American society consists of representatives of numerous nations. This paper analyzes Native, European, and African Americans, who have most significantly influenced the formation of the American nation. Native Americans were the first to come to the continent and build their primitive for modern people but developed for ancient times culture. They learned how to fish, hunt; they used stones, wood, and fire. However, the arrival of Europeans, who were exploring new lands for economic purposes, violated the order of Indians’ life and made them live in reservations, lose their national culture, and actively assimilate. European Americans built the American society as a mix of cultures, beliefs, and traditions. The process of the formation of colonies in the territory of the United States was accompanied by bringing millions of black slaves and the growth of slavery. In the course of time, the institution of slavery was recognized uncivilized and inhuman. After a long fight, slavery was abolished, and African Americans showed they can equally exist with the white major group and develop the economy and culture of the United States.
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Shaping of America
It is a well-known fact that the United States is a country that is represented by numerous nationalities and ethnic groups. America is commonly called a country of immigrants, a salad bowl, or a melting pot. Many issues related to an increased level of illegal immigration and cultural discrepancies are discussed by scholars and journalists. The history of the formation of the American nation is definitely a very interesting subject. This paper analyzes the process of making and shaping of America and tells how three big population groups, namely Native Americans, European Americans, and African Americans, inhabited the territory of the modern United States and influenced the development of the country’s society and culture.
It is logical to start a discussion about the formation of American society from the history of the Native Americans because they are believed to be the first to inhabit the lands of the continent. Nichols (2014) tells a detailed story of Native Americans (or American Indians) starting from their settling in the territory of the United States. His narrative includes the earliest facts about the presence of people in America who moved after the end of the Ice Age (between 35,000 and 15,000 years ago). Due to the active melting of the glaciers, a route was formed between Asia and North America, and people could move between the continents. Nichols (2014) writes that “by about 13,000 years ago, these Paleo-Indians had spread across North and South America.” (p. 4). There is more information and verified data about the life of these Paleo-Indians in about 9000 B.C. The dramatic climate change and global warming caused these tribes to actively migrate. They learned how to fish and hunt, used food resources, and formed some primitive culture. By 1200 B.C., the period that scholars name the Golden Age for Native Americans, they formed a hunting culture and actively used fire (Nichols, 2014). Between 1000 B.C. and 1000 A.D., three distinct Indian cultures were formed on the territory of America: the Hohokam, the Mogollon, and the Anasazo (Nichols, 2014). With the lapse of time, all Indian tribes developed agriculture and woodwork (Nichols, 2014). Thus, the ancestors of Native Americans and Indians passed a long and complicated way of development.
There should have been a moment in the life of Native Americans when they met with other nationalities inhabiting the continent. European immigrants were the first group who came to violate the lifestyle of the Indian tribes (Nichols, 2014). “Whether Indians realized it or not, the European invasions of North America would alter their lives forever.” (Nicholas, 2014, p. 22). Nicholas (2014) describes in detail how each European nationality met the tribes, and what damages and destructions the representatives of an absolutely different culture brought to Native Americans. That was the period of the 16-17th centuries. Indians had to face robberies, violence, rapes, religious conflicts, spreading of infectious diseases, and other negative impacts. They tried to establish trade relationships with French and Spanish people and exchanged furs for a weapon. However, Europeans preferred dishonest trade and Indians suffered even more (Nichols, 2014). Thus, Native Americans had to learn to live with their new European neighbors, and the preservation of their aboriginal culture was almost impossible at that time.
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The following couple of centuries were not peaceful for Indians. More European settlers came to the continent and persistently imposed their order, traditions, and religion on Indians. They became aggressive and perceived their aggression as a form of protection and revelation of their insult (Nichols, 2014). The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw a wide range of Indian wars, which they led with Europeans mostly independently or as soldiers in their armies when they were forced to be enlisted (Nichols, 2014). An important event in the history of Native Americans was the establishment of the Department of Indian Affairs in 1832 (Nichols, 2014). However, this department could not solve all the issues which caused dissatisfaction among Native Americans, and some riots and cruel massacres continued. The 20th century brought more freedom to Indians due to the fact that Native Americans were declared citizens of the United States in 1969, and American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1979 (Nichols, 2014). Nevertheless, as a result of all these events, Native Americans were removed from the territories, which they originally occupied. Till now, they live in reservations, the majority of which is situated in the territory of Oklahoma (Nichols, 2014). The role of American Indians as the most ancient population group should not be underestimated as an integral part of the formation process of the American culture.
The cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs of Native Americans are original and are worth special interest for the cultural historians. The politics of “Indian removal” dramatically affected and almost ruined the Natives (American Indians, n.d.). Their children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had to speak English, and any worshipping of their traditions was punished. “This fact effectively destroyed most of the oral history surrounding Native Americans, eliminating any chance of a substantive record being kept of their past.” (Native Youth Magazine, n.d., para.4). From an economic point of view, American Indians reached some unprecedented success. Their reservations are mostly located in the states where tax gambling laws are valid. This fact gave many financial benefits to Native Americans, and they opened their casinos (Native Youth Magazine, n.d.). Thus, American Indians learn to survive in the conditions, which they were subjected to.
The tribes who live in reservations with limited possibilities of development realize that assimilation with the major population group is more beneficial to them. The government creates new programs for Native Americans to encourage students to study at colleges, but this fact does not help. The number of Native Americans decreases. They prefer to leave reservations and live among Whites. They often marry non-natives (American Indians, n.d.). Moreover, Native Americans understand that living out of reservations means receiving high-quality and prompt health care and all other benefits that Americans equally have. Therefore, American Indians have the longest history of living in the territory of the United States and forming their traditions and culture. However, it is impossible to preserve and to adapt them all to modern dynamic life without any losses for this minority group. This fact is the reason why the history of American Indians is mostly taught through historic books and shown in the form of artifacts in the museums.
The first part of the paper mentions European Americans who came to the territory of the modern United States when American Indians lived there. The Europeans violated the order of life which aboriginal tribes had for many centuries. However, European Americans are an important part of American society and its culture. It is worth considering their arrival to the continent from their own perspective. Carlisle (2011) writes that “In the 18th century, the settlers in the 13 colonies that became the United States of America began to call themselves Americans, recognizing that they were not simply British colonists living in North America.” (p. 7). Thus, these colonists have achieved a certain level of social and economic development and could continue building a new nation.
It is important to note that the colonists were not only British. People from different parts and regions of Europe were moving to a new continent in search of a better life. Each of their nationalities had also some individual reasons for exploration. There is some information about early discoveries of a new continent by Vikings and one Portuguese governor (Carlisle, 2011). The rise of wealthy and prosperous Italian city-states in the 15th century caused further movement of Italians to start new trade connections. The Spanish people established the first permanent colony in the territory of modern Florida. In 1627 France expressed its economic interest in new territories and engaged in the development of their economic potential (Carlisle, 2011). When the Dutch people came to America, they settled around New York and New Jersey. There were also Irish, German, Swedish, and Polish people among the colonists. From the very beginning of the establishment of colonies on the territory of the United States, they were characterized by religious diversity as there were the representatives of Catholics, Church of England, Protestants, and Presbyterians (Carlisle, 2011). Therefore, active colonization of the United States contributed to the growing national diversity and economic prosperity of the nation.
By the beginning of the Revolutionary Era (1775), European colonists fully transferred their cultural and historic traditions to a new continent. Their women worked in the fields. The normal marriage age for them was 15 years old. The average family usually had five children (Carlisle, 2011). They preserved their national food traditions. The continental congress forbade racing and gambling for colonists. In the 18th century, they suffered from some outbreaks of infectious diseases like yellow fever and diphtheria. The colonists from Europe were constantly creating new settlements. An important event in the history of the colonial period of the United States is the Revolution of 1775 – 1783, during which 13 North American colonies were recognized independent from Great Britain (Carlisle, 2011). This fact made the colonists feel American and nor British anymore.
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The next period of the development of Americans is characterized by the formation of their national identity. Carlisle (2011) calls it “the early national period” and determines the time frame of 1783-1895. However, American immigrants were not aimed at uniting their traditions and creating one single culture as they wanted to preserve their uniqueness. This fact partially contributed to the beginning of the Civil War. Carlisle (2011) writes that “the story of late 19th century America is largely the story of immigrants and their interaction with one another, with the host society, and with immigrants who had preceded them to the New World.” (p. 63). Though the results of the Civil War and the necessity to start it are still widely discussed, it brought some obvious positive results, namely freed African American slaves and formed a centralized government (Carlisle, 2011). In the period of the First and the Second World Wars, Americans were already represented as a single nation; however, the origin of a person was still significant.
Nowadays European-originated Americans naturally coexist in the society of the United States. They often call themselves just “Protestants” and not “Methodists” or “Baptists.” (Carlisle, 2011). Numerous international marriages made them forget these separate church distinctions. The immigrant families of the 19-20th centuries quickly became white Americans: “Whiteness itself had ceased to mean ‘pale and Anglo’ and now included olive-skinned Greeks, Italians, and eastern Europeans” (Carlisle, 2011, p. 192). They have a common American culture and can preserve their old national family traditions if they want. The United States was initially built by the efforts of the European Americans.
The last but not the least important American minority group discussed in this paper is Black (African) Americans. These people have a very interesting history and always fought for the open expression of their identity and views. The earliest period in the history of Black Americans in the territory of the United States is defined as a period of slavery, which started in 1619: “To satisfy the labor needs of the rapidly growing North American colonies, European settlers turned in the early 17th century from indentured servants (mostly poorer Europeans) to a cheaper, more plentiful labor source: African slaves” (Black History Milestones, n.d., para.1). The estimated number of slaves transported to the continent was equal to 6-7 million. Though Washington and Jefferson, two American presidents, were slaveholders, they tried to limit the scale of slavery in America. However, the Constitution openly protected this institution (Black History Milestones, n.d.). If slavery was not so significant for the economy of the northern territories of America, southern cotton and tobacco plantations could not exist without slaves. Southerners did everything possible to preserve their rights to have slaves, but it was more complicated than before (Black History Milestones, n.d.). Gradually, more Americans were expressing the opinion that slavery was not legal and violated people’s rights.
The process of slavery abolition was long and complicated for America. Some separate official orders, which prohibited the trade of slaves and according to which the escaped slaves should have been returned to their owners, were not enough to finalize the process (Black History Milestones, n.d.). There were two breakthrough points in the history of slavery abolition, namely Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which recognized all slaves in the confederate-controlled areas to be free; and the consequent Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1865), which freed the remained slaves (Black History Milestones, n.d.). It is worth noting that as soon as Black Americans felt the spirit of freedom in some regions of the state, they started riots; many slaves escaped, they were forming their unique slave culture and preserved religious traditions. It was an interesting mix of customs which they brought from the countries of their origins. They created songs and poems in which they dreamed of becoming free (Black History Milestones, n.d.). Thus, the event of slavery abolition started a new period in the history of Black Americans.
The period of post-slavery reconstruction brought many challenges to African Americans. Though the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments provided equal constitutional protection to Whites and Blacks and gave African Americans the right to vote, some part of white Americans did not want to recognize equality (Black History Milestones, n.d.). First of all, the Ku Klux Klan organization was created, which used extremely violent methods to demonstrate to blacks that they would never be equal to whites. Secondly, most southern states had enacted the Crow segregation laws by 1885, which were based on the principle “separate, but equal”. Following these laws, African Americans were separated from whites in schools, hotels, theatres, railroad cars, and all existing institutions (Black History Milestones, n.d.). The implementation of such rules was not definitely welcomed by blacks.
African Americans felt that they were not slaves anymore and that they could express their dissatisfaction with the functioning legislation. In 1909, they founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Its main purposes included “the abolition of all forced segregation, the enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments, equal education for blacks and whites, and complete enfranchisement of all black men.” (Black History Milestones, n.d., para. 28). During the 20th century, there were many disputable events in the history of black Americans, which aroused indignation among this minority group. The mentioned events included violence applied to black people for their attempts to enter institutions for whites, even to start a simple conversation with a white citizen (Emmett Lil case (1955), or to occupy a place in a bus (Rosa Parks Montgomery Boycott 1955) (Black History Milestones, n.d.). Thus, the legislation based on the principle of segregation was ineffective and caused many social problems.
It is logical to state that African Americans needed some charismatic leader to help them solve their problems. Martin Luther King, a pastor of one of the churches, became a hero for Black Americans because due to his activities, the segregation legislation was gradually abolished. King became the leader of the Montgomery boycott, which started after a black lady was recognized guilty in not giving her seat in a bus to a white man (Black History Milestones, n.d.). Due to the efforts of the blacks headed by King, the government agreed to integrate the central high school system. The pastor always promoted peaceful methods to fight segregation; however, he was arrested in Alabama for leading supporters of the non-violent campaign in 1963 (Black History Milestones, n.d.). An important mission started by King in America finalized the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which recognized full equality of all nationalities in America (Black History Milestones, n.d.). Though there were still some episodic events in which whites expressed their dissatisfaction with blacks, the process of forming racial equality was already unstoppable. In 1965, the American government passed the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated all existing discrepancies between white and black voters (Black History Milestones, n.d.). Thus, after 1965, Black Americans became absolutely equal to the whites according to the state legislation.
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Though African Americans felt the rise of power, they still had to learn how to live following the general legislation. They started the black power movement to voice their desires and complaints. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 with further extensions did not properly work for blacks and led to the formation of urban black ghettos, where the level of crime was very high (Black History Milestones, n.d.). The aroused feminist movement was combined with the movement of black females, who wanted to express their desire to be equal to white women and demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the existing gender roles (Black History Milestones, n.d.). One of the points of Barak Obama’s program became the equality of all nations, and the blacks could feel it during his presidency. Nowadays, African Americans can be assimilated with whites or live in their own communities. They have their typical rap culture and music, which is popular among whites as well. There are some serious issues of discrimination related to the excessive police force, which they apply to blacks much more often than to whites according to the statistical data (Smith & Holmes, 2014). However, while investigating this issue, Smith and Holmes (2014) came to a conclusion that “aggressive strategies of policing may coincide with concerns of white citizens about the threat of minority crime” (p.99) because the level of crime in the communities where black people live is higher (Smith & Holmes, 2014). Thus, the American government has more work to do in order to encourage African Americans to work and to create more work opportunities for them not to be involved in crimes.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It is important to note that American society is a real melting pot. Native, European, and African Americans all together made an important contribution to developing American society. Due to the fact that they appeared in the territory of the United States in different historic periods, their destiny is different. American Indians have almost lost their identity; European Americans turned into major population groups; and African Americans, though legally recognized equal, still experience some economic and social disparities with whites. This paper discusses only three national groups which form the American society, but there are numerous representatives of Latin America who live in the United States as well. Hopefully, the American government will properly regulate its immigration system not to destroy American culture, and the arriving immigrants will respect the traditions of the land which they choose to live in.