Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Read about major events in U.S. History from 1850?1899, including the Civil War, Lincoln's assassination, the great Chicago fire, and more.

1850President Taylor dies (July 9) and is succeeded by his vice president, Millard Fillmore.
The continuing debate whether territory gained in the Mexican War should be open to slavery is decided in the Compromise of 1850: California is admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico territories are left to be decided by popular sovereignty, and the slave trade in Washington, DC, is prohibited. It also establishes a much stricter fugitive slave law, than the original, passed in 1793.
1852Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin is published. It becomes one of the most influential works to stir anti-slavery sentiments.
1853Franklin Pierce is inaugurated as the 14th president (March 4). Gadsden Purchase treaty is signed; U.S. acquires border territory from Mexico for $10 million (Dec. 30).
1854Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, establishing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska (May 30). The legislation repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and renews tensions between anti- and proslavery factions.
1857James Buchanan is inaugurated as the 15th president (March 4). Dred Scott v. Sanford: Landmark Supreme Court decision holds that Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states and, furthermore, that slaves are not citizens.
1858Abraham Lincoln comes to national attention in a series of seven debates with Sen. Stephen A. Douglas during Illinois state election campaign (Aug.?Oct.).
1859Abolitionist John Brown and 21 followers capture federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W. Va.), in an attempt to spark a slave revolt (Oct. 16).
1860Abraham Lincoln is elected president (Nov. 6). South Carolina secedes from the Union (Dec. 20).
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
1861Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana secede (Jan.). Confederate States of America is established (Feb. 8). Jefferson Davis is elected president of the Confederacy (Feb. 9). Texas secedes (March 2). Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as the 16th president (March 4).
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee
1861?1865Civil War: Conflict between the North (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy) over the expansion of slavery into western states. Confederates attack Ft. Sumter in Charleston, S.C., marking the start of the war (April 12, 1861). Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee secede (April?June). Emancipation Proclamation is issued, freeing slaves in the Confederate states (Jan. 1, 1863). Battle of Gettysburg is fought (July 1?3). President Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address (Nov. 19). Gen. William T. Sherman captures Atlanta (Sept. 2, 1864). Lincoln's second inauguration (March 4, 1865). Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captures Richmond, Va., the capital of the Confederacy (April 3). Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrenders to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Va., (April 9).
1863Homestead Act becomes law, allowing settlers to claim land (160 acres) after they have lived on it for five years (Jan. 1).
1865Lincoln is assassinated (April 14) by John Wilkes Booth in Washington, DC, and is succeeded by his vice president, Andrew Johnson. Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, prohibiting slavery (Dec. 6).
1867U.S. acquires Alaska from Russia for the sum of $7.2 million (treaty concluded March 30).
1868President Johnson is impeached by the House of Representatives (Feb. 24), but he is acquitted at his trial in the Senate (May 26). Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, defining citizenship (July 9).
1869Ulysses S. Grant is inaugurated as the 18th president (March 4). Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads are joined at Promontory, Utah, creating first transcontinental railroad (May 10).
1870Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving blacks the right to vote (Feb. 3).
1871Chicago fire kills 300 and leaves 90,000 people homeless (Oct. 8?9).
1872Crdit Mobilier scandal breaks, involving several members of Congress (Sept.).
1873Grant's second inauguration (March 4).
1876Lt. Col. George A. Custer's regiment is wiped out by Sioux Indians under Sitting Bull at the Little Big Horn River, Mont. (June 25).
Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull
1877Rutherford B. Hayes is inaugurated as the 19th president (March 5). The first telephone line is built from Boston to Somerville, Mass.; the following year, President Hayes has the first telephone installed in the White House.
1881James A. Garfield is inaugurated as the 20th president (March 4). He is shot (July 2) by Charles Guiteau in Washington, DC, and later dies from complications of his wounds in Elberon, N.J. (Sept. 19). Garfield's vice president, Chester Alan Arthur, succeeds him in office.
1882U.S. adopts standard time (Nov. 18).
1885Grover Cleveland is inaugurated as the 22nd president (March 4).
1886Statue of Liberty is dedicated (Oct. 28). American Federation of Labor is organized (Dec.).
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty
1889Benjamin Harrison is inaugurated as the 23rd president (March 4). Oklahoma is opened to settlers (April 22).
1890National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) is founded, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as president. Sherman Antitrust Act is signed into law, prohibiting commercial monopolies (July 2). Last major battle of the Indian Wars occurs at Wounded Knee in South Dakota (Dec. 29). In reporting the results of the 1890 census, the Census Bureau announces that the West has been settled and the frontier is closed.
1892Ellis Island becomes chief immigration station of the U.S. (Jan. 1).
1893Grover Cleveland is inaugurated a second time, as the 24th president (March 4). He is the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms.
1896Plessy v. Ferguson: Landmark Supreme Court decision holds that racial segregation is constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws in the South (May 18).
1897William McKinley is inaugurated as the 25th president (March 4).
William McKinley
William McKinley
1898Spanish-American War: USS Maine is blown up in Havana harbor (Feb. 15), prompting U.S. to declare war on Spain (April 25). Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Spanish-American War (Dec. 10); Spain gives up control of Cuba, which becomes an independent republic, and cedes Puerto Rico, Guam, and (for $20 million) the Philippines to the U.S.
1898U.S. annexes Hawaii by an act of Congress (July 7).
1899U.S. acquires American Samoa by treaty with Great Britain and Germany (Dec. 2).

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