Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events

Pre-1650 1650 1700 1750 1800 1810 1820 1830 1840
  1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920
Literature, Music, and Movies
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s
1840-1849 Political and Social History Literature
  • 4 July.  The Independent Treasury Act is signed into law by President Martin Van Buren.  It makes the federal government exclusively responsible for managing its own funds.
  • At the Anti-Slavery Convention in London, William Lloyd Garrison and others walk out when women abolitionists are not allowed to be seated as delegates.
  • U. S. population: 17,069,453.
  • William Henry Harrison ("Old Tippecanoe") defeats incumbent Martin Van Buren for the presidency. 
  • Transcendentalist Club begins to publish The Dial with Margaret Fuller as the first editor 
  • Bronson Alcott, Orphic Sayings

  • Richard Henry Dana, Jr. Two Years Before the Mast
  • Supreme Court upholds lower court ruling and allows the Amistad mutineers to return to Africa. 
  • 13 August. The Independent Treasury Act is repealed.
  • 4 March. William Henry Harrison is inaugurated as president.  Chilled through after a lengthy outdoor ceremony, the 68-year-old Harrison contracts pneumonia and dies on 4 April.  Vice-President John Tyler becomes president.
  • 7 November. Slaves aboard the Creole mutiny and sail the ship to Nassau, a British port, where they are freed.
  • Forty-eight wagons arrive in Sacramento by way of the Oregon Trail, one of the earliest large groups to make this journey.
  • Brook Farm Institute is founded 9 miles from Boston (1841-47).
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, First Series (including "Self-Reliance") 
  • Edgar Allan Poe becomes editor of Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia 
  • Melville sails for 18 months on whaler Acushnet and jumps ship in the Marquesas in July 1842.
  • 1842
  • May. Colonel John C. Fremont leads an expedition to explore the Rocky Mountains.
  • Poe, Reviews of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales
  • Beginning of large migration westward. 
  • Second Seminole War ends. 
  • Sculptor Hiram Powers completes The Greek Slave.
  • Henry James, Jr., born in New York City. 
  • Poe, "The Gold Bug"; "The Black Cat"
  • The New-Englander (1843-92)
  • 1844
  • Aggressive expansionist James K. Polk defeats Henry Clay for the presidency. 
  • The Springfield Republican, edited by Samuel Bowles, is founded; Bowles will publish Emily Dickinson's poetry years later.
  • Emerson, Essays: Second Series (including "Experience" and "The Poet" 
  • Bronson Alcott and his family spend seven months at Fruitlands. See the Concord chronology for more dates. 

  • Littell's Living Age (1844-1900)
  • In The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, John L. O'Sullivan writes of  "the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence," and the phrase catched on with expansionist politicians and the public.
  • Anti-rent wars in New York State protest the patroonship system. 
  • Texas joins the union as the 28th state.
  • Potato famine in Ireland brings great numbers of Irish immigrants. Some were indentured servants, which was not the same as being a "slave for life," as Frederick Douglass put it: "He asked, "Are ye a slave for life?" I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me."Douglass thought, "You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life!"
  • Poe, The Raven and Other Poems 
  • Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century 
  • Henry David Thoreau begins living at Walden Pond 
  • Johnson Jones Hooper, Simon Suggs 
  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 
  • American Whig Review (1848-52)
  • 1846
  • 3 May. The Battle at Palo Alto in which 2300 Americans put to rout twice as many Mexican forces marks the beginning of the Mexican War. At President Polk's request, on 11 May Congress declares the U.S. at war with Mexico. 
  • 6 June. Treaty with Great Britain extends the Oregon Territory boundary at latitude 40 degrees to Puget Sound. This allows President James K. Polk to focus his attention on the war with Mexico.
  • 14 June.  In California, U.S. settlers proclaim the independent Republic of California, which in August is annexed by the United States.
  • 15 August.  U.S. annexation of New Mexico, formerly a Mexican territory.
  • Iowa becomes a state.
  • James Russell Lowell publishes the first of "The Bigelow Papers" in the Boston Courier to voice his opposition to war with Mexico. 
  • Poe,"The Philosophy of Composition" 
  • Hawthorne, Mosses from an Old Manse (includes "Roger Malvin's Burial" and "Young Goodman Brown") 
  • Melville, Typee 
  • Whitman editor of The Brooklyn Eagle
  • 1847
  • 22-23 February. Battle of Buena Vista in which General Taylor's army of 4800 men defeats General Santa Anna's 15,000-man force.
  • 9 March. General Winfield Scott's forces lay siege to Vera Cruz and take it on 29 March.
  • 8 September.  Scott occupies the heights of Chapultepec and later marches into Mexico City.
  • 22 December. New congressman Abraham Lincoln makes a speech opposing the Mexican War. 
  • Senator Lewis Cass proposes "popular sovereignty" by which residents of territories decide whether the state will be slave or free.
  • Frederick Douglass founds The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper. 
  • Emerson, Poems (includes "Hamatreya" and "Each and All") 
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline 
  • Melville, Omoo
  • 1848
  • 24 January.  James Marshall discovers gold near Sutter's Fort, California. News of the find begins the California Gold Rush of 1849.
  • Mexican War ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  In exchange for $15 million and the settling of $3.25 million in American claims, Mexico cedes some 500,000 square miles of its territory in the western and southwestern  U.S.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton12-20 July. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organize the first American women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, where the Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 68 women and 32 men.
    Picture of Elizabeth Cady Stanton courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery site on the Seneca Falls Convention. 
  • Free Soil party organizes and nominates Martin Van Buren on an anti-slavery platform.
  • John Humphrey Noyes establishes the Oneida Community, a communal society based on the principles of "complex marriage" and perfectionism. The society disbands in 1880. 
  • James Russell Lowell, A Fable for Critics 

  • Joel Chandler Harris born (d. 1928)
  • Amelia Bloomer begins publishing The Lily, a journal supporting temperance and women's rights. 
  • California Gold Rush poster28 February. First gold seekers arrive in San Francisco. (Image courtesy of the Images of American Political History site.)
  • Zachary Taylor inaugurated as 12th president.
  • Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) escapes to the North and begins working with the Underground Railroad.  Tubman helps at least 300 slaves to escape before the Civil War; during the war, she worked as a nurse, cook, laundress, and, it is said, spy behind Confederate lines for the Union forces. 
  • Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government"; A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Better known under the title "Civil Disobedience," his "Resistance to Civil Government" recounts his experience in refusing to pay his  poll tax as a means of protesting the Mexican War. 
  • Poe, "The Bells"; "Annabel Lee" 
  • Poe dies in Baltimore (b. 1809) 
  • Sarah Orne Jewett born 
  • Melville, Redburn; Mardi 
  • Rufus Griswold, The Female Poets of America
  • Related 
    Page written and maintained by D. Campbell