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US History
Name: __________________________
Regents Prep
Date: _________________ Period: ___
Lesson #1 Notes: Geography
The United States
The U.S. is located in the center of the North American continent. It is bordered by Canada to the
north, and Mexico to the south. On the east is the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west, is the Pacific
Ocean. In addition to the 48 continental states, Alaska and Hawaii are included, for a grand total of
50 states.
The U.S. can be divided into many different regions (areas that share some common
characteristics). Not only does it have very different geographic regions, but the U.S.
has a huge array of natural resources such as timber, coal, petroleum, and
natural gas. In addition, it has large metal deposits of copper, lead, uranium, gold,
iron, nickel, silver and zinc. As you can imagine, the mining industry in the U.S. is extensive.
From the non-agricultural, arid land in the southwest, to the fertile central lowlands
and coastal plains, there is an extremely variable array of landforms and land usage in
the United States. The map to the right highlights two dozen different vegetation zones
in the U.S. and North America.
Barriers to Expansion
One of the greatest obstacles for early settlers intent upon moving westward, were the Appalachian
Mountains. They extend, in an almost unbroken chain, from Maine to Alabama, with very few
places to pass through. Early settlers quickly found the Cumberland Gap (at the junction of modernday Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) to be one of the easiest ways westward (and inland) from the
Four hundred miles west of the Cumberland Gap, settlers would encounter the largest river in North
America, At that point, the 2,552 mile long Mississippi River was nearly one mile wide, and over
100 feet deep. Travelers had to go miles upstream to find a ford (a place to cross the river).
Once across the Mississippi River, the Great Plains made for fairly easy travel. It was not until settlers
saw the Rocky Mountains, that westward expansion slowed. Most people were diverted either far
to the south, or chanced high passes through the mountains, sometimes getting stranded in
unpredictable winter snowstorms. Of course, early Spanish settlers had been venturing inland from
the sixteenth century, and had made many contacts with the indigenous peoples of the southwest.
General Impact and Colonization Patterns
U.S. history is full of examples where geography directly influenced the development of the nation.
For example, at the end of the French & Indian Wars, the Proclamation Line of 1763 was
established. It forbade the (then) British colonists to pass beyond a designated western borderline
which roughly followed the Appalachian Mountains.
US History
Name: __________________________
Regents Prep
Date: _________________ Period: ___
This angered colonists even further because they had to pay for British soldiers to patrol the area.
Many colonist ignored the decree, moving west and settling anyway. This led to increased resentment
of white settlers on the part of Native Americans, and serious problems in the future..
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson oversaw the Louisiana Purchase from France. For
only $15,000,000, America doubled its geographic area. Unfortunately, it was
difficult for settlers to get through the Appalachian Mountains, and migrate
westward. By 1825, The Cumberland Gap (at the conjunction of Kentucky, Virginia
and Tennessee) and the Erie Canal were funneling the majority of migrants
westward. By this time, residents of the newly independent United States felt no
compulsion to obey by treaties signed between the Indians and the British.
Tensions were growing.
In 1848, gold was discovered in California. But, in order to get there, travelers had to sail around
South America, or ride through the desert southwest. In 1874, gold was found in the Black Hills of
South Dakota. The rush continued.
Territorial Expansion
The Homestead Act of 1862 gave federally owned land to anyone who settled it. Any adult (aged
21 and older) could claim a 160-acre lot, by farming it for only five years, and own it after paying a fee
at the end of that time.
It was during the rush westward that Americans realized the need for a transcontinental railroad
connecting California to the rest of the United States. The new railroad through the Great Plains
made it possible for farmers to ship their goods for sale in the East, but it crossed lands considered
inviolate by the resettled Indians. Open warfare broke out in several locations in across Montana,
Kansas and the Dakota territories. White settlers demanded protection from the so-called savage
Indians, which in turn led to the killing of thousands of Native Americans.
Native Americans
From 1830 to 1890, the federal government systematically pushed Native
Americans from their lands onto government reservations west of the Mississippi
River. At the same time, white settlers began pushing into the Great Plains.
Soldiers tried to keep travel routes open for the migrating settlers, and often battled
the Native Americans for control of those areas. As noted above, fighting between
U.S. Army troops and Indians continued throughout the 1860s and 1870s.
By 1871, Native Americans had been made wards of the state by the federal
government. They could no longer make individual treaties with the federal
government, and most lived on federal reservations. The Dawes Act of 1887 tried to Americanize
Indians by abolishing all tribes, and giving former members 160-acre farms (on the reservation) that
they would own outright after 25 years.
US History
Name: __________________________
Regents Prep
Date: _________________ Period: ___
The Dawes Act , and others like it, were supposed to provide a road to American citizenship, but more
often destroyed native cultures. It was not until 1924 that all Native Americans were made legal
citizens of the U.S. Clearly, natives were treated much differently than whites.
Not surprisingly, it is often in the midst of a war, or shortly afterward, that territorial expansion
occurs. During the French & Indian War, British territory expanded toward the
Appalachian Mountains. The Louisiana Purchase was made because Napoleon needed
money to finance his expansionist ambitions. Florida was gained between 1810 and
1819, years surrounding the War of 1812.
In 1846, war against Mexico (over the Texas Annexation in 1845) yielded Texas, California and the
rest of the Mexican Cession to the U.S. America and Great Britain agreed to terms over the Oregon
Country in 1846. Much of the Great Plains was settled during the Civil War, and Alaska was
purchased from Russia in 1867.
In February 1898, the American battleship Maine suffered an explosion while in the harbor in
Havana, Cuba. American newspapers whipped up a fury, and in April 1898, war was declared against
Spain. The U.S. won the war in just a few months, and got Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines out
of it. In 1903, the U.S. signed a treaty leasing the Panama Canal Zone.
US History
Name: __________________________
Regents Prep
Date: _________________ Period: ___
Lesson #1 Classwork: Geography
Complete the following activities to gain a better understanding of geography’s affect on US History.
1. Review your notes about the following location. For each location, explain how it either helped or
hurt the US’ growth as a country
 Appalachian Mountains
 Rocky Mountains
 Great Plains
 Mississippi River
2. Choose one foreign and one domestic example of how geography affected US history. For each
example, briefly describe the example and briefly explain the effect. Each answer must be a
minimum of three sentences.
3. Answer the following Thematic Essay Prompt in essay form: introduction, conclusion, and body
Geographic factors often influence United States government actions, both foreign and domestic.
Some of these factors include location, physical environment, movement of people, climate, and
Identify two actions taken by the US government that were influenced by geography and for each
• Discuss the historical circumstances that resulted in the government action
• Discuss the influence of a geographic factor on the action
• Describe the impact of the government action on the United States
4. Rate your response to the essay prompt. Answer the following questions in complete sentences.
 How did you rate your essay response (scale of 1 – 10)
 Why did you give yourself this rating? (minimum 5 sentences answer)
 What are three ways you can improve your essay in the future? (minimum five sentence