There is probably no need to point out that this page will be added to. Maps are provided from the Perry-Castañeda Map Library at the University of Texas and the Atlas Section of the History Department United States Military Academy.

1802 $ Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association

Thomas Jefferson's brief missive containing the phrase "...a wall of separation between church and State."

1803 $ Louisiana Purchase Treaties

The treaty and two conventions transferred the area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains from France to the United States for a price of $15 million. Then President Thomas Jefferson had originally intended to buy only New Orleans and West Florida. Offered the entire territory, Robert Livingston and James Madison, Jefferson's negotiators, exceeded their instructions and agreed. Jefferson backed them against opposition by the Federalists, the opposition party in government, and essentially doubled the size of the United States. Map
$ The Louisiana Purchase [Discovering Louis and Clark, 1999 VIAS]

1804-06 $ The Journals of Lewis and Clark

At the behest of then President Thomas Jefferson, Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, with a company of 42 men, set out on May 14 from Camp Dubois on the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to seek a water route across the continent to the Pacific. A year and a half later, on November 15, 1805, they reached the ocean. The following year, on September 23, they arrived back at St. Louis on the Mississippi. Their journey represents the first American exploration of the continent, and the first white exploration over much of their voyage.
The link above gives access to selections form the journals. See also:
$ The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition [The Nebraska Edition, Gary E. Moulton, ed.]
$ Bring Your Party Back Safe: Medicine & Health on the Lewis and Clark Expedition: [The University of Virginia]
$ Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America [The Library of Congress]
$ Discovering Lewis and Clark [2003, VIAs Inc.]
$ Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery [Florentine Films and WETA, Washington, D.C.]
$ Lewis and Clark [National Geographic Society]

1814 $ Treaty of Ghent

The treaty ended the War of 1812 with Great Britain. The war grew in part out of Great Britain's conflict with France and its policy of stopping neutral shipping to the Continent, which seriously jeopardized American trade. Moreover, Britain's policy of impressing sailors on neutral ships as "deserters" — often American citizens, not British subjects — enraged the American public. Other issues included Britain's incitement of Indian attacks on American settlements around the Great Lakes and its continued occupation of fortifications ceded to the United States in the Revolutionary War.
The United States declared war June 18, 1812. Attempts to invade Canada were turned back, and the war went badly for the United States until September of 1814 when Thomas Macdonough defeated a British fleet on Lake Champlain and forced an invading British Army back into Canada. The British, already in negotiations, decided to end the war. The treaty was signed on December 24, 1814.
Interestingly, the most famous battle of the war, Andrew Jackson's defeat of the British at New Orleans, was fought fifteen days later, too soon for news of the treaty to have reached the combatants. Map

1819 $ Unitarian Christianity: William Ellery Channing

Channing's sermon, delivered in Baltimore at the ordination of the Rev. Jared Sparks, is his rejection of the tenents of Calvinism, which had dominated Christianity in America since the beginning of English settlement.

1820 $ The Missouri Compromise

The Compromise represented the first answer to what would become an intractable conflict between slave and free states over the new territories in the West. Missouri, the first state carved from the Louisiana Territory was slated to enter the Union as a slave state, a fact which would have upset the balance in Congress between the North and the South. The Compromise balanced Missouri's entry as a slave state with Maine's entry as a free one. It also set the northern limit of slavery at 30° 30' (with the exception of Missouri, itself). The law was effectively repealed in 1854 by the Kansas-Nebraska Act which made the question of slavery in any new state a matter for the voters of the state, and was held unconstitutional in 1857 by the Dred Scott Decision which held that Congress hadn't the power to ban or deprive a person of their property, i.e. slaves, in the territories. Map

1830 $ The Hayne-Webster Debate [Outside Link]

This Senate debate between Robert Hayne of South Carolina and Daniel Webster of Masschusetts defined a crucial constitutional conflict between North and South in the years leading up to the Civil War: the question of "states' rights" and "nullification". Hayne, arguing for the South, maintained that the states were sovereign and equal to the federal government with respect to the Constitution and therefore had the right to ignore — or nullify — laws they considered unconstitutional. For the North, Webster argued that the Constitution was not an equal contract between the federal government and the states, but a creation of the American people as a whole, which made the federal government superior to the states. Webster argued that the states had no right to judge the constitutionality of federal laws, but that such power was lodged in the Supreme Court. Much of the South's anxiety turned on its need to protect slavery and the interests of an agrarian economy in conflict with the manufactures of the North. In the debates, this anxiety turns on issues like the Tariff of 1828 and the disposition of western lands, but both men took ample opportunity to spell out their constitutional theories. In the end, the Northern approach to the Constitution would prevail, but "states' rights" would remain a rallying cry well into the middle of the twentieth century focusing on another issue of race: segregation. Moreover, the issue remains alive today in the form of debates over "federalism" respecting the relative powers of the state and federal governments.

1830 $ The Indian Removal Act / Jackson's Second Annual Message

The Act mandated the removal of all Native Americans from their lands east of the Mississippi to Oklahoma and parts of Kansas. The main theater of removal was the Southeast, affecting the Cherokee, Creeks, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminoles, though tribes living in the Great Lakes Region were also forced west.
The Act represented betrayal on several levels, though primarily the government's tacit commitment since Jefferson that Native Americans could remain in their lands if they adopted white culture. That is what the "Five Civilized Tribes" of the Southeast had done. By the late 1820s, however, pressure from white citizens of the states in which Indian lands were located upset the bargain. In 1829 the newly elected President, Andrew Jackson, made relocation a central goal of his administration, willing even to ignore a Supreme Court decision to achieve it.
Removal did not happen all at once, and Native American resistance took many forms, from attempts at compromise and assimilation, to legal action and outright war. Nothing availed. The high point of the tragedy occured with the Cherokee "Trail of Tears" in 1838 in which 16,000 people were marched from Georgia to Oklahoma, a quarter of them dying along the way. The final removals did not take place until 1858 as the last of the Seminoles were expelled from Florida with the end of the Third Seminole War.

1832 $ President Andrew Jackson's Nullification Proclamation

The Proclamation was Jackson's response to South Carolina's Exposition and Protest — penned by John C. Calhoun — which rejected the Tariffs of 1828 (the Tariff of Abominations) and of 1832 as unfair to the agrarian interest of the South and, more importantly, as unconstitutional. South Carolina again asserted the right of individual states to "interpose" or nullify federal laws deemed unconstitutional. Jackson rejected this, pointing out that to give each state the power to ignore Congress, and to define for itself the criteria for doing so, would leave the federal governent an empty shell and lead ultimately to disunion. Moreover, he argued, there was absolutely no basis for it in the Constitution — a position which the South had steadfastly argued for, finding justification in both Madison's and Jefferson's response to the Alien and Sedition Acts (see above). Jackson finally warned South Carolina that nullification would be met with force by the federal government. Jackson backed up this threat with the Force Bill of 1833, which reasserted the President's right to use state militias, the army and the navy to quell insurrections. South Carolina withdrew the Protest, and the same year a compromise bill was passed which gradually lessened the tariffs the South had opposed.

1848 $ Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo

The treaty ended the Mexican War. The inciting cause of the war was America's annexation of the then independent Texas, independence which Mexico had never recognized. In late April 1846 an American patrol was attacked by the Mexican Army north of the Rio Grande, American territory. In May, Gen. Zachary Taylor twice defeated a superior force of Mexicans, and on May 13 President James Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war.
By September 1847 Mexico City had been captured and Mexico sued for peace. The end of the war brought the entire Southwest and California into the United States, the third major territorial gain for the nation. The new lands immediately became an object of contention between slave-owning and anti-slavery interests in the United States, a conflict only finally resolved by the Civil War. Map. Map.

1850 $ The Fugitive Slave Act

Part of the Compromise of 1850 — a series of laws which temporarily settled the simmering conflict between slave and non-slave states over new territories added after the Mexican War — the Fugitive Slave Act required the Northern states to return escaped slaves to their southern owners. The law was heavily weighted in favor of slave owners: accused fugitive slaves could not testify in their own behalf; northern magistrates and marshals who refused to pursue escaped slaves could be fined up to $1000, as could anyone who harbored an escaped slave; bounties were paid to those who arrested escaped slaves; and the commissioners hearing the cases were paid more to return slaves than to release them.
Injustices naturally flowed from the law. Free African-Americans as well as those long-escaped from the South and settled in the North could be caught up and sent into slavery. Northerners were enraged, not least at the obvious injustices, but also that the law required their complicity. Mobs forced commissioners to release captive African-Americans, and northern states passed personal liberty laws, though these were later overturned by the Supreme Court.

1852 $ Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

Delivered July 5 before the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, N.Y., Douglass' speech compares the state of white America and its celebration of freedom with that of black America, still mired in slavery. Unlike many of his contemporaries, including the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass does not indict the Founders or the Constitution, as both articulated extraordinary ideals. His "business", as he put it, was not with the past, but with the present. It was for the present to recognize the hypocracy of their celebration and to extend the ideals contained in that celebration to all.
Douglass did not mince words. To whites, from the slave point of view, he writes: " your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages."
And yet, Douglass refused to believe that slavery was inevitable or permanent: "Allow me to say...notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. "The arm of the Lord is not shortened," and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope."

1854 $ The Kansas Nebraska Act

The act created the Kansas and Nebraska Territories. It represented another compromise between slave and anti-slave interests by leaving the issue of whether to allow slavery up to the inhabitants of each territory on the assumption that the northern territory of Nebraska would reject it and the southern Kansas would accept it. The Act effectively overturned the Missouri Compromise [see above] as both territories were above the 36° 30' latitude at which the Compromise had set the northern limit of slavery.

THE CIVIL WAR: 1860 - 1865

1861 $ Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

By the date of Lincoln's inauguration, March 4, six states in the deep South had already voted to secede; a move largely precipitated by his election the November before. The speech was addressed to them. It is an extended argument against secession: that there was neither need nor justification for it; that it was illegitimate; that it was in no one's interest, including those of the secessionists. It urges caution, patience, reconsideration as well as trust in the institutions of democratic government — primarily the Constitution — and in the people themselves, to resolve the issues facing North and South. It is also a firm statement of his intention to maintain the Union. That was paramount, a fact born out by the address's original belligerency on that point. It was William Seward, his Secretray of State, who urged and succeeded in convincing Lincoln to adopt a more irenic tone, including the theme of the oft-quoted end. The words, however, are Lincoln's own, and characteristic of all his writing: plain, pointed and compelling.

1862 $ The Homestead Act

The Act was meant to fulfill a nearly century-old desire to settle the vacant lands of the West. Opposed both by northern businessmen who feared the loss of cheap labor and the Southern states who feared homesteaders would oppose slavery in the newly settled territories, the Act was passed after secession on May 20, and took effect January 1, 1863, the same day as the Emancipation Proclamation.
Generally, the act provided that anyone over twenty-one might claim 160 acres of surveyed government land; and so long as he or she "improved" it and lived on it continuously for 5 years would own it free and clear. Though overwhelmingly important to the settlement of the West, the act was not an unqualified success. While by 1904 500 million acres had been dispersed by the Government Land Office, only 80 million had gone to homesteaders, the balance going to speculators, cattlemen, lumbermen and the railroads. Moreover, many small homsteaders, eager for land but ignorant of what to do with it, failed.
The Act was repealed in 1976 for the lower 48 states, and for Alaska in 1986.

1862 $ The Pacific Railway Act

The Act created the legal and financial framework on which the Transcontinental Railroad, the first to cross the western two thirds of America, from the Mississippi to the Pacific, was created. Much amended, the original Act incorporated the Union Pacific Railroad and authorized it to build westward from Omaha, Nebraska, and authorized the Central Pacific to build eastward from San Francisco. The two met at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869.
The project was primarily subsidized from the grant of extensive lands along the right-of-way to the two companies. The sale of this land to settlers as well as the fact that the railroad reduced the coast-to-coast journey from six months to six days, opened the West to settlement, permanently altering both the physical and cultural geography of the nation.

1863 $ The Emancipation Proclamation

The Proclamation, delivered January 1, culminated a process by which Northern Republicans like Lincoln deprived the Confederacy of one of its major assets, its slaves. While Lincoln abhorred slavery, he did not think the Constitution allowed his interference with it. Moreover, ending it would have alienated Northern Democrats and slave-holding border states which supported the Union. But the war also gave him a weapon against it: slaves could be taken as contraband of war, and that was the theoretical foundation of the Proclamation. This, however, only justified the freeing of slaves in states in rebellion, and only so long as they were in rebellion, which is what the proclamation did. Lincoln was concerned that slavery would continue in loyal states, and might even be restored in the South after the war. To avoid this, Republicans passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified December 18, 1865, which ended slavery everywhere.

1863 $ The Gettysburg Address

The address is a simple but powerful evocation of sacrifice, and the profound humility of the living before it. Lincoln found meaning for that sacrifice in the ideas of the Declaration of Independence, its equality of rights and popular soverignty. By doing so, Lincoln both set the war firmly within America's tradition of equality and freedom, and gave that tradition new life for the future.
It was delivered November 18 to dedicate a cemetery for for the Union dead at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Despite legend, it was not hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope during Lincoln's journey from Washington. It was little noticed at the time.


1865 $ Lincoln's Second Innaugural Address

Unlike the Gettysburg address, which began and ended with the nation and the nation's meaning, Lincoln's Second Innaugural is a reminder of God, of slavery as an "offense" to God, and that the war, for both North and South, may very well be the price God exacted for that offense. With judgment falling on all, Lincoln concluded that neither side is fit to judge the other, and with the passing of God's wrath at the end of the conflict, there will be no room for man's. This message — "with malice toward none, with charity for all" — was Lincoln's intended program for the reconstruction of the nation. The speech was delivered March 4. A little over a month later, on April 9, Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and six days after that, Lincoln was dead. Reconstruction would be left in other hands.

1866 $ The Civil Rights Act of 1866

Passed April 6th, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizens "of every race and color" a wide range of specific civil rights, including those "...to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property..." The Act also included both broad federal excutive and judicial authority to guarantee those rights. The act was passed by a Congress dominated by Republicans and wholly in the hands of northerners as Congress had, at the end of 1865, refused to seat any southern delegation.
The Act was originally vetoed by President Andrew Johnson who believed the broad federal power over the states was an unconstitutional infringement of states' rights. Congress over-rode the veto, and passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution the following June in order to protect it from Constitutional challenge.
Though the law remained valid, the withdrawl of northern troops and administrators, as well as the indifference of the North to civil rights after the end of Reconstruction in 1877, left its enforcement to southern governments who ignored its provisions in favor of Jim Crow laws that deepened and institutionalized southern racism.

1872 $ An Act to set apart a certain Tract of Land lying near the Head-waters of the Yellowstone River as a public Park.

On March, 1, Congress created America's first national park. Even at what might seem an early date in the exploitation of the West, the Interior Department's report to Congress stressed the need for haste: "Persons are now waiting for the spring to open to enter in and take possession of these remarkable curiosities, to make merchandise of these beautiful specimens, to fence in these rare wonders so as to charge visitors a fee, as is now done at Niagara Falls, for the sight of that which ought to be as free as the air or water." adding, "If this bill fails to become a law this session, the vandals who are now waiting to enter into this wonderland will, in a single season despoil, beyond recovery, these remarkable curiosities which have required all the cunning skill of nature thousands of years to prepare." Congress voted approval within the week, establishing the principle that the wonders of the American wilderness were the common property of all Americans for all time.

1875 $ The Civil Rights Act of 1875

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 stated that blacks were "...entitled to the full and equal and enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color..." The Act was passed at the closing of the period of Reconstruction in the final days of the last Republican Congress before the Democratic take-over in March of that year. The Act also represented in part the work of black legislators who had served during Reconstruction.
Little honored, if at all, the Act was overturned by the Supreme Court in The Civil Rights Cases in 1883. It was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1965 which applied Title II of the 1964 Act to the states that African-Americans were finally guaranteed these rights.

1882 $ The Chinese Exclusion Act

The Act halted the flow of Chinese immigrant labor into the United States that had begun in earnest in 1848, spurred by civil wars in China, the California Gold Rush, and the sudden availability of transportation occasioned by the opening of Chinese ports to British, and later American, shipping after China's defeat in the Opium Wars. Chinese labor, at first welcomed, especially in the 1860s for the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, garnered growing opposition after its completion, especially among western labor leaders, who feared competition from cheap Chinese labor — a fear justified in part by the frequent use by business owners of Chinese laborers to replace or intimidate striking or disgruntled native laborers. Added to this was an anti-Asian racism which treated the Chinese — and later Japanese and Koreans — as a threat to public health and morality. The Act also barred those Chinese in the United States from becoming citizens. The Act — the first immigration legislation based on a racial classification — was to last for ten years.
Subsequent legislation, the Scott Act of 1888, made it impossible for Chinese leaving the United States to return. In 1892 the Geary Act renewed the original law for another ten years. It was extended again in 1902 and made permanent in 1904. The Act was finally repealed by the Magnuson Act of 1943.

1883 $ The Civil Service Act (Pendleton Act)
Named for its sponsor, Senator John Hunt Pendleton, the Act ended the "spoils system" of government appointments, substituting an impartial, merit-based examination system, and prohibited the solicitation of campaign contributions of either money or advocacy from among government employees.
Prior to the Act, even minor government jobs were handed out by the President and members of Congress as rewards for political support. This spoils system became entrenched under President Andrew Jackson in 1830 who justified it as a proper perquisite of political victory. As the 19th century wore on, however, the low competency of many employees, their constant churning as the two parties rotated in and out of office — a party change often meant mass-firings and rehirings — and their tendency to place more importance among civil servants on keeping their jobs by serving their political patrons than by serving the public, became more and more irrational with the growth and increasing complexity of government. The assassination of President Garfield by a disappointed office-seeker provided the catalyst for its passage; and it was signed by his Vice-President and successor, Chester Arthur, in January, 1883. Originally, the Act covered only customs and postal employees, about 10% of the civil service. Subsequent legislation, particularly the Hatch Act of 1939, expanded its coverage to over 90%.

1887 $ Interstate Commerce Act

Though it scarcely makes for inspiring reading, the Interstate Commerce Act was the federal government's first foray into economic regulation; and the Interstate Commerce Commission, which the Act created, the first federal regulatory agency. The legislation was aimed squarely at the railroads of the era, and was intended to allay widespread dissatisfaction with what was considered their predatory pricing practices. State attempts at regulation, particularly in the South and Midwest, where farmers were especially distressed with rail rates, had largely failed. Then, in 1886, the Supreme Courrt in Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad Company v. Illinois overturned an Illinois regulatory law on the grounds that, under Article 1, sec. 8 of the Constitution, only Congress had the power to regulate interstate commerce. Congress was forced to act, and the legislation passed with the support of both parties.
Like similar early legislation of the type, the Interstate Commerce Act was far from perfect. Far less than the Act's actual provisions, it was in the precedent it set that it was most effective. Through the commerce power, Congress has been able to exercise a police power — to make laws affecting citizens' health, safety and security — similar to that of the states, and has set standards for everything from the sale of stocks to the condition of the environment. This broad use of the commerce power has always been controversial. It was not until the late 1930s that the Courts finally relented on Congress' extensive use of it — a position that some modern jurisprudence is inclined to reverse.

1889 $ Wealth: Andrew Carnegie

This essay, by one of America's richest, self-made, men, is Carnegie's idea of how wealth must and should be created, and how it should eventually be used. Carnegie thoroughly believed in the free market capitalism — the "laws of accumulation" and "distribution" should be left free — and that, despite what he admitted were its costs, it was the foundation of civilization. But he also believed that acquired wealth came from society, and to society it should be returned. Ideally this would be in the form of philanthropy practiced during the life of the philanthropist. He didn't much respect men who left their millions upon their death, writing, "Men who leave vast sums in this way may fairly be thought men who would not have left it at all had they been able to take it with them." Less did he respect those who left great wealth to their heirs, which he called "vanity". As an antidote, he advocated a progressive, and some might say rather confiscatory, inheritance tax.
Carnegie's approach to philanthropy might be considered paternal — he believed that the rich knew better than the poor what was good for them — and somewhat harsh — that money should not be wasted on the "unworthy"; but he practiced a material morality which emphasised an outwardly unostentatious life, and the duty of the wealthy to the society from which their wealth derived. With rare, though notable, exceptions, it is difficlut to find his like today.

1890 $ Sherman Antitrust Act

Named for Senator John Sherman, the Act grew out of widespread concern — among both the public and sectors of the business community — over the activities of the "trusts": large corporations holding monopolies in their respective industries, often gained through unethical and uncompetitive practices. Their positions gave them unprecedented control over both costs and prices beyond or despite what the market value may have been. The model of these trusts was John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company.
The Act banned both "trusts" and "monopolies"; but was flawed by failing to define precisely what those were. Moreover, despite the public outcry and the changing political climate, the courts who adjudicated the antitust cases remained steadfast in their deference to laissez-faire economics and the primacy of private property rights over questions of broader community welfare. See United States v. E.C. Knight Co., one of the first antitrust suits brought under the new law.

1893 $ The Significance of the Frontier in American History

Frederick Jackson Turner's valedictory analysis describes the American frontier's genesis, development and significance in one cogent essay. Read at a meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago on July 12, its broad strokes paint a portrait of the frontier as a defining source of American character, culture and politics. In doing so, it rejected the then-prevailing view that America was solely a product of its Western European heritage — the pioneer was as important as the Puritan. Turner's interpretation remains influential, though no longer definitive. It and related essays were published in book-form in 1920. Our link is to the text provided by the American Studies Department of the University of Virginia.