Antebellum and Civil War America, 1784-1865

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1785: Ordinance of 1785
1786: Shay's Rebellion
1787: Northwest Ordinance
1787: Constitutional Convention
1788: Ratification of Constitution
1793: invention of cotton gin
1794: Whiskey Rebellion
1797-1789: XYZ Affair
1798: Alien and Sedition Acts
1798: Nullification Doctrine
1801-1805: Tripolitan War
1803: Marbury v. Madison
1803: Louisiana Purchase
1804: Lewis and Clark expedition
1805: shoemakers' strike
1807: Embargo Act
1812-1815: War of 1812
1817: first steamboat appears in St. Louis
1817: Mississippi becomes 20th state
1818: Illinois becomes 21st state
1818: opening of National Road
1819: Panic of 1819
1819: acquisition of Florida 
1819: Alabama becomes 22nd state
1820: Missouri Compromise
1820: Maine becomes 23rd state
1821: Missouri becomes 24th state
1823: Monroe Doctrine
1825: completion of Erie Canal 
1826: Holbrook founds lyceum
1829: election of Andrew Jackson
1830: formation of Baltimore and 1830: Godey's Lady's Book founded
1831: Nat Turner's Rebellion
1832: Tariff of 1832
1833: U.S. Temperance Society formed
1834: McCormick patents reaper
1835: Colt patents revolver
1836: Mount Holyoke Female Seminary founded
1836: Battle of the Alamo
1836: Arkansas becomes 25th state
1835-1842: Second Seminole War
1837: Michigan becomes 26th state
1837-1844: Panic of 1837
1843-1859: Oregon Trail migration
1845: Texas becomes a state
1846: Mormons found Salt Lake City
1844: Morse demonstrates telegraph 1846: Smithsonian Institution founded
1846: Howe patents "sewing jenny"
1846: Wilmot Proviso
1846-1848: Mexican-American War
1848-1850: California Gold Rush
1846: Morton introduces ether
1848: Seneca Falls convention
1850: Compromise of 1850
1850-1860: railroad boom
1850-1865: daguerreotype craze
1853: Gadsden Purchase
1854-1858: Kansas-Nebraska Act
1857: Dred Scott decision
1857: Panic of 1857
1859: John Brown's revolt
1860: Pony Express runs
1862: Homestead Act 
1862-1869: Transcontinental Railroad built
1863: Emancipation Proclamation
1864: Arlington Cemetery begun
1865: Lincoln assassinated

Updated September 24, 2001
© Mark Canada, 2001

History and Culture

By Mark Canada
Professor, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

The period from 1784 to 1865 was a time of both expansion and division in the United States. After winning their independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War, Americans gradually expanded their nation to the West. Indeed, newspaper editor John O'Sullivan famously proclaimed in 1845 that the land to the West of the original colonies belonged to the United States "by right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federatative self-government entrusted to us." The reality was not as attractive as this idealistic sentiment. For one thing, while the Mormons who migrated to modern-day Utah in the 1840s certainly sought liberty, most of the other people who settled the West were motivated by material concerns. The pioneers who traveled on the Oregon Trail in the 1830s and 1840s, for example, sought land where they could earn a decent living, while some heading west during the 1849 California Gold Rush hoped to get rich. Furthermore, the process of settling--or, in some cases, exploiting--this land involved many unsavory consequences, including conflicts with Native Americans, destruction of buffalo, and mistreatment of Chinese immigrants. While America was expanding west, it also was dividing between north and south. In the northern United States, where the economy was largely industrial, many Americans opposed slavery and tried to restrict its spread or even outlaw it entirely. The southern states, on the other hand, had a primarily agricultural economy and depended heavily on slave labor. Despite attempts at compromise, such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, 11 southern states eventually seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. In the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, the Confederate Army of the south--seeking its independence--fought against the north's Union Army, which sought to preserve the Union. The war ended when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

The American culture of this period showed the same hunger, confidence, and sense of adventure that characterized the westward migration. While western pioneers were exploring and settling the land, other Americans broke ground in the scientific, social, and artistic realms. Major inventions included Eli Whitney's cotton gin in 1793, Samuel B. Morse's telegraph in 1844, and Elias Howe's "sewing jenny" in 1846. Between 1830, when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad became the first to operate in America, and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, American laborers laid more than 30,000 miles of track. Meanwhile, dramatic changes took place in American society, thanks to social reformers such as educators Horace Mann and Catharine Beecher, prison reformer Dorothea Dix, women's advocate Lucretia Mott, and abolitionists Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and William Lloyd Garrison. This was also the age of temperance societies and utopian communities, including New Harmony and Brook Farm. Finally, Americans were reading more than they ever had and were witnessing important developments in the field of art. Literate Americans could choose from numerous magazines and newspapers, including 47 newspapers in New York alone in 1830. New Yorkers packed a free gallery operated by the American Art-Union, an association of artists and patrons who sought to promote American art, and the world saw the emergence of several important American artists, including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, and Hiram Powers.