1800-1860: Law and Justice: Chronology

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1800-1860: Law and Justice: Chronology




  • 13 Feb. Congress provides for six circuit courts to be established to cover the thirteen original colonies, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vermont, and the districts of Maine and Ohio. Congress repeals this act in 1802 but then passes a new act that contains many of the same elements.
  • 3 Mar. President John Adams appoints last-minute midnight judges.


  • 24 Apr. Georgia cedes lands along the Yazoo River to the United States in an attempt to dodge responsibility for the state legislatures fraudulent land-grant practices in 1795.



  • In reaction to Spanish expansion into their grazing land, Navajo warriors attack the town of Cebolleta in the present-day Four Corners area of the Southwest (where the boundaries of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet). In turn the Spanish massacre Navajo women, children, and old men at Canyon de Chelly.
  • 26 Mar. Congress passes the Land Act of 1804, reducing the price of public lands and making it available in 160-acre parcels. Congress also creates the Territory of Orleans, which includes a portion of present-day Louisiana. The region retains the Napoleonic Code of Law originally established there by the French.
  • 3 Nov. William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana Territory, negotiates a five million-acre land cession from the Sauk and Fox tribes.


  • 11 Jan. Congress creates the Mississippi Territory out of the Indiana Territory.


  • 29 Mar. Congress authorizes the federally financed Cumberland Road. It will extend from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling, Virginia, and provide a better route for pioneers heading west.
  • 30 May Andrew Jackson, former Tennessee Supreme Court judge and future president of the United States, kills a lawyer named Charles Dickinson in a duel.
  • 27 Nov. Gen. James Wilkinson reveals the Burr conspiracy, a plan by former vice president Aaron Burr to encourage a rebellion and independence movement in the American Southwest and Mexico.


  • Congress passes an act creating a seventh circuit to the federal courts.
  • 19 Feb. Aaron Burr is captured in present-day Alabama.
  • 1 Sept. The Supreme Court acquits Burr of treason on the grounds of insufficient evidence.


  • 1 Jan. Congress bans the importation of African slaves into the United States.
  • 10 Nov. The Osages sign a treaty with the United States, ceding lands in Missouri and Arkansas, and move to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma.


  • 20 Feb. In United States v. Peters the Supreme Court rules that the national government has powers superior to those of the states.
  • 1 Mar. Congress establishes the Illinois Territory, carved out of western Indiana Territory.
  • 2 July Tecumseh, a Shawnee tribal leader and prophet, begins a confederacy of Indian tribes in order to defend against the increasing encroachment of American settlers on Native American lands.


  • In Fletcher v. Peck Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall declares that Georgia violated the contract clause of the Constitution in ceding disputed lands along the Yazoo River to the United States. This land grant conflict is one of many problems that arise from unrestrained speculation in Western lands.
  • 26 Sept. American settlers in Spanish West Florida rebel against the Spanish government, seize the Fort of Baton Rouge, and seek annexation by the United States.


  • 26 Sept. Indiana Territory governor William Henry Harrison leads a large military force against the confederacy of Tecumseh, who is now seeking allies among the Creeks.
  • 7 Nov. Tecumsehs forces nearly defeat the forces of William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, but Harrison rallies and destroys the local Indian village.


  • Apr. Indians loosely allied under Tecumsehs confederacy begin raids again in the Northwest.
  • 14 May Congress incorporates Spanish West Florida into the Mississippi Territory.



  • 9 Aug. The Creeks sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which cedes more than twenty million acres of land in south Georgia and eastern Mississippi Territory to the fed eral government.


  • July-Sept. With the signing of the Treaties of Portage de Sioux the United States puts a virtual end to organized, armed Indian resistance in the Old Northwest.


  • Vigilantism is on the rise in Illinois.
  • June The Indiana Territory holds a convention to draft a state constitution in Corydon, Indiana.
  • 11 Dec. Congress admits Indiana to the Union as a free state.


  • 27 Sept. Native Americans cede four million acres to the United States in northwestern Ohio.
  • 10 Dec. Congress admits Mississippi to the Union as a slave state.


  • 19 Oct. In a treaty with the United States, Chickasaw Indians cede lands between the Mississippi River and the northern Tennessee River.
  • 3 Dec. Congress admits Illinois as a free state.


  • 13 Feb. Congress deliberates the Missouri Bill, which would allow Missouri to apply for statehood. Against the context of rapidly proceeding westward expansion, the debate is whether Missouri will enter the Union as a free or slave state.
  • 14 Dec. Alabama enters the Union as a slave state.


  • Indiana experiences an outbreak of vigilantism.
  • 3 Mar. The Missouri Compromise passes Congress, admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state and declaring that no slavery will be allowed in the Louisiana Purchase north of 36°30.
  • 24 Apr. Congress passes the Public Lands Act, further lowering the prices of public lands and decreasing the minimum acreage of purchase to eighty acres.


  • After the opening of the Santa Fe Trail the booming market in horse and mules encourages theft. Ute Indians and white mountain men are the primary participants of the illegal trade.
  • 3 Mar. In Cohen v. Virginia the Supreme Court maintains that a higher federal court can review state court decisions.


  • 3 Sept. The United States signs a treaty with the Sauk and Fox Indians, allowing them to live on lands in Wisconsin Territory and Illinois already ceded to the federal government.


  • In Johnson v. Mlntosh Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall hands down the Courts opinion that Indians did not hold adequate title to their lands compared to that of Euro-Americans, earned through the right of discovery of the North American continent.
  • 18 Feb. Emperor Augustin de Iturbide of Mexico confirms the land grant title transfer to Stephen Austin of land in present-day Texas. Within two years Austin will move three hundred American families to these lands along the Brazos River.


  • In Gibbons v. Ogden the Supreme Court broadly defines Congresss power to regulate interstate commerce by declaring that New York State cannot grant a monopoly on steamboat navigation.
  • Feb. President James Monroe decides to institute a policy of removing Indians east of the Mississippi into the American West.
  • 17 June Congress establishes the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the War Department.
  • Dec. Indiana passes a fugitive slave act, giving both claimant and accused the right to a jury trial. The federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 will invalidate this act.


  • Stephen Austin forms the first group of local vigilantes, the precursor of the Texas Rangers, to protect Anglo interests in Texas.
  • 12 Feb. After Creek Indian chief William Mclntosh signs a treaty ceding all Creek lands in Georgia to the United States, other Creek Indians repudiate it and kill him.
  • 19 Aug. The federal government arranges an intertribal pact between the Chippewa, Iowa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox, Sioux, and Winnebago tribes.


  • Alabama and Mississippi experience outbreaks of vigilantism.
  • The Indian Removal Act is passed by Congress.


  • In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall defines the Cherokee tribe as a domestic, dependent nation and a ward of the federal government.


  • In Worcester v. Georgia the Supreme Court finds for missionaries Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler, establishing the doctrine of Indian sovereignty by recognizing that state laws had no force in Indian country. Furious, President Andrew Jackson refuses to enforce the verdict and decides to proceed with Indian removal.


  • In United States v. Percheron the Supreme Court gives a liberal interpretation of the land grant rights preserved under a Florida treaty between Spain and the United States. It also holds that both the Spanish and English translation of a treaty must be considered in order to determine its meaning. Later cases would substantially narrow this ruling, especially to the benefit of Anglo-Americans in California and New Mexico.


  • In Georgia a few unauthorized members of the Cherokee tribe sign a treaty ceding all tribal lands to the state. Several thousand Cherokees protest the treaty, and the United States ignores it. Georgia sells the lands to whites in a state lottery. Many Cherokees refuse to move to the lands in present-day Oklahoma offered in exchange.
  • 24 Nov. Texas creates the first official group of Texas Rangers.


  • The landmark case of Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge indicates that in the ongoing struggles over state versus federal government sovereignty the limitation of the commerce clause in the federal constitution signifies an increase in the power of states to regulate interstate commerce.
  • Congress passes the Act of 1837, which expands the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to include appeals from incoming new territories and states.
  • Texas passes the first antimiscegenation law in the West.


  • Federal troops begin the forced removal of the Cherokees from Georgia to present-day Oklahoma. Nearly a quarter of the Cherokees die en route from starvation and exposure. The U.S. Army removes thousands of Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and the few remaining Seminoles to Oklahoma.


  • Vigilantism breaks out in Arkansas.


  • 16 Dec. In order to encourage immigration to Oregon, Sen. Lewis Lim of Missouri introduces a bill providing military protection along the Oregon Trail between St. Louis and Oregon. The bill will not pass, but this same year a substantial group consisting of forty-eight wagons passes over the trail and ends their journey in Sacramento, California.


  • Vigilantism breaks out in Missouri.


  • 3 Feb. The U.S. Senate finally passes Sen. Lewis Lims Oregon bill, originally proposed in 1841, but the bill fails to pass the House of Representatives.
  • 2 May Oregon settlers at Champoeg decide to form their own government.
  • 17 June The settlers at Champoeg adopt their own constitution.


  • 18 Mar. The Martinez Treaty is signed at Jemez Pueblo, requiring the Navajos to return their slaves but asking no such concession from the New Mexicans. At the time an estimated 75 percent of the three to six thousand slaves in New Mexico are Navajos. The treaty quickly breaks down.
  • 12 Apr. John C. Calhoun, secretary of state, negotiates a treaty for the annexation of Texas. The antislavery forces in the Senate eventually force its rejection, fearing the admission of Texas into the Union as a slave state.


  • 3 Mar. Florida joins the Union as a slave state.
  • 29 Dec. Texas joins the Union as a slave state.


  • As a result of the Mexican War, California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico experience a great increase in racial strife.
  • 27 Mar. The House of Representatives defeats a bill providing free homesteading in the West.
  • 14 June Anglo-American settlers in California throw off the Mexican government and form the short-lived Bear Flag Republic.
  • 28 Dec. Iowa joins the Union as a free state.


  • In present-day Washington State, Cayuse Indians kill missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman as well as other settlers.
  • In Missouri, Dred Scotts first legal battle to define himself as a free man ends when his case is dismissed on a technicality.


  • The United States and Mexico ratify the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican War. The harsh provisions of the treaty, in particular the federal courts subsequent and widely varying interpretations of controversial Articles 8 and 10, cause considerable confusion and injustice in preserving native Mexicans property rights.
  • 29 May Wisconsin joins the Union as a free state.
  • 14 Aug. The U.S. Senate agrees to organize Oregon as a free state.


  • Over the course of the next fifty-three years an estimated 210 vigilante movements hand out justice in the West, especially in California after the Gold Rush. Many vigilante incidents are a cover for white supremacist attacks on local minorities.
  • 9 Sept. The U.S. signs a treaty annexing Navajo lands and requiring the return of captives. Most Navajos repudiate the treaty.


  • The gunfighter Benjamin F. Thompson establishes a reputation for himself by participating in at least fourteen shoot-outs over the next three decades.
  • California passes the Foreign Miners Tax.
  • As a result of the population explosion after the Gold Rush, a wave of violence hits California. In one fifteen-month period in Los Angeles County forty-four homicides occur.
  • 9-12 Sept. As part of the Compromise of 1850, Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act.


  • 23 July Members of the Sioux nation sign the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, ceding to the U.S. government much of their land in Iowa and Minnesota.


  • 30 Dec. The U.S. and Mexico negotiate the Gadsden Purchase, whereby the former receives 29,644 square miles of territory (the southernmost areas of present-day Arizona and New Mexico) for $15 million. The purchase establishes the final boundaries of the continental U.S. and provides the needed land for a railroad route. The U.S. Senate approves the purchase in June 1854.


  • In People v. Hall the California Supreme Court holds that no Chinese witnesses can give testimony against a white man.
  • In Clarke County, Missouri, David McKee organizes the Anti-Horse Thief Association.


  • California counts 370 homicides in the first eight months of the year.


  • The Committee of Vigilance holds sway in San Francisco. Led by the wealthy and powerful William Tell Coleman, its objective is attacking Irish Catholics, Chinese, and Mexican Americans as well as punishing criminals.
  • The Apaches kill the U.S. Indian agent Henry Dodge. Because of the efforts of Dodge, Navajo-U.S. relations had been fairly peaceful for the last six years.


  • The decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case in effect rules that slaves are property and cannot be considered citizens under the Constitution.


  • Kansas repeals its antimiscegenation law.


  • Navajo warriors attack Fort Defiance, and in retaliation New Mexico volunteers invade Canyon de Chelly. The subsequent period of warfare, in the language of the Dineh (the Navajo peoples), is called Nahondzhod, or the Fearing Time.


1800-1860: Law and Justice: Chronology