North America was first settled by humans about 15 thousand years ago. The dominant theory is that humans first arrived by the Bering Land Bridge, from Siberia to Alaska and later all the way down to present-day Chile and Argentina. This theory has been recently challenged by human artifacts found in Tierra del Fuego dated to be about 15 thousand years old. These artifacts show that humans had already been in Chile when it was previously thought they had only just reached North America.
While North American civilizations were not as large and complex as those found in Afro-Eurasia, the Olmecs appeared circa 300 AD in present-day central Mexico. The Maya city-states experienced a flourishing of culture, making important discoveries in astronomy and mathematics that the Old World would only make hundreds of years later. The Mayan civilization collapsed around 900 AD because of climate change or crop failure.
Arrival of EuropeansEdit
Christopher Colombus first sighted North America in October 1492When Spaniards first arrived at the turn of the 16th century, the Aztec Empire was at its peak under Montezuma II. Having conquered nearby city-states, the Aztecs had many vassals with tribute flowing to the capital of Tenochtitlan. Hernán Cortés led an army of Spaniards and Tlaxcalans to defeat the Aztecs in 1519. Spain subsequently conquered the Incan Empire and gained large areas of land, from present-day Oregon to Tierra del Fuego.
While Spain dominated the colonial race in the 16th and 17th centuries, Britain's Thirteen Colonies developed into an economic powerhouse with a thriving middle class. In Spanish Mexico and Central America, Aztec and Maya populations were decimated by disease and warfare, declining by almost 90%. Spanish missionaries actively sought to convert natives, leading mass baptisms and conversions. The newly baptized converts would often mix Christian ideas with local animism, resulting in idolatry that was condemned by the Catholic missionaries.
Due to a lack of manpower back home, Spain focused more on exploiting available resources and less on resettlement. This resulted in a large mixed-race (Mestizo) population in Latin America. English colonies had far less interbreeding, and a greater population in Britain allowed settlers to retain their racial characteristics.
French colonies in Louisiana and Quebec were taken by Great Britain following the French and Indian War, leaving North America dominated by two colonial powers. Dutch, Swedish, German and Scottish settlers all made small footholds in North America, but their gains were eventually overshadowed by Britain, who acquired Dutch New Amsterdam in 1664 and renamed it New York.
Increased turmoil in the British colonies resulted in the American War of Independence in 1775. Poor British leadership and innovative Patriot fighting tactics led to a separatist victory, and the United States of America became an independent nation in 1783. With the American Revolution as an example, slaves in Haiti rebelled against the French and Creole elite and, in the 1790s, succeeded in creating an independent nation. In a secret treaty with Spain, France reacquired Louisiana. Due to domestic unrest, Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson struck a deal to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States at a relatively low price.
Turmoil in the Spanish colonies culminated in an armed struggle for independence. Mexico became independent in 1821, as did eventually the Central American states. Cuba remained under Spanish control, and most of the Antilles did not have substantial-enough populations to sustain any kind of insurrection.
As industry developed in the United States, Mexico remained largely unindustrialized. In the Mexican region of Tejas, American settlers fought government soldiers and eventually secured independence for a Republic of Texas. Sam Houston, the president of the new republic, yielded to public sentiment and requested the United States Congress to annex the nation. The US government hastily obliged and Texas became the 28th state. Seeing this action as illegal, Mexico declared war soon thereafter, in 1846. The Mexican-American War resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, with United States gaining control of large areas past the Rockies, including what is now California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.
By the time Abraham Lincoln had been elected President of the United States, the dichotomy between the agricultural South and industrial North had reached a boiling point. Lincoln's anti-slavery platform angered many Southern governors and officials, who declared the southern states' independence and formed the Confederate States of America. The remaining northern states became known as the Union, and the federal government launched a military campaign to crush the Confederate rebellion. Contrary to public expectations, the United States Civil War dragged on for five years, becoming the deadliest conflict in US history. Initial Confederate gains were eroded and the industrial power of the North overpowered the South.
Following the Civil War in the United States, slavery was abolished in all US states with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Racism and discrimination against blacks was still pervasive in both the South and the North, though in the South it was typically more violent with armed gangs like the Ku Klux Klan. The Reconstruction took place in the Southern US for almost two decades, until the election of Democrat Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.Canada gained Dominion status in the British Empire in 1867, and westward expansion into the Canadian Praries continued through the 20th century. Vancouver became an important trading city for products shipped into and out of the Canadian heartland, as well as a major stop for fishermen and international shipping.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 resulted in a United States victory and its establishment as a global power. Increased influence over Latin America, the Pacific and the Caribbean triggered American nationalism and a revival of the idea of Manifest Destiny. United States President Theodore Roosevelt expanded United States interests abroad and revived the Panama Canal project, abandoned by former director Ferdinand De Lesseps.
The turn of the 20th century saw the rise of American industry, especially steel and oil. Tycoons like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller ammassed incredible fortunes, and Rockefeller became the first billionaire. At the same time, waves of Italian, German and Eastern European immigrants created poverty in major urban areas, particularly New York and Chicago. Waves of xenophobia in Canada and the United States helped slow the arrival of immigrants.
World War I began in 1914, and Canada was drawn to the British cause. Though only limited numbers of Canadian soldiers participated, resources and manpower from British colonies including Canada proved crucial in defeating Germany. Mexico was tentatively pro-German due to its hostility with then-neutral United States, and the sinking of the Lusitania provided the spark that lit a fire of nationalist fervor in the US. Fresh troops and resources from the United States were a critical factor in turning the tide against the Central Powers. Following the First World War, the United States turned to a brief period of isolationism.
The intense economic prosperity of the 1920s helped make the US Prohibition more palatable, though the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was repealed by the 23rd after a decade of rising crime and gangsterism. The Great Depression was the result of irresponsible 1920s fiscal policies worldwide, and coupled with the Dust Bowl was the greatest economic distater in global history. Major demographic shifts, away from agriculture and towards the West coast.Economic revival came with World War II, when the US and Canadian economies were mobilized to provide for the war effort. 7 December 1941 saw the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor and US entry into the war. Mexico remained neutral until the final stages of the war. American island-hopping techniques helped to slowly defeat the Japanese, while Canadian, US and British forces combined to establish a beachhead at Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Allied victory was at the cost of enormous destruction in Europe, while American industry was untouched.
Postwar North AmericaEdit
In the years following 1945, the United States and Canada experienced sustained economic growth, achieving the world's highest standards of living. The Cold War created an immense drive for scientific and technological innovation, putting America at the forefront of cutting-edge development. In the 1950s, many Americans began living in suburbs instead of cities or rural areas. This phenomenon, termed "Suburbia", has characterized the American culture ever since. Mexico and Central America also experienced growth, though not achieving the levels of advancement that English-speaking North America could reach, due to earlier turmoil and instability and a reliance on raw materials export.
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States remained as the world's sole superpower. The 1990s saw the US dominate Canada and Mexico culturally and economically, leading global economic revolutions with financial deregulation and the Internet. The 2000s saw the rise of Mexico as an economic power, large-scale Latin-American immigration into the United States, and a rise in standards of living in Latin American countries. The discovery of shale oil extraction techniques led to an oil boom in Saskatchewan, Canada, and the so-called Great Recession of 2007-2012 led to increased economic regulation of the United States financial system, as well as expanded expolitation of domestic energy resources.