This timeline covers events from 1774 when the Continental Congress approved a resolution prohibiting slave importations and further American participation in the slave trade and concludes when John Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
The Continental Congress approves a resolution prohibiting slave
importations and further American participation in the slave
1775: Lord Dunmore, Virginia's royal governor, promises
freedom to any slaves who desert rebellious masters and serve
in the Crown's forces.
1777: Vermont's Constitution outlaws slavery.
1779: John Laurens proposes to Congress the arming of
3,000 slaves to resist a British invasion of the South; Congress
approves the proposal but the South Carolina legislature rejects
1780: Pennsylvania adopts a gradual emancipation law.
1782: A Virginia law permits private manumissions.
1784: By a single vote, Congress rejects Jefferson's proposal
to exclude slavery from the western territories after 1800.
1787: The Constitutional Convention agrees to count three-fifths
of a state's slave population in apportioning representations;
forbids Congress from ending the Atlantic slave trade until 1808;
and requires fugitive slaves to be returned to their owners.
1787: The Northwest Ordinance prohibits slavery north
of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi.
1790: The Quakers and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society
petition Congress to discourage the slave trade and slaveholding
producing an uproar in Congress.
1792: Congress refuses to accept an antislavery petition
from Quaker Warner Mifflin.
1792: Kentucky becomes the first new slave state admitted
to the Union.
1793: Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin.
1794: Congress prohibits Americans from engaging in the
slave trade to foreign countries.
1798: Georgia prohibits further imports of slaves from
outside the United States.
1798: Congress rejects a proposal to prohibit slavery
from Mississippi Territory.
1799: New York adopts a gradual emancipation law.
Gabriel's planned slave insurrection in Richmond is uncovered.
1803: South Carolina reopens the African slave trade.
1804: Congress restricts slaves coming into Louisiana
Territory to the property of actual settlers, but rejects a motion
to limit slavery to one year.
1804: New Jersey adopts a gradual emancipation act.
1806: President Thomas Jefferson imposes a trade embargo
1807: The British Parliament and the U.S. Congress vote
to end the African slave trade.
1808: The Methodist Episcopal Church deletes its rules
proscribing slavery from copies of its Disciplines sent to the
1816: The American Colonization Society is founded to
resettle free blacks in Africa.
1817: James Forten leads a protest meeting of 3,000 blacks
in Philadelphia against colonization.
1819: Congress authorizes the President to send armed
vessels to Africa to suppress the African slave trade to the
1819: Congress defeats an amendment that would have prohibited
slavery in Arkansas Territory.
1819: Representative James Tallmadge, Jr., proposes an
amendment to a statehood bill for Missouri that would prohibit
further introduction of slaves and gradually abolish slavery
in the state.
1820: The U.S. Congress defines the slave trade as piracy.
1820: The American Colonization Society sends an expedition
to Africa to establish a refuge for free blacks.
1820: The Missouri Compromise prohibits slavery in the
northern half of the Louisiana Purchase.
1821: Benjamin Lundy begins publishing the Genius of Universal
1821: Missouri is admitted to the Union as a slave state.
1822: Agitation begins in Illinois to adopt a constitution
1822: Denmark Vesey's planned slave insurrection in Charleston,
S.C. is uncovered.
1827: There are an estimated 106 antislavery societies
in the South with 5,150 members, and 24 organizations in the
North with 1,475 members.
1829: David Walker issues his militant Appeal to the Colored
Citizens of the World, threatening insurrection if slavery is
not abolished and African Americans are not granted equal rights.
1830: American Colonization Society sends just 529 free
blacks to Liberia.
January 1, 1831: Garrison begins publishing The Liberator,
the country's first publication to demand an immediate end to
slavery. On the front page of the first issue he declares: "I
will not equivocate--I will not excuse--I will not retreat a
single inch--AND I WILL BE HEARD." Georgia offers $5,000
to anyone who would bring him to the state for trial.
August 22, 1831: Nat Turner leads an insurrection in Southampton County,
Christmas 1831: A slave insurrection erupts in Jamaica.
1833: The British Parliament adopts a gradual emancipation
plan providing compensation to slave owners and establishes
an apprenticeship plan to prepare nearly 800,000 slaves for freedom.
December, 1833: Garrison and some 60 other delegates,
male and female and black and white, form the American Anti-Slavery
Society in Philadelphia.
1831: Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati expels antislavery
students, including Theodore Weld, many of whom become agents
for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
October 1834: During anti-abolitionist rioting, a white
destroys 45 homes in Philadelphia's black community.
1835: A mob drags Garrison through Boston's streets and
nearly lynches him before authorities remove him to a city jail
for his own safety.
1836: The number of antislavery societies reaches 527.
November 7, 1837: An anti-abolitionist mob murders the
Rev. Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, Ill.
1838: There are 1,300 antislavery societies with 109,000
1838: A peace convention in Boston condemns war and repudiates
"all human politics."
1838-39: Antislavery societies gather 2 million names
on antislavery petitions.
1839: 39 African captives led by Joseph Cinque rebel against
their Cuban captors and order two surviving whites to sail the
Amistad to Africa. The ship is seized off the coast of Long Island
and the Africans are jailed in Connecticut.
1840: The American Anti-Slavery Society splits over women's
right to participate in the administration of the organization
and the advisability of nominating abolitionists as independent
1840: James Birney, the Liberty Party presidential candidate,
receives fewer than 7,100 votes.
1841: The Supreme Court frees the Amistad captives on
the grounds that the international slave trade is illegal.
1844: Liberty Party presidential candidate receives 62,000
votes, capturing enough votes in Michigan and New York to deprive
Whig candidate Henry Clay of the presidency.
1844: Congress narrowly approves the annexation of Texas.
1846: The United States declares war with Mexico.
1846: The House of Representatives adopts the Wilmot Proviso,
which would bar slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico.
The Senate rejects the proviso.
1848: Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United
States acquires one-third of Mexican territory.
1848: Conscience Whigs and antislavery Democrats merge
with the Liberty Party to form the Free-Soil Party, which demands
the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and exclusion
of slavery from the federal territories. Presidential nominee
Martin Van Buren receives 300,000 votes (about 10 percent of
all votes cast).
1850: The Fugitive Slave Law, part of the Compromise of
1850, strips accused runaways of the rights of trial by jury
and of testifying in their own defense.
1851: A leading antislavery weekly begins to publish Uncle
1851: A gun battle erupts in Christiana, Pa. between abolitionists
and slave catchers.
1854: The Republican party is organized following passage
of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opens Kansas and Nebraska territories
to white settlement and repeals the Missouri Compromise line
restricting slavery in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase.
1854: Garrison publicly burns a copy of the U.S. Constitution,
calling it "a covenant with death and an agreement with
May 24, 1856: John Brown and six companions murder five
proslavery men and boys at Pottawatomie Creek, Ks., part of a
war of revenge that leaves 200 dead.
October 16, 1859: John Brown leads a raid on the federal
arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va..
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