Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in North America in 1492,
the continent was inhabited by peoples thought to have been descended
from nomadic Mongolian tribes who had travelled across the Barents
The first wave of European settlers, mainly English, French and
Dutch, crossed the Atlantic in the 17th century and colonised the
The restrictions on political rights and the punitive taxation
which the British government imposed on the American colonists led
to the American War of Independence ), with
the Declaration of Independence being signed in 1776. The outcome
was a humiliating defeat for the English King, George III.
The American Constitution which was born of this victory has been
imitated by many other countries. By 1853, the boundaries of the
United States were, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, as
they are today, following a period of settlement, purchases from
the French and Spanish and annexation of Indian and Mexican lands.
Economic activity in the southern States centred on plantation agriculture.
Attempts by liberallyinclined Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln,
to put an end to slavery on which it depended were fiercely opposed.
The election of Lincoln to the Presidency in 1861 precipitated
a political crisis in which seven southern States (joined later
by three others) seceded from the Union, resulting in the American
The more powerful and betterequipped Union forces prevailed
after four years of fighting. After the war, the country entered
a period of consolidation, building up an industrial economy and
settling the vast interior region of America commonly known as the
The mid and late㪫th century also saw the formulation
of an American foreign policy with two principal elements: formal
diplomatic and trading links were established with the old colonial
powers; while on the American continent, the USA sought to establish
itself as the regional power a policy espoused by the Monroe
Doctrine ) which laid the basis for intervention in support
of the USAs national interest.
The latter has been a constant feature of US policy ever since.
Successful diplomatic and commercial overtures were also made to
Japan; this in turn paved the way for the growth of US power in
In Europe, US intervention in 1917 proved decisive for the allies,
and signalled the emergence of the USA as a global power. Driven
by freemarket economic policies and innovative developments
in technology and production methods notably the growth of
the motor industry the USA had by this time undeniably become
the worlds leading economy.
The USA entered World War II following the Japanese attack on the
US fleet at Pearl Harbour, although its earlier neutrality had been
decidedly favourable to the Allied Powers, especially Britain.
Today American culture often sets the pace in modern style. For
much of its early history, however, the United States was considered
culturally provincial and its arts second-rate, especially in painting
and literature, where European artists defined quality and form.
American artists often took their cues from European literary salons
and art schools, and cultured Americans traveled to Europe to become