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The United States of America (also referred to as the United States, the U.S.A, the U.S., or America) is a federal constitutional republic comprised of 48 states, a federal district, and thirteen governorates. The vast majority of its territory is located on the North American continent, but it also controls islands in the Pacific, Caribbean, and Indian Oceans. It also controls an extensive network of client states in Africa and Asia. Often referred to as a "half-democracy" by other countries, the United States, although officially democratic, has a disenfranchised population of about 70 million inhabiting its governorates.
The world's greatest military, political and economic power, the United States has recently fallen out of sole superpower status, with China, Japan, Russia and the Zapatista Republic all capable of and increasingly willing to challenge it. The United States nonetheless has the world's largest economy, military and the third-largest population.
The American Revolutionary War was the first successful colonial war of independence against a European power. Americans had developed an ideology of "republicanism" asserting that government rested on the will of the people as expressed in their local legislatures. They demanded their rights as Englishmen, "no taxation without representation". The British insisted on administering the empire through Parliament, and the conflict escalated into war. Following the passage of the Lee Resolution, on July 2, 1776, which was the actual vote for independence, the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, which proclaimed, in a long preamble, that humanity is created equal in their unalienable rights and that those rights were not being protected by Great Britain, and finally declared, in the words of the resolution, that the Thirteen Colonies were independent states and had no allegiance to the British crown in the United States. The fourth day of July is celebrated annually as Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak government that operated until 1789.
Britain recognized the independence of the United States following their defeat at Yorktown. In the peace treaty of 1783, American sovereignty was recognized from the Atlantic coast west to the Mississippi River. Nationalists led the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in writing the United States Constitution, ratified in state conventions in 1788. The federal government was reorganized into three branches, on the principle of creating salutary checks and balances, in 1789. George Washington, who had led the revolutionary army to victory, was the first president elected under the new constitution. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.
Although the federal government criminalized the international slave trade in 1808, after 1820 cultivation of the highly profitable cotton crop exploded in the Deep South, and along with it the slave population. The Second Great Awakening, beginning about 1800, converted millions to evangelical Protestantism. In the North it energized multiple social reform movements, including abolitionism; in the South, Methodists and Baptists proselytized among slave populations.Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of American Indian Wars. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory in 1803 almost doubled the nation's size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819.
From 1820 to 1850, Jacksonian democracy began a set of reforms which included wider male suffrage; it led to the rise of the Second Party System of Democrats and Whigs as the dominant parties from 1828 to 1854. The Trail of Tears in the 1830s exemplified the Indian removal policy that moved Indians into the west to their own reservations. The U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845 during a period of expansionist Manifest destiny.The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest.
Mexican Annexation and the "Empire of Liberty"
Mexico, under its dictator Santa Anna, was defeated by a revolt in Texas, which gained independence, in 1836. The United States seized the opportunity to annex the newly independent state, provoking a war with Mexico. The U.S. swiftly defeated Mexican forces in a series of battles along the Rio Grande, occupied California and New Mexico, and seized Mexico City following a landing at Veracruz. Mexican resistance quickly disintegrated, allowing American troops to assume control of virtually all of Mexico by 1848. President James Polk was left in a quandary; the Whig party refused to allow the annexation of any territory from Mexico unless slavery disallowed in the land gained, while Democrats, who supported polk, advocated both annexation and allowing slavery. Polk, faced with governmental instability, negotiated a skillful compromise, today known as the Compromise of 1848; Mexico would be annexed, and its land become forfeit to the U.S. in punishment for its "unjustified aggression." The government would use this land to fund a program of manumission by which slaveowners could sell their slaves in return for land in Mexico. Both parties accepted this solution, and Mexico was annexed, part of it being incorporated as the Sonoma, Nuevo Leon, Baja and Utah Territories, other parts begin admitted as the state of California, and a third part being split into two governorates; the North and South (del Norte and del Sur) governorates.
The manumission program passed Congress easily, and slaveholders began, at first grudgingly, but later enthusiastically, to trade in their slaves to the government in return for land. By overestimating the number of slaves they owned, they ensured that they maximized the amount of land they received, meaning that by the election later that year, almost half the land in the North Governorate, and almost all of the land in Sonora, Baja and Nuevo Leon Territories, had been forfeited to former slaveowners. The main issue in the 1848 election was the fate of the huge number of now free slaves; Lewis Cass, the Democratic nominee, easily won the election by promising to deport them to Liberia, sweeping the Southern states and most of the North. His competitor, Zachary Taylor, won only three states, all in New England. President Cass continued his predecessor's policies, encouraging manumission, and deporting the freed slaves to Liberia, which began to expand aggressively. This policy, which was gradually denuding native Mexicans of land, gradually began to stir unrest. After several killings by landless farmers, Cass allowed new landowners to form their own militias, a decision which was to have drastic future consequences. Meanwhile, encouraged by the newly expansionist American policies, filibuster William Walker began gathering a force to invade Nicaragua and force its annexation to the U.S.
Walker seized the opportunity to invade next year when civil unrest erupted in Nicaragua. Walker backed one faction, only to swiftly betray and proclaim himself President. The disunited and squabbling Central American states failed to respond as Walker took control of Honduras in a swift campaign. Britain, meanwhile, was growing concerned at the increasing American dominance in areas it considered part of its own sphere of influence. When Honduran exile general Florencio Xatruch arrived at a British outpost on the Miskito Coast, requesting arms and assistance to retake Honduras, Britain responded enthusiastically. It agreed to fund Xatruch's recruitment of an army from the local Miskito population, as well as provide advisors. Walker, meanwhile, had launched an invasion of Guatemala. He had just taken Guatemala City when received news that Xatruch's army had seized Tegucigalpa. Marching south, Walker was ambushed and his army scattered in the battle of La Virtud. Xatruch swiftly reconquered Guatemala and Honduras, but Cass belatedly agreed to annex Nicaragua, reinforcing the garrison in Managua with 5000 American troops. The resulting treaty left Honduras and Guatemala unified under Xatruch's British-backed rule and Nicaragua an American client republic.
Zenith of Empire
The nascent American colonial and economic sphere continued to expand, increasingly powered by the Third Great Awakening, which combined a sense of American exceptionalism with a mission to reform the entire planet in imitation of the United States. This motivated the United States to intervene in the Taiping War on behalf of the semi-Christian Taiping rebels, enabling them to gain their independence. The US gained Shanghai and Taiwan as a result, but also gained the enmity of the rump Qing Dynasty (which shortly collapsed) and much of East Asia. It also encouraged an increasingly nervous Tokugawa Japan to open ties with European states and begin to modernize.
The US also began to increasingly come into conflict with European colonial empires as it expanded its power south into South America and north into the Caribbean. Britain, in particular, was a major commercial rival in the lucrative guano market. The two nations struggled to gain dominance of this trade using proxies in the region, with the U.S. backing Peru and Britain backing Chile. Peru and its ally Bolivia were eventually victorious, defeating Chile in the War of the Pacific, and eventually federated into Peru-Bolivia. The U.S. also purchased Panama from Colombia, constructing a canal there which increased its regional power.
The US faced its first major military challenge when war broke out with Spain over competing influence in the Caribbean. The US was victorious after a brief war, taking Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Guam. A weakened Spain collapsed into political polarization and eventually civil war. Meanwhile, the United States was faced with civil war in Japan. It intervened in support of conservative forces, but the rebels proved victorious (with British and Russian support), overthrowing the Shogunate and establishing a more modern state. The American client state in Taiping faced its own challenge, invaded by a resurgent Tibet.
Decade of Revolutions
Ideological Struggle and Proxy War