The American narrative has largely attributed its success to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, the virtues of the ancestors, and liberal democratic capitalism. It often glosses over the many injustices of slavery, and the cruelty that was perpetrated against the native population and African slaves imported into the United States. While these factors are certainly important, they are only a part of America’s history. While some historians dispute the validity of the notion of exceptionalism, the common narrative is rooted in a confusion of the meaning of the word “exceptional” and its implications.
Native Americans first settled in the Americas around 15,000 BC, but their lifestyles soon changed. In the sixteenth century, indigenous cultures began to shift away from their densely populated lifestyles and reorganized themselves into new polities. Christopher Columbus, however, began European colonization of the Americas. Although most colonial settlements began after the 1600s, the United States was not among the earliest nation whose distant origins were fully documented. By the 1760s, thirteen British colonies grew to include more than 2.5 million people and spanned most of the United States.
After the Revolutionary War, the United States expanded westward to the Pacific Coast. In 1790, the population was only 4 million, but in the next few decades, the country experienced rapid economic growth and an even higher standard of living. Although its military might have been limited before 1940, it was capable of expanding its territory to its present size. The expansion of the United States westward was largely motivated by the need to acquire cheap land and slaves, both of which fuelled many political conflicts. However, by the Civil War, the North had prevented the permanent division of the continent, and the reunited nation could finally achieve its full power potential.
Slavery continued to afflict the American people for centuries. First brought to Virginia in 1619, African slaves were granted the right to purchase their freedom when they reached the age of 12. However, as the labor demands increased in the 1660s, the institution of slavery hardened and African slaves made up about a fifth of the population. By the 1770s, the population of the continent was dominated by African slaves.
After the Revolution, the United States gradually attracted the attention of other world powers. The emergence of the steel industry in the northeast and a significant number of immigrants made the United States one of the most powerful industrial nations in the world. In this period, the nation completed the national railroad network, large mines, and factories. After World War II, the United States entered the Cold War, launching an unprecedented expansion of its economy. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in the European theater, the United States used newly developed nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Pacific.
After the victory of France in 1775, the British government imposed a series of taxes against the colonists. The Stamp Act of 1765 disregarded colonists’ constitutional argument. In 1775, the Boston Tea Party led to Parliament passing punitive laws. Eventually, armed conflict broke out in Massachusetts. The American revolution was only the beginning of a new age, and today, the country enjoys a thriving economy.