On March 2, 1807, the House of Representatives and Senate passed legislation “to Prohibit the importation of Slaves” into the United States. The law would close the traffic in human chattel imported from “any foreign kingdom, place, or country,” making the international trade in “any negro, mulatto, or person of colour with intent to hold, sell, or dispose . . . as a slave, or to be held to service or labour,” illegal. Yet, the demise of the slave trade was not the demise of slavery, nor was it the demise of slave trading on U.S. soil. As the young nation worked to solidify its independence, this moment instead signified the end of one era in slavery and the beginning of another. Traders shifted their focus to a growing domestic traffic that had been operating since the late-18th century. This legislation, along with new technologies (cotton gin), Westward expansion (Louisiana Purchase), and an emphasis on reproduction through forced breeding, actually fueled the institution of slavery. Three times the number of enslaved people experienced sale through the domestic trade (approximately 1 million souls) than those directly imported on slavers. However, despite this legislation, African “cargo” were illegally brought across the Atlantic until the eve of the Civil War.
Daina Ramey Berry is associate professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas (Austin) and author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation.
Important Dates In American History
The United States has had a lot of positive and negative events in its history. Even when the outcome was not good, these events are very important for everyone in the country. History shapes the way elected officials run our country, as some of these historic events were the reason new laws and regulations were made. Over the years, the United States has been part of several wars, overcome natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, and traveled to space. Each of these events shapes the future and makes it possible to make new discoveries.
1607: British colonists founded the Jamestown Settlement on May 14, 1607. This colony was named for King James I of England.
1692: The Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692. Hundreds of people were accused of practicing witchcraft. Nineteen of them were hanged after being convicted of witchcraft.
1754: The French and Indian War took place between 1754 and 1763. This was a war between France and Great Britain. It started after a dispute about the land around the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers.
1773: In 1773, the British colonists got mad about all the new taxes imposed on them by Great Britain. A group of people threw three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor. This was one of the major events that led to the Revolutionary War.
1775: The American Revolution started in 1775 as a response to the Stamp Act of 1765. The colonists felt that the Stamp Act was unconstitutional, but the British government said it had the right to tax the colonists. Although the British military succeeded in the early stages of the war, the colonists were victorious.
1776: In 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston drafted the Declaration of Independence. This document asserted the colonists’ independence from the British monarchy.
1787: In 1787, the Constitution was written to establish the United States government. This document established the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the government. The Constitution also contains the Bill of Rights, which grants certain rights to U.S. citizens.
1803: In 1803, the United States acquired 828,000 square miles of land in the Louisiana territory. This land was originally owned by France, but Thomas Jefferson negotiated a deal to purchase it for just $11,250,000. The United States also agreed to forgive $3,750,000 worth of France’s debts.
1804: The northern states started making slavery illegal in 1776. In 1804, the last northern state finally abolished slavery.
1812: In 1812, the Americans declared war against the British Empire. They were upset about trade restrictions and the British support of American Indians. This war led to the fire that damaged the White House and United States Capitol.
1836: The Battle of the Alamo was a famous part of the Texas Revolution. In 1836, General Santa Anna and his troops attacked the Alamo Mission, which is near present-day San Antonio. All but two of the Texan troops were killed in this battle.
1846: The Mexican-American War lasted from 1846 to 1845. American troops occupied California, New Mexico, and parts of Mexico. The Mexican government would not agree to meet the demands of the Americans, so American troops invaded Mexico City.
1848: Someone found gold at Sutter’s Mill – a California sawmill – in 1848. This made a lot of people move to California with the hope of finding a fortune.
1861 to 1865: The Civil War broke out in 1861. The war occurred for several reasons, but one of the most important issues was slavery. There were also many economic differences between the North and South.
1863: In 1863, Abraham Lincoln freed more than three million slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. He actually wrote the proclamation in 1862, but it did not take effect until January 1, 1863.
1865: On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. His assassination was part of a plot to help the Confederacy. Lincoln’s shooter was John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor.
1898: The Spanish-American War was a war between the United States and Spain. This war started because the Americans interfered in the Cuban War of Independence.
1917: World War I started in 1914, but the United States did not join the war until 1917. This war involved the Allies (Russia, France, and the United Kingdom) and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). This war broke out due to the policies of several European empires.
1920: In 1920, women were granted the right to vote with the addition of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was introduced in 1878, but it was not ratified until 1920.
1929: On October 24, 1929, a stock market crash occurred in the United States. This event was the beginning of the Great Depression, which lasted for ten years.
1941: On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, a Hawaiian naval base. This attack was an attempt to keep the U.S. Navy from interfering with Japanese military actions.
1944: D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944. This was a major victory for Allied troops in World War II, but more than 9,000 soldiers were wounded or killed.
1945: In 1945, scientists built the first atomic bomb as a part of the Manhattan Project. The total cost of this project was more than $2 billion.
1950: The Korean War started in 1950 and lasted until 1953. It was a war between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. U.S. troops supported the Republic of Korea in this war.
1954: Up until 1954, white Americans and Americans of other races went to separate schools. This practice ended in 1954, after the Supreme Court made its decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
1955: The Vietnam War started in 1955 and lasted until 1975. The conflict was between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The United States supported South Vietnam in this war.
1962: In 1962, a spy plane discovered that the Soviet Union was building nuclear missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy placed a naval blockage around the island to prevent the Soviet Union from bringing in more supplies. After thirteen days, the Soviet Union agreed to take down the weapon sites if the United States would not invade Cuba.
1963: On November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy. Oswald was arrested a short time later, but he was killed by Jack Ruby when being transferred to the county jail.
1968: Martin Luther King was a civil rights leader and activist. On April 14, 1968, King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray.
1969: Apollo 11 was the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969.
1973: The Watergate political scandal occurred when members of the Nixon administration participated in a break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Nixon resigned in 1974 due to the scandal.
1986: Space shuttle Challenger launched on January 28, 1986. Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, was aboard the spacecraft. Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after takeoff, an accident that occurred due to several factors.
1990: The Persian Gulf War began in 1990 and lasted until early 1991. This war occurred as a response to Iraq invading Kuwait.
1995: The Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995. This was a domestic terrorist attack that killed 168 people. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were responsible for the attack.
2000: In the 2000 election, George Bush won the presidency even though Al Gore won more popular votes. The election results were challenged, but Bush eventually took office. He was elected to a second term in 2004.
2001: On September 11, 2001, terrorists took control of four airplanes. They crashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York and one plane into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. This was the deadliest attack ever to occur on American soil.
2005: Hurricane Katrina was a destructive hurricane that occurred in 2005. It was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in United States history, killing more than 1,800 people. It also caused more than $80 billion in property damage.
2008: Barack Obama was voted the president of the United States. He was the first African American person elected to this position.
2011: Osama bin Laden was the head of al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. On May 2, 2011, U.S. forces invaded his compound in Pakistan. Bin Laden was killed in the raid.