Regents Prep: U.S. History: Human Systems & Society: Introduction
The Transformation of the United States
After Columbus landed in 1492, North America was colonized by many European cultures. It wasn’t until 1607 that a permanent colony was established in Virginia. From then on, North America was colonized by seekers of freedom eager for a better life. For those already here, things were different.
Beginning in the 1830s, the federal government pushed Native Americans from their lands onto government reservations west of the Mississippi River. At this time, white settlers began pushing into the Great Plains. Fighting between U.S. Army troops and Indians continued throughout the 1860s and 1870s. The Homestead Act of 1862 promised to give land to settlers if they could farm it for five years. This encouraged thousands of settlers to move into formally Indian-controlled lands, displacing the natives, and further straining relations with Native Americans. When the first trans-continental railroad was completed in 1869, native lands seemed even more desirable, and movement westward increased as industrialism spread.
The railroads spurred America’s transformation from an agricultural economy, or one based primarily on farming, to an economy where capitalism, or private ownership of businesses,prevailed. Industry in America developed far more rapidly than it had in Europe. Factories and mills spread quickly throughout New England prior to the Civil War due to good supplies of natural resources such as iron and coal, and the ease of transporting finished goods along the many navigable rivers. This in turn lead to the building of more railroads and canals to handle the increased traffic.
In addition, immigrants from Europe were swelling the labor pool, allowing employers to drive wages lower and lower. The combination of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, extremely long work days, and the growing number of people (especially children) injured or killed working at mills, led to the organization of concerned groups of labor unions in the United States. Most unions wanted to lower the total hours worked per day, raise wages, and outlaw child labor. The people kept coming, and cities continued to grow.
As you could expect, urban and rural populations often face different kinds of problems; high populations in need of housing and adequate food supplies, for example. Along with high population comes overcrowding, as the limited space is rapidly used up. Overcrowding, crime and waste disposal are three of the major concerns in urban areas today.
This site is designed to aid students in reviewing human systems in United States history. This site should be used in preparation for the New York State Regents Exam in United States History and Government. In addition, students may test their knowledge of the material presented here by accessing multiple-choice questions from past Regents Exams.