindustry like Vanderbilt rejected criticism made people angry. It strengthened the feeling that something ought to be done to limit such men’s growing power over the nation’s life. Many people came to see this matter as th e most important problem facing the United States in the early years of the twentieth century. Unless something was done about it, they feared, the United States would become a nation whose life was controlled by a handful of rich businessmen.

Cold War and Korea

The United States was the strongest country on earth in 1945. Its factories produced half the world’s manufactured goods. It had the world’s biggest air force and navy. And it was the only nation armed with atomic bombs.

After the United States came the Soviet Union. Soviet soldiers were the masters of all Europe from the middle of Germany eastwards. After driving out I litlcr’s armies they had helped communists to take over the governments in country after country there. In 194b Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, spoke of an “Iron Curtain” across Europe, separating these communist-ruled nations of the cast from the countries of the west.

The Americans and the Russians had fought 1 Iitler’s Germany together as allies. But friendship between them barely lasted the war out. The Russian dictator. Stalin, knew that many Americans hated the Soviet Union’s communist way of life. He feared that the United States might drop atomic bombs on his country at any moment. The new American President, Truman, was just as suspicious of the Soviet Union. He suspected that Stalin’s actions in eastern Europe were the first steps in a plan to convert the world to communism. The United States and the Soviet Union became deeply suspicious of one another. People began to speak of a “Cold War” between them. Although the two countries were not actually fighting, they were always quarreling.

Truman decided to use American power and money to “contain” Soviet influence—that is. to stop it from spreading. In 1947 he sent money and supplies to help the government of Greece to beat communist forces in a civil war. From this time on, containing communism became the main aim of the United States in dealing with the rest of the world. Because Truman started the policy, containment is sometimes called the Truman Doctrine.

A New World

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The First Americans


Christopher Columbus. Л contemporary portrait by Sebastian о del Piomba.

At daybreak on the morning of Friday, August 3 1492, an Italian adventurer named Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain to find a new way from Europe to Asia. His aim was to open up a shorter trade route between the two continents, in Asia, he intended to load his three small ships with silks, spices and gold, and sail back to Europe a rich man.

Columbus first sailed south to the Canary Islands. Then he turned west across the unknown waters of the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Ten weeks after leaving Spain, on the morning of October 12, he stepped ashore on the beach of a low sandy island. He named the island San Salvador-Holy Savior. Columbus believed that he had landed in the Indies, a group of islands close to the mainland of India. For this reason he called the friendly, brown-skinned people who greeted him “los Indios”— Indians.

In fact, Columbus was not near India. It was not the edge of Asia that he had reached, but islands off the shores of a new continent. Europeans would soon name the new continent America, but for many years they went on calling its inhabitants Indians. Only recently have these first Americans been described more accurately,1s “native Americans” or Amerindians.

There were many different groups of Amerindians. Those north of Mexico, in what is now the United States and Canada, were scattered across the grasslands and forests in separate groups called “tribes.” These tribes followed very different ways of life. Some were hunters, some were farmers.

Some were peaceful, others warlike. They spoke over three hundred separate languages, some of which were as different from one another as English is from Chinese.

Europeans called America “the New World." But it was not new to the Amerindians. Their ancestors had already been living there for maybe 50,000 years when Columbus stepped on to the beach in San Salvador.

We say “maybe” because nobody is completely sure. Scientists believe that the distant ancestors of the Amerindians came to America from Asia. This happened, they say, during the earth’s last ice age, long before people began to make written records.

At that time a bridge oficcjoined Asia to America across what is now the Bering Strait. Hunters from Siberia crossed this bridge into Alaska. From Alaska the hunters moved south and east across America, following herds of caribou and buffalo as the animals went from one feeding ground to the next. Maybe 12,000 years ago, descendants of these first Americans were crossing the isthmus of Panama into

South America. About 5,000 years later their camp fires were burning on the frozen southern tip of the continent, now called Tierra del Fucgo-thc Land of Fire.

For many centuries early Amerindians lived as wandering hunters and gatherers of food. Then a more settled way of life began. People living in highland areas of what is now Mexico found a wild grass with tiny seeds that were good to cat. These people became America’s first farmers. They cultivated the wild grass with great care to make its seeds larger. Eventually it became Indian corn, or maize. Other cultivated plant foods were developed. LJy 5000 вс Amerindians in Mexico were growing and eating beans, squash and peppers.

The Pueblo people of present day Arizona and New Mexico were the best organized of the Amerindian farming peoples. They lived in groups of villages, or in towns which were built for safety on the sides and tops of cliffs. They shared terraced buildings made of adobe (mud and straw) bricks, dried in the sun. Some of these buildings contained as many as 800 rooms, crowded together on top of one another. The Pueblo
made clothing and blankets from cotton which grew wild in the surrounding deserts. On their feet they wore boot-shaped leather moccasins to protect their legs against the sharp rocks and cactus plants of the desert. For food they grew crops of maize and beans. Irrigation made them successful as farmers. Long before Europeans came to America the Pueblo were building networks of canals across tile deserts to bring water to their fields. In one desert valley modern archaeologists have traced canals and ditches which enabled the Pueblo to irrigate 250,000 acres of farmland.

A people called the Apache were the neighbors of the Pueblo. The Apache never became settled farmers. They wandered the deserts and mountains in small bands, hunting deer and gathering wild plants, nuts and roots. They also obtained food by raiding their Pueblo neighbors and stealing it. The Apache were fierce and warlike, and they were much feared by the Pueblo.

The Buffalo Hunt by (JhnrU’S iM. Russell. Amerindians hunting buffalo.




A New World

The Iroquois were a group of tribes —a “nation” – who lived far away from the Pueblo and the Apache in the thick woods of northeastern North America. Like the Pueblo, the Iroquois were skilled farmers. In fields cleared from the forest they worked together growing beans, squash and twelve different varieties of maize. They were also hunters and fishermen. They used birch bark canoes to carry them swiftly along the rivers and lakes of their forest homeland. The Iroquois lived in permanent villages, in long wooden huts with barrel-shaped roofs. These huts were made from a framework of saplings covered by sheets of elm bark. Each was home to as many as twenty families. Each family had its own apartment on either side of a central hall.

The Iroquois were fierce warriors. They were as feared by their neighbors as the Apache of the western deserts were feared by theirs. Around their huts they built strong wooden stockades to protect their villages from enemies. Eager to win glory for their tribe and fame and honor for themselves, they often fought one another. From boyhood on, male Iroquois were taugln to fear neither pain nor death. Bravery in battle was the surest way for a warrior to win respect and a high position in his tribe.

Many miles to the west, on the vast plains of grass that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, there was another warrior nation. This group called themselves Dakota, which means “allies.” But they were better known by the name which other Amerindians gave to them —Sioux, which means “enemies.”

The Sioux grew no crops and built no houses. For food, for shelter and for clothing they depended upon the buffalo. Millions of these large, slow-moving animals wandered across the western grasslands in vast herds. When the buffalo moved, the Sioux moved. The buffalo never remained on one pasture for tong, so everything the Sioux owned was designed to be carried easily. Within hours they could take down the tepees, the conical buffalo-skin tents that were their homes, pack their belongings in lightweight leather bags-“parfleches”-and move off alter the buffalo. They even carried fire from one camp to the next. A hot ember would be sealed inside a buffalo horn filled with rotted wood. There it would smolder for days, ready to bring warmth from the old village to the new.

Zebulon Pike and the Great American Desert

While Lewis and Clark were crossing the plains and mountains of the American Northwest, an­other expedition was exploring those of the Southwest. The leader of the expedition was a young lieutenant in the American army named Zebulon M. Pike.

In November 1806, Pike and his men reached the Rocky Mountains near where the city of Pueblo, Colorado, now stands. The following spring Pike traveled further into the mountains, into lands that were then ruled by Spain. Eventually he was ar­rested by Spanish soldiers. Although the Spaniards treated him with courtesy, they took away his notes and papers and sent him back to the United States.

Pike is remembered today for two things. One is Pikes Peak, a high mountain in Colorado which he first sighted on November 15, 1806, and which is named after him. The other is for his opinion that the entire central region of North America between the Mississippi and the Rockies was little better than a desert and “incapable of cultivation.”

For years after Pike’s journey this area was described on maps as “The Great American Desert.” But both Pike and the mapmakers were wrong. By the 1870s improved seeds and better methods of cultivation were making it possible for farmers to turn these lands into one of the richest grain-growing areas in the w’orld.

Missouri, a town on the Mississippi River. From Independence they followed a twisting trail of about 2,000 miles across plains and mountains to the mouth of the Columbia River.

This overland route to the Pacific coast became known as the Oregon Trail. Ihe wheels of the wagons that traveled along it made deep ruts. These ruts can still be seen in dry areas of the American West today. But the Oregon Trail was never a single trail. It was more a collection of trails, all heading in the same general direction across western North America and meeting occasionally at river-crossing points and passes through the mountains.


Mmmiain-meti setting traps for beaver.

Settlers faced many dangers on the way to Oregon. Floods and blizzards, prairie fires and accidents, disease and starvation —all these took many lives.

One settler recorded in his diary a common sight along the trail: “At noon came upon a fresh grave with a note tied on a stick, informing us it was the grave ofjoel Fdembree, aged six years, killed by a wagon running over his body.”

But, in spite of the dangers, settlers continued to make the long journey. In 1843 “Oregon fever” came to many parts of the United States. People left their worn-out farms in the East, packed their possessions on wagons and set off for the West. “I have seen hard times, faced the dangers of disease and exposure and perils of all kinds,” wrote one, “but I do not care about them if they’ enable me to place myself and my family in comfortable circumstances [better conditions].”

American settlers soon outnumbered the British in Oregon. American newspapers and political leaders began to express an idea called “manifest destiny,” This was a claim that it was the clear (“manifest”) intention of fate {“destiny”) that the territory of the United States should stretch across North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Supporters of manifest destiny demanded that the United States should take the whole of Oregon, all the way north to the boundary with Alaska at latitude 54 degrees 40 minutes. They began using the slogan “Fifty four forty or fight” and threatened the British with war.

In 1844 James K. Polk was elected President of the United States. Polk believed strongly in manifest destiny. In the speech at the start of his presidency— his “inaugural” address —he said that the American claim “to the whole of Oregon is clear and unquestionable.” For a time war seemed possible.

But by the summer of 1846 the United States was already at war with Mexico. In June Polk agreed to divide Oregon with Britain in two almost equal sections. The dividing line was the 49th parallel of latitude, which already formed the boundary between the United States and Canada to the cast ot the Rocky Mountains.

The 1846 war with Mexico had grown out of events that had been taking place in Texas. Thousands of Americans had settled in Texas, but up to the 1830s it was ruled by Mexico. The Texas Americans, or Texans, came to dislike Mexican rule. In October 1835, they rebelled. Led by General Sam Houston, they defeated a much larger Mexican army in 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto and made Texas an independent republic.

But most Texans did not want their independence to be permanent. They wanted their country to join the United States. Eventually the two countries reached an agreement about this and in 1845 Texas became part of the United States.

In April 1846, there was fighting between American and Mexican soldiers along the border between Texas and Mexico. President Polk saw an opportunity to take land from Mexico and he declared war. American soldiers invaded Mexico and defeated the Mexican army. By September 1847, they had occupied Mexico City, the country’s capital.

The Mexican-Amcrican War was ended by a peace treaty signed in February 1848. The treaty forced Mexico to hand over enormous stretches ofits territory to the United States. Today these lands form the American states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

The annexation of these Mexican lands completed the “manifest destiny” of the United States. It now stretched across the North American continent from ocean to ocean. In little more than half a century it had grown from a small nation on the shores of the Atlantic into one of the largest countries in the world.