In the 40-year period from 1775 to 1815 the world changed dramatically. In 1775, when the first shots were fired in the American Revolution, no one could have foreseen the dramatic changes to come.
The fledgling American colonies not only emerged with their independence, but they did so in a vastly stronger position. British historian Paul Johnson writes that "the 1783 Peace of Paris [which ended the American Revolution] doubled the size of the United States, adding the western territories to the Atlantic states" (A History of the American People, 1997, p. 182, emphasis added).
Johnson explains this remarkable development: "At the peace talks, the French were surprised at the readiness of the British to make concessions to America. Vergennes [the French foreign minister] declared: 'The British buy peace rather than make it. Their concessions exceed all that I could have thought possible'" (Johnson, p. 167). This "was [Benjamin] Franklin's doing: he persuaded the British to be generous to America . . ." (ibid.).
The United States emerged from the war with impressive gains. Not only did the 13 colonies achieve independence, but Britain ceded her territories west of the original states and east of the Mississippi River, effectively doubling the size of the country. This vast area would later become Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.
The new nation gained control of the Ohio River and access to the heart of the continent by means of the Mississippi River. The enormous territory the new country acquired was rich in fertile land. Selling these vast land holdings to its citizens helped enable the new government to pay off its war debts. Farmers even had a ready export market because the 1780s saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, a transformation fed by a burgeoning population that was moving from the countryside into the big industrial cities.
Charting an uneasy course
Meanwhile, France had lost its preeminence to Britain in the 1815 battle of Waterloo. Britain, with significant colonial gains as the fruits of war, emerged as the undisputed master of the globe, the Royal Navy protecting and linking its scattered colonies and possessions that formed the prophesied "multitude of nations" (Genesis 48:19).
Having learned sobering lessons in America's war of independence, Britain was well placed to be a progressive force in the world. In the War of 1812, between Britain and America, Canadians made it clear they did not want to be a part of the United States, paving the way for the future Commonwealth of Nations, or British Commonwealth.
By 1815 the United States of America was a recognized power in its own right, having won its independence during the Revolutionary War and later having fought a second conflict, the War of 1812, with the mother country.
Americans were now free to enlarge westward. This was to be America's destiny in the 19th century, to expand from the 13 original colonies on the eastern seaboard until they reached the Pacific Ocean on the continent's west coast. This was no easy task considering the new nation's condition immediately after the Revolutionary War.
"The Americans suddenly found themselves in an unfriendly world. Britain closed its West Indies to American shipping, Spain closed its colonies entirely and also, by closing New Orleans, deterred development of the West, though frontiersmen spilled over the mountains in great numbers. Even France imposed commercial restrictions, cutting New England fish and Virginia tobacco from profitable markets. In short, the tangible gains many expected from independence were simply not forthcoming" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 18, "United States History," p. 956).
Internally the country also had its share of growing pains.
"Government under the Articles of Confederation and the new state constitutions was adequate to see the United States through to independence, but only after republicanism had been discredited by corruption and incompetence in 1781, after nationalists had seized unconstitutional powers under Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris, after Gen. George Washington's army acquired military discipline and a most unrepublican spirit, and after various British generals, notoriously the commander of the southern army, Lord Cornwallis, committed blunders that bordered on the preposterous" (ibid.).
By 1815 these problems were mostly resolved, though the issue of federal vs. state power was to remain a major problem until the Civil War.
America doubles again
In the meantime,Americans were free to expand westward. Here one of the most significant developments was the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, which, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, again doubled the country's size.
France, having acquired this massive territory from Spain in 1800, sold it to the United States for $15 million. America thus acquired 828,000 square miles of what would eventually be the most fertile farmland in the world—the American Midwest—for less than 3 cents per acre!
The newly acquired land included territory that would become the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota as well as much of the territory of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.
The United States of America, barely a quarter century old, was now as large as all the countries of Europe put together. In the two centuries to follow it would help feed the populations of other nations as America became the breadbasket of the world.
Now vast lands west of the Mississippi were open to settlement, though the new century was to see considerable conflict between American settlers and the original inhabitants of the land, the American Indians.
In 1819 the United States acquired from Spain the territory that would become Florida and the Alabama and Mississippi panhandles. A quarter of a century later the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico resulted in the vast lands of the Southwest—including the future states of Texas, California, Nevada and Utah and major portions of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona—becoming a part of the United States.
During this same era America negotiated with Britain for the territory that would later become the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming. In less than a decade the United States had grown geographically by half again as much. Each time America expanded, people moved west. As more people spread out to settle new territories, immigrants from Europe filled the gap. During this rapid expansion America remained in many ways an isolated nation, a country that had turned its back on Europe and the rest of the world and tried to stay out of complicated and dangerous world affairs. Ironically, this strategy was possible largely because of the Pax Britannica, the British peace imposed on the world by the supremacy of the Royal Navy and the strategic global dominance of British territories.
Crisis tests the country
The American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, was to be a major turning point on the road to world power.
It has often been said that before the Civil War America was frequently referred to in the plural, as in "the United States are . . ." After the Civil War the accepted terminology became "the United States is . . . ," reflecting the increased unity and strength of the Union forces after the war and the realization that America had become one nation.
The North and South had fought the Civil War largely over the underlying issue of slavery. The immediate issue that brought the crisis to a head was whether states that wanted to retain slavery and extend it into new territories could do so, and, if thwarted, could secede from the Union. A bitter four-year civil war raged over this issue. The Union forces triumphed, and the federal republic was preserved. If it had ended differently, it is doubtful the United States would have gone on to be a world power.
Expansion and consolidation
"The world after 1865 became a banker's world," said historian Henry Adams of the years after the Civil War. Incredible expansion took place as the migratory move west continued and as the nation industrialized and urbanized.
Agriculture expanded with the settlement of the Great Plains. In the last four decades of the 19th century the land under cultivation increased by four million acres. The wheat yield in that same period increased from 173 million bushels to 522 million, with similar increases in corn and beef production.
Along with these increases came further territorial expansion. Alaska became the first territory that was not contiguous to the rest of the United States. Bought from Russia in 1867 thanks to the efforts of Secretary of State William Henry Seward for $7.2 million—about 2 cents per acre for almost 600,000 square miles—it was an even better bargain than the Louisiana Purchase.
At first ridiculed as Seward's Folly, the purchase was thought unwise by most Americans. This was to change with the discovery of massive gold deposits in the Klondike in 1897 and 1898. Alaska's vast oil reserves were to prove crucial to the United States in the 20th century, as they still are. The addition of Alaska increased the United States' area by almost 20 percent. Income from its many resources—petroleum, timber, minerals, fishing and the like—amounts to tens of billions of dollars each year.
Winston Churchill, in his monumental work A History of the English Speaking Peoples, marveled about America: "The population west of the Mississippi rose in thirty years from about five millions in 1860 to almost eighteen millions, while the number of states in the Union increased from thirtythree to forty-four. By 1890 only four more states remained to be carved out of the West. These were Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, all admitted to the Union by 1912, when the political shape of the country became complete" (1958,Vol. 4, p. 318).
"The colonisation begun at Jamestown, Virginia, almost three centuries before," concluded Churchill, "was now complete" (ibid., p. 322).
A new international role
With the West settled and the country secure, with peaceful neighbors and territory that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, America was free to turn its attention outward. At a point when the idea of empire had taken hold of the major European nations, America was set to acquire an empire of its own. The catalyst was the Spanish-American War, in 1898, a 16-week armed conflict that catapulted the United States into worldpower status.
This short war was notable for a remarkable succession of U.S. military victories. In the subsequent Treaty of Paris, Cuba gained independence while the United States acquired Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, strategically located possessions that gave America a strong regional presence. This war also did much to unite North and South and bury some of the old antagonisms of the Civil War.
The next two years were to see the acquisition in the Pacific of Hawaii, part of Samoa and Wake Island. A few years later America built the Panama Canal, a crucial strategic waterway that allowed speedy passage of merchant and military vessels from one ocean to the other. America approached the 20th century as an industrial and military power with colonies of its own. It had not yet achieved its destiny but was well on the way.
Two nations with much in common
Although America had spent a century busily expanding westward, the British had spread all over the world, colonizing territories on every inhabited continent.
The population and area of the British Empire was far greater than that of the United States. Canada alone was bigger than the United States, and Australia was an island continent as large as the 48 contiguous states. British possessions in Africa covered a landmass larger than the United States, and India was the home of the second-greatest populace in the world.
Many island possessions and other large territories added even more to Britain's strength. The empire had exported its system of government to almost all of its colonial possessions, each of which now had its own parliamentary form of government, with the rule of law and basic freedoms considered the right of every imperial subject.
In 1897, on Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne), the British celebrated the zenith of their power. Queen Victoria herself had done a great deal to promote British interests. Her children and grandchildren married into almost all the royal households of Europe, giving Britain considerable influence not only on the Continent but around the world.
The Pax Britannica—British peace— was this period of British dominance. During Victoria's 64-year reign not one day passed in which British soldiers were not in conflict somewhere maintaining this peace. The British people, as were their American cousins, were busy conquering and developing the areas of the world in which they settled, domesticating the wilderness and bringing unparalleled prosperity to the peoples over which they ruled.
Remarkable prophecies of the last days
How can we explain the remarkable— some would rightly call it miraculous—rise of the United States and the British Empire?
As we noted in the first installment of this series (in the July-August issue), the Bible reveals several remarkable prophecies concerning "the last days" (Genesis 49:1) regarding the descendants of the biblical tribe of Joseph (one of the 12 sons of Israel). Many people assume that all prophecies regarding "Israel" or its descendants apply only to the Jewish people or the modern state of Israel. However, both history and the Bible show this view is not correct.
Both the Jews and the modern Middle Eastern nation of Israel are largely descendants of only two of the 12 tribes of Israel— Judah and Benjamin (along with some from Levi). These two tribes separated from the other 10 that comprised the kingdom of Israel to form the separate kingdom of Judah in 928 B.C. At that point they became and remained separate nations. In fact, the first time the term Jews appears in the Bible (2 Kings 16:6, King James Version), the Jews are at war with the kingdom of Israel. Clearly the Jews and Israel are not one and the same.
Both kingdoms were later defeated and taken into captivity—Israel by the Assyrian empire in 722-718 B.C. and Judah by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. In spite of their exile from their homeland, the Jews—the descendants of the kingdom of Judah— retained their identity. The northern 10 tribes, having abandoned God and adopted many of the customs of the peoples around them, lost their identity and seemingly disappeared, becoming known to history simply as "the lost 10 tribes."
A great single nation and a multitude of nations
Now let's go back to those prophecies of Israel's descendants. Joseph's sons were prophesied to become "a multitude of nations" and a great single nation (Genesis 48:19). These prophecies were never fulfilled in the ancient kingdoms of Israel or Judah. Nor have they been fulfilled in other nations—unless they refer to the British Empire and Commonwealth and the United States.
Looking more closely at this prophecy, we see that the "multitude of nations" would be greater than the great single nation. The British Empire and British Commonwealth were, at their peak, the greatest empire the world has ever seen. History shows us just how powerful it was. One quarter of the world's land and peoples were subjects of the British crown. The empire's wealth and power were enormous. Britain controlled four times the population and almost six times the territory of the mighty Roman Empire at the height of its power.
For the last two centuries the British Empire and the United States have brought prosperity to and kept the peace around the world. This dual role has been a direct fulfillment of the ancient biblical prophecies regarding the tribe of Joseph, favorite son of Israel, in the last days.
Notice Genesis 49:22-24: "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob . . ."
Like a fruitful, well-watered vine, first Britain and then the United States spread far beyond their early boundaries to positions of world power and domination. Together they quashed countless small conflicts and saved civilization in two great global conflicts, then the United States held the line against communism in a decades-long cold war. Today the United States is the world's undisputed military superpower.
A look at some statistics illustrates just how blessed the British and American people have been. In 1950 the two powers accounted for 60 percent of the world's oil production, 75 percent of the world's steel, nearly 95 percent of the world's nickel, 80 percent of the world's aluminum and 75 percent of its zinc. Interestingly, these blessings were greatly reduced with the loss of the British Empire in the 1950s and '60s, and British and U.S. shares of mineral production are much smaller today.
Like all empires, the British Empire came to an end. As it declined,America's power rose, until the United States could shoulder responsibilities as the defender of the free world. This happened gradually.
The 20th century is sometimes called America's century. It certainly was the century of America's coming of age. But it wasn't until World War II that the United States dominated the world. Note a comment from American historian James Truslow Adams, written in 1940 when the nations of the British Commonwealth were already in conflict while the United States remained neutral:
"Different peoples may have different ideals of government but for those who have been accustomed to freedom of person and of spirit, the possible overthrow of the British Empire would be a catastrophe scarcely thinkable. Not only would it leave a vacuum over a quarter of the globe into which all the wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression could rush, but the strongest bulwark outside ourselves for our own safety and freedom would have been destroyed" (The British Empire, 1789-1939, 1940, p. 358). Clearly, at this time, Americans still saw the empire and commonwealth as their first line of defense.
America had emerged as a world power after the Spanish-American War, but then pulled back into isolation. After a brief role at the close of World War I, Congress voted to stay out of the League of Nations, an indication that it did not want to involve itself in world affairs. Then in December 1941, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America was thrust into the war. President Franklin Roosevelt realized that Hitler's Germany was the greatest threat to world peace. With Churchill and Stalin, he made the destruction of Nazi Germany a priority before concentrating on Japan.
Many historians view this as America's greatest moment. The generation that won World War II has been described as the greatest generation in modern history. Although the United States did not enter the war until Pearl Harbor, more than two years after it started, without America's full participation and all-out effort the Axis powers—Japan, Germany and Italy—would have won the war with disastrous consequences.
America assumes Britain's mantle
After the war the United States did not withdraw from world affairs. Instead it took up the burden that previously had been carried by the British Empire, the role of world policeman it still plays. As the British dismantled and withdrew from their empire and then helped to convert much of it into a new Commonwealth of Nations, often the "wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression" did rush in. It often fell to the United States to help fill the gap.
It is instructive to note that the prophecy in Genesis 49 does not differentiate between the British Commonwealth and the United States. It simply refers to them as "Joseph." Although there are differences between the two, their role in world events has been similar—investing in and developing other nations while trying to keep the peace. They haven't succeeded perfectly by any means, but the alternative would have been global domination by one or more of the despotic powers of recent history.
President Theodore Roosevelt, the first president to realize America's new role, put it well in his 1904 annual address to Congress: "Chronic wrongdoing . . . may . . . ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation . . . an international police power" (A History of the American People, Paul Johnson, 1997, p. 621). Roosevelt was to strengthen the U.S. Navy, building it up to be second only to Britain's Royal Navy.
The United States emerged as the greatest single nation in history just in time to work with its allies to achieve victory in World War II. This was part of America's destiny, the prophesied blessing to Israel, Joseph and Joseph's two sons. As God told Abraham, Israel's grandfather, in Genesis 12:2: "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing."
Abraham's descendants were indeed to become a great nation and be a blessing to the world. America's destined role, the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies, was to be the greatest single nation in history. It would be separate and distinct from the "company of nations" (Genesis 35:11) from which it broke, but with similar attributes and qualities that were to be a positive force in the world.
By 1945 America had reached the greatest fulfillment of its power. The United States had replaced the British Commonwealth as the strongest force on earth. With Germany and Japan defeated, it seemed as if the United States and the rest of the world would enjoy a Pax Americana as it had earlier basked in the Pax Britannica.
But it was not to be. After World War II much would begin to go wrong. Past mistakes would come back to haunt America, as we shall see in our next installment in The Good News about America's destiny.