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Introduction to the Americas
The origin of the Native Americans is uncertain. It’s most likely that they were descendents of Shem who migrated east after the Tower of Babel incident. What is in dispute is how and when they reached the Americas. One possibility is that they walked across a landmass in the shallow Bering Strait that once existed between Siberia and Alaska. Another possibility is that they used boats to cross the Bering Strait which is only about 50 miles (82 kilometers) across. Approximately half way between the two capes are the Diomede Islands (where less than 100 Eskimos live today). It has also been suggested that Native Americans are descendants of Polynesians who entered the Americas through South America; however there is little evidence to support this.
There were several contacts between the old world and the Americas long before Columbus. One dubious claim is that seagoing Phoenicians made it across the Atlantic (see Pyramids). Another is that trade existed between Chinese merchants and Amerindians. Evidence of Viking’s short lived settlements have been found.
There is an Irish legend about a monk named St. Brendan the Navigator who sailed to America almost one thousand years before Columbus. (In 1976 Brendan’s supposed route was successfully navigated in a skin boat equivalent to the legend, proving that the original voyage was indeed possible.) . Not much is known about Native Americans before the arrival of European explorers.
By the beginning of the 17th century, the French, English, and Spanish had gained large portions of land in the Americas. The French and British settled most of North America, while Spain settled much of Central and South America. The British made most of their claims along the eastern coast of North America. These claims included the 13 colonies that would later become the 13 United States of America.
Central America was home to the Aztec Empire. The Aztecs built amazingly complex cities such as Tenochtitlan which was possibly the largest city in the world at that time. The Aztecs refined a 365-day solar calendar originally devised by the Mayan, Olmec, and Zapotec people. The accomplishments of the Aztecs are greatly diminished considering the brutality of human sacrifice as a common religious practice. The victims were often prisoners of war and occasionally Aztec warriors and children.
The arrival of Columbus, the conquistadors, and other European settlers is well known from elementary school lessons. While it is true that the European settlers brought diseases that killed millions of natives, constructive consequences are often overlooked.
Spain’s control over Central America and Mexico was weakened when Napoleon conquered Spain in 1808. Although most conservative colonists remained loyal to Spain, liberal colonists, such as Bolivar and Sucre who were displeased by Spain’s taxation, saw this as an opportunity to revolt. By 1821 all of Spain’s control over Central America and Mexico was removed. Various unions were attempted between Mexico and the Central American states but they fell apart to become independent republics.
The Incas, who inhabited South America’s rugged Andes, had amazing engineering techniques that allowed them to have irrigation canals, terraced farming, and an efficient network of footpaths and bridges on which runners could carry messages and fresh produce with remarkable speed. Spanish conquistadors (see Pizarro) subdued the Inca and melted their gold handicraft into bars that enriched the Spanish homeland.
Inspired by the American and French Revolutions, South Americans took advantage of the volatility of Napoleon’s conquest in Europe to revolt against Spain. Because of Spain had held such highly centralized and racist control, the South American states had virtually no experience governing themselves. Their independence resulted in much turmoil and struggle. Several countries came under the rule of dictators, and the people were generally worse off than they had been under colonial rule.
Latin America is still dealing with many social and economic difficulties as a result of 300 years of Spanish rule and Roman Catholicism. Land reform, class struggles and culturally dictated nominal Christianity has caused many bloody political struggles. The United States and others supported single cash crop economies, e.g., the “banana republics”, which were easily destabilized by volatile world markets. Debt incurred through development loans to corrupt governments brought on high inflation and increased unemployment. Weak democracies allowed communist insurgence and paramilitary takeovers. Fortunately, the communists lost the cold war and international pressures and supports seem to have bolstered the stability of Latin American nations.
North America: Canada
In approximately 985 A.D., Leif Eriksson founded a short-lived Viking settlement on the northern tip of Newfoundland. It is not until the 15th century that we have a record of any other European reaching Canada. While looking for a water route to Asia, John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. Jacques Cartier, sailed to Canada in 1534 in hopes to find wealthy empires for France to conquer (in the same manner Spain conquered the Aztecs). He instead found a land ripe for France settlers. Samuel Champlain, one of many explorers to travel Canada, founded Quebec in 1608 as a fur trading post.
A series of wars between the British and French lasted about 75 years and ended in 1763 with Britain’s conquest of New France (Canada). Canada was under British rule, but much of the French population remained. The Province of Canada and Nova Scotia gained self-rule in 1848. Ten years later, in 1858, the colony of British Columbia was founded, and in 1870 the North West (today one word) Territories were established. Finally in 1931, the Statute of Westminster was signed by parliament, and Canada became an independent Nation.
Canada has remained on relatively good terms with both the United States and Britain. Canadian soldiers served in both of the World Wars, the Korean War, as well as the Persian Gulf War.
North America: USA
In North America, one of the most prominent groups of people was the Iroquois. The Iroquois were not a single tribe but rather a confederacy of five and later six northeastern North American tribes. Iroquois was also the term used to classify the language group of all these tribes. The confederacy, also called the Five Nations, consisted of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca tribes. The Tuscaroras later joined the confederacy making it the Six Nations. The Iroquois were some of the first tribes encountered by Europeans and therefore were also some of the most intensely studied. These groups of Native Americans are probably best known for their longhouses and their use of wampum (polished shell beads) as currency.
By the 1760s, at the end of the French and Indian War, Britain had gained control over much of France’s New World territory in the eastern section of North America. In the 1770s, the relationship between Britain and her colonists had become strained. This was due to heavy taxes imposed by Britain, without the benefit of representation. Finally, in 1775, the Revolutionary War between the colonists and Britain broke out. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared independence from Britain and officially formed the United States of America, adopting the Declaration of Independence. At the end of the Revolutionary War (1783), the United States had gained, through the Treaty of Paris, all of North America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and from Florida to Canada.
The Louisiana Purchase was bought from France in 1803 and nearly doubled the size of the United States. By the early years of the twentieth century, the United States was made up of forty-eight contiguous states of America. Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959.
The United States was established as a superpower after the World Wars, and particularly after the Cold War against communism.
During the first half of the 16th century, the Russian government commissioned Danish navigator Vitus Bering to undertake two voyages to Alaska. In 1784, Grigory Schelekhov founded the first permanent white settlement in Alaska on Kodiak Island. Many Russian trappers were attracted by Alaska’s rich supply of fur. After the Crimean War, the Russians feared that if another war occurred, they would lose Alaska to the British. The Russians wished to sell Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska in 1867 for $7,200,000—roughly two cents an acre. Alaska was granted statehood on January 3, 1959 making it the 49th state.
The group of islands, discovered by British explorer James Cook, was first named the Sandwich Islands to honor John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. The name later was changed to Hawaii as American influence increased. The individual islands of Hawaii started out as separate kingdoms that were constantly at war. Then, in 1810, king Kamehameha I gained complete control of a newly unified Hawaiian Islands. Kamehameha encouraged trade with foreign nations while closely guarding Hawaii’s traditions and customs. In 1820, the first Protestant missionaries arrived in Hawaii and gained thousands of converts. They later managed to transcribe Hawaii’s language (which had no alphabet) to the Latin alphabet. Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in 1827. By the end of the 19th century, white entrepreneurs dominated much of Hawaii’s land. During the 19th century, workers of many ethnicities, most notably Asian, were brought to Hawaii. Many of them left after their contracts expired, but the ones that stayed made a considerable increase to Hawaii’s population. Hawaii was annexed in 1893 and officially became a territory of the United States, much to the demoralization of the natives. Talk of Hawaii becoming a state started as early as 1903, but was not taken seriously until the 1930s. Supporters of Hawaii’s statehood pointed out that Japanese soldiers from Hawaii fought loyally for the USA during World War II. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii officially became the 50th and most recent state to be added to the United States of America. Hawaii is the only one of the 50 states that has ever been a royal kingdom.
Religion in the Americas
Many Native Americans “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four footed animals and crawling creatures” (Rom.1:24). Similar to God’s judgment on the world at the time of Noah’s flood, God allowed European diseases to decimate the Amerindians. Many conquistadors, with their lust for gold, were of no higher morality as they suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and became futile in their speculations, living and dying by the sword.
In Latin America, the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, with its elevation of man’s traditions equal to scripture, gave rise to doctrines such as infant baptism and confessing to priests that brought about the aforementioned culturally dictated nominal Christianity. With Church sanctioned (dubious) security, a spiritual complacency is fostered that infects personal work ethic, justifies social stratification, and entangles democracies with church politics. [For more on this line of reasoning, see The Spaniard and the Seven Deadly Sins by Fernando Dia-Plaja.]
In North America, Protestants arrived as they escaped the religious persecution of church authority in Europe. Having a work ethic which was in response to God’s grace (rather than an attempt to earn God’s grace) led to the establishment of Yankee ingenuity where substance was more important that appearance. For example, Shaker furniture is built knowing “form follows function” just as Shakers know that the function of a man’s heart leads to the defilement of his form (Mark 7:18-23). In contrast, the gilded ornamentation of Catholicism is like trying to whitewash a tomb in order to purify its contents.
The Bible believing Christians who founded the United States included Benjamin Franklin who stated that prayer and God’s help is what won independence from Britain and that forming the nation properly could only be done through prayer and God’s help. Franklin’s Appeal for Prayer resulted in Congress beginning each session with prayer which continues to this time (Aug. 2003).
When Thomas Jefferson wrote about “Separation of Church and State,” he was stating that the state should not enforce one particular religion; or to be more precise, one particular denomination. Most people today believe that it means the Church should have no saying in governmental affairs. While America may not have risen to “a city set on a hill” for the sake of the gospel as intended by its earliest founders, it has risen to become the world’s most powerful nation. Along the way, compromises against Biblical morality have weakened structures of family, economic viability, and political confidence. The long list of abusing power includes:
Deliberate dislocation and destruction of Indian territory
Horrible institutions of slavery and the self-deceiving hypocrisy of Southern clergy
Imperialistic greed of “Manifest Destiny” as a religious quest
Wars manipulated against Mexico (1845), Spain (1898), and intrusions into Latin American affairs
Corruption of robber barrens, and self serving politicians
Insidious infection of secular humanism inside public education and the church
Atrocity of state endorsed killing of unborn children by the millions
White supremacist racism and other consequences of social Darwinism
Disgraceful elevation of homosexual behavior as celebrated diversity rather than an abomination before God
There was a time in Puritan America (as opposed to Don Juan Latin America) when the moral fortitude of a politician’s personal life mattered (see Clinton). Why must there be intense national pain, e.g., world wars or 9/11, for the USA to reaffirm “one nation under God”? Because the wicked heart of man remains in need the Savior. The savior is not American democracy and capitalism. Whether it is this generation of Americans, or the earliest clans to migrate across these continents, the truth of Romans declares they are without excuse for turning away from the Creator.