Download Key Dates in US Slavery after 1840

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Key Dates in U.S. Slavery
after 1840
D R . G A RY R I C H A R D S
William Henry Harrison
is elected the first Whig
President; he dies,
however, after only one
month in office, and his
Vice President, slaveowning Virginian John
Tyler, dubbed “His
Accidency,” serves
almost a full four-year
James K. Polk, a slaveowning Tennessean,
dubbed “Young
Hickory,” wins the
White House for the
Democrats. He is
avowedly expansionist,
seeking to secure not
only Texas but California
from Mexico and Oregon
from Britain.
Texas is annexed to the
Union as a slave state.
Because she comes in
not as previously
organized U.S. territory
but rather as a separate
nation, she negotiates
unique terms, including
having the right to break
into five separate (slaveowning) states. That
same year Frederick
Douglass publishes his
first autobiography,
Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass, an
American Slave.
The United States
orchestrates a war
(1846-48) with Mexico
that is a blatant means
to seize territory. The
war is largely supported
by Democrats and
opposed by Whigs and is
wildly popular in the
Gold is discovered in
California, setting off the
Gold Rush of 1849. Whig
and Mexican War hero
Zachary Taylor wins the
White House. He too,
however, dies in office
(1850), elevating a prosouthern Vice President
(Millard Fillmore) to the
The Compromise of
1850, orchestrated by
Henry Clay, averts the
crisis that has arisen
with the acquisition of
Mexican land. California
is brought into the
Union as a free state, the
territory of New Mexico
is taken out of Texas,
and the slave trade—but
not slavery—is outlawed
in the District of
Columbia; however, the
Fugitive Slave Act
strengthens laws
demanding the return of
runaway slaves.
Partly in response to the
Fugitive Slave Act,
Harriet Beecher Stowe,
inspired by a vision from
God, serializes Uncle
Tom’s Cabin in The
National Era. When the
novel appears in book
form the following year,
it is hugely successful.
Southern novelists
retaliate to Uncle Tom’s
Cabin with pro-slavery
literary propaganda, such
as Caroline Lee Hentz’s
The Planter’s Northern
Bride. Democrat Stephan
Douglas designs the
Kansas-Nebraska Act,
which repeals the
Missouri Compromise and
brings in Kansas and
Nebraska as territories in
which their populations
will determine whether
slavery will be legal or not
(“popular sovereignty”).
The result is “Bleeding
Kansas,” a violenceriddled civil war that
anticipates the larger
national conflict in seven
The Republican Party is
organized as a
specifically antislavery
The U.S. Supreme Court,
led by southerner Roger
Taney, offers the Dred
Scott decision, dictating
that slaves and former
slaves can never be
citizens of the United
States and that Congress
has no power to prohibit
slavery in federal
territory. The Panic of
1857 takes the nation
into recession, but the
cotton market continues
to boom, bolstering
southern aggressiveness
and the myth of “King
South Carolina secedes
from the Union in the
wake of Republican
Abraham Lincoln’s
election. States from the
Deep South (Georgia,
Florida, Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana,
Texas) soon follow suit,
although border slave
states Virginia, North
Carolina, Tennessee, and
Arkansas take longer to
leave the Union. Slave
states Missouri,
Kentucky, Maryland,
and Delaware remain in
the Union, and western
counties of Virginia
ultimately return to the
Union as West Virginia.
Confederate forces fire
on Fort Sumter in
Charleston’s harbor
(April 12), and the fort
soon falls (April 14). As
armies are organized,
the first major conflict
occurs at Bull Run (July
After the Battle of
Antietam (September
17), one of the bloodiest
days of the war, Lincoln
issues the Emancipation
The Emancipation
Proclamation goes into
effect on January 1. With
the fall of Vicksburg
(July 3), virtually freeing
the Mississippi and
splitting the
Confederacy, and the
loss at Gettysburg (July
1-3), chances of
Confederate victory
become increasingly
Ulysses S. Grant is
moved from the western
front to the Virginian
front; William T.
Sherman besieges and
captures Atlanta
(September 1) before
marching through
Georgia and the
Robert E. Lee surrenders
the Army of North
Virginia to Ulysses S.
Grant (April 9), and
other major Confederate
forces soon do the same.
John Wilkes Booth
assassinates Abraham
Lincoln (April 15), and
Andrew Johnson
ascends to the
Presidency. The
Thirteenth Amendment
abolishes slavery in the
United States (December