An Outline of
FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN
T he country that came to be the United States had a small, dispersed native population at the time of initial European discovery, totaling perhaps 800,000 people, most organized in small tribal units.
There was great diversity among American Indian cultures. Several hundred dialects were spoken along the coast of California alone. The Pueblo, who lived in what is now New Mexico and who were probably influenced culturally by the Aztecs to the south, resided in permanent towns and constructed extensive irrigation systems. The Piutes of the Great Basin lived in temporary thatch dwellings and pursued a seminomadic existence based on available wild edible vegetation and small game. The Inuit, or Eskimos, who were the most recent of the pre-European arrivals, shared close cultural ties with Inuits in Greenland and Siberia.
Although American Indians represented a barrier to the expansion of European settlement at times, for the most part their impact was minimal. Many died of imported infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles before they experienced direct contact with the Europeans. The Indians made important contributions to the arriving Europeans, especially during the first decades of settlement. But most often they were killed or shunted off to reservations in the West. As the settlement frontier moved westward, so did the American Indians and their reservations.
Although it is impossible to state precisely how many people entered what is now the United States from Europe and, to a lesser extent, from Africa, a reasonable estimate would place the figure at close to 60 million.
Most early immigrants came from northwestern Europe. At the time of the first national census of the United States in 1790, more than two-thirds of the white population was of British origin, with Germans and Dutch next in importance.
Emigration to North America slowed between 1760 and 1815. This was a time of intermittent warfare in Europe and North America, as well as on the Atlantic Ocean. Between about 1815 and the start of World War I in 1914, immigration tended to increase with each passing decade.
For the first half of the 1815-1913 period, most migrants continued to come from northwestern Europe. They were followed in subsequent decades by streams of people from southern and eastern Europe. By 1913, well over four-fifths of all immigrants were from these areas of Europe, especially Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.
The reasons for this shift are based on the impact of the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in the British Isles and the Low Countries in the 18th century, it spread southeastward during the following 150 years or so. With industrialization came a rapid rise in population as mortality declined. The economy shifted to manufacturing, urbanization increased, and there was a proportional decline in the agricultural population. The growth in the demand for urban labor did not match the increase in the potential labor force, and thus there were many willing emigrants.
It has been suggested repeatedly that migrants to the United States chose areas that were environmentally similar to their European homes. The substantial Scandinavian settlement in Minnesota and the Dakotas is indicated as a case in point. There may be some small truth in this, but it was more important that those states represented the principal settlement frontier at the time of major Scandinavian immigration. For the most part, the mosaic of ethnic patterns in America is the result of a movement toward opportunity--opportunity first found most often on the agricultural settlement frontier and then in the cities.
The major exception to the immigrant settlement pattern was black settlement in the American South. Forced to move as slave labor for the region's plantations, this was a small part of the large movement of Africans to the Caribbean Basin, the northeast coast of South America, and the American Southeast. Next to the European exodus, this was probably the second largest long-distance movement in human history. Perhaps 20 million left Africa. It is believed that fewer than 500,000 blacks came into the United States. Most probably arrived from the Caribbean rather than coming directly from Africa. The 1790 census indicated that 20 percent of the American population was of African origin. There was little African immigration after that date, and the percentage of the population that was black declined.
The United States passed its first major legislation to restrict immigration in the 1920s. This limitation, coupled with the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s, cut immigration to a fraction of its annual high in 1913. Since 1945, the number of arrivals has increased somewhat. Far more liberal immigration laws were passed in the 1960s. In the late 1980s, Mexico, the Philippines, and the West Indies provided the greatest number of migrants to the United States. Today, the United States typically receives roughly 700,000 legal immigrants annually. About 275,000 illegal aliens also enter the country each year.
The first immigrant settlements were small, clinging to the ocean and looking more toward Europe than toward the land that crowded in about them. When settlement pushed tentatively away from the oceans, it still followed the waterways, for they offered trade pathways to the coast and an important link to Europe. Thus, the British settled the indented coastline of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and they spread a thin band of settlement along the rugged coastline of New England. The Dutch moved up the Hudson River from New Amsterdam (New York), and the French gradually settled the banks of the upper St. Lawrence River.
During the first 150 years after the beginnings of permanent European settlement--until about 1765--Europeans moved westward only as far as the eastern flanks of the Appalachian Mountains. Within a century after that, the frontier reached the Pacific Ocean, and by 1890, the U.S. Bureau of the Census was able to announce that the American settlement frontier was gone entirely.
This increasingly rapid settlement expansion resulted from a reorientation in attitude away from Europe. By the early 19th century, an increasing number of Americans viewed the occupation of the continent as their manifest destiny. The land laws of the country became increasingly pro-expansionist. Also, as the population grew, there were more people who hoped to improve their lot by moving westward.
In the eastern half of the United States, about as far west as Kansas and Nebraska, settlement expanded westward in a generally orderly fashion. To be sure, advances were more rapid along certain transportation routes, such as the Ohio River, and slower in other places.
Settlement moved rapidly westward onto the interior grasslands. The Mississippi River and its many tributaries offered easy routes to the interior, and settlers found an expanse of excellent agricultural land with a generally good climate for crop production that stretched from the western margins of the Appalachians well into the Great Plains.
From the Rocky Mountains westward and in Alaska, however, an even pattern of settlement expansion did not occur. Much of this broad area was either too dry, too hot, or too cold for farming. Rugged topography hampered transportation and further limited agricultural development. Settlement congregated in areas that offered an identifiable economic potential. The result was a pattern of point settlement scattered across an otherwise nearly unpopulated landscape.
In 1990, the United States had a population approaching 250 million, with a density of roughly 235 people per square kilometer. Three principal zones of population can be identified. First, a primary zone fills a quadrant defined approximately by the cities of Boston (Massachusetts), Chicago (Illinois), St. Louis (Missouri), and Washington, D.C.: 7 of the 12 most populous U.S. states are here. It is the area of earliest growth and long the country's most advanced section economically. Fine natural routes and many excellent harbors along the Atlantic shore have been augmented by a dense transportation net. Some of the country's best agricultural lands plus rich mineral resources are either within the region or nearby.
Wrapping around the southern and western margins of the primary zone and extending westward to the eastern sections of the Great Plains, there is a secondary zone of population. Much of America's best agricultural land is in this zone, and the greatest part of its potential agricultural lands are farmed. Most of the area is populated, although densities are generally much lower than those found in the core. Cities are spaced more widely and more evenly in this zone than in the core, and they are primarily service and manufacturing centers for the region.
Finally, a peripheral population zone fills the land from the central Great Plains westward. A pattern of population and economic growth at locations of special potential in an otherwise limited region continues to dominate. Although some areas are now densely populated--notably California's San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles Basin, as well as the Puget Sound Lowland in Washington State--most of the land remains sparsely populated.
The mobility history of the United States can be divided into three periods. First came the period of east to west movement, then one from rural to urban areas, and, finally, the present period, when most long-distance movement is between metropolitan areas. If the country's population has moved westward with every decade, it has urbanized in an equally unvarying fashion. Whereas less than 10 percent of the population could even loosely be defined as urban in 1790, over three-quarters was urbanized by 1990.
These statistics reflect not only a relative decline in rural population, but also an absolute decline in farm population. Between 1960 and 1987, for example, the farm population fell from more than 15 million to under 6 million.
The movements from east to west and from rural to urban America were both clearly in response to the perception of economic opportunity. First, more and more farmlands became available as the settlement frontier pushed westward. Then there was a tremendous surge in urban employment generated by the Industrial Revolution. Once Americans were predominantly urbanites and economic opportunities were also urban based, variations in these opportunities ensured that most subsequent population migration would occur between metropolitan areas.
U.S. population statistics for the 1970s and 1980s suggest that a fourth major mobility period is at hand. Areas that had long experienced no change or even declining population size are growing. Much of the South is a prime example.
Many observers have suggested that the United States has become a post-industrial country. That is, the major growth areas are in occupations that provide services and that manipulate and create information. The number of Americans employed in manufacturing has increased only slightly during the past two decades, whereas tertiary and quaternary employment has boomed. Much of what increase there has been in manufacturing employment has been in the production of high-value, lightweight products, such as electronic components, which can presumably be located almost anywhere. Thus, more and more people can live where they want.
Most of America possesses urban areas that have grown in population and extent. In a few instances, the growth has been so great and the size of the core cities has become so large that major urban areas have merged and formed clusters of cities. The group of large cities extending from Boston (Massachusetts) to Washington, D.C., along the northeastern U.S. coast, is the clearest example. Another group of urban areas--more widely dispersed and containing smaller central cities--is found along the southern margin of the Great Lakes. Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and Chicago (Illinois) anchor this region in the west, and Buffalo (New York) and Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) do the same in the east. Southern California, from San Diego to San Francisco, is offered by some observers as yet another set of urban areas that will be merged by the end of the 20th century, as is much of east coastal and central Florida.
Most large urban places have developed where transportation routes connect with each other. Quite often it is the land-water connection that is important. Some urban centers are on a seacoast or large estuary. Others are on naturally navigable waterways. Still others are on rivers or channels that have been modified extensively just to give the cities water access. Other factors matter, of course: hinterland quality, proximity to alternative transportation, security, and even healthfulness of the local environment. However, where goods and people must transfer from one form of transportation to another, there are opportunities to process, exchange, manufacture, repackage, sell, and buy goods.
There are exceptions to this water orientation, such as Atlanta (Georgia), Denver (Colorado), and Dallas-Ft.Worth (Texas), but these, too, were on early transport routes of some kind. Atlanta, for example, located at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, had become a key inland center for railroad transportation in the South by the 1860s.
PATTERNS OF REGIONAL CULTURE
Some argue that one of the great strengths of the United States is that it is the world's largest and most populous country joined geographically and socially by a common language. Nevertheless, most of the regions identified in this text are at least in part culture regions.
Regional variation in culture may be expressed in many different ways. Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois produce far more big-time college basketball players per capita than the national average. The vast majority of early country music singers were from the upper South.
The landscape of an area is a blending of the natural environment and a cultural imprint. The land survey system used widely in the United States during the 19th century created a striking grid rectangularity to the landscape of much of the Middle West. The German and English farmers of southeastern Pennsylvania built large cattle and hay storage barns with a second story extension over the first on one side. While students of folk architecture may argue its origins, most agree that this "Pennsylvania barn" is a key identifying element in the landscape of the state's culture area. Ethnic areas in many cities can be located simply by looking at the names on small neighborhood stores and restaurants.
While many aspects of culture are conservative and consistent, change is nevertheless a constant part of American culture. Many of the alterations result from changes in technology and economic conditions. Migration is another key ingredient.
Of the individual elements of American culture, one of the most interesting and telling is religion. A number of the larger Christian churches were brought to America by European migrants. The distribution of these denominations closely matches the areas where those migrant groups and their descendants form a large part of the population. For example, German and Scandinavian settlers carried their Lutheran church to the northern Great Plains and the northwest portion of the Agricultural Core. Hispanics in the Southwest, southern and eastern Europeans in the Northeast, the Middle West, and most large cities outside the South, and French Acadians who migrated to southern Louisiana--all help explain the widespread distribution of Roman Catholicism in America.
The United States has also been a place of active denominational creation. Several denominations, such as the Episcopalians (formerly part of the English Anglican church), were created at the end of the American Revolution in the late 1700s. Presbyterianism in the United States is divided into several denominations as a result of a post-Civil War split.
Another explanation has been the creativity of American religion. Individuals established their own churches--or congregations or groups of congregations left a denomination to form a new one--because of disagreements over such questions as biblical interpretation or church administration.
One native American church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church. Founded in upstate New York in the mid-19th century, it was gradually carried westward by its followers in search of an isolated place to settle and follow their beliefs. They eventually chose Utah. Today, most residents of Utah are Mormons.
Southern Baptists are an interesting joining of several of the above explanations. Baptism was brought to America by early European migrants as a non-established church seeking freedom of worship. During the last third of the 19th century, it was almost the religious expression of Southern culture and became the dominant regional church. One measure of whether a community is culturally part of the South surely must be the existence in it of at least one Southern Baptist church.
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