Events & Issues in US History 1840-1900

Events & Issues in US History 1840-1900

Encyclopedia of the American Civil War is available from Amazon


Historical Events in 1840

Treaty of Waitangi

Jan 29 First Governor of New Zealand and co-author of the Treaty of Waitangi Captain William Hobson arrives in the Bay of Islands, NZ

    Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, 1st in US, incorporated The Treaty of Waitangi is signed between 40 Māori Chiefs (later signed by 500) and representatives of the British crown in Waitangi, New Zealand. The treaty was designed to share sovereignty between the two groups. Gaetano Donizetti's Opera "La Fille du Regiment" premieres in Paris Housatonic Railroad opens, running from Bridgeport, Connecticut, north to the Massachusetts state line American Charles Wilkes discovers Shackleton Ice Shelf, Antarctica

Palace of Westminster

Apr 27 Foundation stone for new Palace of Westminster, London, laid by Sarah Barry wife of its architect Charles Barry

Penny Black

May 1 "Penny Black", the world's first adhesive postage stamp issued by Great Britain

Event of Interest

May 5 Thomas Carlyle begins his famous lecture series "The Hero as Divinity", later collected in his book "On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History"

    World's first adhesive postage stamp, the "Penny Black", is first used in Great Britain Tornado strikes Natchez, Mississippi, kills 317 Alexander Wolcott patents Photographic Process York Minster badly damaged by fire Captain William Hobson proclaims British sovereignty over New Zealand the North Island by treaty and the South Island by 'discovery' The transporting of British convicts to the New South Wales colony is abolished Meteorite hits Uden, Netherlands

Historic Invention

    The Cunard Line's 700 ton wooden paddle steamer RMS Britannia departs from Liverpool bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia on the first transatlantic crossing with a scheduled end Christian Hebbel's "Judith" premieres in Berlin Great Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia sign Quadruple Alliance Union Act passed by British Parliament, uniting Upper & Lower Canada

Britain Abolishes the Slave Trade

Aug 1 Labourer slaves in most of the British Empire are emancipated

'Am I Not a Man and a Brother?' emblem used by some abolitionists determined to end the slave trade in the British Empire
    American Society of Dental Surgeons founded (NY) French colony established in Akaroa, South Island of New Zealand Nine Jewish prisoners are released from Damascus jails Willem I resigns as king of Netherlands First Hawaiian constitution proclaimed Maronite leader Bashir II surrenders to the British forces and goes into exile in Malta. New Zealand officially becomes a British colony Gaetano Donizetti's opera "La Favorita" premieres in Paris

Election of Interest

Dec 2 William Henry Harrison elected the 9th President of the United States of America


Events & Issues in US History 1840-1900 - History

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January 13, 1840 - Off the coast of Long Island, New York, 139 people lose their lives when the steamship Lexington burns and sinks four miles off the coast.

May 7, 1840 - The Great Natchez Trace Tornado strikes Natchez, Mississippi and wreaks havoc. In the second most deadly tornado in U.S. history, 317 people are counted among the dead and 209 are injured.

December 2, 1840 - President Martin Van Buren is defeated for reelection by William Henry Harrison. Harrison, a Whig, receives 234 Electoral College votes to 60 and also wins the popular vote contest.

March 9, 1841 - The Supreme Court of the U.S. states that in the case of the slave ship Amistad that the Africans who had wrested control of the ship had been bound into slavery illegally.

April 4, 1841 - President William Henry Harrison, sworn into office only one month before on March 4, dies of pneumonia. His tenure of one month is the shortest in history and his death in office the first for a president of the United States. He is succeeded by Vice President John Tyler.

January 31, 1842 - Elizabeth Tyler, the president's daughter, marries William Nevison Walker, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

February 6, 1843 - At the Bowery Amphitheatre in New York City, the first minstrel show in the United States debuts.

November 28, 1843 - The Kingdom of Hawaii is officially recognized by European nations as an independent nation. This date signifies Hawaiian Independence Day.

April 6, 1844 - Edgar Allan Poe, the highly regarded writer of short stories, departs his home in Philadelphia for New York City. Although most of this best works were written while in the City of Brotherly Love for two years, he left the city with $4.50 to his name.

March 3, 1845 - Congress overrides a presidential veto. President Tyler's veto of a military appropriation was overturned.

American inventor Elias Howe, working as a machinist after losing his factory job in the Panic of 1837, invents his sewing machine. Howe would patent the device on September 10, 1846.

January 5, 1846 - The United States House of Representatives changes its policy toward sharing the Oregon Territory with the United Kingdom. On June 15, the Oregon Treaty is signed with Great Britain, fixing the boundary of the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

July 1, 1847 - The first adhesive postage stamps in the United States went on sale with Benjamin Franklin gracing the 5 cent stamp and George Washington fronting the 10 cent stamp.

July 24, 1847 - One hundred and forty-eight Mormons under Brigham Young settle at Salt Lake City, Utah after leaving Nauvoo, Illinois for the west on February 10, 1846 due to violent clashes over their beliefs, which included the practice of polygamy through the end of the 1800s.

January 12, 1848 - Abraham Lincoln, as Congressman from Springfield, Illinois, attacked President Polk's handling of the Mexican War in a speech in the House of Representatives.

November 7, 1848 - Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War, defeats Lewis Cass in the presidential election of 1848. Whig Taylor garners 163 Electoral College votes to 127 for the Democratic candidate. This was the first U.S. election held on the same date in every state.

January 23, 1849 - The first woman doctor in the United States, Elizabeth Blackwell, is granted her degree by the Medical Institute of Geneva, New York.

April 4, 1849 - The first baseball uniforms are introduced by the New York Knickerbockers club blue and white cricket outfits were used.


When Did Slavery Start?

Hundreds of thousands of Africans, both free and enslaved, aided the establishment and survival of colonies in the Americas and the New World. However, many consider a significant starting point to slavery in America to be 1619, when the privateer The White Lion brought 20 African slaves ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The crew had seized the Africans from the Portugese slave ship Sao Jao Bautista. 

Throughout the 17th century, European settlers in North America turned to enslaved Africans as a cheaper, more plentiful labor source than indentured servants, who were mostly poor Europeans.

Though it is impossible to give accurate figures, some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million enslaved people were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone, depriving the African continent of some of its healthiest and ablest men and women.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, enslaved Africans worked mainly on the tobacco, rice and indigo plantations of the southern coast, from the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Maryland and Virginia south to Georgia.

After the American Revolution, many colonists—particularly in the North, where slavery was relatively unimportant to the agricultural economy�gan to link the oppression of enslaved Africans to their own oppression by the British, and to call for slavery’s abolition.

Did you know? One of the first martyrs to the cause of American patriotism was Crispus Attucks, a former enslaved man who was killed by British soldiers during the Boston Massacre of 1770. Some 5,000 Black soldiers and sailors fought on the American side during the Revolutionary War.

But after the Revolutionary War, the new U.S. Constitution tacitly acknowledged the institution of slavery, counting each enslaved individual as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and representation in Congress and guaranteeing the right to repossess any “person held to service or labor” (an obvious euphemism for slavery).


Anti-Black Violence

In addition to enduring centuries of enslavement, exploitation and inequality, African Americans have long been the targets of racially charged physical violence. Per the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, more than 4,400 lynchings—mob killings undertaken without legal authority—took place in the U.S. between the end of Reconstruction and World War II.

Incredibly, the Senate only passed legislation declaring lynching a federal crime in 2018. Between 1918 and the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act’s eventual passage, more than 200 anti-lynching bills failed to make it through Congress. (Earlier this week, Sen. Rand Paul said he would hold up a separate, similarly intentioned bill over fears that its definition of lynching was too broad. The House passed the bill in a 410-to-4 vote this February.) Also in 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative opened the nation’s first monument to African American lynching victims. The six-acre memorial site stands alongside a museum dedicated to tracing the nation’s history of racial bias and persecution from slavery to the present.

A house left smoldering after racial unrest broke out in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908 (Sangamon Valley Collection, Lincoln Library)

One of the earliest instances of Reconstruction-era racial violence took place in Opelousas, Louisiana, in September 1868. Two months ahead of the presidential election, Southern white Democrats started terrorizing Republican opponents who appeared poised to secure victory at the polls. On September 28, a group of men attacked 18-year-old schoolteacher Emerson Bentley, who had already attracted ire for teaching African American students, after he published an account of local Democrats’ intimidation of Republicans. Bentley escaped with his life, but 27 of the 29 African Americans who arrived on the scene to help him were summarily executed. Over the next two weeks, vigilante terror led to the deaths of some 250 people, the majority of whom were black.

In April 1873, another spate of violence rocked Louisiana. The Colfax Massacre, described by historian Eric Foner as the “bloodiest single instance of racial carnage in the Reconstruction era,” unfolded under similar circumstances as Opelousas, with tensions between Democrats and Republicans culminating in the deaths of between 60 and 150 African Americans, as well as three white men.

Between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s, multiple massacres broke out in response to false allegations that young black men had raped or otherwise assaulted white women. In August 1908, a mob terrorized African American neighborhoods across Springfield, Illinois, vandalizing black-owned businesses, setting fire to the homes of black residents, beating those unable to flee and lynching at least two people. Local authorities, argues historian Roberta Senechal, were “ineffectual at best, complicit at worst.”

During the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, mobs destroyed almost 40 blocks of a neighborhood known as "Black Wall Street." (Library of Congress)

False accusations also sparked a July 1919 race riot in Washington, D.C. and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which was most recently dramatized in the HBO series “Watchmen.” As African American History Museum curator Paul Gardullo tells Smithsonian, tensions related to Tulsa’s economy underpinned the violence: Forced to settle on what was thought to be worthless land, African Americans and Native Americans struck oil and proceeded to transform the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa into a prosperous community known as “Black Wall Street.” According to Gardullo, “It was the frustration of poor whites not knowing what to do with a successful black community, and in coalition with the city government [they] were given permission to do what they did.”

Over the course of two days in spring 1921, the Tulsa Race Massacre claimed the lives of an estimated 300 black Tulsans and displaced another 10,000. Mobs burned down at least 1,256 residences, churches, schools and businesses and destroyed almost 40 blocks of Greenwood. As the Sidedoor episode “Confronting the Past” notes, “No one knows how many people died, no one was ever convicted, and no one really talked about it nearly a century later.”

Listen to Sidedoor: A Smithsonian Podcast

The second season of Sidedoor told the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.

Economic injustice also led to the East St. Louis Race War of 1917. This labor dispute-turned-deadly found “people’s houses being set ablaze, … people being shot when they tried to flee, some trying to swim to the other side of the Mississippi while being shot at by white mobs with rifles, others being dragged out of street cars and beaten and hanged from street lamps,” recalled Dhati Kennedy, the son of a survivor who witnessed the devastation firsthand. Official counts place the death toll at 39 black and 9 white individuals, but locals argue that the real toll was closer to 100.

A watershed moment for the burgeoning civil rights movement was the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Accused of whistling at a white woman while visiting family members in Mississippi, he was kidnapped, tortured and killed. Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, decided to give her son an open-casket funeral, forcing the world to confront the image of his disfigured, decomposing body. (Visuals, including photographs, movies, television clips and artwork, played a key role in advancing the movement.) The two white men responsible for Till’s murder were acquitted by an all-white jury. A marker at the site where the teenager’s body was recovered has been vandalized at least three times since its placement in 2007.

Family members grieving at Emmett Till's funeral (NMAAHC)

The form of anti-black violence with the most striking parallels to contemporary conversations is police brutality. As Katie Nodjimbadem reported in 2017, a regional crime survey of late 1920s Chicago and Cook County, Illinois, found that while African Americans constituted just 5 percent of the area’s population, they made up 30 percent of the victims of police killings. Civil rights protests exacerbated tensions between African Americans and police, with events like the Orangeburg Massacre of 1968, in which law enforcement officers shot and killed three student activists at South Carolina State College, and the Glenville shootout, which left three police officers, three black nationalists and one civilian dead, fostering mistrust between the two groups.

Today, this legacy is exemplified by broken windows policing, a controversial approach that encourages racial profiling and targets African American and Latino communities. “What we see is a continuation of an unequal relationship that has been exacerbated, made worse if you will, by the militarization and the increase in fire power of police forces around the country,” William Pretzer, senior curator at NMAAHC, told Smithsonian in 2017.

Police Disperse Marchers with Tear Gas by unidentified photographer, 1966 (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Howard Greenberg Gallery)


1820s: Monroe Doctrine (1823)

The Era of Good Feelings (roughly 1815–25), a period of American prosperity and isolationism, was in full swing when U.S. Pres. James Monroe articulated a set of principles in 1823 that decades later would be called the Monroe Doctrine. According to the policy, the United States would not intervene in European affairs, but likewise it would not tolerate further European colonization in the Americas or European interference in the governments of the American hemisphere. It is questionable whether the U.S. at the time had the might to back up its swagger, but later, as a world power, it would implement a broad interpretation of the doctrine in its “sphere of influence.”


10 January 1840

A uniform postage rate of one penny is introduced

Britain's postal system was expensive, complex and open to abuse. As a response to widespread discontent, a committee of enquiry was set up in 1835. In 1837, Rowland Hill proposed a uniform post rate of one penny, irrespective of distance. His proposals were implemented three years later. In the decade after the implementation of the 'penny post', the volume of letters sent in Britain increased five-fold to almost 350 million a year.


1870-1900: Industrial Development

After the Civil War, the United States rapidly transformed into an industrial, urbanized nation. Technological innovation, economic growth, development of large-scale agriculture, and the expansion of the federal government characterized the era, as did the social tensions brought about by immigration, financial turmoil, federal Indian policy, and increasing demands for rights by workers, women, and minorities.

This group of objects highlights innovation and industrialization in the late 1800s, and the benefits as well as detriments of becoming an economic and industrial power.

Century Vase, 1876

Made by Union Porcelain Works, Greenpoint, New York

The American Industrial Revolution transformed the nation from a scattering of isolated communities into an economic and industrial giant, in part due to the country’s wealth of natural resources. Forests, minerals, waterways, and huge tracts of arable land for farming and ranching provided the raw materials that fueled growth and development, often at the expense of the environment.

This vase celebrates 100 years of American progress and depicts now-vanished icons of the American landscape such as bison, a wooden reaper, and a steamship.

Railroad Spike, 1869

Commemorative of the final spike that completed the transcontinental railroad

Railroads were the basis of the nation’s industrial economy in the late 1800s, creating new markets, carrying billions of tons of freight to every corner of the country, and opening up the West for development. Thanks in part to the railroad providing access to new land for farming, agricultural production doubled in the 1870s, which in turn increased railroad traffic.

Gift of Union Pacific Railroad, Mr. A. E. Stoddard, President

Stock Ticker, about 1900

Made by the Western Union Telegraph Company

The U.S. economy grew rapidly after the Civil War, fueled by an astounding rise in wealth, wages, production, and corporate mergers, along with limited government regulation. The volume of stocks traded rose sharply with corporations’ need for investment capital and the development of new technologies. The 1867 invention of the stock ticker, transmitting up-to-the-minute share prices over telegraph lines, modernized the stock exchange.

Gift of Western Union Corporation

Incandescent Lamp, about 1891

Made by Edison General Electric Company

Many inventions in the late 1880s helped speed urban growth, allowing for taller buildings, more efficient factories, and better transportation. One of the most dramatic improvements occurred in artificial lighting. Thomas Edison’s development of an electric lamp that did not rely on open flames made lighting more practical for factories, offices, and homes, and transformed city life.

Gift of General Electric Lighting Company, through Terry K. McGowan

Tinfoil Phonograph, 1878

Invented by Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Edison helped usher in an age of organized research in support of commerce and industry that reshaped American life. Vowing to turn out inventions on a regular basis, Edison and his team of scientists, engineers, draftsmen, and laborers developed or improved over 1,000 patents, from huge electric generators to this early phonograph.

Gift of American Telephone and Telegraph Company

Alexander Graham Bell's Big Box Telephone, 1876

One of the first commercially available telephones

Telegraph lines could carry only one coded message per wire at a time, which became a hindrance as the volume of communication increased. To overcome this problem, Alexander Bell used his knowledge of acoustics to devise a method of sending multiple tonal messages over a wire. This led to the telephone, and a communication revolution that transformed business and daily life.

Gift of American Telephone and Telegraph Company

Cross, 1875–99

Made by a Hispanic Catholic in New Mexico

New Mexico has experienced many cultural encounters since the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s. Following the United States’ 1848 annexation of the area at the end of war with Mexico, the population of the territory boomed, bringing together Catholics of Spanish descent, indigenous tribes, Protestant missionaries, and Anglo American settlers. Though often in conflict, these communities forged a distinctive regional identity that survives to the present.


Footnotes

2 David Roediger, Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All (New York: Verso, 2014): 129 David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018): 196. Standard biographies of these two women include Lois W. Banner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: A Radical for Women’s Rights (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1980) and Margaret Hope Bacon, Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott (New York: Walker Publishing, 1980).

3 “The Declaration of Sentiments,” Seneca Falls Convention, 1848. For more on the convention at Seneca Falls, its participants, and the larger movement it spawned, see Ellen DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in the U.S., 1848–1869 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978).

4 Laura E. Free, Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in the Civil War Era (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015): 43 History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 1 (1848–1861), ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1881): 70–73, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/28020/28020-h/28020-h.htm. For an overview of the period from the Civil War through 1920, see Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994): especially 326–363.

5 Sylvia D. Hoffert, When Hens Crow: The Women’s Rights Movement in Antebellum America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995): 75–90 Free, Suffrage Reconstructed: 43.

6 On the origins and passage of the Reconstruction Amendments in general, see David E. Kyvig, Explicit and Authentic Acts: Amending the U.S. Constitution, 1776–1995 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996), and Richard Bernstein with Jerome Agel, Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It? (New York: Times Books, 1993).

7 Free, Suffrage Reconstructed: 105.

8 Free, Suffrage Reconstructed: 115 Blight, Frederick Douglass: 488.

9 Roediger, Seizing Freedom: 153, 156.

10 See, for example, DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: 21–52 Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience, 5th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011): 327.

11 For more on Lucy Stone, see Andrea Moore Kerr, Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992).

12 Woloch, Women and the American Experience: 329–336.

13 Woloch, Women and the American Experience: 334–335 Roediger, Seizing Freedom: 334–335.

14 Mary Church Terrell, The Progress of the Colored Women (Washington, DC: Smith Brothers, Printers, 1898), https://cdn.loc.gov/service/rbc/lcrbmrp/t0a13/t0a13.pdf.

15 See, for instance, Beverly Beeton, Women Vote in the West: The Woman Suffrage Movement 1869–1896 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986) David E. Kyvig, Explicit and Authentic Acts: 227 and the Women of the West Museum, “‘This shall be the land for women’: The Struggle for Western Women’s Suffrage, 1860–1920,” https://web.archive.org/web/20070627080045/http://www.museumoftheamericanwest.org/explore/exhibits/suffrage /index.html.

16 For more on Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, see Inez Haynes Gillmore, Up Hill with Banners Flying (Penobscott, ME: Traversity Press, 1964).

17 For a biography of Catt, see Robert Booth Fowler, Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986) Kyvig, Explicit and Authentic Acts: 233.


2 Turning A Blind Eye To The Holocaust

In 1942, Jan Karski, a former government employee in Poland, had a new mission in life. A member of the Polish Underground, he was tasked with informing the world about the plight of the Jews in Poland. Karski smuggled himself into the Warsaw ghetto, and later to a transit camp near the Belzec death camp. Witnessing the deplorable conditions firsthand, Karski was also informed of the gravity of the situation: &ldquoOur people will be destroyed.&rdquo

Karski was eventually able to escape to Britain, where he met with the Polish government-in-exile, Winston Churchill, and other politicians and public figures. He later traveled to the United States and had a meeting with Franklin Roosevelt and other officials. Throughout his travels, Karski repeatedly warned of the impending extermination of the Jewish people of Europe.

Two years later, in June 1944, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wexler successfully escaped Auschwitz, eventually making their way to the Allied lines. They were able to provide the military with their extensive knowledge regarding the layout of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, where millions of Jews and others deemed &ldquosubhuman&rdquo by the Nazis were murdered. This time people listened&mdashand that was it. Absolutely nothing else was done.

Records show that as early as January of that year, Allied leaders were discussing a possible bombing run near Auschwitz&mdashnot to save the prisoners, but to destroy the oil and rubber installations near the camp. George McGovern, the future US Senator from South Dakota, once remarked that his squadron had been tasked to bomb facilities just a few miles from the camp, yet they received no orders to destroy anything connected to the camp itself.

Some have argued that had the Allies bombed the railways, they could have prevented the Nazis from sending millions to their deaths in the following months. Some say that destroying the crematoriums and gas chambers, while likely killing some of those held in the camps, would have ultimately saved countless lives. Others have argued that nothing would have stopped Hitler and his goons from exterminating those they deemed subhuman.

Indeed, from historians to Holocaust survivors, the debate rages on as to whether the Allies did everything they could to save the Jews&mdashor if they merely turned a blind eye.


Road to impeachment

2018 November - Opposition Democrats take control of House of Representatives in mid-term elections, making it harder for President Trump's Republicans to pass legislation.

2019 February - US and North Korea talks in Vietnam break down over pace of nuclear disarmament.

2019 March - Mueller Report finds no evidence of collusion between Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

2019 October - US withdraws troops from northern Syria, which prompts Turkey to occupy Kurdish-run parts of the north in an attempt to create a buffer zone.

2019 December - President Trump is impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. His trial is set to begin in the Senate the following month.

2020 January - US drone strike kills leading Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad Airport, promoting Iranian threats of retaliation.

2020 March - National emergency declared over the Covid-19 pandemic.

2020 May - Nationwide protests break out following the killing of African-American George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

2020 November - Democrat former Vice-President Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump in the presidential election.

2021 January - Joe Biden inaugurated president amid unprecedented security, a week after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington DC.


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