Digital History

Pre-Civil War Reform

Antislavery Timeline Previous Next
Digital History ID 3538



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.

19th Century

1774: The Continental Congress approves a resolution prohibiting slave importations and further American participation in the slave trade.

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 it.

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.

19th Century1800: 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 on Haiti.

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 Deep South.

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 United States.

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 Emancipation.

1821: Missouri is admitted to the Union as a slave state.

1822: Agitation begins in Illinois to adopt a constitution legalizing slavery.

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, Virginia.

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 members.

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 political candidates.

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 Tom's Cabin.

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 Hell."

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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