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Exploration and Expansion (1783-1860)
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1789 When the U.S. Constitution is ratified, slavery is not mentioned by name, but the property rights of slave holders are recognized.
1789 George Washington becomes the first American president. Washington, along with most of the early presidents, owns slaves.
1790 The first census in 1790 reports almost 60,000 free African Americans living in the United States. Almost all live in the North.
1800 Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African American, plans an attack on Richmond, Virginia. The plan fails and Prosser is hanged, but African Americans continue to quietly protest slavery by fleeing their owners for free states and territory in the North.
1803 The Louisiana Purchase opens up westward expansion, eventually raising the question whether slavery would be permitted in the new territories. The Louisiana Purchase doubles the size of the United States. After 1803, slave owners begin to move into this new territory, bringing their slaves with them.
1807 The British ban the international slave trade and establishes patrols in the Atlantic Ocean.
1820 The Missouri Compromise temporarily resolves political conflict over expansion of slavery into western territories by maintaining the balance of pro- and anti-slavery states in the United States Senate.
1822 Denmark Vesey, a free African American carpenter, plans a revolt to conquer Charleston, South Carolina. When his plan is discovered, he and 47 others are executed.
1824 New York City assumes the financing of seven free schools for African Americans.
1826 John Russwurm becomes the first African American to graduate from an American college, Bowduin College.
1827 Freedom's Journal becomes the first African American-owned newspaper in America.
1830 The American Anti-Slavery Society is founded in Philadelphia by Arthur Tappan.
1831 Nat Turner leads a bloody insurrection of enslaved people in Virginia. The revolt is crushed and Slave Codes are strengthened throughout the South.
1834 Free African Americans receive American passports stating that they are citizens of the United States.
1837 At the age of 28, while serving in the Illinois General Assembly, Abraham Lincoln makes one of his first public declarations against slavery.
1840s Abolitionist Levi Coffin becomes known as the "president" of the Underground Railroad.
1849 Roberts v. the City of Boston. An African American parent sues to desegregate a public school in Boston and lost. Later, the state legislature abolishes segregation.
1850 As part of the Missouri Compromise, Congress passes an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act.
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
1853 Lincoln University in Pennsylvania is established as the nation's first college for African Americans.
1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that living in a free state or territory does not cancel a slave holder's property rights. The decision invalidates the Missouri Compromise.
1858 In his Definition of Democracy, Abraham Lincoln makes his most famous statement about the existence of slavery:
1859 Abolitionist John Brown attempts to seize a federal arsenal in a raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Brown's raid and subsequent execution polarizes public opinion on slavery.
1860 Abraham Lincoln is elected president.
1860 The census reports more that 4.4 million African Americans in the United States.
Did You Know?
The national strategy to use the courts to challenge segregation in public education began with the NAACP under the leadership of attorney Charles Hamilton Houston in the 1930’s.--Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site More...