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The first American nation rose after 1776, fighting to reject British rule and preserve slavery. For decades, it struggled with internal divisions while searching for a profitable economy—until British industry created a soaring demand for cotton that U.S. southern planters met by expanding plantations worked by enslaved laborers onto lands taken from native peoples and, in Texas, from Mexico. Amid wars after 1808, new industries rose in the Northeast, depending on southern cotton while competing with British industries. Meanwhile, farmers pushed across the Mississippi basin, raising staples to feed northeastern cities, southern plantations, and European peoples. New dynamism came with rising contradictions; expansions of slavery challenged republican ideals and disrupted sectional political balances. War with Mexico in the 1840s deepened conflicts, culminating in the devastating Civil War of the 1860s, which ended slavery and reunited a nation that became a continental empire within global capitalism.

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