Chronology (1776-1838)

1776 Declaration of Independence

1787 - The Constitution

1787 The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation (1777, the first Constitution of the USA). It was sent to the states for ratification (1787 - 1790).

The Constitution did not apply to Indians who were considered as belonging to foreign nations, and slavery was not mentioned as such in the Constitution. But the Constitution actually referred to slaves.

The three fifths compromise meant that five slaves equaled 3 white men in terms of population for representation in the House of Representatives.

The Fugitive Slave Clause of Article IV of the federal Constitution:

No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
1791 the Bill of Rights or first ten Amendments to the Constitution
The first ten amendments to the US Constitution, described by Jefferson as "what the people are entitled to against every government on earth." They are
(1) freedom of press, speech, and religion;
(2) the right to bear arms;
(3) prohibition of quartering of troops;
(4) protection against unlawful search and seizure;
(5) the right of due process of law;
(6) the right to a fair and public trial;
(7) the right to a trial by jury;
(8) prohibition of cruel punishments;
(9) protection of nonenumerated rights; and
(10) reservation of powers, i.e. powers not reserved for the federal government reside in the states.
(The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001, © Market House Books Ltd 2000 - © 2001


Thomas Jefferson, when president, tried to implement his agrarian ideal as much as he could. This agrarian ideal aimed at transforming American citizens into small, individual, educated, virtuous, independent farmers. Jefferson hoped to integrate Indians into American society by transforming them into farmers.
1803 Louisiana Purchase
Jefferson bought Louisiana—the territory from New orleans to the Rockies at the time—from France, which opened the way for westward expansion and appropriation of Indian lands, and doubled the size of the nation. It was called the Louisiana Purchase.
1803-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition - Sacagawea
The expedition was commissioned by Jefferson to explore the territories of the Louisiana purchase and the west of the continent. The expedition was greatly helped, and possibly saved from Indian attacks, by an Indian woman. She was the wife of Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian hired by Lewis and Clark as a guide. He name was Sacagawea.
"Sacagawea turned out to be incredibly valuable to the Corps as it traveled westward, through the territories of many new tribes. Some of these Indians, prepared to defend their lands, had never seen white men before. As Clark noted on October 19, 1805, the Indians were inclined to believe that the whites were friendly when they saw Sacagawea. A war party never traveled with a woman -- especially a woman with a baby. During council meetings between Indian chiefs and the Corps where Shoshone was spokne, Sacagawea was used and valued as an interpreter." (
1808 Senate prohibited further importation of slaves

1820 The Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise excluded slavery from Louisiana Purchase lands north of 36° 31'.

Missouri was to enter the Union (= the United States) as a full state but the question was to know whether it would enter the Union as a free state or as a slave state: no political solution could be found until Henry Clay arranged a compromise: Missouri would be admitted as a slave state. Maine would be cut loose from Massachusetts as a free state, and Congress decreed that slavery would be excluded north of the parallel 36° 30'.

1830 the Indian Removal Act of 1830
This act was a law supported by Andrew Jackson that forced Native Americans, especially Cherokees, to move west of the Mississippi. President Andrew Jackson had little sympathy for the Indians and ignored the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Indians.
1838 Trail of Tears ("The Trail On Which We Cried")
The Cherokee [in Georgia] having fought through the courts to stay, found themselves divided. Some recognized the hopelessness of further resistance and accepted removal as the only chance to preserve their civilization. The leaders of this minority signed a treaty in 1835 in which they agreed to exchange their southern home for western land. But when the time for evacuation came in 1838, most Cherokee refused to move. President Martin Van Buren then sent federal troops to round up the Indians. About twenty thousand Cherokee were evicted, held in detention camps, and marched to Oklahoma under military escort. Nearly one-quarter died of disease and exhaustion on the infamous Trail of Tears. When it was all over the Indians had traded about 100 million acres of land east of the Mississippi for 32 million acres west of the river plus $68 million. (A People and a Nation: A brief History of the United States, Brief Edition, Second Edition, (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company1988), p. 185. ).
1845-1849 President James K. Polk
During the mid-1840s an expansionist mood termed Manifest Destiny gripped the United States as never before. An influential and growing number of citizens asserted that it was the nation’s God-given destiny to expand to the limits of the continent. The Democratic party nominated James K. Polk as president in 1844 on an expansionist platform calling for the " re-examination of Texas and the re-occupation of Oregon " ….
The United States and Great Britain had joint occupation of Oregon country, which at the time included today’s states of Oregon and Washington. When expansionist James K. Polk had become President, he defiantly asserted the American title to the whole of Oregon territory. Polk however was not likely to risk a war with Great Britain. His ambition was to annex California which could lead to a war with Mexico. The British government had their own domestic worries and proposed to extend the international boundary along latitude 49°N to Puget Sound [the bay where Seattle is located], and Polk accepted.

On June 15, 1846 the Oregon treaty was ratified.

In 1845 Texas joined the Union.

1846 - The Mexican government refuses to sell New Mexico and California. War is declared on Mexico.

1846 - In California, American settlers set up the “Bear Flag” Republic, but soon lose power.

1846-1848 - The Mexican War (1846-1848) and the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty (1848 )

The war forced Mexico to recognize the incorporation of Texas into the U.S.A. The United States gained California and New Mexico.
1848-1849 Gold Rush to California

1850 Compromise of 1850 - Fugitive Slave Act

Also called the Omnibus bill, the compromise of 1850, pushed by Kentucky's Henry Clay and Illinois's Stephen A. Douglas, provided for the admission of California as a free state, the establishment of territorial governments in New Mexico and Utah which were free to choose slavery or not, reduction of Texas to its present state boundaries,and the ban of slave trade in DC.
Free states were obliged to arrest runaway slaves and return them to their home states, as stated in the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Many Northerners opposed it and organized "the underground railroad" to help fugitive slaves to reach Canada and freedom.
1851 - First Treaty of Fort Laramie
In this treaty, the Sioux, as well as several other Plains tribes, allowed non-Indians to pass through their territory on their way to the far west. In return, the US government declared that most of the present- day states of North and South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana (134 million acres) comprised the territory of the Great Sioux Nation.

1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act

Kansas and Nebraska were established as territories with the right to self-determination in regard to slavery in an otherwise free-soil area according to the 1820 Missouri Compromise. The act was a clumsy political maneuver of Illinois Democrat Stephen A. Douglas to secure Southern support for a northern transcontinental railroad deal.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and put forward the idea that the settlers of each territory, not the Missouri Compromise nor the Congress should determine the future status of slavery in each new state to be created out of each territory. This was the famous principle now called popular sovereignty which had been enunciated four years earlier in the Compromise of 1850. From the beginning of the republic the law had operated on the assumption that the federal government controlled the territories, that it would dictate the organization of government, and that self-rule would come gradually.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law on May 30, 1854, by which the U.S. Congress established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. By 1854 the organization of the vast Platte and Kansas river countries west of Iowa and Missouri was overdue. As an isolated issue, territorial organization of this area was no problem. It was, however, irrevocably bound to the bitter sectional controversy over the extension of slavery into the territories and was further complicated by conflict over the location of the projected transcontinental railroad. Under no circumstances did proslavery Congressmen want a free territory (Kansas) west of Missouri. Because the West was expanding rapidly, territorial organization, despite these difficulties, could no longer be postponed. Four attempts to organize a single territory for this area had already been defeated in Congress, largely because of Southern opposition to the Missouri Compromise. Although the last of these attempts to organize the area had nearly been successful, Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, decided to offer territorial legislation making concessions to the South. Douglas's motives have remained largely a matter of speculation. Various historians have emphasized Douglas's desire for the Presidency, his wish to cement the bonds of the Democratic party, his interest in expansion and railroad building, or his desire to activate the unimpressive Pierce administration. The bill he reported in Jan., 1854, contained the provision that the question of slavery should be left to the decision of the territorial settlers themselves. This was the famous principle that Douglas now called popular sovereignty, though actually it had been enunciated four years earlier in the Compromise of 1850. In its final form Douglas's bill provided for the creation of two new territories—Kansas and Nebraska—instead of one. The obvious inference—at least to Missourians—was that the first would be slave, the second free. The Kansas-Nebraska Act flatly contradicted the provisions of the Missouri Compromise (under which slavery would have been barred from both territories); indeed, an amendment was added specifically repealing that compromise. This aspect of the bill in particular enraged the antislavery forces, but after three months of bitter debate in Congress, Douglas, backed by President Pierce and the Southerners, saw it adopted. Its effects were anything but reassuring to those who had hoped for a peaceful solution. The popular sovereignty provision caused both proslavery and antislavery forces to marshal strength and exert full pressure to determine the “popular” decision in Kansas in their own favor, using groups such as the Emigrant Aid Company. The result was the tragedy of “bleeding” Kansas. Northerners and Southerners were aroused to such passions that sectional division reached a point that precluded reconciliation. A new political organization, the Republican party, was founded by opponents of the bill, and the United States was propelled toward the Civil War. (P. O. Ray, The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise (1909, repr. 1965).
1857 Dred Scott Decision
Chief Justice Taney and a majority of the Supreme Court declared that Congress had no power to exclude slavery from the territories. The Supreme Court denied citizenship to U.S. Blacks and Congress’s right to exclude slavery from the territories. The ruling made slavery legal in all the territories, thereby adding fuel to the sectional controversy and pushing the nation along the road to civil war. The decision was a clear victory for the slaveholding South.
1860 The first state to secede was South Carolina on Dec. 20, 1860

1861 Lincoln is inaugurated (March 4, 1861)

1861 Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861)

Fort Sumter  (near Charleston, South Carolina) was seized by Confederate forces: it was the beginning of the Civil War.
1861-1865 The Civil War
1861 Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee secede. They unite in “the Confederate States of America”. Jefferson Davis is elected President of the Confederation. Ulysses Grant led the Union army. General Lee led the Confederate Army.
1862 The Homestead Act
The Act made it possible for isolated pioneers to settle a plot of land on the frontier. Any citizen over 21 could settle and cultivate up to 160 acres of public domain for five years before he became the owner of his plot.
1863 Emancipation Proclamation makes all slaves free.

1865-1877 Reconstruction of the South

1865 Amendment XIII: Slavery is abolished and prohibited throughout the States.

1865 Ku Klux Klan created

1865-66 Black Codes before Radical Republican Reconstruction, held the freedmen on the plantations where they had worked as slaves.

1866 - The Civil Rights Act in theory gave the right to vote to Blacks.

1866 Amendment XIV

 Amendment XIV creates national citizenship for all males, therefore for Blacks. Along with amendments XIII (abolition of slavery) and XV (the suffrage i.e. the right to vote cannot be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude) it might be looked upon as the peace settlement forced upon the South.
1869 - Amendment XV grants the franchise (the right to vote) to freedmen, i.e. former male slaves.

1869 The first transcontinental railroad

1877 End of Reconstruction.

1876 Little Big Horn : General Custer defeated by Indians.

1887 General Allotment Act of 1887 or the Dawes Act

The old idea of assimilation reappeared. “Carl Schurz, for instance, had believed, already in the 1870’s, that Indians could be regenerated and assimilated, if their tribalism were broken up. The Dawes Act of 1887 had been based on such premises (Merk 242).”
The General Allotment Act of 1887 or the Dawes Act as it is also called, resulted in the sale of 90 million acres of the 140-million-acre Indian estate and allowed low-cost grazing leases [for white ranchers] on the remaining reservation rangelands.
With the Dawes Act, Congress provided for the granting of landholdings (allotments, usually 160 acres/65 hectares) to individual Native Americans, replacing communal tribal holdings. Sponsored by U.S. Senator H. L. Dawes, the act sought to absorb tribe members into the national body politic. Allotments could be sold after a statutory period (25 years), and “surplus” land not allotted was opened to settlers. Within decades following the passage of the act the vast majority of what had been tribal land in the West was in white hands. ( Accessed 11nov. 2000.
1890 Wounded Knee Massacre: last Indian rebellion. Chief Big Foot and his tribe massacred

1890 End of the frontier