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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


Political and Social History Literature


  • 1800 Census: Population about 5.3 million people.
  • 30 August. Gabriel Prosser's plan to lead Virginia slaves in rebellion is revealed. 
  • The Library of Congress is established. In 1815, Thomas Jefferson's library of 7,000 volumes will be purchased.
  • In Philadelphia, free African Americans  petition Congress to end the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.
  • Congress convenes in Washington, D. C. for the first time.
  • John Chapman, a.k.a. "Johnny Appleseed," begins dispensing apple seeds and seedlings to settlers in Ohio.
  • John AdamsThomas Jefferson is chosen as president over incumbent John Adams in a contested election that is decided in the House of Representatives; Aaron Burr becomes vice-president. With this election, the Federalist party loses control of the presidency and of Congress. (Image of John Adams courtesy of the Images of American Political History site.)
  • Charles Brockden Brown, Clara Howard and Jane Talbot (epistolary novels); second part of Arthur Mervyn


  • War with Tripoli begins and will last until 1805.
  • In the last weeks of his presidency, John Adams creates new judgeships and "packs the courts" with Federalist appointees to mitigate the effects of the election.  Among his appointments is John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • 1802

  • 4 July. United States Military Academy opens at West Point, N. Y.  Among its cadets will be Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Edgar Allan Poe
  • 1803

  • In the case of Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall rules that an act of Congress is null and void when it conflicts with provisions of the U. S. Constitution. This is the first important test of the system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
  • May. Louisiana purchase ($15 million) doubles the land area of the United States.
  • 31 August. Lewis and Clark expedition sets out down the Ohio River; they will complete a 3-year journey to the West Coast. 
  • Passage of the 12th  Amendment: election of president and vice president on separate ballots.
  • Charles Brockden Brown, Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist (November 1803-March 1805)


  • April. Aaron Burr is defeated in his campaign for governor of New York. 
  • May. Lewis and Clark expedition leaves St. Louis. By October, the expedition is encamped for the winter at a Mandan Indian village near what is now Bismarck, N.D.
  • July. Aaron Burr challenges Federalist Alexander Hamilton, his longtime rival, to a duel after Hamilton had successfully foiled Burr's bid to become governor of New York.  Burr shoots  Hamilton, who dies 10 hours later. 
  • Jefferson wins a second term as president, with George Clinton as vice president.
  • 1805

  • May. Members of the Lewis and Clark expedition see the Rocky Mountains; in November, they see the Pacific Ocean.
  • Lt. Zebulon Pike explores the Louisiana Territory.
  • Raphaelle PealePainter Charles Willson Peale establishes the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where this trompe l'oeil picture by Peale, The Staircase Group (1795), is still exhibited.(Picture courtesy of Carol Gerten's Fine Art site.)
  • Mercy Otis Warren, Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, a three-volume history that is the earliest such account by an American. 


  • Noah Webster issues his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language 
  • Lewis and Clark expedition winters at Fort Clatsop in Oregon and ends its journey by returning to St. Louis in September. 
  • The Cumberland Road is built to facilitate western settlement.
  • 1807

  • Embargo Act bans all trade with foreign countries and forbids American ships to set sail for foreign ports.  This act has a lasting negative effect on New England seaports. 
  • The Clermont, first reliable steamboat, travels from New York City to Albany, N.Y.
  • The Chesapeake-Leopard incident in which three Americans are seized or "impressed" as seamen from the American ship Chesapeake stirs anti-British feeling.
  • Washington Irving, his brother William, and James Kirke Paulding start an anonymous satirical magazine, Salmagundi.
    Joel Barlow, The Columbiad


  • The Osage, a Sioux tribe, sign the Osage Treaty ceding their lands in what is now Missouri and Arkansas to the U. S. 
  • Thomas Jefferson refuses to run for a third term as president, naming James Madison as his successor. 
  • James N. Barker, The Indian Princess, or La Belle Sauvage; first play having Native American life (that of Pocahontas) as its subject.


  • Shawnee leader Tecumseh begins to establish a defensive confederacy to resist the westward movement of white settlers. 
  • New England governors refuse to supply militia to enforce the Embargo Acts (of 1807 and 1808) 
  • Phoenix completes the first sea voyage by a steamboat by traveling around the shores of New Jersey.
  • Washington Irving, History of New York
  • Related 
    Page written and maintained by D. Campbell