American History – Decades in the Making

American history is a complex amalgam of wars, conquests and political experiments. From the onset of colonization to the rise and fall of empires, America has been witness to many events that have shaped it into what it is today. Dividing its history into decades is a somewhat arbitrary but useful way of analyzing the arcs and significance of each period. Here is a look at some decade-defining moments in the United States’ long journey from 13 colonies to an independent nation.


The Boston Tea Party, the “shot heard round the world” at the Battle of Saratoga and George Washington’s enduring victory at Yorktown mark major turning points in the American Revolutionary war. Committees of Correspondence are established throughout the colonies to coordinate the American response to British colonial policy. This marks an important step toward cooperation, mutual action and the development of a national identity among Americans.


The United States enters the era of cotton as plantation agriculture based on slave labor becomes economically viable. The increased demand for cotton drives the economic and social evolution of America, which soon shifts from a religiously based society to a secular, logically reasoned one. This period also sees the emergence of an anti-slavery movement and the formation of a Republican Party.


The US wins the War of 1812 over Britain and expands westwards into Louisiana and New Mexico, reaffirming its claim to “manifest destiny” to control the North American continent. The expansionist vision continues to fuel the country’s growth as its economy moves away from agriculture and into manufacturing and trade.


The Great Depression begins in 1929, resulting in widespread unemployment and deprivation. President Franklin D Roosevelt launches his “New Deal” recovery programme, which includes major public works programmes. Prohibition ends as the sale of alcohol is once again permitted.


The US takes on a global role as it leads the Western alliance against Soviet communism, culminating in the bombing of Yugoslavia and the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. The US enunciates its doctrine of aid for nations it deems threatened by communism in what will become known as the Truman Doctrine. The US experiences a decline in military strength as it adopts a more global approach to foreign policy, while addressing issues of poverty and inequality at home. The emergence of black power movements and the Civil Rights movement mark key milestones in this era.

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