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Builders of Our Country: Book II by  Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

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THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

[271] BEFORE the middle of the eighteenth century, thirteen colonies, all owing allegiance to England, were scattered along the Atlantic coast of North America. The settlers were Old World folks tempted across the seas either by fabled wealth, love of adventure, or an unconquerable desire to worship God as they saw fit.

There was little temptation to journey far from home. Great lumbering coaches, the saddled back of a horse, or small sailing boats offered the only means of travel. So for the most part the colonist was a stay-at-home.

Then came the cruel French and Indian War. A common danger threatened the thirteen colonies. For the first time the colonies united to fight a common foe. And they conquered!

But even while they still rejoiced in their victory England's king tried to tax the colonists unjustly. The colonists resisted. The king's grasp tightened, and Old England seemed about to crush her American children.

Then from colony after colony rose the cry for freedom. The struggle was long and bitter. At last the victory was won. The power of England, mighty England was broken. Her king had lost his grasp on his American colonies. And by their united courage, perseverance and pluck these colonies had gained their freedom and the world a new nation—the United States of America.

From the time the thirteen separate English colonies [272] became the United States of America our country has grown and prospered. It is true we have fought a civil war in which the very unity of the Nation itself was at stake. But, terrible as it was, that very war established our union as "one and inseparable," and removed from us the stigma of being a slave-holding nation.

From the eastern shore of our land pioneers early began to work their way west. At first they rode on horseback, gun on shoulder, beside the lumbering canvas covered wagons that held their families and household goods. Some sought rich land for farming, others went in search of gold. But west, ever west they have pushed until those wildernesses, where herded the buffalo of old, have been turned into flourishing cities or widespread fields for the vast grain crops of America.

To-day railroads cross our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The old-time farming tools are being laid aside and great steam-driven machines plow the ground, sow the seeds and reap the harvests. Coal, silver, gold, and copper are mined. Factories of every sort are at work throughout the land. American-made locomotives, American steel bridges, American automobiles, sewing machines, typewriters, and many other products of American labor are known the whole world over. To-day America leads the nations of the world in the magnitude of her foreign trade.

Nor are we content with all this. Through annexation, purchase, and conquest we are still extending our dominion. Alaska, the Philippines, Porto Rico, and Hawaii have all become ours. Then, too, we have bought from the Republic of Panama the right to open a canal across that isthmus that our great merchant vessels and splendid battleships may pass easily and quickly from our eastern to our western coasts.

[273] Growth and improvement have been the history of our land since the days of the Nation's birth. On that flag which floated over the plucky little states which won our independence were thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. To-day the American flag shows nearly fifty stars, each one representing a state in our union. The stripes still number thirteen. The number of our states may increase and our Nation's flag proudly boast the fact. But with even greater pride does it constantly proclaim that, do what they will, the Americans to come can never make to America as great a gift as did those men of the thirteen original states. We rejoice in America's greatness, her wide possessions, her immense achievements, but our glory, our great and lasting glory, is first and always America's freedom.

And America's freedom does not mean merely our independence of England's king. It means much more. It means that every citizen of our land, rich or poor, has a voice in the government of America; has a right to protest against oppression; has a claim to justice for himself or for his neighbor; has a chance to make of himself the best of which he is capable.

Prizing this freedom and glorying in it as we do, America has done a deed unprecedented in the history of the world. She has lent her strength to help the Cubans throw off the rule of a tyrannical power. She has then taught that people the lesson of self-government and left them free to rule their land.

In the harbor of New York stands a towering statue of Liberty holding high in her hand a flaming torch. And every night its light shines far out to sea, a beacon to all incoming ships, a welcoming guide to the land of the free—America.


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