US History—Semester A
Shmoop's got the scoop on the birth and adolescence of the US of A.
Half a score and some odd years ago, our Shmoopfathers brought forth on these Interwebs a new website, conceived in hilarity, and dedicated to the proposition that learning and laughing go better together. And then they made history—a US History course, that is. Now you can get a good belly laugh as you learn about the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This semester covers the period of Spanish Colonization through the Civil War. That's about 400 years, 5 major wars (some revolutionary), and a lot of Manifest Destiny to review. Thankfully, Shmoop’s there with you.
Join our Common Core-aligned US History course, and dive into readings, activities, worksheets and more to
- learn how Columbus's voyage brought us pizza as we now know it.
- watch the sparks fly in a culture clash between Spanish sailors and Powhatan natives—by reading a comic book.
- claim your title as America's Next Top Trader by bartering furs for food as a British mercantilist. (Tyra RiverBanks not included.)
P.S. US History is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester A, but you can check out Semester B here.
Unit 1. Spainful Beginnings
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue...and set off a huge wave of brutal Spanish colonization in the "New World." This unit examines the arrival of the Spanish in North America and the Columbian Exchange.
Unit 2. Stealing Land and Taking Names: The English Story
The English and French were hot on the heels of the Spanish in coming to North America. This unit examines the English story, from tobacco to the slave trade to the Puritans and witches.
Unit 3. Growing Pains: Early American Society and the French and Indian War
Ever wondered how George Washington went from chill plantation owner buying votes with booze to hero of the French and Indian war? You'll find out here.
Unit 4. Keep Calm and Get Out
In the late 1700s, America donned its mohawk and leather jacket and started listening to punk music. In other words, it won its freedom from mother England.
Unit 5. Partisan Bickering: The American Story
Like grammar, poker, and mini golf, young innocent countries need rules too. In this unit, you'll learn how a little document called the Constitution came to be.
Unit 6. America's Adolescence: Hurtin' and Oppressin'
This unit continues one we've already begun—the struggle for freedom—and looks at it from the point of view of those left behind: Native Americans, women, and slaves.
Unit 7. Debates and Dissension: Uncivil Reasons for War
Spoiler alert: the Civil War was...not so civil. But it does make for some epic war movies. Find out what made the South secede in this unit.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 6: Slaves or Souls? The Valladolid Debates
You're concerned about your rights. Your right to be out past 9 on a school night. Your right to sleep in on the weekends. Your right to take dinner up to your bedroom so you can watch Sons of Anarchywhile you eat.
Of course, these are not rights that are absolutely granted to you as a human being. Someone (your parents) had to decide, at some point, whether you would be given each of those rights. Perhaps the two of them were even on opposite sides of an issue and had to argue their respective cases.
In 1550, such an argument took place over the rights of indigenous people in the New World. The indigenous people did not have any input, of course. They were just "the kids."
In Valladolid, Spain, Dominican friar Bartholomew de las Casas debated priest and philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda in an attempt to come to a consensus on the subject. They got through the whole thing without resorting to name-calling.
De las Casas argued for the ethical treatment of indigenous people, referencing his observations of the mistreatment under the abused encomienda system.
The encomienda system was a form of land ownership set up after 1492 to divide both the lands and peoples of the Americas into workable—and exploitable—pieces that were run by Spanish settlers. Kinda like having your very own living, breathing chess set. Ick. Spanish knights called encomenderos were given rights to land and the ability to demand work from indigenous villages under their control. In exchange, encomenderos were supposed to Christianize their indentured servants. It made more than one of the oppressed people a little, er, cross.
Imagine everyone's surprise when this system was abused, the people were worked like slaves (Civil War foreshadowing, anyone?), and the teaching of Christianity was dropped because it interfered with the profits of forced labor. The practice was officially outlawed in the 1550s, but the damage was already done—in many places millions of people had been worked to death, and in some Caribbean islands the indigenous population still hasn't recovered.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.6: Valladolid Debates Guided Reading
Read the excerpts from Bartholomé de las Casas's A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies all the way through. They're short selections from an already "short account," so it shouldn't be too painful. Well, it might be painful emotionally, because this kind of history gives us sadfeels. The language is a little old-timey, but you'll survive. We promise. Hint: For any word that looks weird, say it out loud, and the word will probably make sense. If it still doesn't, then, well, dictionaries are good resources.
Excerpts from A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, courtesy of Project Gutenberg (the full text may be found here)
The Spaniards first assaulted the innocent Sheep, so qualified by the Almighty, as is premention'd, like most cruel Tygers, Wolves and Lions hunger1-starv'd, studying nothing, for the space of Forty Years, after their first landing, but the Massacre of these Wretches, whom they have so inhumanely and barbarously butcher'd and harass'd with several kinds of Torments, never before known, or heard (of which you shall have some account in the following Discourse) that of Three Millions of Persons, which lived in Hispaniola itself, there is at present but the inconsiderable remnant of scarce Three Hundred2. Nay the Isle of Cuba, which extends as far, as Valladolid in Spain is distant from Rome, lies now uncultivated, like a Desert, and intomb'd in its own Ruins. You may also find the Isles of St. John, and Jamaica, both large and fruitful places, unpeopled and desolate. The Lucayan Islands on the North Side, adjacent to Hispaniola and Cuba, which are Sixty in number, or thereabout, together with those, vulgarly known by the name of the Gigantic Isles, and others, the most infertile whereof, exceeds the Royal Garden of Sevil in fruitfulness, a most Healthful and pleasant Climat, is now laid waste and uninhabited; and whereas, when the Spaniards first arriv'd here, about Five Hundred Thousand Men dwelt in it, they are now cut off, some by slaughter, and others ravished away by Force and Violence, to work in the Mines of Hispaniola, which was destitute of Native Inhabitants: For a certain Vessel, sailing to this Isle, to the end, that the Harvest being over (some good Christian, moved with Piety and Pity, undertook this dangerous Voyage, to convert Souls to Christianity) the remaining gleanings might be gathered up, there were only found Eleven Persons, which I saw with my own Eyes. There are other Islands Thirty in number, and upward bordering upon the Isle of St. John, totally unpeopled; all which are above Two Thousand miles in Length, and yet remain without Inhabitants, Native, or People.3
Finally, in one word, their Ambition and Avarice, than which the heart of Man never entertained greater, and the vast Wealth of those Regions; the Humility and Patience of the Inhabitants (which made their approach to these Lands more facil and easie) did much promote the business: Whom they so despicably contemned, that they treated them (I speak of things which I was an Eye Witness of, without the least fallacy) not as Beasts, which I cordially wished they would4, but as the most abject dung and filth of the Earth; and so sollicitous they were of their Life and Soul, that the above-mentioned number of People died without understanding the true Faith or Sacraments5. And this also is as really true as the praecendent Narration (which the very Tyrants and cruel Murderers cannot deny without the stigma of a lye) that the Spaniards never received any injury from the Indians, but that they rather reverenced them as Persons descended from Heaven, until that they were compelled to take up Arms, provoked thereunto by repeated Injuries, violent Torments, and injust Butcheries6.
"Of the Provinces of Florida"
Three Tyrants at several times made their entrance into these Provinces since the Year 1510, or 1511, to act those Crimes which others, and two of these Three [unnamed explorers from Spain] made it their sole business to do in other Regions, to the end, that they might advance themselves to higher Dignities and Promotions than they could deserve, by the Effusion of Blood and Destruction of these People; but at length they all were cut off by a violent Death, and the Houses which they formerly built and erected with the cement of Human Blood, (which I can sufficiently testifie of these three) perished with them, and their memory roten, and as absolutely washed away from off the Face of the Earth, as if they had never had a being. These Men deserted these Regions, leaving them in great distraction and confusion, nor were they branded with less notes of infamy, by the certain Slaughters they perpetrated, though they were but few in number than the rest. For the Just God cut them off before they did much Mischief, and reserv'd the Castigation and Revenge of those Evils which I know, and was an Eye-Witness of, to this very Time and Place. As to the Fourth Tyrant, who lately, that is, in the Year 1538, came hither well-furnished with Men and Ammunition, we have received no account these Three Years last past; but we are very confident, that he, at his first Arrival, acted like a bloody Tyrant, even to extasie and madness, if he be still alive with his Follower, and did injure, destroy, and consume a vast Number of Men (for he was branded with infamous Cruelty above all those who with their Assistants committed Crimes and Enormities of the first Magnitude in these Kingdoms and Provinces) I conceive, God hath punished him with the same Violent Death, as he did other Tyrants: But because my Pen is wearied with relating such Execrable and Sanguinary Deeds (not of Men but Beasts) I will trouble myself no longer with the dismal and fatal Consequences thereof.7
These People [the Tyrants- Casas' name for the guilty conquistadores] were found by them [The Natives] to be Wise, Grave, and well dispos'd, though their usual Butcheries and Cruelties in opressing them like Brutes, with heavy Burthens, did rack their minds with great Terror and Anguish. At their Entry into a certain Village, they were welcomed with great Joy and Exultation, replenished them with Victuals, till they were all satisfied, yielding up to them above Six Hundred Men to carry their Bag and Baggage, and like Grooms to look after their Horses: The Spaniards departing thence, a Captain related to the Superiour Tyrant returned thither to rob this (no ways diffident or mistrustful) People, and pierced their King through with a Lance, of which Wound he dyed upon the Spot, and committed several other Cruelties into the bargain. In another Neighboring Town, whose Inhabitants they thought, were more vigilant and watchful, having had the News of their horrid Acts and Deeds, they barbarously murdered them all with their Lances and Swords, destroying all, Young and Old, Great and Small, Lords and Subject without exception.8
The Chief Tyrant caused many Indians (above Two Hundred as 'tis noised abroad) whom he summon'd to appear before him out of another town, or else, who came voluntarily to pay their Respects to him, to have their Noses and Lips to the very Beard, cut off; and thus in this grievous and wretched Condition, the Blood gushing out of their Wounds, return'd them back, to give an Infallible Testimony of the Works and Miracles wrought by these Preachers and Ministers baptized in the Catholick Faith.9
Now let all Men judge what Affection and love they bear to Christianity; to what purpose, or upon what account they believe there is a God, whom they preach and boast of to be Good and Just, and that his Law which they profess (and indeed only profess) to be pure and immaculate. The Mischiefs acted by these profligate Wretches and Sons of Perdition were of the deepest die. At last this Captain devoted to Perdition dyed impenitent, nor do we in the least question, but that he is overwhelmed and buried in Darkness Infernal, unless God according to his Infinite Mercy and boundless Clemency, not his own Merits, (he being contaminated and poison'd with Execrable Deeds,) be pleas'd to compassionate and have Mercy upon him.10
This Deep, Bloody American Tragedy is now concluded, and my Pen choakt up with Indian Blood and Gore. I have no more to say, but pronounce the Epilogue made by the Author, and leave the Reader to judge whether it deserves a Plaudite.11
The Spaniards first set Sail to America, not for the Honour of God, or as Persons moved and merited thereunto by servant Zeal to the True Faith, nor to promote the Salvation of their Neighbours, nor to serve the King, as they falsely boast and pretend to do, but in truth, only stimulated and goaded on by insatiable Avarice and Ambition, that they might for ever Domineer, Command, and Tyrannize over the West- Indians, whose Kingdoms they hoped to divide and distribute among themselves. Which to deal candidly in no more or less intentionally, than by all these indirect wayes to disappoint and expel the Kings of Castile out of those Dominions and Territories, that they themselves having usurped the Supreme and Regal Empire, might first challenge it as their Right, and then possess and enjoy it.12
Now go back: Each of the little numbers in the document corresponds to one of the questions below it. Type your responses to these questions in a few sentences. Be sure to support your answers with citations from the text.
As you answer the questions, consider:
What tools does de las Casas use to make his argument? What rhetorical devices does he employ? Are they effective? Why or why not?
- Course Length: 18 weeks
- Course Number: 310
- Grade Levels: 10, 11
- Course Type: Basic
- History and Social Science
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1