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American Rhetorical Movements
to the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Chronology

1787 | 1803 | 1820 | 1831 | 1836 | 1848 | 1850 | 1854 | 1857 | 1861 | 1866 |


British slave trading to the New World begins.


Quakers in PA, NJ, and New England prohibit slavery amongst their members. John Woolman, Journal


Declaration of Independence


Thomas Jefferson attempts to prohibit slavery after 1800 in new states. Clause struck by one vote. Question of extent of federal power in the territories opens


Jefferson, "Letter to Jean Nicholas Démeunier."


Northwest Ordinance: slavery prohibited, fugitive slave clause added. See Map.
Constitutional convention. Benjamin Franklin, "
Closing Speech at the Constitutional Convention."


James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Federalist Papers.


VA ratification debates. Patrick Henry, "Against the Federal Constitution."


Constitution ratified. "Great Compromise" between large and small states results in House and Senate balance of power. A slave counted for 3/5ths of a person for apportioning representatives, augmenting Southern voting power by 30%.

Successful slave revolution in Haiti led by François Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture.


Kentucky enters the Union a slave state. Slavery extended to Mississippi south of the Ohio River.


Fugitive Slave Law enacted.


Bingham, Columbian Orator 1st ed.


Mississippi Territory organized with slavery permitted.


Thomas Jefferson elected President (Democratic Republican).


Louisiana purchase permitted to retain slavery throughout its extent. See Map of Louisiana Purchase.
Chief Justice John Marshall, in Marbury v. Madison, establishes Federal judicial review of Acts of Congress. Haiti declares itself a republic.


British slave trade abolished.


Importation of slaves into the U.S. prohibited.
James Madison elected President.


Henry Clay elected to House, becomes Speaker. John C. Calhoun elected to House.


War with Britain.


Daniel Webster elected to House as Federalist. Anti-war.
Clay and Calhoun support war with Britain.


Arkansas territory organized with slavery permitted.


Missouri Compromise accomplished by Clay: Missouri admitted as slave, Maine as free. Slavery prohibited in the remainder of the Louisiana Territory N. of 36°30´ (Thomas amendment). Controversy viewed as serious threat to the Union.
Jefferson, "
Letter to John Holmes"


Benjamin Lundy, a Quaker, begins abolitionist newspaper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation.
Lucretia Mott recognized as minister in the Society of Friends.

Slave revolt organized by Denmark Vesey, Charleston, SC.
Slavery abolished in Chile.


John Quincy Adams, an ex-Federalist, elected President ("National Republican"). Andrew Jackson had plurality of electoral votes. Slavery abolished in Central America.


John C. Calhoun Vice President under Adams.


Death of Thomas Jefferson on 4 July.


Slaves over 40 freed in NY, Sojourner Truth among them.
Webster elected to the Senate.


Andrew Jackson elected President (Birth of Democratic Party).
Calhoun, South Carolina Exposition and Protest.
Garrison introduced to Lundy by Mott, becomes editor of Genius.

Slavery abolished in Mexico. David Walker publishes his Appeal... addressed primarily to slaves and urging revolution.


Removal of Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee from territory in GA, AL and MS to land beyond the Mississippi. "Trail of Tears".


Webster-Hayne Debate over Federal tariffs.


William Lloyd Garrison publishes first issue of The Liberator. Contains his statement "To the Public." Conventional date for beginning of radical abolitionism. Slavery abolished in Bolivia.
Nat Turner’s slave revolt in Southampton County, VA.


South Carolina passes Nullification Ordinance. Calhoun resigns Vice Presidency to enter Senate. Force Bill gives Jackson more military power and compromise tariff gradually lowers rates. SC nullifies the Force Bill but accepts the compromise tariff. Texas War of Independence begins. Abolitionists, among them Benjamin Lundy, argue that Texas is warring with Mexico to reinstitute slavery.


American Anti-Slavery Society formed by Garrison and Mott. "Declaration of Sentiments" published in The Liberator. Slavery abolished in Britain.
Formation of Whig party.


Andrew Jackson asks for law prohibiting the mailing of "incendiary publications intended to instigate the slaves to insurrection."


"Gag Rule" controversy in Congress. John Quincy Adams agitates to admit abolitionist petitions.


Van Buren (Democrat) wins Presidency in close election against Whigs. Texas wins independence from Mexico.


Calhoun, "On Reception of the Abolition Petitions."
Wendell Phillips, "
The Murder of Lovejoy"

Amistad mutiny. John Quincy Adams argues before the Supreme Court on behalf of the escaped slaves. Controversy breaks out in the American AntiSlavery Society over tactics: moral suasion vs. forming a political party. James Birney and William Lloyd Garrison exchange views in the pages of the Liberator.


Massive immigration from Germany and Ireland into Northeast and upper Midwest. These immigrants become the first tenement laborers and will serve disproportionately as Union foot soldiers in the Civil War.


Mott and Stanton attend London Anti-Slavery Society, where women delegates were excluded. American Anti-Slavery Society splits, in part over issue of women delegates.
Beginnings of Liberty Party, espoused by reform or "political" abolitionists.


Harrison (Whig) dies soon after taking office. Replaced by Tyler, a state rights Whig.


Prigg v. Pennsylvania. Prigg convicted of kidnapping in PA for retrieving slave without certificate. Conviction reversed.


Sojourner Truth begins public career.


Clay (Whig) loses Presidential election to James Polk (Democrat).


Texas annexed as slave state. War declared with Mexico.
Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.


War with Mexico.
Lincoln serves in House as Whig.


Wilmot Proviso, an amendment to territorial legislation prohibiting slavery in territories acquired from Mexico, fails. Southerners claim that only states are sovereign, and Congress has no right to exclude some states from equal access to territorial property.


Stephen A. Douglas (Democrat,Illinois) elected to Senate.
Frederick Douglass begins career as newspaper publisher and journalist.


Oregon territory organized with slavery prohibited.
Zachary Taylor elected (Whig).
Founding convention of Free Soil Party. Free Soilers disavow interference with slavery in the states. Seek to preserve Western lands free for white labor.
First National Women’s Rights convention at Seneca Falls, NY. Organized by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott.
Mott, "
The Law of Progress." Douglass, "We Have Decided to Stay."
Widespread anti-monarchist
revolution in Europe.
Slavery abolished in France and its colonies.


Henry Clay returns to Senate.
1850 Compromise resolves dispute over territories seized from Mexico. Admits CA with slavery prohibited. No restrictions on UT and NM. Prohibition of domestic slave trade in DC balanced by strengthened
Fugitive Slave Law.
Clay, "On the Compromise Measures." Webster, "On the Compromise Measures (The Seventh of March Speech)." Douglass, "American Slavery."
Death of John C. Calhoun


Sojourner Truth, "A’n’t I a Woman?"
Whigs begin to break up over slavery issue. Charles Grant Sumner, former Whig, joins Senate as a Democrat.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin.


Death of Daniel Webster.
Franklin Pierce elected President (Democrat).
Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"


Know-Nothing Party flourishes (anti-foreign, anti-Catholic). Takes many seats from Whigs, competes with Republicans.


Kansas-Nebraska Act is held to repeal the Thomas amendment. Kansas admitted under Stephen Douglas' doctrine of "popular sovereignty."
Founding of the Republican Party from Whigs, Free Soilers and anti-slavery Democrats. Lincoln elected to Illinois State Legislature as Republican. Slavery abolished in Venezuela.


"Bleeding Kansas": Kansas erupts in armed attacks as Free Soilers compete with Missourians over slavery clauses in rival constitutions.


James Buchanan elected (Democrat). Demise of Whig Party. Sumner is severely beaten in Kansas by Preston Brooks, congressman from South Carolina, for anti-slavery speech.


Dred Scott decision. Chief Justice Roger Taney writes majority decision holding that African Americans are not citizens and endorsing consitutionality of popular sovereignty.


Lincoln, "A House Divided." Douglas, "Popular Sovereignty." Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lincoln loses Senate campaign to Stephen Douglas.


John Brown’s insurrection at Harper’s Ferry. "Speech to the Court."


Lincoln, nominated for President by Republicans, defeats Douglas. South Carolina leads move toward secession (Sep. 20, 1860);


MS (1/9) FL (1/10); AL (1/12) GA (1/19); LA (1/26); TX (2/1) follow SC in seceding from the Union. Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States written in convention on Feb. 9; Jefferson Davis elected President.
March: Lincoln,
First Inaugural (March). In April, Confederates fire on Fort Sumter.

Emancipation Proclamation issued as wartime emergency act to destabilize states in rebellion against the Union. Slavery abolished in the Netherlands and its colonies.
Lee surrenders. Lincoln assassinated; Andrew Johnson, a pro-Union Democrat, becomes President. 13th Amendment passed abolishing slavery.
Woman's Rights association splits over issue of universal (i.e. woman) versus Negro suffrage. American Equal Rights Association formed to promote universal suffrage by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanon. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form a second organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association, to promote woman suffrage and full social equality. Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe form another, rival organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, promoting a more moderate view of woman suffrage which separated political and social roles.
Supported by anti-Negro suffrage advocate George Francis Train, Stanton and Anthony campaign for woman suffrage in Kansas. Kansas Referendum Speech.
15th Amendment ratified granting suffrage to African Americans and freed slaves.
Continue the chronology: labor, women's rights, civil rights and student protests in the 20th century