Subtest I: History and Social Science Study Guide for the CSET Multiple Subjects Test

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United States History

The next subsection of this exam covers United States History. In an effort to better understand and contextualize American History, we break it down into eras or periods with similar characteristics. Be sure to have a good understanding of the main events in the following eras of American History and the cause-and-effect relationship they have with each other.

The Early Years

The early years of United States history include everything from exploration and initial settlement to the War for Independence. Be sure to have a general understanding of cause and effect through this section.

European Exploration and Settlement

Europeans were looking for an all sea route to the far east (India) when they discovered the Americas. Competition for control over as much influence in the New World as possible quickly followed. The Spanish and Portugese dominated Central and South America, while the French and British vied for control of North America. During most of the exploration and colonial phase, settlements were situated near the coast and rivers as waterways provided the best transportation and protection.

The Colonial Era

Native Americans posed a major challenge to European settlement of North America. Some tribes were helpful and friendly to settlers, while others were hostile. These differences were amplified in the French and Indian War when various native groups fought alongside either the French or British in hopes of gaining more power or expelling Europeans from their lands. Strained relationships with natives would continue to plague settlers through the 1800s when the United States would continue to push westward and take more land from the Indians.

The Founders

Various groups colonized North America for different reasons. The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts seeking freedom from religious persecution in England. The Virginia Company established a colony in Virginia seeking economic profit. The French pushed further inland via waterways and established forts in a political effort to limit British expansion westward. The Dutch even established a colony in what is today New York City for the purpose of trade of economic profit.

Colonial Rule

Most British colonies were ruled by a colonial governor who acted on behalf of the king. Over time, many colonies established colonial governments of their own in which representatives advocated for the people. These governments were limited in their power because the king’s governor and mother country ultimately had the final say in government matters. Colonial rule was known to make both peace and war with Indian societies at different times. It was relatively common for colonial authority to double cross or trick natives, which quickly eroded any trust Indian societies had for settlers.


Slavery as an institution began as a direct result of European contact with and conquest of the New World. Europeans first attempted to force indeginous peoples to work for them, but in many cases, they resisted or were decimated by the diseases the European brought with them. This caused Europe to look to Africa for labor. Africa had already been in contact with Europe for centuries and so most Africans were immune to European diseases. It wasn’t long before European ships were loading up African slaves to take to the Americas.

Europeans mostly traded guns for slaves, which caused local rulers in Sub-Saharan Africa to invade neighboring areas (with their new guns) and capture more people to sell to the Europeans. African tribal disputes and wars intensified with the arrival of the slave trade and many people were kidnapped to meet the demand.

The War for Independence

The War for Independence, or the Revolutionary War, was fought between the 13 American Colonies and Great Britain. The colonies, upset with how they were being treated by the British, rebelled. The British responded by attempting to put the rebellion down in order to save their reputation as a global power and colonizer.


There are many individual causes of the War for Independence, but they all come down to the increasingly tyrannical governing of the colonies by the British. Over the years leading up to the war, the British levied many taxes on the colonies and enforced them ruthlessly. The people living in the colonies felt as if they were being taken advantage of because they were being forced to pay such high taxes despite having no representative in government.

Political Leadership

Political leaders at the time were typically well-educated, land-owning, white men. The colonial governments varied from colony to colony but all gathered at the Continental Congress where each colony sent representation to assist in governing the colonies through the war. This Congress passed laws during the war for funding the army and even sent delegation abroad to petition for foreign support of the colonies.

Military Leadership

An effective American military leader during this war was typically one who had previous experience in the British military. Understanding the rules of engagement was important for the Continental Army as well as smaller militias because these rules guided what the British would do. They were predictable.

The Americans, outgunned, outmanned, out-trained, and outmatched, resorted to guerrilla warfare as a means to defeating the British. Therefore, effective leaders were those who knew what the British would do and how they would react to such attacks. Beyond battlefield tactics, effective leaders were those who identified with their soldiers and inspired them through extremely difficult times. George Washington was effective through the winter at Valley Forge because he was able to inspire his troops and help them maintain perspective as to what they were fighting for.

Impact on Americans

Americans were somewhat divided during the War for Independence. Those loyal to the British crown were known as Loyalists, while those in favor of independence were known as Patriots. These two groups did not get along well during the war as each supported their own sides in a variety of ways. Some people were forced to act as either a Loyalist or a Patriot, depending on which army happened to occupy their town at any given time.

France’s Role

The bottom line here: The U.S. could not have gained its independence if not for France. The French had been competing with the British for global dominance for quite some time. Also, they were embittered by a loss to the British in the Seven Years’ War, known as the French and Indian War in North America. With a little convincing, the French joined the war on the side of the Americans and provided the guns, soldiers, training, and especially naval support the Americans needed to defeat the British.

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence had little effect in the eyes of Great Britain aside from the fact that it was essentially a declaration of war. The document is seen from an American perspective to be one of the most influential documents in our history. It explained the reasons why the United States (or colonies at the time) was breaking away from Britain. The most important ideals set forth in the document are that all people are created equal and they all have rights that cannot be infringed upon, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A New Country

After gaining independence through the Revolutionary War, the new United States was faced with the challenge of creating a new government for the newly independent country. The founders knew exactly what they didn’t want in a new government because of all the reasons the colonies rebelled against Britain. They went about developing the Constitution in order to form a more perfect union.

The U.S. Political System

The U.S. political system is a representative democracy or, essentially, a republic. We, the citizens, elect officials to represent us in government. These representatives make, enforce, or interpret the law for us so that we can go about our daily business without voting on issues regularly. If we don’t agree with the current representation, we always have the choice to vote them out and some else in when elections come around every 2, 4, or 6 years.

Additionally, our representatives work for and represent us. This means that we always have access to write a letter, send an email, make a phone call, or knock on their doors to make our concerns known. We have active participation in this way as well as the ability to run for public office, if desired.

The Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation was the original system of government that the newly independent United States used. It was largely characterized as a loose union of states in which each state had a lot of power (so much so that each state had their own currency) and the national government had very little power or responsibility outside of foreign affairs and national defense. The Articles proved weak in maintaining a national identity and strong support for the U.S. as a whole. Many people were far more devoted to their own state. This was one catalyst for a redesign and the creation of our current U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution

The U.S. Constitution was the most important document in U.S. History and is still so today. It outlines the rights of citizens and the responsibility of government. All citizens should have a general understanding of the Constitution and how our government works. After all, our government depends on active, informed citizen participation in order to succeed.

Government Principles and Political Philosophy

For this section, you need to be able to explain the major principles of government outlined in the Constitution. In other words, make sure you know and can describe how our government system works. The emphasis here is on the separation of powers and federalism.

Separation of powers— In U.S. government, power is divided between three branches: the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The legislative branch makes laws, the judicial branch interprets the law (making sure it aligns with the Constitution), and the executive branch enforces the law.

Federalism— In a federalist system, power is divided between multiple levels of government. In the U.S., we have the federal, or national, government at the highest level, then state governments, and local governments. Each level has varying responsibilities, jurisdictions, and functions.

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights includes the first ten amendments to the Constitution and provides all U.S. citizens with rights and freedoms that cannot be denied. Some of these include the right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, the prohibition of quartering of soldiers, etc. These Constitutional rights form the foundation of American society.

Political Parties

In his farewell address, George Washington warned against the rise of a two-party system (which we see today) for fear that only two party platforms could not adequately represent the feelings and views of all Americans. The rise of political parties occurred relatively quickly in the early 1800s in an attempt to best represent the opinions of all Americans yet also gain power in Congress through representation. Be sure you know how these parties evolved over time and how their policies impacted economic development.

Regional Identities

There are several elements that have contributed to regional identities across the United States. Be sure to consider the history, culture, economics, and geography of each region that led to the formation of distinct regional identities.

The North/Northeast— New England was always characterized by more urban living and industry than other regions.

The South— Characterized by agricultural production, heavy reliance on the institution of slavery for a long period.

The West— Historically characterized by the pioneer lifestyle as the border was continually pushed westward. For a long period, the West represented opportunity and new beginnings as people flocked westward in search of a new life and land through the Homestead Act.

Important Influences

The following are a few major themes that aid in contextualizing the new nation. These important influences are helpful in understanding what happened in the United States early on and how those actions influenced the growth and creation of the country we have today.

Westward Movement

The United States pursued a doctrine of Manifest Destiny in the early 1800s, which basically stated that it was the fate of the United States to expand westward to the Pacific Ocean. One way the government encouraged people to move west was through the Homestead Act, which provided free land to anyone able to settle it and improve it by building a structure on it. Prior to the era of railroads, people primarily moved west on covered wagons on the Oregon Trail. You should be able to describe this process based on your understanding of Manifest Destiny and the Homestead Act.

U.S. Border Expansion

During the same time period, the early half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. expanded the border further west in a variety of ways. You need to be able to describe this progression through a series of purchases, annexations, and war victories. The U.S. gained territory through purchasing it, as in the case of the Louisiana Purchase and the Alaska Purchase. The country also annexed territory, as in the case of Texas or Native territories. Finally, the U.S. expanded the border and gained territory through war victories in the Mexican-American War as well as the Spanish-American War. As these new territories were populated, there was a process that each went through in order to become a state and gain representation at the federal level.

Government Policies

During the early years of its existence, the U.S. government took a particularly harsh stance toward Native Americans. The Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed by President Andrew Jackson, forced nearly all Native tribes living in the Southeast to be relocated to reservations west of the Mississippi to make room for white settlement of the area. The journey, known as the Trail of Tears, killed millions of Indians and caused them to lose their ancestral lands.

In terms of foreign policy, the U.S. was very young and fragile on the world stage at this time. The war of 1812 was an attempt by the U.S. to stop British violation of maritime law and hopefully gain new territory, like Canada, in the process. The war was a big win for the U.S. in that it legitimized the United States as a country on the world stage and marked the last time that the U.S. would be invaded by a foreign power. Following the war, in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was signed, which opposed European influence in the Western hemisphere and also stated that the U.S. would not interfere in European affairs. This doctrine essentially drove U.S. foreign policy up until WWI.

Roles of Minorities

In the early years of U.S. society, minorities had little to no rights. Despite claims made about all men being created equal with rights gauranteed by the Constitution, slavery still existed (mostly in the South) and slaves were considered property. Free blacks were more common in the North, but they still did not enjoy all of the rights and freedoms that whites did. Women were also not considered equals in society as they could not vote. Women and children were also viewed as cheap sources of labor as they were often allowed to do the same jobs as men but were paid far less.

As immigrant populations flocked to the U.S. seeking a better life, they often faced discrimination for their differences. Irish immigrants were largely Catholic and many Americans viewed them as the Pope’s spies, not to be trusted. Chinese migrant workers were discriminated against to the point of laws being passed to restrict the number allowed into the U.S. However, the U.S. is celebrated as a nation of immigrants today due to their influence on the nature of present society.

The Civil War

The Civil War was a defining event in the history of the U.S. Be sure you know the causes of the war, the main events, and the lasting impacts of the war, including Reconstruction.

The Anti-Slavery Movement

The movement against slavery in the United States began as early as Independence when some people believed that independence from Britain should mean freedom for all. As time progressed, slave populations increased along with reliance on slave labor. People like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe were active abolitionists, traveling the country and lobbying Congress to end slavery. Many representatives of southern states defended slavery because of the immense value of slave labor and agricultural production to the southern economy. Congress attempted to compromise multiple times by limiting how many new slave states could join the country.

Causes of the Civil War

Slavery was one of the main causes of the Civil War as it related to state’s rights and the economy. Many states in the South depended on agricultural production as the cornerstone of their economy. Abolishing slavery would greatly impact the profits these states made. Additionally, states in the South viewed a federal measure to abolish slavery as a violation of the rights of a state to make its own laws. Therefore, the economic value of slavery and the political actions surrounding slavery were main causes of the war. Be sure to review the doctrine of nullification and secession as it relates to the rights of states if you are unsure of what they mean.

Major Battles

You need to be able to identify some major battles of the Civil War and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Union and the Confederacy. A quick overview of five battles is provided for you below.

Bull Run

The Civil War did not go very well for the Union for the first few years. The Confederacy was able to strategically defeat the Union Army at several key battles early on, including the First Battle of Bull Run. Neither army was particularly prepared, but the Union entered the war believing that the rebellion would be crushed quickly and everyone could go home soon after. Bull Run proved that the war would not be any small venture for either side.

Glorieta Pass

Next, the Battle of Glorieta Pass is significant to note. This battle was not major in the sense of manpower, but it was important because of its geography. Taking place in Colorado, the battle was technically a victory for the Confederates in that they forced a Union retreat. However, Union soldiers were able to destroy Confederate supply wagons during the battle, which forced a Confederate retreat out of Colorado and prevented the South from ever gaining a real foothold in the West.


The third battle worth mentioning is Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. This 1862 battle marked the bloodiest single day of fighting during the war—and all of American history. The battle itself ended in a draw, but the Confederates were forced to flee back to Virginia to resupply and, in that sense, the Union succeeded by preventing a large scale Southern invasion of the North.


Fourth, the Battle of Gettysburg is one of the best known and most significant battles of the war. It is often referred to as the turning point of the war. It was the South’s second attempt to invade the North and take cities like Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. However, the Union was under new leadership this time, and they were able to form strong defensive positions and patiently repel Confederate attacks for 3 days. The infamous Pickett’s Charge failed to adequately break through Union lines and the Confederates were forced to retreat back to Virginia. There is some speculation that had the South won Gettysburg, they may have won the war and their independence.


Fifth and finally, the Siege of Vicksburg in Mississippi is a notable battle because it was a Union victory that came on the same day as the victory at Gettysburg. Union troops had surrounded the city from May until July, when the defenders finally surrendered. This victory gave the Union full control of the Mississippi River and, coupled with the win at Gettysburg, it was a major moral booster for the Union and a hard blow to the Confederacy.


Reconstruction refers to the era following the Civil War when the South underwent a series of changes and rebuilding after the war. Views on Reconstruction vary greatly depending on whether you take a northern or southern perspective. The South resented the presence of the North. The North viewed their presence as necessary to enforce all new social changes including the abolition of slavery and the rights and freedoms that came with it for African Americans.

Over time, Reconstruction was abandoned as southern states found ways to limit African American participation in government and gain more influence in Congress. This led to a series of Jim Crow (segregation) laws being passed in many southern states that basically forced African Americans back into a state of inferiority to whites in society.

Industrial America

The United States experienced rapid industrial growth in the late 1800s. This period of industrialization and development is often referred to as the Gilded Age.

Urban Growth

As new factories were being built and new industries developed, people moved to urban areas in search of work. Growth largely occurred in cities across the North, specifically the Great Lakes region. Pittsburgh became a leading producer of steel during this time, and Detroit would soon become the center of automobile manufacturing. Waterways still provided the fastest and easiest method of industrial shipping, but railroads also contributed to the industrial boom, allowing cities to locate away from rivers or water bodies.


Immigrants came to the United States in record numbers during this period in search of work. Many places in Europe were industrializing and experiencing a population boom as well but simply did not have jobs available for everyone, leading to an influx of migrants to America. Immigrants greatly contributed to the economic development and cultural diversity of the United States but were often confined to low-income neighborhoods or viewed with suspicion upon arrival.

Renewal of Nativism

In response to such large numbers of immigrants entering the country, a movement known as nativism gained popularity. Nativism sought to limit the number of immigrants that could come to the United States through political legislation. Additionally, it advocated for a variety of laws that gave preference to American born citizens over immigrants.


Many inventions were born out of the Industrial Revolution. Several of note were the cotton gin, the lightbulb, the telegraph, the automobile, and the assembly line. These new inventions, along with many others, greatly improved the quality of life at the time and laid the foundation for future technological advancements that would further improve living conditions.

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