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Timeline from 1850 to 1860


Decade By Decade: Timelines of the 1800s


January 1850: The Compromise of 1850 is introduced in the US Congress. The legislation would eventually pass and be highly controversial, but it essentially delayed the Civil War by a decade.


November: Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick is published.


March 20: Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

June 29: Death of Henry Clay. The great legislator's body was taken from Washington, D.C. to his home in Kentucky and elaborate funeral observances were held in cites along the way.

July 4: Frederick Douglass delivers notable speech, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro.”

October 24: Death of Daniel Webster.

November 2: Franklin Pierce elected President of the United States.


March 4: Franklin Pierce is sworn in as President of the United States.

July 8: Commodore Matthew Perry sails into Japanese harbor near present day Tokyo with four American warships, demanding to deliver a letter to the emperor of Japan.

December: Gadsden Purchase signed.


March: The Crimean War begins.

March 31: Treaty of Kanagawa signed.

May 30: The Kansas-Nebraska Act signed into law. The legislation, designed to lessen the tension over slavery, actually has the opposite effect.

September 27: The steamship S.S. Arctic collides with another ship off the coast of Canada and sinks with a great loss of life. The disaster was considered scandalous as women and children were left to die in the ice waters of the Atlantic.

October: Florence Nightingale leaves Britain for the Crimean War.


January: The Panama Railroad opens, and the first locomotive to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific travels on it.

July: Walt Whitman publishes his first edition of Leaves of Grass in Brooklyn, New York.

November: The violence over slavery that will become known as “Bleeding Kansas” begins in the US territory of Kansas.

November: David Livingstone becomes the first European to view Victoria Falls in Africa.


February: The Know-Nothing Party holds a convention and nominates former president Millard Fillmore as its presidential candidate.

May 22: Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts is attacked and beaten with a cane in the US Senate chamber by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina.

May 24: Abolitionist fanatic John Brown and his followers perpetrate the Pottawatomie Massacre in Kansas.

October: Second Opium War begins between Britain and China.

November 4: James Buchanan elected president of the United States.


March 4: James Buchanan in inaugurated as President of the United States. He becomes very ill at his own inauguration, raising questions in the press about whether he was poisoned in a failed assassination attempt.


August-October 1858, perennial rivals Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln hold a series of seven debates in Illinois while running for a U.S. Senate seat. Douglas won the election, but the debates elevated Lincoln, and his anti-slavery views, to national prominence.


September 15: death of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the brilliant British engineer. At the time of his death his enormous steel ship The Great Eastern was still unfinished.

October 16, abolitionist fanatic John Brown launches a raid against the U.S. arsenal at Harper's Ferry.

December 2: following a trial, abolitionist John Brown is hanged for treason. His death energizes many sympathizers in the North, and makes him a martyr.

Decade By Decade: 1800-1810 | 1810-1820 | 1820-1830 | 1830-1840 | 1840-1850 | 1860-1870 | 1870-1880 | 1880-1890 | 1890-1900 | The Civil War Year By Year

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