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Feb 18, 1688
The Mennonites of Germantown, Pennsylvania hold their monthly meeting and draft a set of resolutions in opposition to slavery, which they call "the traffic of men-body."
Dec 19, 2019
Judge Samuel Sewall of Boston, a Puritan known for his role in the Salem witch trials, declares in The Selling of Joseph that slavery is evil and the slave trade immoral and even murderous.
Dec 19, 2019
Virginia disfranchises its free Black residents.
Dec 19, 1761
In a well known speech on writs of assistance, James Otis calls for the immediate abolition of slavery. (The writs are authorizations for British customs officials to search for smuggled goods; in essence they serve as general search warrants. Otis argues that these writs violate the colonists' natural rights as Englishmen. Otis reasons that Parliamentary laws violating English citizens' natural rights are therefore null and void.)
Dec 19, 1765
Future president John Adams and his wife Abigail are presented with a Black slave girl as a gift. They immediately set her free.
Dec 19, 1771
In Massachusetts, the colonial assembly passes a bill to ban all importation of slaves into the colony, but the Governor—an appointee of the King—refuses to support it.
Dec 19, 1772
The Virginia House of Burgesses enacts a prohibitive duty on slave imports. The slave-trade mainly appeals to upstart planters in the state and to small-scale traders, speculators, and planters who hope to attain greater status by owning a servant. The Burgesses request that the British king accept their proposed tax to help curtail what they call "a Trade of great Inhumanity." The crown, however, rejects the Virginians' proposal.
Dec 19, 1773
African Americans in Massachusetts petition the colonial legislature for relief from the oppression of slavery. Phyllis Wheatley, a Boston slave, publishes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book authoredby an African American.
Dec 19, 1774
The Continental Congress adopts a resolution calling for a ban on all American participation in the international slave trade.
Dec 19, 1774
In Philadelphia, the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends (the religious sect known as the Quakers) adopts new rules ordering members not to own slaves or participate in the slave trade.
Dec 19, 1774
Benjamin Rush, a young physician and a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress, helps to organize the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery
Dec 19, 1775
With the Revolutionary War underway, Virginia's royal governor, Lord Dunmore, offers emancipation to Blacks willing to fight for Britain against the rebellious American colonists.
Dec 19, 1776
The second Continental Congress passes a ban on participation in the international slave trade, ordering "that no slaves be imported into any of the Thirteen United Colonies."
Mar 1, 1780
Pennsylvania adopts a law calling for the gradual emancipation of all slaves in the state.
Dec 19, 1783
The Quakers submit a petition to Congress, calling for a ban on the slave trade.
Dec 19, 1784
By a narrow margin, Congress rejects Thomas Jefferson's proposal to exclude slavery from all new territories in the West beginning in 1800.
Dec 19, 1784
The Pennsylvania Abolition Society is founded.
Dec 19, 1785
Thomas Jefferson publishes Notes on the State of Virginia, which includes a profoundly ambiguous discussion of slavery. Jefferson describes slavery as a terrible evil, but also argues that emancipation would prove ruinous to American society.
Jul 13, 1787
In one of its last acts before being replaced by the new government designed by the Constitution, the old Continental Congress enacts the Northwest Ordinance, prohibiting slavery in the newly settled territories of the Great Lakes region.
Sep 1, 1787
In Philadelphia, the Constitutional Convention settles a dispute over whether to count slaves when apportioning Congressional representation by agreeing to the three-fifths compromise. That compromise, vital to securing the Constitution's approval in the South, three-fifths of the slave population will be counted when determining how many seats each state will receive in the House of Representatives.
Dec 19, 1793
Rumors of slave conspiracies abound in Virginia and South Carolina during 1793, just as the Caribbean coastal town of Cap Francais is going up in flames amidst the Haitian Revolution, after which 10,000 Haitian refugees flood American ports.
May 1, 1793
Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, allowing for the profitable cultivation of short-staple cotton. The cotton gin, which makes it much easier to remove seeds from cotton fiber, revolutionizes the industry, transforming it into the economic lifeblood of the South. Cotton growing immediately begins spreading southward and westward, fueling a huge resurgence in the demand for slave labor.
Dec 19, 1798
Georgia becomes the last state to prohibit further slave importations from Africa.
Jan 1, 1800
Rebel slave Gabriel Prosser conspires to seize Richmond, Virginia with a large force of perhaps 1,000 armed slaves and then proceed to a general slaughter of whites. The plot is uncovered before it can be unleashed; 25 of the conspirators are executed and ten others deported to the West Indies.
Dec 19, 2019
Beginning in 1800, the Second Great Awakening, a powerful wave of religious revivalism, sweeps across the country. The Awakening establishes a form of evangelical worship that emphasizes the experience of personal salvation, encouraging a spirit of moralism that will drive future movements for temperance, women's rights, and abolitionism. The Second Great Awakening is particularly fervent in the Great Lakes region, especially northwestern New York.
Dec 19, 2019
South Carolina reopens its ports to the African slave trade.
Dec 19, 2019
New Jersey adopts an act requiring gradual emancipation of all slaves within its borders, becoming the last northern state to pass legislation for a long-term end to slavery.
Mar 2, 1807
At President Jefferson's request, Congress passes a law prohibiting all Americans from participating in the African slave trade.
Dec 19, 2019
The American Colonization Society is formed to promote the colonization of free Blacks to Africa.
Dec 19, 2019
During a congressional debate over Missouri's proposal for statehood, Representative James Tallmadge of New York, introduces an amendment to the Missouri statehood bill calling for a prohibition against any further introduction of slaves to the territory. Tallmadge's proposal sets off a furious sectional debate pitting proslavery Southerners against antislavery Northerners. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 will settle the controversy... for awhile.
Mar 2, 1820
The question of whether or not to admit Missouri to the Union as a slave state generates serious sectional strife in Congress, with tensions running high and some lawmakers openly speaking of civil war. As a compromise, Congress ultimately accepts Missouri as a slave state but bans slavery in all the rest of the Louisiana Territory north of 36°30' latitude.
Jan 1, 1822
Oct 25, 1825
The Erie Canal opens in New York state, linking the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean (from Lake Erie to the Hudson River). This has enormous consequences in a number of realms, one of which is the emergence of jobs and opportunities in central and western New York state for professionals in the emerging industrial economy.
What we now know as a "middle class" starts to grow in the same region that will become known as the "Burned-Over District" for its central role in the Second Great Awakening. This region becomes the center of some of the most important abolitionist activity in the nineteenth century.
Sep 1, 1829
A free Black man and a self-taught clothes dealer publishes his self-titled, 76-page David Walker's Appeal. Walker has left Wilmington, North Carolina to settle in Boston and become a member of the Massachusetts General Colored Association (founded in 1826 for racial betterment and slave emancipation).
The Appeal is a call to militant action for Blacks that alarms the white reading public but circulates rapidly. Walker stitches copies of the pamphlet into the lining of coats that he sells to Black sailors, who transport the work across the country with them. Copies are found in Savannah, Georgia within weeks of the publication.
As a result, Georgia and North Carolina enact laws against incendiary publications. The pamphlet also provokes disavowal from antislavery activist and Quaker Benjamin Lundy, who thinks the pamphlet does a disservice to the cause. Three editions of the pamphlet are printed in the next year. In the pamphlet, Walker argues against colonization. Addressing his fellow African Americans, he writes: "America is more our country than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood and tears." Walker dies in August 1830, shortly after revising the third edition of the pamphlet that put his name into the history books.
Dec 19, 2019
Colonization often receives the most vigorous support in places where Northern whites feel threatened by the growing presence of free Blacks in their midst. In Cincinnati, Ohio, the municipal government had ignored the provisions of statewide Black Laws that required any free Black immigrant to post a prohibitively expensive $500 bond as a guarantee of their good behavior and providence prior to settling in the state.
Between 1826 and 1829, the city's Black population grows from 4 to 10% of the population. Accordingly, the Cincinnati Colonization Society is formed in 1826, and local colonization societies in the state increase from one in late 1825 to 45 by 1830.
Jun 1, 1831
Simeon S. Jocelyn, the white pastor of a New Haven church for Blacks, along with prominent abolitionists Arthur Tappan and William Lloyd Garrison, proposes a Black college in his town, which is thought to be a perfect site because of its intellectual reputation and the friendly and pious character of the inhabitants.
New Haven residents become alarmed about the proposal almost immediately, and their fears increase after the Nat Turner insurrection in August. In a September town meeting, New Haven citizens denounce the Black college proposal by a vote of 700 to 4; the next month, they stone Arthur Tappan's house on Temple Street and tear down a Black shanty on "Sodom Hill."
Aug 21, 1831
Slave Nat Turner begins his insurrection in rural Southampton County, Virginia; the only American slave revolt to make it beyond the planning stage. At least fifty-five whites are shot or clubbed to death before Turner and his 40+ followers (most on horseback) can be stopped. The resulting trials will lead to 55 executions and many more deportations.
Turner takes his cue for the long-planned revolt from the unusual appearance of the sun; on the day of the revolt, there is an atmospheric disturbance in which it appears bluish-green. Bizarrely (and probably unbeknownst to Turner and his followers), this rebellion occurs one day before the fortieth anniversary of the Haitian Revolution.
Oct 1, 1831
The influential National Intelligencer of Washington, D.C., demands that Boston Mayer Harrison Gray Otis find some legal way of silencing the "incendiary" paper that is operating in his city; William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist weekly, The Liberator.
Jan 1, 1970
Nat Turner is discovered and captured while leading his bloody slave revolt in Virginia. He dictates his "Confession" to physician Thomas R. Gray while he is imprisoned in the Southampton County Jail.
Nov 11, 1831
Nat Turner is hanged, then skinned, for his role as leader of the August slave insurrection in Virginia.
Dec 25, 1831
Slaves revolt in Jamaica; as many as 60,000 of the island's 300,000 slaves participate; the rebellion is crushed by British soldiers and planters in about ten days.
Jan 1, 1832
William Lloyd Garrison, along with other whites and Blacks, organizes the New England Anti-Slavery Society.
Jan 1, 1832
A white benevolent society, The Lynn Colored People's Friend Society, is established in the Massachusetts manufacturing town. It aims to abolish slavery, gain equal "civil privileges and natural rights" for Blacks and Indians, and improve free Blacks' "character and condition." The officers of the Society include shoemakers, shoe manufacturers, and a teacher. A Methodist pastor becomes its president.
May 1, 1832
William Lloyd Garrison publishes "Thoughts on African Colonization," an attack on the American Colonization Society. With financial support from fellow abolitionist and wealthy merchant Arthur Tappan, it gains a wide circulation.
Jun 1, 1832
The New England Anti-Slavery Society institutes weekly anti-colonization forums in Boston and sends lecturers to surrounding cities and towns. It also plans Fourth of July meetings to compete with the traditional colonizationist exercises.
Jan 1, 1833
The Tappan brothers (Arthur and Lewis, wealthy New York City businessmen) and others organize the New York Anti-Slavery Society.
May 1, 1833
The New York Anti-Slavery Society commences publication of its weekly, The Emancipator. Many free Northern Blacks serve as its publication agents.
Jan 1, 1833
The American Anti-Slavery Society is organized at Philadelphia.
Apr 1, 1833
Prudence Crandall, a young Quaker schoolmistress in Canterbury, Connecticut, is publicly rebuked for admitting a Black day student. To challenge the community's prejudice, Crandall opens a boarding school exclusively for Black girls. The town calls a meeting and denounces the plan. They are led by Democrat Andrew T. Judson, an officer of the local colonization society who will later become a U.S. district judge.
Crandall admits ten to twenty girls anyway, despite the town's attempts at blocking the school through appeals to the state legislature. Then the town resorts to violence: they harass Ms. Crandall, throw manure into the school's well, hurl rocks at the schoolhouse, and repeatedly try to burn it down. They destroy her home in September of 1834, finally forcing her to leave for Illinois.
Jul 1, 1834
Anti-abolition mobs tear across New York City, primarily incited by charges that emancipation will lead to amalgamation—race mixing.
Jul 22, 1834
A meeting of African-American activists in Boston adopts a resolution declaring that they regard "all persons of color who were not antislavery men in principles and practice as the greatest enemies of our cause, our elevation and our happiness."
Jul 31, 1834
Tennessee becomes the second-to-last slave state to disfranchise its free Black population, by a vote of 33 to 23. Constitutional Convention delegate William H. Loving, of the western Haywood County, expresses his astonishment at his "old grey headed" colleagues for even considering the proposition to let free Blacks and mulattoes "exercise the highest right and privilege in a free government." He argues that free Blacks are in the habit of "trading with our slaves and corrupting them."
He then goes on to charge that suffrage for free Black men is actually an "evil example to our slaves of an incalculable extent," because the slaves will not perceive any differences in color or intellect between themselves and the free Blacks, and that they will therefore become agitated over this disparity and will become excited with notions of "the overthrow or total extinction of the white race." Loving uses the recent slave revolt in Haiti as his chief example.
Jun 13, 1835
North Carolina, the only remaining slaveholding state that has allowed free Blacks to exercise the franchise, votes at its Constitutional Convention to deprive them of this right, arguing that the Black vote could be bought with "a little to drink...like a lot of poultry."
An amendment is proposed that would retain the vote for Black men over 21 with the necessary property qualifications; it is narrowly rejected. One of the convention delegates, Jesse Wilson of Perquimans County, says that he does not believe "free Blacks qualified to vote." He says that he has heard almost everybody saying that slavery is a great evil, but that he believes no such thing. Wilson argues that it is a great blessing to the South, and that "our system of agriculture could not be carried on in the Southern States without it. The Southern people might as well attempt to build a railroad to the moon as to cultivate their swamp lands without slaves." Wilson also expresses the fear that "if we foster and raise them up they will soon become a majority and we shall have N**** justices, n**** sheriffs, and other n**** officials."
May 1, 1835
The summer of 1835 is the peak of violent activity among Northern mobs, primarily but not solely for anti-abolitionist sentiments.
May 1, 1835
The summer of 1835 is the peak of activity for the American Anti-Slavery Society, which becomes the hottest topic in American politics because of the AAS's savvy campaign to bombard the country with free pamphlets. The mailings—385,000 copies of which are distributed this year—utilize full-page images, usually woodcuts (photography hasn't been invented yet, and the scenes they depict could seldom if ever be captured on camera, since the slaveowner would destroy the evidence).
They depict brutish slavemasters mutilating their slaves, lusting after Black women, and a slave mother killing her baby twins with an ax because they are to be sold away from her. The South explodes when these mailings arrive in their post offices. They call for the blood of the abolitionists, put prices on the heads of the Anti-Slavery Society leaders (like Arthur Tappan), organize vigilance committees to search the post offices for the pamphlets in orderto destroy them, and stop and question any strangers in town.
May 1, 1835 - Sep 30, 1835
Anti-abolition mobs continue throughout 1836, but have subsided substantially by the year's end.
Oct 21, 1835
An anti-abolitionist mob leads William Lloyd Garrison through Boston streets by a rope, presumably with the intent to lynch him. He is finally rescued by police. It is the sight of the victimized Garrison that reportedly stirs wealthy Boston attorney Wendell Phillips to join his cause; Phillips quickly becomes one of the movement's most forceful speakers.
On the same day, Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist from Utica, New York, is converted to abolitionism while attending an abolitionist conference in his hometown. The meeting is disrupted by a violent mob of anti-abolitionists, so Smith offers his Peterboro, New York estate to house the conference and makes a powerful speech on behalf of the cause.
Smith goes on to become the only abolitionist to hold a Congressional office, the president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society for three years, and a Station Master of the Underground Railroad. He sells portions of his land to fugitive slaves for the nominal fee of one dollar. He also becomes one of the Secret Six, a group of supporters who financial assistance to John Brown for his 1859 raid at Harper's Ferry.
Feb 1, 1836
Southerners want a total rejection of the antislavery petitions that have been bombarding Congress for the past several months; what they get is a resolution tabling antislavery petitions, prohibiting their publication, and censoring any discussion or even mention of them on the floor of Congress. This is otherwise known as the gag rule. It passes by the overwhelming margin of 117 to 68. Most Northern Whigs vote against it, but most Northern Democrats vote for it.
Mar 12, 1836
After a lecture series from visiting abolitionist and evangelist Theodore Dwight Weld, 1,200 residents of Utica, New York (a majority of them men), sign their names to a petition to Congress that prays for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
Jan 1, 1837
In direct response to the gag rule, some 412,000 petitions are sent to the House of Representatives and approximately 270,000 to the Senate. The American Anti-Slavery Society organized the petitioning by sending printed petitions to their network of state and local societies; the petitions were then returned to national headquarters for conveyance to the Capitol.
Dec 19, 2019
Presbyterians split over the question of slavery. The so-called "New School" synods are cut off from the church and form their own group, which composes about four-ninths of Presbyterian clergy and laymen. Most of these are Northerners but there are a few Southerners among them as well. A few antislavery men remain in the Old School.
Nov 7, 1837
A hostile mob murders abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois. Lovejoy dies defending his right to publish the Observer, an abolitionist Presbyterian weekly. The paper had been based out of St. Louis, Missouri, but Lovejoy had relocated to Illinois because of the threats of mob violence. Mobs attack his press in Illinois several times during 1837, when Lovejoy finally steps in to try and stop them on this fateful November night. The news of his murder galvanizes abolitionists throughout the North and advances their cause.
Dec 8, 1837
Harvard law graduate Wendell Phillips begins his career as a great orator in Boston's Faneuil Hall, when he makes a moving and articulate speech condemning the murder of abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy.
May 17, 1838
Only four days after the building was opened as a forum for discussing "the evils of slavery," Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia is destroyed by a mob opposed to the abolitionist cause. After the mob sets fire to the building, the fire department arrives but only extinguishes the flames on the neighboring structures.
The one unit that tries to spray its fire hose on Pennsylvania Hall is attacked with the fire hoses of the other units, who clearly want the building to burn. The attackers continue their onslaught for the next four days; they set a Black orphanage on fire and then they damage a Black church. An official report blames the abolitionists for the riots. It claims that they encourage "race mixing" and that such views incite violence by upsetting the people of Philadelphia.
Dec 1, 1838
In the manufacturing towns of Lynn and Saugus, Massachusetts, 912 women sign an antislavery petition. Among them are probably the many women shoe binders who reside in both cities, especially since two of the most prominent shoe binder union members are also a part of the Lynn Female Anti-Slavery Society.
The slave Sengbe Pieh (or Cinque), of the Mende ethnic group, leads a mutiny of 53 slaves aboard the Spanish ship L'Amistad, which is traveling from the Cuban port of Havana to Puerto Principe, on the same island. The captain and cook are killed while two crewmen escape; the Africans then gain control of Amistad. For the next 2 months the Amistad sails east by day, north by night, through the Bahamas and up the North American coastline, into United States waters.
Aug 26, 1839
The ship Amistad is captured by the crew of the U.S.S. Washington off of Long Island, New York. The Africans aboard the ship are held and taken along with the Amistad to New London, Connecticut. A judicial hearing, presided over by Judge Judson, is held on the U.S.S. Washington; the Africans await trial in a New Haven, Connecticut jail.
Sep 4, 1839
New York merchant Lewis Tappan forms the Friend of Amistad Africans (or simply the "Amistad") Committee.
Oct 1, 1839
Professor Josiah Gibbs locates an interpreter, James Covey, and the Africans of the Amistad revolt are able to tell their story. The Africans are subsequently taught the English language and the tenets of Christianity.
Jul 12, 1840
Lucretia Mott, a pacifist and a Quaker committed to Black emancipation and women's rights, is refused seats at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in England, along with six other American female delegates.
Dec 19, 2019
This year's census of Pennsylvania is the last one to enumerate any slaves in the state.
Nov 1, 1840
The Liberty Party, campaigning for abolition and Black equality, wins only 7,000 votes on its first try. This number increases over nine-fold by the next presidential election.
Feb 24, 1841
Beginning today and continuing on March 1st, former president John Quincy Adams delivers his argument before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Africans captured in the schooner Amistad in the case of U.S. v. Cinque. The Court orders the Africans to be freed immediately. Most of them travel to Sierra Leone along with a Christian mission in early 1842. They experience some problems and many of the Africans abandon the missionaries. Cinque returns to the mission in 1879 as an old man ready to die. He's buried there, among the graves of American missionaries.
Dec 19, 2019
Rhode Island emancipates all of the slaves who remain in bondage within its borders.
May 1, 1843
Abolitionists from the Methodist Episcopal Church secede to form a new church that will be free of fellowship with slaveholders. Thus the Wesleyan Methodist Connection is established with six thousand charter members.
Nov 1, 1844
The Liberty Party wins 65,000 votes in the presidential election. It is hardly close to a popular majority but it is enough to deprive the Whigs of taking New York state, and that determines the election of Democrat James K. Polk instead of the Whig candidate, Henry Clay.
Dec 1, 1844
Representative John Quincy Adams (the only former president to return to the House of Representatives after his term as Chief Executive) once again calls for a repeal of the gag rule. This time, because Northern Democrats refuse to come to the aid of their Southern colleagues, he is successful by a vote of 108 to 80. All the Northern Whigs and four Southern Whigs support Adams, as do 78% of Northern Democrats (in the past only 59% of them have supported Adams). The gag rule is dead forever.
Apr 28, 1845
In Lynn, Massachusetts, Frederick Douglass finishes his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, seven years after his escape from slavery. It is published this year.
Nov 1, 1845
The national church organizations of the Baptists and the Methodists have now split over the issue of slavery.
Dec 19, 2019
New Jersey passes a law emancipating all remaining slaves in the state, but the children of slave mothers remain in apprenticeships, as will the recently freed slaves.
Nov 1, 1848
The Free Soil Party (descendant of the Liberty Party) polls 291,804 votes for Martin Van Buren. Its platform is essentially co-opted by Northern Whigs and Democrats, who soon echo the call for abolition of slavery in the territories.
Jul 1, 1849
Henry Bibb and Lucius C. Matlack complete and publish the Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave.
Jan 1, 1850
Runaway slave, abolitionist, and women's rights campaigner Sojourner Truth publishes The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which she dictated to Olive Gilbert herself.
Mar 11, 1850
Whig Senator William Henry Seward of New York voices his opposition to the Compromise of 1850 on the floor of the Senate, famously stating that "there is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates our authority over the domain."
Sep 18, 1850
The Fugitive Slave Act, the most notorious of the Compromise of 1850 measures, is approved as law.
Sep 20, 1850
President Millard Fillmore signs the last of the Compromise of 1850 measures into law.
Mar 20, 1852
The complete Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is published (initially it was printed as a series of articles in an abolitionist paper). The book sells 500,000 copies in its first year; next to the Bible, it is the most popular book of the nineteenth century and probably the most important book in American history. During the Civil War, President Lincoln will meet Stowe in the White House and reportedly say to her (in so many words): "So you're the little lady that caused this great big war."
Nov 6, 1852
The Free Soil Party polls only 156,000 votes for John P. Hale, less than what they received for Van Buren in 1848, in part because the Democrats have successfully (if temporarily) managed to unify their divergent factions. Hale nonetheless does 150% better than the Birney candidacy of 1844 with the Liberty Party. Simultaneously, the Whig Party dissolves after this point. The two-party system is in disarray. Many Whigs cross over into the Free Democrat wing.
Jan 1, 1854
The Republican Party is founded. This is the beginning of the end for cross-sectional alliances under the umbrella of partisanship. The Kansas-Nebraska Act has proven the final nail in the coffin of the Whig Party; Southern Whigs now tend to abstain from voting, while most of their Northern counterparts move toward the Republicans, along with some independent Democrats and Free Soilers. The name of the party evokes the memory of Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans.
May 30, 1854
Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, 37 to 14 in the Senate and 113 to 100 in the House. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and President Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire (known as a doughface, or a "northern man with southern principles") push the bill through but fail to appreciate the depth of antislavery sentiment that has been growing in the North. The Missouri Compromise is revoked in favor of "popular sovereignty"; the idea that the residents of the territories will decide for themselves on the question of slavery. This will apply to all of the as-yet unorganized Louisiana Purchase territory extending north to the Canadian border.
May 20, 1856
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, elected by a coalition of Democrats and Free Soilers, delivers his incendiary speech on "The Crime against Kansas." He argues that the proslavery Missourians who cross the border to make Kansas a proslavery state are raping a virgin territory.
May 21, 1856
In the "sack of Lawrence," Kansas, a proslavery mob enters this free-state town and destroys the newspaper presses, sets fire to the governor's house, steals property and fires five cannon on the Free State Hotel, demolishing it.
May 22, 1856
Representative Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina inadvertently creates a martyr for the antislavery cause by attacking Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate. Brooks is the nephew of Senator Andrew Butler, also from South Carolina, and he feels responsible for avenging his uncle's honor after Sumner's controversial "Crime against Kansas Speech." In that speech—two days prior—Sumner had argued that Senator Butler "has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, Slavery. For her, his tongue is always profuse in words."
Brooks beats Sumner about the head with his metal-topped cane while stunned colleagues look on; the Senator soon collapses and suffers two gashes to the skull. The House censures Brooks and he resigns, but goes home only to be triumphantly reelected. Sumner's seat remains empty for the next two and a half years as a reminder of the incident. Admirers send Brooks new canes, and Southerners who never would have gone that far now find themselves pressed into the position of making excuses for him.
May 24, 1856 - May 25, 1856
In response to the sack of Lawrence, fanatical Free-Soiler John Brown attacks the proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek with four of his sons and three others. They drag five men from their houses and hack them to death in front of their screaming families. This in turn sets off a series of raids and attacks across the state that last through the summer and into fall.
Mar 6, 1857
The Supreme Court hands down one of the most infamous decisions in its history, Dred Scott v. Sandford. By a vote of 7 to 2, though almost each of them with different lines of reasoning, the Justices declare that Scott should remain a slave, even though his master brought him to reside in the free soil of the Illinois and Wisconsin territories. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney takes the matter much further and argues that no state has ever accorded citizenship to Blacks (he is wrong; they have). He writes that Blacks have been "for more than a century regarded as...so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
Blacks are not citizens, by Taney's reasoning. Precedent declares that residence in a free state does not free an enslaved person; Taney takes this a step further as well, strongly implying that popular sovereignty as well as the Missouri Compromise are both unconstitutional, because Congress cannot exclude slavery from a territory, nor can a territorial government created by act of Congress. By this reasoning, Congress is not authorized to deprive citizens of their property (the slaves). Every Justice who sides with Taney (who is from Maryland) is also a Southerner.
Oct 25, 1858
In a speech at Rochester, New York, former Senator William Henry Seward declares that there will exist "an irrepressible conflict" until the United States becomes either all slave or all free.
Oct 16, 1859
Under the cover of darkness, radical abolitionist John Brown crosses the Potomac River with twenty men, including five Blacks. They plan to incite a massive insurrection by arming slaves with weapons from the federal arsenal. The plan backfires and ten of Brown's men are ultimately killed; his forces kill four, including a Marine. Brown and six others are apprehended.
Oct 31, 1859
John Brown is quickly tried and convicted of conspiracy to incite insurrection and treason against the state of Virginia. At his sentencing he declares that "Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done."
Oct 31, 1859
John Brown dies on the gallows at Charlestown. Six of his associates follow at a later date. Brown becomes an antislavery martyr and his attempted insurrection creates panic in the South.
Jan 1, 1860
In the past four decades, only about 15,000 Blacks have migrated to the Liberian republic; this figure represents 0.6% of enslaved population growth during the same period.
Jan 1, 1861
Harriet Jacobs publishes her slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, under the pseudonym Linda Brent.
Jan 31, 1863
The Emancipation Proclamation, a cold legalistic document issued by President Abraham Lincoln, frees all slaves in the places where Lincoln has no authority to free them: the areas of the South still in rebellion. It is estimated that 200,000, or one in twenty slaves are freed as a result of this Proclamation.
This is a calculated effort to maximize public support for emancipation on the ground of military necessity. Yet it has come to be recognized as the most radical act of any American president, and one with revolutionary implications. It re-defines the American perception of liberty and transforms the Civil War into a battle for the soul of the country.
Dec 6, 1865
The necessary two-thirds of all states ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."