Americans were fortunate—or blessed—to have the most bounteous nation on Earth in terms of natural resources and salubrious climate. This fact became steadily more evident as the nation advanced westward in the 19th century. This was a rich land where starvation and pauperism were virtually unknown. Occupying roughly one-third of the North American continent by the middle of the century, the United States contained the world's largest collection of freshwater lakes, plus some of the richest soil, most extensive forests, and mightiest rivers of any region on Earth. All of this was spread out from the broad coastal tidelands of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts across the Great Plains and up to the 10,000-foot mountains of the western Cordillera range before descending again to the Pacific shores.
Climate and geography helped define the United States as much as politics, society, and economy did. In fact, the latter were in many ways dependent upon the former. Droughts and floods, growing seasons, and gold rushes contributed as much to the nation's history as did elections and industrialization.
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