Major Events and Eras in American History

What shaped America as we know it?

The United States of America is a relatively young nation in comparison to European countries like Britain and France. Yet, in the years since its founding in 1776, it has made great developments and become a leader in the world.

American history can be divided into numerous eras. Let's explore the major events of those periods that shaped modern America.

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The Age of Exploration

Christopher Columbus by unknown artist
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The Age of Exploration lasted from the 15th through the 17th centuries. This was the period when Europeans searched the globe for trading routes and natural resources. It resulted in the founding of numerous colonies in North America by the French, British and Spanish.

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The Colonial Era

William Penn (1644-1718) English Quaker and colonialist, founder of Pennsylvania, 1682.
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The Colonial Era is a fascinating period in American history. It covers the time from when the European countries first created colonies in North America to the time of independence. In particular, it focuses on the history of the thirteen British colonies.

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The Federalist Period

First Inauguration
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The era when both George Washington and John Adams were presidents was called the Federalist Period. Each was a member of the Federalist party, though Washington did include members of the Anti-Federalist party in his government as well.

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The Age of Jackson

Red Eagle And Jackson
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The time between 1815 and 1840 was known as the Age of Jackson. This was an era during which the involvement of the American people in elections and the powers of the presidency greatly increased. 

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The Westward Expansion

A wagon train of American homesteaders moves across the open plains
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From the first settling of America, the colonists had a desire to find new, undeveloped land to the west. Over time, they felt they had a right to settle from "sea to sea" under a manifest destiny.

From Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase to the California Gold Rush, this was a great time of American expansion. It shaped most of the nation that we know today.

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The Reconstruction

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, 1860s (1955).
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At the end of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress adopted a reconstruction effort to help reorganize and reassimilate the Southern states. It lasted from 1866 to 1877 and was an extremely turbulent period for the nation.

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The Prohibition Era

Pouring out illegal alcohol into a Sewer
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The fascinating Prohibition Era was a time when America decided to "legally" give up drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, the experiment ended in failure with growing crime rates and lawlessness.

It was Franklin Roosevelt who brought the nation out of this period. In the process, he implemented many changes that would shape modern America.

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The Cold War

No Nukes Rally In New York
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The Cold War was a stand-off between the two major superpowers left at the end of World War II: the United States and the Soviet Union. They both tried to further their own ends by influencing nations around the world.

The period was marked by conflict and increasing tension that only resolved with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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Your Citation
Kelly, Martin. "Major Events and Eras in American History." ThoughtCo, May. 9, 2021, Kelly, Martin. (2021, May 9). Major Events and Eras in American History. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Major Events and Eras in American History." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).