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History

US Expansion

Other developments marked the history of North America in the 19th and 20th centuries. The first involved the increasing importance of the United States, marked by the nation's unparalleled growth in population and wealth, and its territorial growth; its resolution of many internal economic and political problems, particularly those of slavery and national unity; and its emergence toward the end of the 19th century as a world power.

The U.S. territorial expansion was marked by warfare against Native Americans who resisted encroachment on their domains. Except in scattered areas, particularly in the southern Appalachians, the Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River had been eliminated as an effective force by the final decade of the 18th century. Some of the tribes had withdrawn westward, but the great majority had been substantially diminished or completely destroyed. To a large degree, the fate of the indigenous peoples of eastern North America was a result of the wars and political rivalries among the colonizing powers, particularly the French and English, who involved the tribes in their struggles for territorial supremacy. Many thousands of indigenous peoples, however, perished in attempts to maintain their ancestral lands and cultural identity in spite of the usurpers. Between 1832 and 1877, the Native Americans of the Great Plains, the Southwest, and the Rocky Mountains contested almost every major European move westward. Ultimately, however, it was not primarily armed battles that subjugated the Native Americans, but rather devastating disease, forced assimilation, and expropriation of their land by means of treaties and legislation. Both in the United States and Canada the majority of Native Americans continue to live on reservations. In many of these areas, which represent a poorly integrated fusion of Native American civilization with that of whites, the economic plight of the indigenous peoples is serious.

In addition to acquisitions of contiguous territory in the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States obtained other regions in North America: Alaska, purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7 million; Puerto Rico, ceded by Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American War; the Panama Canal Zone, acquired in 1903 but ceded to Panama in 1979; and the Virgin Islands of the United States, purchased from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million.

 
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