1850-1877: Government and Politics: Chronology
1850-1877: Government and Politics: Chronology
- 5–6 Feb. Sen. Henry Clays major speech in favor of compromise on the slavery issue.
- 4 Mar. Sen. John C. Calhoun’s last address, in opposition to compromise on slavery.
- 7 Mar. Sen. Daniel Webster’s speech in support of compromise.
- 10 June The Nashville Convention adopts a resolution calling for the extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean.
- 9 July Millard Fillmore becomes president upon the death of Zachary Taylor.
- Sept. Several compromise measures on slavery are passed in Congress. These bills include the admittance of California to the Union as a free state; allowing the residents of Utah and New Mexico to decide whether they want slavery; the enforcement of a stricter fugitive slave law; and banning the slave trade in the District of Columbia.
- 11 Nov. The second Nashville Convention attracts a small gathering of Southern radicals who denounce compromise.
- 14 Dec. The Georgia Platform is announced.
- 24 Dec. A fire at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., destroys two-thirds of its collection.
- 20 Mar. Publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in book form.
- 1 June The Democratic Party nominates Franklin Pierce for president over rivals Stephen A. Douglas and Lewis Cass.
- 16 June The Whigs nominate Gen. Winfield Scott for president over rivals Millard Fill more and Daniel Webster.
- 2 Nov. Pierce defeats Scott and Free Soil candidate John P. Hale to become president.
- 4 Mar. The inauguration of Pierce.
- 30 Dec. U.S. emissary James Gadsden signs a treaty with Mexico to purchase almost thirty thousand square miles in what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico; the acquisition is intended to facilitate construction of a southern railroad line to the Pacific coast.
- 23 Jan. Stephen A. Douglas’s Senate Committee on Territories designs a bill that voids the Missouri Compromise in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories and makes the status of slavery in those areas be decided by settlers.
- 28Feb. A coalition of Whigs, Democrats, and Free Soilers meet in Ripon, Wisconsin, suggesting the name “Republican” for a new party pledged to bar slavery from the territories.
- 31 Mar. Commodore Matthew C. Perry signs the Treaty of Kanagawa, opening Japanese ports to American trade.
- 26 Apr. Eli Thayer organizes the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society to promote antislavery settlement of Kansas.
- 30 May The Kansas-Nebraska bill is signed into law by President Franklin Pierce.
- 18 Oct. The Ostend Manifesto declares the intent of the United States to acquire Cuba from Spain, by force if necessary.
- Congressional elections result in the loss of sixty-six Northern Democratic seats in the House of Representatives.
- 30 Mar. Missouri “border ruffians” and other proslavery settlers elect a proslavery legislature in Kansas.
- Oct. American adventurer William Walker declares himself dictator of Nicaragua.
- 23 Oct. A free state constitutional convention meets in Topeka, Kansas, repudiating the territorial legislature and drafting a constitution prohibiting slavery.
- 15 Jan. A free state governor and legislature are elected in Kansas, which now has two governments.
- 22 Feb. The Know Nothing Party nominates Millard Fillmore for president.
- 21 May The antislavery town of Lawrence, Kansas, is sacked by border ruffians, touching off a civil war in the territory.
- 22 May Rep. Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina assaults Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts after Sumner’s speech “The Crime Against Kansas.”
- 2 June The Democrats nominate James Buchanan for president.
- 17 June The Republicans nominate John C. Fremont for president.
- 11 Sept. John Geary is appointed territorial governor of Kansas and suppresses the civil war.
- 4 Aug. Townsend Harris is appointed consul general to Japan.
- 4 Nov. James Buchanan is elected president.
- 12 Jan. The proslavery legislature meets in Lecompton, Kansas.
- 4 Mar. James Buchanan is inaugurated as president.
- 6 Mar. The Supreme Court announces its decision in the Dred Scott case.
- 1 May William Walker surrenders his self-appointed position as dictator of Nicaragua.
- 26 May Robert J. Walker becomes territorial governor of Kansas.
- 24 Aug. The failure of the New York branch of Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company triggers a financial panic.
- 5 Oct. Territorial elections in Kansas produce an antislavery legislature.
- 19 Oct. A proslavery convention meets in Lecompton, Kansas, to draft a state constitution that would not require a public vote on slavery.
- 25 Nov. William Walker leads a second expedition to Central America; his mission is thwarted by the U.S. Navy.
- 9 Dec. Stephen A. Douglas announces his opposition to the Lecompton constitution of Kansas.
- 17 Dec. Kansas governor Robert J. Walker resigns in protest over President James Buchanan’s support for the Lecompton constitution.
- 2 Feb. Buchanan recommends that Congress admit Kansas as a slave state under the Lecompton constitution.
- 4 May Congress passes the English Bill, providing for a popular vote on the Lecompton constitution; land grants and early admission to the Union are offered as incentives for ratification.
- 16 June Abraham Lincoln, nominated for the Senate by Illinois Republicans, delivers his “House Divided” speech.
- 2 Aug. Kansas voters overwhelmingly reject the Lecompton constitution.
- 21 Aug. The first of seven Lincoln-Douglas debates is held in Ottawa, Illinois.
- 15 Oct. The last Lincoln-Douglas debate is held in Alton, Illinois.
- Oct.-Nov. Congressional elections occur in which anti-Lecompton Democrats hold the balance of power between administration supporters and Republicans.
- May A Southern commercial convention held in Vicksburg, Mississippi, calls for a legalization of the Atlantic slave trade.
- The antislavery Wyandotte constitution is ratified in Kansas.
- 16–18 Oct. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
- 2 Dec. John Brown is executed for treason and attempting to incite a slave insurrection.
- 2 Feb. Jefferson Davis calls on the Senate to pass slave codes for the territories.
- 23 Apr. The Democratic National Convention meets in Charleston, S.C.; delegates from eight Southern states withdraw when Stephen A. Douglas supporters block a demand for a territorial slave code.
- 9 May The Constitutional Union Party nominates John Bell of Tennessee for president.
- 16 May The Republican National Convention meets in Chicago and nominates Abraham Lincoln for president.
- 18 June Reassembled Democratic convention nominates Stephen A. Douglas for president.
- 28 June Southern Democrats who withdrew from the Charleston convention nominate John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for president.
- 12 Sept. William Walker is executed in Honduras after launching another filibustering expedition.
- 6 Nov. Abraham Lincoln is elected president.
- 13 Nov. South Carolina authorizes elections for a convention to consider secession.
- 18 Dec. Sen. John J. Crittenden proposes recognizing slavery south of the Missouri Compromise line and maintaining the institution where it already exists in the Union; he is opposed by Republicans.
- 20 Dec. South Carolina declares secession from the Union.
- Jan. Kansas is admitted to the Union.
- 9 Jan.-l Feb. The remaining states of the Lower South secede.
- 4 Feb. A Confederate constitutional convention meets in Montgomery, Alabama.
- 4 Feb. A Peace Convention meets in Washington, D.C., chaired by former president John Tyler.
- 9 Feb. Jefferson Davis is elected president of the Confederate States of America.
- 4 Mar. Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as president of the United States.
- 6 Apr. Lincoln notifies South Carolina authorities of his intent to supply provisions to the garrison at Fort Sumter.
- 12 Apr. Confederate batteries open fire on Fort Sumter.
- 15 Apr. Lincoln calls for seventy-five thousand volunteers to suppress the insurrection.
- 17 Apr.–20 May Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina secede from the Union.
- 16 Apr. The Confederacy enacts conscription.
- 22 Sept. President Abraham Lincoln issues a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
- 1 Dec. Lincoln submits to Congress a plan for compensated emancipation; the initiative wins little support.
- 1 Jan. The Emancipation Proclamation is declared in effect.
- 25 Feb. Congress creates a national banking system.
- 3 Mar. Congress passes the Conscription Act.
- 13–16 July Antidraft riots occur in New York City.
- 8 Dec. President Abraham Lincoln announces amnesty for Southerners who take a loyalty oath. He also agrees to recognize a Southern state’s government if 10 percent of the 1860 voters in a specific state take the oath and emancipate their slaves.
- 7 June The Republican National Convention meets and renominates Abraham Lincoln for president.
- 4 July Lincoln vetoes the Wade-Davis bill, which conditions readmission to the Union on loyalty oaths by 50 percent of a state’s 1860 voters.
- 5 Aug. The Wade-Davis Manifesto denounces Lincoln.
- 29 Aug. The Democratic National Convention meets and nominates Gen. George B. McClellan for president.
- 8 Nov Abraham Lincoln wins reelection as president of the United States of America.
- 29 Nov Col. John M. Chivington’s seven hundred Colorado Volunteers massacre Cheyenne Indians along Sand Creek, Colorado. Chivington orders his men to “kill and scalp all, big and little,” because “nits make lice.” Ninety-eight Indian women and children are among the dead. Gen. Nelson A. Miles calls this event the “foulest and most unjustifiable crime in the annals of America.”
- 3 Feb. Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward meet Confederate peace commissioners at Hampton Roads, Virginia.
- 4 Mar. Lincoln is inaugurated for a second term.
- 20 Mar. The Confederate Congress authorizes the arming of slaves.
- 9 Apr. Robert E. Lee surrenders his army at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.
- 14 Apr. Lincoln is assassinated at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth; Andrew Johnson becomes president.
- 29 May Johnson announces his plan for readmitting Southern states into the Union.
- 6 Dec. Johnson reports to Congress that the Union is restored.
- 9 Apr. A civil rights act is passed over Johnson’s veto.
- 13 June Congress approves the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
- 20 June The Congressional Joint Committee of Fifteen recommends against readmission of Southern states per Johnson’s plan.
- 16 July Freedmen’s Bureau bill passes over Johnson’s veto.
- 30 July A race riot occurs in New Orleans.
- 28 Aug. President Andrew Johnson embarks on the “swing around the circle” speaking tour.
- 21 Dec. Captain William J. Fetterman and eighty soldiers are killed by an estimated two thousand Cheyenne and Lakota warriors under Crazy Horse on the Bozeman Trail outside of Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming.
- 2 Mar. The Military Reconstruction Act passes over Johnson’s veto. Congress also passes the Command of the Army Act and Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson’s control of the army and the cabinet.
- May The Ku Klux Klan adopts a constitution; former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest is the first Grand Wizard.
- 12 Aug. President Andrew Johnson suspends Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
- 21 Feb. Johnson dismisses Secretary of War Stanton.
- 24 Feb. The House of Representatives impeaches President Johnson.
- 30 Mar. The impeachment trial of Johnson begins.
- 16 May President Andrew Johnson is acquitted of violating the Tenure of Office Act.
- 22–25 June Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina are readmitted to the Union by Congress.
- 3 Nov. Ulysses S. Grant is elected president.
- 6 Nov. Red Cloud and other Lakota tribal leaders sign a treaty with U.S. government officials at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, establishing a reservation in nearly all of present South Dakota west of the Missouri River. This area includes the sacred Black Hills.
- 27 Nov. Lt. Col. George A. Custer and eight hundred cavalrymen massacre Black Kettle’s band of Cheyenne Indians along the Washita River, Oklahoma.
- Sept. The Georgia legislature expels black members, and the state is returned to military rule.
- 30 Mar. The Fifteenth Amendment is declared to be in effect.
- 31 May Congress passes the Enforcement Act to protect black voters.
- 4 Mar. President Ulysses S. Grant appoints George William Curtis to head the first Civil Service Commission.
- 20 Apr. Congress passes the Ku Klux Klan Act to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment.
- 8 July The New York Times launches an exposé of the Tweed Ring that culminates in the conviction of William Marcy Tweed and other corrupt officials in New York City.
- 1 May The Liberal Republican Party nominates Horace Greeley for president.
- 9 July The Democratic National Convention also nominates Greeley for president.
- 5 Nov. Ulysses S. Grant is reelected president.
- 12 Feb. The Coinage Act makes gold the sole monetary standard, eliminating the silver dollar.
- 27 Feb. The House of Representatives censures Oakes Ames of Massachusetts and James Brooks of New York in the Crédit Mobilier scandal.
- 3 Mar. The “Salary Grab” Act doubles the president’s salary to $50,000 per year and increases Congressional pay from $5,000 to $7,500 per year.
- 20 Jan. Public pressure induces the repeal of the “Salary Grab” Act.
- Summer Gold is discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
- 14 Jan. The Specie Resumption Act limits greenbacks in circulation to $300 million, and provides for a return to specie payments by 1879.
- 1 Mar. Congress passes the Civil Rights Act; key provisions are held unconstitutional in the CivilRights cases of 1883.
- 9 Dec. President Grant’s private secretary Orville H. Babcock is indicted for participation in the Whiskey Ring, which defrauded the federal government of tax revenues.
- 2 Mar. Secretary of War William W. Belknap resigns after his impeachment for receiving bribes in relation to trade in the Indian territory.
- 25 June Lt. Col. George A. Custer and 262 troopers of the Seventh Cavalry are wiped out along the Little Bighorn River, Montana, by approximately two thousand Cheyenne and Lakota warriors led by Crazy Horse, Gall, and Lame White Man.
- 7 Nov. The presidential election results in a dispute between Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes and Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden over returns from four states.
- 29 Jan. Congress appoints the Electoral Commission to settle the disputed returns in the presidential race.
- Feb. The Electoral Commission supports the claims of Rutherford B. Hayes.
- Mar. 4 Rutherford B. Hayes is inaugurated president.
- Apr. The last remaining federal troops in the South are withdrawn from South Carolina and Louisiana.
LECOMPTON CONSTITUTION. When the Kansas territory was ready to seek admission to the Union in 1857, the key issue was whether it would be a free state or a slave state. The pro-slavery forces won control of the constitutional convention, which met in the town of Lecompton in September of that year. The complicated fight over the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution manifested the sectional tension that would erupt in the Civil War three years later.
The pro-slavery majority at Lecompton knew that most Kansans preferred to enter the Union as a free state, so the delegates resolved to send a pro-slavery document to Washington without putting it to a fair vote. The referendum on the Lecompton Constitution claimed to let voters decide between a "constitution with slavery" and a "constitution with no slavery," but they were given no real choice: the "constitution with no slavery" prohibited only the importation of new slaves, not the maintenance of slaves already established in the territory.
In December the "constitution with slavery" and the "constitution with no slavery" went to a vote, but anti-slavery forces boycotted the election. The "constitution with slavery" passed (6,226 to 569). Two weeks later, however, the territorial legislature, which unlike the constitutional convention was controlled by the antislavery forces, organized an "up or down" vote on the Lecompton Constitution. This time the pro-slavery forces refused to participate, and the constitution was voted down (10,226 to 162).
In February the drama moved to Washington, where Congress could either grant statehood under the Lecompton Constitution or deny it altogether. President James Buchanan pledged his support to the pro-slavery constitution. The Republican minority in Congress opposed it. The decisive figure was Stephen Douglas, the powerful Democratic senator from Illinois. He had long served as the bridge between the northern and southern wings of his party (he engineered the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854), but he believed strongly in the tenets of popular sovereignty and was convinced that Kansans had not been allowed to vote. Douglas broke with southerners and organized the congressional opposition to the Lecompton Constitution. After bitter debate, it passed the Senate but was rejected in the House.
In the end the two houses struck a compromise to make what had become a crisis go away. In an election ostensibly having nothing to do with slavery, Kansans went to the polls to vote on whether to accept a smaller land grant. If they accepted the revised grant, Kansas would become a state under the Lecompton Constitution. If they refused it, Kansas would remain a territory. The issue of the land grant became a safe proxy for the dangerous issue of slavery. In August, Kansans voted no on the land grant (11,300 to 1,788), implicitly rejecting the Lecompton Constitution.
Though disaster was averted, the split between Douglas and the southerners made it clear that as long as slavery remained the dominant political issue, the Democratic Party could no longer be a national organization. The party convention actually broke in two in 1860, and disunion and war followed the next winter.
Nevins, Allan. The Emergence of Lincoln. New York: Scribners, 1950.
In June 1857 less than thirty percent of registered voters in Kansas Territory elected a constitutional convention dominated by proslavery delegates. Meeting in Lecompton, the convention drew up a constitution preparatory for statehood that guaranteed the rights of owners of slaves in the territory, excluded free blacks, and submitted to a referendum the question whether the constitution should be accepted with or without a clause prohibiting the importation of slaves into Kansas (rather than a referendum on the constitution as a whole). Viewing this as a travesty of his principle of territorial sovereignty, Illinois Senator stephen a. douglas broke with the administration of james buchanan, which was pressuring Congress to accept the Lecompton constitution, and led the struggle against it. In three referenda on the constitution, Kansas voted first to accept the constitution with slavery (6,226 to 569, with free-state voters abstaining), then to reject the constitution entirely (10,226 to 166 with proslavery voters abstaining), then finally to reject it entirely again (11,300 to 1,788).
The struggle over the Lecompton constitution left Kansas a territory until 1861, dissipated the influence of the Buchanan administration, drove Douglas into opposition, and destroyed the capacity of the Democratic party to serve as a unifying transsectional force.
William M. Wiecek