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| The modern American economy traces its roots to the quest of European settlers for economic gain in the 16th, 17th, and 18th | |centuries. The New World then progressed from a marginally successful colonial economy to a small, independent farming economy and,| |eventually, to a highly complex industrial economy. During this evolution, the United States developed ever more complex | |institutions to match its growth. And while government involvement in the economy has been a consistent theme, the extent of that | |involvement generally has increased. | | North America's first inhabitants were Native Americans -- indigenous peoples who are believed to have traveled to America | |about 20,000 years earlier across a land bridge from Asia, where the Bering Strait is today. (They were mistakenly called "Indians"| |by European explorers, who thought they had reached India when first landing in the Americas.) These native peoples were organized | |in tribes and, in some cases, confederations of tribes. While they traded among themselves, they had little contact with peoples on| |other continents, even with other native peoples in South America, before European settlers began arriving. What economic systems | |they did develop were destroyed by the Europeans who settled their lands. | | Vikings were the first Europeans to "discover" America. But the event, which occurred around the year 1000, went largely | |unnoticed; at the time, most of European society was still firmly based on agriculture and land ownership. Commerce had not yet | |assumed the importance that would provide an impetus to the further exploration and settlement of North America. | | In 1492, Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailing under the Spanish flag, set out to find a southwest passage to Asia and | |discovered a "New World." For the next 100 years, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French explorers sailed from Europe for | |the New World, looking for gold, riches, honor, and glory. | | But the North American wilderness offered early explorers little glory and less gold, so most did not stay. The people who | |eventually did settle North America arrived later. In 1607, a band of Englishmen built the first permanent settlement in what was | |to become the United States. The settlement, Jamestown, was located in the present-day state of Virginia. | |Colonization | | Early settlers had a variety of reasons for seeking a new homeland. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts were pious, self-disciplined| |English people who wanted to escape religious persecution. Other colonies, such as Virginia, were founded principally as business | |ventures. Often, though, piety and profits went hand-in-hand. | | England's success at colonizing what would become the United States was due in large part to its use of charter companies. | |Charter companies were groups of stockholders (usually merchants and wealthy landowners) who sought personal economic gain and, | |perhaps, wanted also to advance England's national goals. While the private sector financed the companies, the King provided each | |project with a charter or grant conferring economic rights as well as political and judicial authority. The colonies generally did | |not show quick profits, however, and the English investors often turned over their colonial charters to the settlers. The political| |implications, although not realized at the time,...