Civil War Timeline & Leading Events

New Orleans, Louisiana Slaves by M.H. Kimball, 1863.

New Orleans, Louisiana Slaves by M.H. Kimball, 1863.

1830 – The results of the 1830 census show a total population of almost 12.8 million, of which 16% are slaves. Slaves are virtually non-existent in northern states and as high as 54% in South Carolina and 51% in Louisiana.

1831 – In January, William Lloyd Garrison publishes the first issue of the abolitionist journal, the Liberator.

1831 – In August, Nat Turner leads a rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, over 60 whites were killed. Turner was on the run for or nearly two months but was eventually caught and hanged.

1832 – The Tariff Act of 1832 reduces duties; however, the  South is still dissatisfied and threatens secession. South Carolina’s legislature organizes an army and declares the tariffs null and void.

1833 – Confrontation over tariffs is averted when the Compromise Tariff Act is passed as a means of gradually reducing the tariffs.

1834 – Slavery is abolished throughout the British Empire.

1835 – In June, Arkansas becomes the 25th state, entering as a  slave state.

1836 – In May, the House passes a resolution that automatically tables or postpones action on all petitions relating to slavery without hearing them. Stricter versions of this gag rule are passed in succeeding Congresses.

1837 – In January, Michigan becomes the 26th state, entering as a free state.

In November 1837, Abolitionist publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy is murdered in Alton, Illinois and his printing press is thrown in the river. He had been calling for an end to slavery.

Underground Railroad by Charles T. Webber.

Underground Railroad by Charles T. Webber.

1838 – Led by black abolitionist Robert Purvis, the Underground Railroad is formally organized.

1840 – The results of the 1840 census show a total population of nearly 17 million, of which 15% are slaves. Slaves are virtually non-existent in northern states and as high as 55% in South Carolina and 52% in Mississippi.

1845 – In March, Florida becomes the 27th state and in December, Texas becomes the 28th state. Both enter as slave states.

1846 – In December, Iowa becomes the 29th state, entering as a free state.

1848 – In May, Wisconsin becomes the 30th state, entering as a free state.

Harriet Tubman

1849 – Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery in Maryland. Afterward, she travels to the south 19 times, bringing out more than 300 slaves on the Underground Railroad.

“I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.Harriet Tubman

1850 – The results of the 1850 census show a total population of as little more than 23 million, of which 14% are slaves. Slaves are virtually non-existent in northern states and as high as 58% in South Carolina and 51% in Mississippi.

1850 – In September, Congress implements several measures forming the Compromise of 1850. The measures included California joining the Union as a free state, the territories of New Mexico and Utah are organized with no restrictions on slavery, slave trading is abolished in the District of Columbia effective January 1851 and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 is modified and strengthened to allow slaveholders to retrieve slaves in northern states and free territories. California becomes the 31s state and enters the Union as a free state.

1851 – In January, slave trading is abolished in the District of Columbia.

Uncle Toms Cabin - Courier Litho Co1899

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

1852 – Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a response to the pro-slavery movement.

1854 – The Kansas-Nebraska Act passes Congress, overturning the Missouri Compromise and opening the Northern territory to slavery. Both sides begin to send settlers into the areas in an effort to influence them.

1855 – As Kansas prepares for elections thousands of Border Ruffians from Missouri enter the territory in an effort to influence the election. This begins the Bloody Kansas period with duplicate constitutional conventions, separate elections, and constant violent attacks.

1856 – In May, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner delivers a speech attacking slavery supporters in the Senate. He singles out Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina in his speech. Two days later, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks, Butler’s nephew, attacks Sumner on the Senate floor and beats him with a cane. The House did not expel or censure Brooks for the attack, Sumner took three years to recover.

1857 – Congress passes the Tariff of 1857 lowering rates to the lowest level since 1812. This is very unpopular in the North and praised in the South.

1857 – In March, the Dred Scott Decision the Supreme Court rules in Scott v. Sandford that blacks are not U.S. citizens, and slaveholders have the right to take existing slaves into free areas of the county.

1858 – Minnesota becomes the 32nd state, entering as a free state.

1859 – Oregon becomes the 33rd state, entering as a free state.

John Brown, 1850s

John Brown, 1850s

1859 – In October, in an attempt to amass arms for slave insurrection, John Brown attacks the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West VirginiaRobert E. Lee, then a Federal Army regular, leads the troops and captures Brown.

In December, John Brown and two of the black members of his band are hanged for murder and treason at Charles Town, Virginia.

“In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky-her grand old woods-her fertile fields-her beautiful rivers-her mighty lakes and star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked when I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slave-holding and wrong; When I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean, disregarded and forgotten; That her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing. ”

– Frederick Douglass, American Abolitionist and former slave

1860 – The results of the 1860 census show a total population of a little more than 31 million, of which 13% are slaves. Slaves equal 2% of the population in the Northern Aligned States and 39% in Southern Aligned States.

Presidential Candidate Abraham Lincoln by Thomas Hicks, 1860.

Presidential Candidate Abraham Lincoln by Thomas Hicks, 1860.

1860 – In November, Abraham Lincoln, who had declared “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free…” is elected president. The first Republican ever elected, he received 40% of the popular vote and won 59% of the Electoral votes. He was not even on the ballot in the deep south.

In December, as a consequence of Lincoln’s election, a special convention of the South Carolina legislature votes to secede from the Union. In their secession, they stated: “We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

On December 26, 1860,  U.S. Major-General Robert Anderson moves his troops from Fort Moultrie, in Charleston, South Carolina, to Fort Sumter.