The History of America is going to be a continuous series on my website. I started it a couple of years ago on my previous site, but retired it to focus on other projects. However, as I begin researching the next few parts of the series, I’ve decided to republish the older posts so that I can have a chronological series on the history of the United States of America.
Anyone who has taken a United States History course knows that sometimes, well, most of the time, we eliminate and “forget” to write down the lows of American History. Not many high school text books discuss the fact that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had made a decision to not to bomb railways used to transport prisoners to Auschwitz during World War 2, a controversial topic you can read more about here. But, there are five themes in United States history that can be seen in any high school or college history course.
The first would be the passion for freedom. Freedom of speech, religion, press. Americans to this day have a passion for freedom, symbolized by the red and white stripes and many other iconic figures.
The second would be the pursuit for equality, no matter how ironic that may sound. That all men are created equal, and that education plays a role in it. While in today’s world, American education systems focus on “No Child Left Behind”, if you go backwards in time , you’ll see that only quite recently females and African Americans were allowed to attend the same schools, if schools at all. Sexism and racial profiling still somewhat haunts job interviews.
The third theme would be the value of popular government. A democratic government for the people. In today’s modern world, this seems to be a questionable topic, with organizations like the NSA. However, all Americans will agree on one single thing. It is not on religion, nor language or culture, But the style of Government brought into the light by America back in the eighteenth century. It is not a monarchy, nor a dictatorship, but a democratic government that listens to the popular vote.
The fourth theme is often talked about during industrial changes in American society, as it often depicts new waves of immigrants moving into a new environment and accepting the ways of American ingenuity, and their style of government.
The last theme that is focused on by college professors would be American exceptionalism. The perception that a country, society or race is superior than others, and exceptionally great. The fact that “we are different than Europe” after the American Declaration of Independence. The thought, or idea, that as a country, America is amazing and deserves its spot as a World Power. You can read a bit more on World Powers on a philosophical post of mine here.
Europeans, as seen in New Imperialism themes and the beginning stages of colonizing America, have exceptionalism as well. However, as one should know, Christopher Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but he was not the first to discover America. Far from it. To this day people argue on who exactly was the first European to step foot on American soil, let alone person.
North America first gained population from three very successful waves of nomads, crossing over a land bridge that connected Siberia with Canada that was created during the last Ice Age. This land bridge is long gone, being swept over by the sea. And many Indian tribes refuse to believe this today, as they refuse to believe that they came from anywhere other than the soil they live on now.
Mild climates and rich soil encouraged the speedy growth of population in America, and by 1500 their numbers stood at at least 10 million, having a diverse amount of languages and over six hundred radically different ways of living in society. Eventually, empires began to form, with the Aztecs of Mexico and Incas of Peru creating large and dominant societies, rivaling the sizes of the Roman Empire, which at this point in time was collapsing. It is said that some of the cities inhabited by Aztecs were the largest at that time. Strikingly similar aspects of size and structure and major differences in religion and culture to European empires can be noticed.
Well, the Roman Empire splits, and Christianity is dubbed the official religion. Cultures collapse in Europe, and Islam overruns former Roman colonies. Political chaos omits, and at this moment one could argue that the isolated, unknown cultures of America were more stable during this period of time. Ancient cultures are hard to revive, and people began to fight to keep their beliefs alive in Europe.
Now the year is 1096, and Pope Urban II calls to regain Jerusalem from Islam. The Crusades begin, and surprisingly, the land is won. For now. By 1200, the land has been taken back by Muslim people. More crusades occur, and you can watch a hilarious video on the subject here. The last of the crusades in 1270 were a fiasco of failures, and cultural exchanges began. Crusaders began to trade possessions, ideas and wealth with foreign markets.
Europeans now openly explore markets. In 1271, Marco Polo set off with two uncles to the heart of the Chinese empire, where he stayed for several years. He returns to Europe in 1295 where he wrote his book – a vast collection of thoughts and ingenuity. Trading colonies continue to spread through the Middle East, and many people begin taking up exploring Asia and the Middle East. However, there was a cost.
While the trading brought riches such as spices and silk, it also brought very deadly side effects. In 1346, The Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death begins. Within ten years it will wipe out one third of the European population. Disease leaves its mark on the trading industry.
Italian citizens and other port cities gained the most from the Palestinian trades, as they controlled the sea routes. Islam nations controlled a majority of the land routes, and western Europeans were desperate to find a new route to the riches in Asia that were not owned by Italians or Arabs.
Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator (1394 – 1460) sponsored a series of expeditions that proved one could in fact sail south of Africa. Maps of everything down to Cape Hope were drawn, and in 1498 Vasco da Gama (1469 – 1524) brought a fleet around Africa, and directly to India. He did not rely on land routes, and returned to Portugal with a whopping 600% profit.
Putting it in reverse a bit, Christopher Columbus asked Ferdinad and Isabella of Spain to pay for an expedition west to get to China, a route Columbus hoped to be faster that travelling around India. The Canary Islands had been rediscovered to Europeans earlier, and nobody really had a clue to what was behind them. It wasn’t that they were afraid the world ended there, but the fact that they seriously had no idea what was happening behind the rediscovered islands. Nobody knew the vast “emptiness” between the islands and China, or if Japan would be in the way.
Isabella awards Columbus with three ships, and he sails off to discover America. On accident, of course. Up to his death, he believed he made it to China. It is likely the island he landed on was in the Bahamas, and what he saw was Florida. He labeled the natives as “Indians”, thinking he was at least somewhere near India, and the name has stuck to this day.
Now back to exceptionalism. America may act like they’re top dog in the world now, but back when North and South America was first “discovered” by Europeans, they were seen as nothing but an obstacle. Nothing but something in the way. Spain actually viewed the two massive continents as a problem.
Ferdinand Magellan attempted to find away around South America. When countries finally realized going around the massive continents was damn near impossible, they decided to go through the continents. Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1475 – 1519) attempted to cross through Panama, believing there would be some sort of water separating North and South America. Eventually there would be, but not until Theodore Roosevelt called for the construction of the Panama Canal. Many explorers began seeking a non existing Northwest Passage through North America.
However, in 1519, Hernando Cortes (1485 – 1547) jumped onto Cuba with six hundred men, and was on his way to Mexico to make a name for himself, and for Spain. That is when the two year campaign began, where Cortes and his men pillaged and ravaged their way through the Aztec Empire. It is said that the Aztecs believed this man was god at first, as he was a white man in a massive ship. Cortes and his men became horrified to learn of these “savages” and their insane, abstract culture. He took control. Cortes became one of the wealthiest men in all of Europe, and the mighty Aztec Empire was brought down to its’ knees, nothing but a Spanish Colony.
Francisco Pizarro (1475 – 1541) did the exact same thing to the Inca Empire in Peru. He seized nearly 65 million dollars in South American treasure. Many other explorers now began looking (in vain) to repeat these two men’s fortune.
One Englishman once stated that “America is the place to live bravely — somewhere with no restraint.” There were no rules in the newly discovered continents, and suspended rules led to greed and organized crime based on slavery.
On the island of Hispaniola, where Columbus once landed, originally had an estimated 1.1 million civilians. Within just a few years, this number dwindled down to merely 200 due to disease, mostly smallpox, and slavery.
And all of this abuse during this time period — the enslavement of the Hispaniola people, the disease ravishing its way through a new world, and the elimination of the Aztecs/Incas — was technically caused by Christopher Columbus, as some may attempt to argue.
Columbus had no idea that these consequences would even form, and he even refused to believe America existed until his death, stating he did in fact find China. And thus, America is found. The New World is suffering through eight main diseases brought by explorers, the natives are being killed left and right, and Europeans learn that perhaps these “obstacles” are of some use after all.