Why were the American colonies founded?

A little history of mankind

The Massachussetts Bay Colony, founded by the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers, was followed by other English colonies: Maryland was founded in 1634 by English Catholics expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, while emigrants from Massachusetts settled on Rhode Island, who were the leaders of the colony were too fundamentalist and intolerant. In 1664, English warships and militiamen from Massachusetts took over the Dutch Nieuw Amsterdam, which was renamed New York, without a fight; in 1655 they also conquered the former Swedish colony in Delaware, which had been captured by the Dutch. The Quaker William Penn founded the Philadelphia settlement (old Greek for "charity") on the Delaware River, where settlers were supposed to live together peacefully with indigenous people. The settlers survived hard winters and occasional bad harvests due to the abundance of fish in the rivers, which, as in Europe, had not yet been changed by sediment input from agriculture and the construction of weirs; Salmon, sturgeon and river herrings were abundant here. Around 1700, 250,000 European settlers lived on the American east coast, and by 1732 a total of 13 English colonies had been founded in North America.

The English colonies differed significantly from one another: while the population in New England was predominantly of English descent and puritanical and lived on family farming and fishing with a religiously motivated work ethic, the central colonies around New York were religiously more diverse and life was less strict, they lived on Agriculture in the Hudson and Delaware valleys, and commerce and industry in cities such as New York and Philadelphia. In the south, wealthy planters ran large farms with slave labor. In the west of the colonies there were hunters, fur traders and lumberjacks, but also adventurers and refugees.

In the middle of the 18th century the Seven Years War also to North America: in 1759 the British (as the English called themselves since the unification with Scotland in 1707) conquered Québec, and the following year Montreal from the French. They did not succeed in recapturing them, as the British repeatedly succeeded in intercepting supplies from France at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. With the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1763, France largely renounced its claims in Canada.

The road to the United States of America

The mother country of England had long left the colonies largely free. There was no central colonial legislation, the colonies were largely self-governing. That changed when economic power was increasingly seen in Europe as a prerequisite for political and military power ("mercantilism"): the colonies were increasingly thought of as suppliers of raw materials and customers for manufactured goods . Navigation laws in the second half of the 17th century were intended to ensure that colonial products were only delivered to England and that finished goods were only imported from English ports. In practice, however, these laws were initially not implemented. It was only when the British treasury was empty after the Seven Years' War that England tried to give its colony a greater share in its financing: the Molasse Law was passed in 1733, which imposed duties on sugar imports from the non-British Caribbean - now these should really be collected become. For the now self-confident settlers - New England had become an international trading power through the cod trade - these levies were a fundamental question: Since they were not involved in the decision on the levy in the London Parliament, they recognized it according to the motto no taxation without representation ("no taxation without voting rights"). British customs collectors only ventured to Boston under military protection in 1768. In order to avoid further expensive Indian wars, the British also tried to keep the settlers away from the Indian areas in the west; the ridge of the Appalachians was set as the settlement boundary. Such political "interference" and ongoing customs and tax disputes led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773 - citizens of Boston symbolically disguised as Indians threw three loads of tea from English ships into the harbor basin in protest against the British tea tax. British punitive measures, including the closure of the port of Boston, culminated in fighting between American militia and British soldiers in 1775 American War of Independence expanded.

The American War of Independence

On July 4, 1776, the delegates of the Continental Congress (the assembly of representatives of the 13 British colonies) declared their independence from Great Britain, nine of the new states had a constitution by 1780. In 1777 they also formed a confederation, a "firm friendship bond". Militarily, however, the insurgents failed in their attempt to conquer Montreal and then - as they hoped, with French help - to drive the British out of Canada. In March 1776, however, under the leadership of George Washington, they succeeded in taking Boston, whereupon the British government decided to go to war. With 32,000 men, including 8,000 German mercenaries (a total of 30,000 German mercenaries, 19,000 from Hessen-Kassel alone, were supposed to fight on the side of the British) who landed on Staten Island, the British were able to take New York in autumn 1776. Much of the war also became a civil war, in which the rebels led by George Washington also fought against Americans who remained loyal to the British king. Soon the rebels were initially secretly and openly from 1778 France (which intended to take revenge for the Seven Years War) and from 1779 also supported by Spain, and in 1781, when the American army and a French expeditionary force defeated the British in the battle of Yorktown in Virginia struck, the British practically gave up the war. The peace negotiations in Paris lasted for almost two more years, but in 1783 the British recognized the independence of their 13 colonies, which were part of the United States of America should be. The British ceded the entire area between the Appalachians and the Mississippi to the United States and granted them fishing rights off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia; only Canada north of the great lakes remained British.

The way to the USA

Nevertheless, the new states got into a crisis after their independence: the Americans had commercial rights with their independence Empire lost and so British manufactured goods were increasingly imported, but the British prevented the Americans from exporting their goods to Europe or the Caribbean. The Continental Congress had no powers to oppose anything like import restrictions, and the British cleverly played the states off against each other. This created a trade deficit that threatened to make the debts incurred during the War of Independence unpayable. The crisis also led to unrest in the states, for example in Massachusetts dissatisfied farmers tried to steal a state arms depot. In 1787 a constitutional convention therefore decided that the states needed a central government capable of acting. Conflicts of interest between the South and the North - the South feared a majority opposed to slavery - made discussions difficult, but after five months the constitution was adopted. The United States was given a presidential system - a strong president was supposed to lead the government, which was also given the right to collect taxes and duties. In order to meet the interests of both large and small states, the newly created Congress consisted of two chambers of parliament: In the House of Representatives, representatives were sent according to the size of the population, while in the Senate, each state had two seats, regardless of the size of the population. The required approval from nine of the 13 states took another year (opponents of the constitution feared, that sooner or later the states would lose their independence), but took effect on April 30, 1789 George Washington taking office as the first President of the United States of America (United States of America, USA). In December 1791 the constitution was expanded to include a catalog of basic rights. In order to reduce the debt, Finance Minister Alexander Hamilton wanted to transfer the war debts, but also essential tax rights to the Union - to compensate the southern states, skeptical of this solution, achieved that it was not New York that became the capital of the USA, but a new capital on the Potomac in a stateless, Area directly subordinate to the Congress (District of Columia, D.C.). In honor of George Washington it is called Washington, in November 1800 the White House was inaugurated as the office and residence of the President.

Opening up the American West

The American West was opened up in several waves. The first wave consisted of the (mostly French) rangers, missionaries and traders, who were often the first whites to travel inland. From 1780 onwards, a new smallpox epidemic, this time originating in Mexico City, devastated the USA - again it hit the Indian peoples in particular. The powerful, semi-nomadic plains Indian tribe of the Arikara lost about 80 percent of the population in their settlements on the Missouri River; henceforth the nomadic Sioux peoples dominated here. With the land gains after the Revolutionary War, the West became the focus of the United States, and with the inclusion of Kentucky in 1792 and Tennessee in 1796 (both explored by the hunter and trapper Daniel Boone, whose accounts of fertile soils had triggered the settlement ), the US expanded beyond the Appalachian Mountains. First of all the third president of the USA, Thomas Jefferson, who came from a family of planters in Virginia, saw the USA as a nation of independent farmers, planters and artisans, and wanted to counterbalance the industrialization that was beginning in the north with the development of the west. In 1803 the United States could "Louisiana Purchase”Buy the remaining French territories west of the Mississippi for 60 million francs from Napoleon, who needed the money for his wars in Europe. The newly acquired area was populated by Indians who, on the one hand, were to stay there and be “civilized”; On the other hand, the states could also use money from land sales to pay their debts - and so there was a wave of colonization by cattle farmers who bought land. Jefferson began to dream of expanding the United States to the west coast and convinced Congress to fund an expedition to the Pacific coast. This was headed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; 1805 reached the Lewis Clark Expedition the pacific.

In the same year, the Shawnee Indian chief began Tecumsehto unite the Indian tribes in the northwest and southeast against the further penetration of the settlers beyond the Appalachians. But he failed. But when in 1812 the Americans declared war on the British, who repeatedly pressed American sailors into service on British warships in their fight against Napoleon (2nd War of Independence), Tecumseh's coalition supported the British. British Indian troops' initial successes prevented the Americans from conquering Canada; However, neither of the two parties could win the war, so that at the end of 1815 the status before the war began was largely restored. However, most of the trade barriers were lifted and the Americans saw themselves as victorious. The main losers were the Indians, who lost more land.

In 1819 the United States was able to buy five million dollars from the Spaniards, who were increasingly struggling with unrest in Latin America Florida buy off. In 1821 Spain renounced all areas beyond the Rocky Mountains, which lay north of California, and in a treaty with the British the USA agreed on a joint administration of this "Oregon area" and the 49th parallel as the border with Canada. Meanwhile, the slave question threatened the unity of the United States: When Missouri was admitted to the United States in 1820, the House of Representatives demanded an end to slavery, whereupon the Senate refused to admit Maine, which had split off from Massachusetts. With the compromise to accept Maine as a slave-free and Missouri as a slave state, the slave question was politically neutralized again and the balance between northern and southern states was maintained in the Senate. Starting in 1824, Mexico, which became independent in 1821, offered American immigrants free land and citizenship in its sparsely populated peripheral province Texas (as big as Germany, no 4,000 inhabitants). With success - soon there were more American settlers in Texas than Mexicans. The Americans offered Mexico to buy Texas several times, and the influx had clearly become a land grab. In 1830 the Mexicans banned further North American immigrants. Too late: from 1832 there was fighting between settlers and Mexican soldiers, and after Mexico passed a new centralized constitution in 1834 that also banned slavery, the settlers declared their independence as the "Republic of Texas" (under President Sam Houston) and in 1836 offered to join the US. However, they feared a war with Mexico and initially rejected the Texan request; the northern states also feared an increase in power in the southern states.

In 1843 the first stretch of covered wagons reached the Oregon area and triggered a real "Oregon fever" in the north - reports of fertile settlements, rich fishing grounds and good opportunities for the fur trade there in the west had heralded. In this way, the Oregon and Texas questions could be linked: Oregon and Texas were to be incorporated into the USA. The United States terminated the joint British-American administration of Oregon, and incorporated Texas in 1845. While the British wanted to avoid war and proposed a partition of Oregon along the 49th parallel, which was the real goal of the Americans, the rejection of the American attempt to buy the Mexican provinces of New Mexico and California (for $ 30 million) led to it , to the war. in the Mexicanwar, which lasted until 1848, Mexico lost the two provinces to the United States and recognized the Rio Grande as a border. For this, the US paid $ 15 million and took on 3.25 million Mexican debts.Gold discoveries in California triggered a gold rush shortly thereafter, which attracted so many gold seekers and soldiers of fortune to California that public order largely collapsed. Immigration from Europe also increased significantly: the Irish fled the famine caused by the potato rot; Germans (especially from the Palatinate and the Hunsrück), Swiss and Scandinavians faced scarce land and overpopulation, and craftsmen who had become unemployed came from England as a result of industrialization. By 1849, three million immigrants came to the country.

Everywhere, with the advance of the settlers, the Indians expelled. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson had with the Indian Removal Act created a legal basis for the approximately 120,000 Indians who still lived in the east to move to areas beyond the Mississippi even against their will. This particularly affected the sedentary Cherokee, Creek, Chicksaw, Choctaw, and Seminoles; and although the Cherokee were right with their complaint before the constitutional court (which recognized them as a separate people), the USA pushed ahead with the resettlement: of the Cherokee over 4,000 of the 17,000 tribal members (the Cherokee call the Away from there trail of tears, the "path of tears"), and the allotted land was only a third of the abandoned area and was also less fertile. From 1837 to 1840 another smallpox epidemic (Great Plains Smallpox Epidemic) devastated the American West. It hit many Indian peoples there almost fatally: the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Black-footed Indians, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine. In the American prairies, the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho filled the void - the Indian peoples the whites would later encounter were the result of the smallpox they brought with them. They were another victim Woodsthat fell for the reclamation of pasture and arable land.

In the meantime, the cultural differences between the states of the USA had intensified: Industrialization was advancing in the northeast, New York Wall Street, which had meanwhile become a financial center, invested in factories and infrastructure - in 1825, for example, with the completion of the Erie Canal, New York was across the Hudson and New York Lake Erie was connected to the settlement areas in the west. From 1830, railroad construction began in the USA, making Chicago a central hub. The Midwest supplied the metropolises in the east with food, agriculture was mechanized (John Deere was already producing 10,000 steel plows in 1857), but remained dominated by family businesses - only every second business had employees at all. In the south, on the other hand, cotton cultivation, which is based on slave labor like tobacco cultivation, was greatly expanded, so that cotton became the most important export good. But reform initiatives in the north now denounced slavery (that in the British Empire had been banned as early as 1833), and MPs from the northern states had seen the Mexican War as a plot with which the southern states wanted to expand their influence. The MP Abraham Lincoln had condemned the invasion of Mexico as "unlawful aggression". The change in attitudes of large parts of the population showed - and promoted - the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1952 book "Onkel Toms Hütte", which portrayed human trafficking in blacks as barbarism.

The American Civil War

When in 1860 Abraham Lincoln, a declared opponent of slavery - for whom the end of slavery was not a matter close to his heart and who did not initiate any initiative to abolish it - was elected president, 11 southern states declared their exit from the Union and joined together in 1861 confederacy together. Lincoln was hoping for a voluntary return from the southern states, but when they attacked unarmed Union supply boats at the entrance to Charleston Bay, he saw the attack as a declaration of war: the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) had started. Hardly anyone expected a long war: The north was considered to be poorly populated and backward, the southerners assumed that the businessmen in the north would end the war if business losses continued. You should be wrong; Above all, the struggle for the unity of the Union (less for the abolition of slavery, which not every Union soldier advocated), after the first victories of the Confederates in the north, mobilized considerable troops in the initially hardly prepared north, and battles at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga turned 1863 the fortunes of war in favor of the northern states. When General Sherman started an extermination campaign through Georgia the following year, which the southern states under General Lee could not stop, they surrendered on April 9, 1865. The unity of the United States was restored, but had killed 750,000 soldiers - in no war of the In the 19th century, more people should die. The surrender of the south led to the liberation of the slaves, who received no land and therefore remained economically dependent on the white planters - or could be exploited as poor wage laborers in the factories of the north. In addition, racist secret organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan emerged in the south, which wanted to prevent any social change if necessary with lynch justice. But the war was also supposed to promote industrialization: the French General Gribeauval came up with the idea of ​​making rifles with interchangeable parts so that damaged weapons could continue to be used. Thomas Jefferson had found out about this during his time as ambassador to France and brought the idea to America. Despite the higher costs at the time, the Americans built weapons with standardized replacement elements - the basis of the “American factory goods system”, which was the basis for later assembly line production.

America was largely destroyed after the Civil War, but its reputation as a land of opportunity has not been damaged. The construction of a transnational railway line, which was to connect the east with the Pacific, began as early as 1865, and it was completed by 1869. This was also the beginning of the great days of the cowboys, cattle herders who drove herds of cattle from Texas to the markets in the north. Settlers who stood in their way with fences were fought - the myth of the Wild West. However, this time ended thirty years later, when the now more than 300,000 kilometers of railway lines made the drovers superfluous and the government managed to ensure law and order. During the Civil War they were too Indian Wars went on - not all Indians submitted to the Indian policy described above without a fight. After gold was found in Montana in 1864, the United States laid a path through the area it had previously assigned to the Plains Indians, whereupon they fight back. In 1876 the Indians succeeded under the leadership of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse on Little Big Horn one final victory against US troops.

The colonization of the west further changed nature. Escaped horses had already led to herds of wild mustangs returning to the whole of North America during the War of Independence. In doing so, the settlers made amends for what the first humans in North America had done: The horse, which had actually originated in America and spread from here to Eurasia, died out 13,000 years ago - shortly after the arrival of humans; presumably it was exterminated this. But that was more typical destruction of nature, for which the pigeon and bison stood. The Passenger pigeon With colonies of millions of birds, was a natural wonder of the world that symbolized the fertility of North America - even the settlers were only able to exterminate this species when the breech loader was invented in 1870. But the most prominent is that bison, which was driven to the brink of extinction from 1830. At the beginning of the century there were probably 30 to 40 million bison living in the grasslands of the Great Plains, which were only able to survive through this intensive grazing and fertilization with urine and excrement. Hence other herbivores depended on them, millions of pronghorns, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep; and of course the carnivores, like wolves - and the prairie Indians. The bison is destroyed initially for the furs, later often only for the tongues or purely for pleasure - from railroad cars. In 1884 only 300 bison skins could be delivered to the east; only 600 bison survived the slaughter. In the wake, the wolves almost died out. And the Prairie indianswhose way of life had fundamentally changed with the takeover of horses and rifles and who - as the Little Big Horn had shown - had become serious opponents of the whites in the conquest of the country, lost their most important source of food. Weakened in this way, the Indian Wars ended in 1890 with the massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, where the US cavalry murdered 300 unarmed men, women and children (for which they also received medals of bravery). In 1900 there were only 240,000 Indians left in the United States. The late 19th century was also the height of the destruction of the Woods achieved: they no longer only fell for the reclamation of arable and pasture land, but for wood production, which became (after cotton) the second most important economic sector in the USA. Of the 2.5 million square feet of woodland in the eastern United States, only four percent were unused in 1920.

The development of the west made the USA with its huge areas a pioneer in the mechanization and industrialization of agriculture. This accompanied the industrialization of the USA, which was to make it a world power, which had far higher reserves of fossil fuels than Europe.

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On the way to world power: The industrialization of the USA

© Jürgen Paeger 2006 - 2020