On either side of the U.S. map in the lobby is a timeline of history, illustrating major world and U.S. events leading up to, during and after the westward expansion across North America. Those events, and the associated artwork, are described below.
1738 Pierre Gaultier - French-Canadian soldier, fur trader, and explorer whose exploits rank him as one of the greatest explorers of the Canadian West.
He became a fur trader in 1726 at the age of 41. From the Native Americans he heard of a great river that might lead to the Pacific and thence to the riches of the Orient. To discover the secrets of the West, he and his sons built a string of trading posts between 1731 and 1738 reaching from Ontario to Winnipeg. To these convenient posts Native Americans brought their furs and gave Gaultier crude maps of waterways they said would lead him to the “western sea.” In the fall of 1738 he reached the Mandan Indian villages on the Missouri River in present North Dakota, and in 1742 he sent two of his sons to push beyond the Missouri. Despite having sent some 30,000 beaver pelts to Quebec annually and having pushed farther west than any other person of European descent, entirely at his own expense, Gaultier was severely criticized by French government authorities for failing to find the western sea.
Sculpted in 1922 by Jean Bailleul (July 18, 1878 - March 14, 1949), this bronze statue is on the grounds of the Parliament Building in Quebec, Canada. A pupil at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Bailleul started in 1901 at the Salon des Artistes francais. He became an art teacher in Quebec in 1914 but had to leave to serve during World War I. He did not return to Canada until 1920 when he founded the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Quebec.Read More
1756-1763 French and Indian War - General James Wolfe's death in the battle to conquer Quebec in 1759 still resonated in the hearts of the British army when West painted this work.
The men around Wolfe include portraits of fellow officers and representative types of enlisted soldiers, a settler in green, and an Indigenous warrior. Pose, gesture and expression's ranging from stoic reserve to tears eloquently tell the story. Unusually, West added carefully observed details of contemporary clothing and weaponry to anchor the scene in reality, and so connect to his audience. His goal was not to persuade viewers of the literal truth of his painting, but to move them to emulate Wolfe's self-sacrifice. This painting helped to solidify the artist's reputation.
Benjamin West (October 10, 1738 - March 11, 1820) was a British artist who was entirely self-taught. He was appointed by King George III as the historical painter to the court and was the second president of the Royal Academy. This painting is an oil on canvas measuring 60 inches by 84.5 inches. It was painted in 1770 and is held at the National Gallery of Canada.Read More
1760s Industrial Revolution - While the image above depicts the assembly hall of the Escher Wyss machine factory in Zurich in 1875, the industrial revolution began over a hundred years prior to that. This print is held in the Zurich Central Library.
1776 Signing of the Declaration of Independence - This painting depicts the moment on June 28, 1776, when the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented to the Second Continental Congress.
The document stated the principles for which the Revolutionary War was being fought and which remain fundamental to the nation. Less than a week later, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration was officially adopted, it was later signed on August 2, 1776. In the central group in the painting, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, is shown placing the document before John Hancock, president of the Congress. With him stand the other members of the committee that created the draft: John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Benjamin Franklin. This event occurred in the Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall, in Philadelphia.
This is the first completed painting of four Revolutionary-era scenes that the U.S. Congress commissioned from John Trumbull (June 6, 1756 – November 10, 1843) in 1817. It is an enlarged version (12 feet by 18 feet oil on canvas) of a smaller painting (approximately 21 inches by 31 inches) that the artist had created as part of a series to document the events of the American revolution. When Trumbull was planning the smaller painting in 1786, he decided not to attempt a wholly accurate rendering of the scene; rather, he made his goal the preservation of the images of the Nation’s founders. He excluded those for whom no authoritative image could be found or created, and he included delegates who were not in attendance at the time of the event. In all, 47 individuals (42 of the 56 signers and 5 other patriots) are depicted, all painted from life or life portraits. Some of the room’s architectural features (e.g., the number and placement of doors and windows) differ from historical fact, having been based on an inaccurate sketch that Thomas Jefferson produced from memory in Paris. Trumbull also painted more elegant furniture, covered the windows with heavy draperies rather than venetian blinds, and decorated the room’s rear wall with captured British military flags, believing that such trophies were probably displayed there. The exhibition of this small painting (now owned by the Yale University art gallery) was instrumental in securing for the 61-year-old artist a commission to create monumental paintings for the U.S. Capitol. Trumbull created the enlarged painting for the Rotunda between August 1817 and September 1818. On October 5, 1818, the painting was put on public view at the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York. Over the next four months, he exhibited it in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore; it was in the Capitol early in 1819 and was displayed or stored in various rooms until 1826, when it and Trumbull’s other three paintings were installed in the Rotunda.Read More
Late 1700s Beaver Fur Trade - Two major products can be extracted from a beaver. The most obvious one, and the most profitable, is its fur, particularly the soft fur of its underbelly.
Beaver underfur pelts contain densely matted strands that are particularly suitable for transforming into felt, and in much of seventeenth-century Europe wide-brimmed felt hats were in high demand. Its fur was also used to make another popular European fashion, winter coats. Part of the beaver’s role in forming economic ties between North America and Europe arose out of the fact that both sides involved in the trade were already quite familiar with the beaver and its uses. Native American societies were well versed in trapping and skinning the animal and using most of its parts, although on a less commercial scale than the European beaver trade would create. In Europe, beavers had also been utilized for many centuries, primarily for its fur. However, by the seventeenth century the European beaver was becoming scarce, so the introduction of the American version to the furriers of Europe filled an economic void.
After his success with Ornithological Biography and Birds of America, published between 1827 and the 1840s, John James Audubon (April 26, 1785 - January 27, 1851) undertook an illustrated study of American mammals, published as Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America between 1846 and 1853. After personal observation Audubon was little impressed with the beaver's fabled sagacity, finding that "with the exception of its very peculiar mode of constructing its domicile, the Beaver is, in point of intelligence and cunning, greatly exceeded by the fox, and is but a few grades higher in the scale of sagacity than the common musk-rat." The original hand-colored lithograph, measuring 7 inches by 10.5 inches, is in a private collection.Read More
1789 The French Revolution - The Insurrection of August 10, 1792 was a defining event of the French Revolution. Armed revolutionaries in Paris, increasingly in conflict with the French monarchy, stormed the Tuileries Palace. The conflict led France to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic.
The artist, Jacques Bertaux (1745? - 1818), produced the oil on canvas in 1793, immediately following the conclusion of the revolution. The painting measures 48.5 inches by 75.5 inches.
1790 US Constitution ratified by all 13 colonies - By 1786, the majority of the new country’s leaders knew that the Articles of Confederation, which were the governing force of the country after the US declared independence, were falling apart at the seams.
The Articles did not allow for federal authority over foreign trade, interstate trade, currency or taxes. In May 1787, the Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after the congress endorsed a plan to draft a codified constitution.
It took three months, and a number of compromises, but on September 17, 1787, the US Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates that had been sent by the states to construct a new constitution. The document they created, structured a strong federal government, with a system of checks and balances between three different branches of government. The document was then sent to each of the 13 states, as it wouldn’t be ratified until nine of the states ratified it.
That happened when on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution. The ratification process was a long, drawn out process for many of the states. In fact, it would be 1790 before the last state officially ratified the US Constitution, despite being the document that formed the US Government on March 4, 1789.
If for no other reason, the United States Constitution is remarkable because of its longevity. It is the oldest written constitution in the world, and is the benchmark that several other countries have used when writing their own governing documents.Read More
1793 Alexander MacKenzie - Mackenzie traveled from Montreal, Quebec to Lake Athabasca in Alberta on behalf of the North West Fur Trading Company in 1788. He helped establish Fort Chipewyan there.
On a later trip, he continued westward seeking a route to the Pacific. Following the route of the Peace River, he crossed the Continental Divide and found the upper reaches of the Fraser River, the West Road River, and the Coast Mountains, descending the Bella Coola River to the Pacific coast on July 20, 1793. Having done this, he had completed the first recorded transcontinental crossing of North America north of Mexico, 12 years before Lewis and Clark.
This portrait by Thomas Lawrence (April 13, 1769 - January 7, 1830) was a noted English portrait painter and the fourth president of the Royal Academy. This portrait is an oil on canvas, 30 inches by 25 inches, and is held at the National Gallery of Canada.Read More
1803 Louisiana Purchase - In 1802 Spain transferred this region to France (under Napoleon). Napoleon had his sights on establishing France in the New World, but ultimately followed the advice of his advisers and gave up that idea.
Thomas Jefferson's negotiators had originally been authorized to offer $10 million for the purchase of New Orleans (to maintain port access for the U.S.) However, with Napoleon deciding against trying to reestablish a French presence in North America, he was willing to sell ALL of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million in 1803. This addition of about 828,000 square miles effectively doubled the size of the United States.
This mural depicts the third signing of the Louisiana Treaty, which occurred in New Orleans. It is an oil on canvas produced by EverGreene Painting Studios in 1993-1994. It is displayed in the Westward Expansion Corridor of the U.S. Capitol building.Read More
1803 - 1806 Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition - In January of 1803, Congress appropriated $2,500 to mount an official military expedition to the Northwest, and President Thomas Jefferson named Meriwether Lewis as its commander.
On May 14, 1804, the "corps of volunteers for North West Discovery," as Captain Lewis titled the expeditionary force, embarked from its winter encampment across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, bound up the Missouri River toward the Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the Columbia River. After two years, four months, and ten days, the Corps of Discovery returned triumphantly to St. Louis on September 23, 1806.
Both of these portraits (William Clark and Meriwether Lewis) are oil paintings (on paper and wood, respectively) measuring 23 by 19 inches. They are displayed in the collection of Charles Willson Peale's portraits in the Second Bank building on the grounds of the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Charles Willson Peale (April 15, 1741 - February 22, 1827) is best remembered for his monumental portraits of George Washington and other Revolutionary War--era figures, and for organizing and opening America’s first natural history and art museums in Baltimore and Philadelphia. He began his career as a saddlemaker, turning to the fine arts in the 1760s when he traveled to London to study with the leading American painter, Benjamin West. Upon his return to the United States, he traveled widely, painting his first life portrait of George Washington in 1772. He served with Washington for three years in the Continental army, and then settled in Philadelphia, where he founded the nation’s first museum, which later became the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.Read More
1796 - 1812 Napoleon's armies conquer much of Europe, but are defeated in Russia
Napoleon Bonaparte's aspirations of European dominance actually contributed to the U.S. purchase of the Louisiana Territory. Napoleon originally intended to send troops to occupy the region, but soon realized that he did not have the resources to do that. He therefore authorized his representatives to sell the land that became known as the Louisiana purchase for $15 million.
This oil on canvas painting is displayed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. It is 91 inches by 97 inches. The artist, Jacques-Louis David (August 30, 1748 - December 29, 1825) was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era.Read More
1820 Missouri Compromise establishes a balance between free and slave states - In an effort to preserve the balance of power in Congress between slave and free states, the Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820 admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state.
Furthermore, with the exception of Missouri, this law prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line. In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Three years later the Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.
The image above is of unknown origin. The Library of Congress has several historical maps which illustrate similar information.Read More
1822 Mexico wins independence from Spain - The Mexican War of Independence extended from the Grito de Dolores by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla on September 16, 1810, to the entrance of the Army of the Three Guarantees led by Augustín de Iturbide to Mexico City on September 27, 1821. September 16 is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day.
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest and member of a group of educated Criollos in Querétaro, hosted secret gatherings in his home to discuss whether it was better to obey or to revolt against a tyrannical government, as he defined the Spanish colonial government in Mexico. Famed military leader Ignacio Allende was among the attendees. In 1810, Hidalgo concluded that a revolt was needed because of injustices against the poor of Mexico.
Agustín de Iturbide, a military captain who previously helped defeat Hidalgo’s army, led a conservative group of rebels against the Spanish viceroy, achieving victory and independence on August 24, 1821, when both sides signed the Treaty of Cordoba.
The Mexican coat of arms (illustrated above) owes its origins to an Aztec legend. According to the legend, the leader of a nomadic tribe was visited by a god named Huitzilopochtli in a dream. The leader was told by the god that the tribe would come across an eagle, perched on a cactus, devouring a snake. They were ordered to settle wherever they found this eagle. The tribe did so in 1325, despite the swampy conditions of the area. This land would become Tenochtitlan, which is now called Mexico City and is one of the largest cities in the world.
It would be centuries before the iconic image of the eagle holding a snake on top of a cactus became the Mexican coat of arms. In 1811, during Mexican’s war for independence from Spain, a Mexican eagle became a popular seal for official documents. Revolutionary leader José María Morelos y Pavón would later add the eagle to his flag. Once independence was finally won, the eagle was redesigned to reflect the famous legend.
While the details of the Mexican coat of arms have evolved several times since the 1820s, the basics have not. The origins of the specific version in the illustration above are unknown.Read More
1824 South Pass through the Continental Divide used by mountain men and trappers
While South Pass was first used by European or American explorers in 1812, it was not until 1824 that it came into use by trappers and mountain men, and ultimately by emigrants heading west. With this painting, Charles Deas established the mountain man as a truly iconic American character. In a pose reminiscent of the traditional equestrian portrait of a hero, the mountain man turns in his saddle to look behind him. Although this fellow may hardly seem a hero, dressed as he is in the worn garb of a trapper and with his chapped red face and droopy horse, he was a hero in the national view.
Charles Deas (December 22, 1818 - March 23, 1867) painted Long Jakes (an oil on canvas) in 1844. Deas studied under John Sanderson in Philadelphia, and subsequently embarked upon a career as a painter. The National Academy of Design in New York soon recognized his work, electing him as an associate member in 1839.
By 1840, he had decided to emulate one of his influences, George Catlin, and travel westward in the United States. It was during travels through the Wisconsin Territory that he became a noted painter of trappers and Native Americans. By 1841, Deas decided to establish his base in St. Louis, Missouri.
This painting is in the collections of the Denver Art Museum.
1830 First railroad built in the USA
The First Railroad Train on the Mohawk and Hudson Road was Edward Lamson Henry's largest and most famous painting. It is an oil on canvas measuring 42.75 inches by 110 inches. It is held in the collections of Albany (NY) Institute of History and Art.
Edward Lamson Henry's (January 12, 1841 - May 9, 1919) paintings are largely genre scenes or depict events from recent (19th century) American history. Thus, they document the nostalgia that was widespread at the end of the nineteenth century in America. He created this painting for an exhibition in the Transportation Building of the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. It commemorates an event of six decades earlier, the first trip using a steam locomotive on the route from Albany to Schenectady. By the 1890s, American railroads were a matter of national pride, and these early experiments were hailed as the beginning of a new era in travel. The detailed painting was likely based on a lithograph that was, in turn, based on a silhouette picture made at the scene. Although the train was the newsmaker, Henry gives at least as much attention to the spectators gathered to watch it. The engineering marvel of the DeWitt Clinton (the train in question), is also on full display for viewers to admire. The dimensions of the work—it is almost three times as wide as it is high—echo the expanse of the American landscape the train is conquering.Read More
1830s-1850s Cholera and Yellow Fever Epidemics - Cholera spread from Asia across Europe in the early 19th century. Sailors brought it to North America and in 1832 the first epidemic spread into New York City. With no effective method of treatment, 3,500 people, mostly poor immigrants, died during the course of the plague. The poster above was published in 1865 ahead of one of the later outbreaks.
The doctors at the time were not at all equipped to deal with cholera. Many of them believed that cholera was caused by poisonous vapors from rotting matter and that it was not actually contagious. Without a clear understanding of how the disease worked, they attempted to treat patients using traditional methods. In addition to bleeding, most doctors gave them medicine such as calomel (mercury chloride) and laudanum which was an opiate. However, most infected people died within one or two days of admittance to hospitals. Out of panic, many private hospitals closed down and emergency facilities in schools had to be opened. Doctors treating cholera patients often got infected themselves and nurses became hard to employ.
The Board of Health, first established in 1805, had very little power and recourse. Despite this fact, during the worst of the plague, they opened up five emergency hospitals for the sick and began a cleaning operation throughout the city streets. However, their involvement was only temporary and after the cholera epidemic died out, they continued to take their usual passive role in the NYC council.
New York experienced 3 other major outbreaks in 1849, 1854, and 1866. Other cities suffered as well, and Cholera was even transmitted along the overland trails during the emigrant migrations.
1836 Texas secedes from Mexico - The Texas Revolution (October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836) was a rebellion of colonists from the United States and Tejanos (Texas Mexicans) in putting up armed resistance to the central government of Mexico.
While the uprising was part of a larger one that included other provinces opposed to the regime of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Mexican government believed the United States had instigated the Texas insurrection with the goal of annexation. The Mexican Congress passed the Tornel Decree, declaring that any foreigners fighting against Mexican troops "will be deemed pirates and dealt with as such, being citizens of no nation presently at war with the Republic and fighting under no recognized flag." Only the province of Texas succeeded in breaking with Mexico, establishing the Republic of Texas, and eventually being annexed by the United States.
The stereoscopic print shown above is in the collections of the New York Public Library.
Henry A. Doerr (1826 - 1885) was the photographer. Doerr and Samuel E. Jacobson owned a photographic gallery in San Antonio, TX and proudly advertised their stereoscopic works. They published several collections including Scenes on the San Antonio River, Street Life in San Antonio, and Views in & around San Antonio.Read More
1836 First wagon trains leave for Oregon country - The illustration chosen for this reference is from a book cover of the book Old Saint Jo: Gateway to the West, 1799-1932, by Sheridan A. Logan and illustrated by John Falter and Gustaf Dalstrom.
The book jacket (and title page inside the book) has Falter's illustration of a bird's eye view of two steamboats, one on a muddy river and one docked and loading covered wagons. Buildings are painted along the bottom edge. Animals, wagons, and people move on the dock, and on the boat. The steamboat on the water is moving toward the dock. In the background is the opposite bank with a line of covered wagons moving away on a grassy plain.
This copy of the illustration came from the Nebraska State Historical Society. The rendition below is a digitally reworked copy.
1837 Financial panic strikes the U.S. - The Panic of 1837 was a financial crisis in the United States that touched off a major recession that lasted until the mid-1840s.
Profits, prices, and wages went down while unemployment went up. Pessimism abounded during the time. The panic had both domestic and foreign origins. Speculative lending practices in western states, a sharp decline in cotton prices, a collapsing land bubble, international specie flows, and restrictive lending policies in Great Britain were all to blame.
This economic instability was a significant contributor to initiating the westward migration across the overland trails.
1840s Rise of popular liberalism, socialism, nationalism in Europe - Despite forceful and often violent efforts of established and reactionary powers to keep them down, disruptive ideas gained popularity: democracy, liberalism, radicalism, nationalism, and socialism.
They demanded a constitution, universal male suffrage, press freedom, freedom of expression and other democratic rights, the establishment of civilian militia, liberation of peasants, liberalization of the economy, abolition of tariff barriers and the abolition of monarchical power structures in favor of the establishment of republican states, or at least the restriction of the prince power in the form of constitutional monarchies.
In the language of the 1840s, 'democracy' meant replacing an electorate of property-owners with universal male suffrage.
'Liberalism' fundamentally meant consent of the governed, restriction of church and state power, republican government, freedom of the press and the individual.
'Nationalism' believed in uniting people bound by common languages, culture, religion, shared history, and of course immediate geography.
'Socialism' in the 1840s was a term without a consensus definition, meaning different things to different people, but was typically used within a context of more power for workers in a system based on worker ownership of the means of production.Read More
1841 First organized wagon train leaves for California - The Bidwell-Bartleson party started out on May 18th, 1841 and joined forces with a group of Jesuit priests and renowned mountain man, Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick.
Following the path of the Oregon trail initially, the parties separated at Soda Springs in Idaho. The Jesuit priests and Fitzpatrick split off to Oregon, and the 34 California trail pioneers followed vague directions and carried on with determination to reach California. The party was now made of up 32 men, and 18-year-old Nancy Kelsey and her infant daughter.
There was no established trail, and barely any guidance for these brave emigrants. The Bidwell-Bartleson party met adversity as they forged this future wagon trail – sometimes nearly depleting their water supplies, running low on food, and eventually abandoning wagons to continue on foot and horseback.Read More
1845 The term "Manifest Destiny" is coined by newspaper editor John O'Sullivan - John Louis O’Sullivan, a popular editor and columnist, articulated the long-standing American belief in the God-given mission of the United States to lead the world in the transition to democracy. He called this America’s “manifest destiny.”
1845 - 1852 Potato Famine reduces Ireland's population by 20-25%
The image above is a sketch published in The Illustrated London News on December 22, 1849. The accompanying article tells about the devastating combined effects of the Irish Potato Famine and the Irish Poor Law, which was supposed to help provide relief for the poor but had the net effect of encouraging landowners to evict their poor tenants rather than pay the taxes to help support them. The image below is of the section of the article that describes the Bridget O'Donnel sketch above.
It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930. Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. In the 1840s, they comprised nearly half of all immigrants to this nation. Many of these Irish immigrants headed to the gold fields during the California gold rush.
1846 Mormon Refugees leave the USA for the Great Salt Lake Valley - Prompted by regional persecution of the Mormons, Brigham Young began planning an orderly, spring 1846 evacuation of some 15,000 faithful to the Great Basin, Mexican-held territory beyond the Rocky Mountains.
However, as anti-Mormon violence heated, Young decided to organize a vanguard of church leaders to depart in late winter, hoping that would pacify the vigilantes until the main body of Mormons could start west in April. On February 4, 1846, the first wagons ferried across the Mississippi to Iowa. This group halted after five miles and set up camp at Sugar Creek for a lengthy wait as Young and his associates concluded business. Meanwhile others, anxious not to be left behind, drifted over to join the Sugar Creek camp. Young’s vanguard company unexpectedly swelled from his intended 1,800 emigrants to around 3,000—many without their own wagons and provisions.
On March 1, 1846, some 500 Mormon wagons lurched northwesterly across the winter-bare Iowa prairie toward the Missouri River. Their route became known as the Mormon Trail.
Learn more at the National Park Service Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail website.Read More
1846 - 1848 Mexican-American War - This conflict between the two neighboring nations stemmed largely around disputes about the annexation of the recently independent Texas.
One of the final and most significant battles occurred on Sept. 13, 1847. 120 U.S. Marines and soldiers stormed the Chapultepec castle, a fort being used as a Mexican military academy, to engage in the last battle before invading the Mexican capital.
In order to advance into the city, Army Gen. Winfield Scott made the decision to enter Mexico City by using causeways leading to its Western gates. This strategy made it necessary for the troops to seize Chapultepec Hill, a heavily reinforced 200-foot hill that included a 12-foot wall designed to protect it against enemy attacks.
The American forces struggled as they attacked the steep hill from all directions and were greeted by the Mexican Army through massive amounts of musket fire and artillery bombardment.
When they reached the Western walls, the troops were forced to engage in vicious hand-to-hand combat. Finally, they were able to hoist scaling-ladders into the fort and claim the defensive position.
Once the troops entered the castle, known as the Halls of the Montezuma, they raised the American flag symbolizing their triumph. When Gen. Scott walked into the castle he found the surrounding streets guarded by the remaining Marines.
During this battle, 90 percent of the Marine officers and noncommissioned officers who fought were killed.
Today the Marines’ actions in the battle of Chapultepec are remembered in the opening lines of The Marines’ Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”
Marine officers and noncommissioned officers also added scarlet stripes to their blue dress trousers, which are now referred to as “blood stripes,” to commemorate the Marines’ blood shed at Chapultepec.
The picture is a hand colored lithograph held by the Library of Congress bearing the label "Attack on Chapultepec, Sept. 13th 1847--Mexicans routed with great loss". It was created by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg publishers. From about 1830 through the rest of the century, the Kellogg brothers, in various partnerships among themselves and with others, published popular lithographs in Hartford, Connecticut. These firms issued the second largest number of decorative prints intended for the American public, surpassed only by their New York rivals, Currier & Ives, producing thousands of lithographs, most hand-colored, which ended up in the homes and work places of Americans.
The Kelloggs' prints were typical of the popular print style: colorful, affordable and with images covering much the same range of topics as those of their New York counterpart. Subjects included portraits, historical events, scenes of daily life, views, religious themes, politics, sports, animals, sentimental images and any other topic that might be of interest to the American public.Read More
1848 Democratic and nationalist revolutions sweep Europe, but most fail - The Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Springtime of the Peoples or the Spring of Nations, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It remains the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history.
1849 California Gold Rush begins - View of miner panning for gold in placer mining district of (possibly) Clear Creek west of Denver, Colorado. Original image on copy glass plate attributed to L.C. McClure.
Although turn-of-the century photographer Louis Charles McClure's (1867 - 1957) name remains relatively obscure, his cityscape pictures of Denver are among the most accurate and artistic depictions of any American city during the City Beautiful era. Having studied with noted photographer William Henry Jackson, McClure made a career of photographing railroads and landscapes throughout Colorado, but his most interesting work documented the Denver of the 1890's through the 1920's. McClure's artistry brought him considerable success as a commercial photographer during his lifetime. With his gift of over 4,000 glass plate negatives and prints to the Denver Public Library, today people are beginning to recognize McClure's distinctive signature as a sign of photography that is of great historic and aesthetic value.
The Denver Public Library holds a collection of McClure's photographs.Read More
1850 The Fugitive Slave Act - This illustration represents an impassioned condemnation of the Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress in September 1850, which increased federal and free-state responsibility for the recovery of fugitive slaves.
The law provided for the appointment of federal commissioners empowered to issue warrants for the arrest of alleged fugitive slaves and to enlist the aid of posses and even civilian bystanders in their apprehension. The print shows a group of four black men--possibly freedmen--ambushed by a posse of six armed whites in a cornfield. One of the white men fires on them, while two of his companions reload their muskets. Two of the blacks have evidently been hit; one has fallen to the ground while the second staggers, clutching the back of his bleeding head. The two others react with horror. Below the picture are two texts, one from Deuteronomy: "Thou shalt not deliver unto the master his servant which has escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee. Even among you in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates where it liketh him best. Thou shalt not oppress him." The second text is from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The print is unusually well drawn and composed for a political print of the period. The handling of both the lithographic technique and the figures betray particular skill. This lithograph is held by the Library of Congress.Read More
1854 - 1865 Missouri / Kansas border war - Missouri, being a slave state, was the only state sharing a border with the Kansas Territory, which had free-state sentiment as the question of statehood approached.
The ensuing border conflict was characterized by years of electoral fraud, raids, assaults, and retributive murders carried out in Kansas and neighboring Missouri by pro-slavery and anti-slavery people.
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 called for popular sovereignty, specifying that the decision about slavery would be made by popular vote of the territory's settlers, rather than legislators in Washington. This apparently rational solution did not work because there was no way to determine whether a man desiring to vote was a resident of Kansas or not. This question became a bitterly disputed matter.
It was easy for Missouri slaveowners, and other slavery sympathizers, to cross the border into Kansas and set up a homestead, genuinely or fraudulently, bringing their enslaved persons with them, if they owned any. Anti-slavery societies in the Northeast sponsored moves to the territory of prospective homesteaders who agreed to oppose slavery.
Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861, which was made possible by the departure of the legislators from the states that had seceded earlier in January. However, partisan violence continued along the Kansas–Missouri border for most of the Civil War.Read More
1857 Dred Scott decision determines that slaves are not protected by the Constitution - Dred Scott v. Sandford, was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court held that the Constitution of the United States was not meant to include American citizenship for black people, regardless of whether they were enslaved or free, and therefore the rights and privileges it confers upon American citizens could not apply to them.
The decision was made in the case of Dred Scott, an enslaved black man whose owners had taken him from Missouri, which was a slave-holding state, into the Missouri Territory, most of which had been designated "free" territory by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. When his owners later brought him back to Missouri, Scott sued in court for his freedom, claiming that because he had been taken into "free" U.S. territory, he had automatically been freed, and was legally no longer a slave. Scott sued first in Missouri state court, which ruled that he was still a slave under its law. He then sued in U.S. federal court, which ruled against him by deciding that it had to apply Missouri law to the case. He then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In March 1857, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision against Dred Scott. In an opinion written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Court ruled that black people "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States."
Although Chief Justice Taney and several of the other justices hoped that the ruling would permanently settle the slavery controversy—which was increasingly dividing the American public—its effect was almost the complete opposite. Taney's majority opinion was greeted with unmitigated wrath from every segment of the United States except the slave holding states, and the decision was a contributing factor in the outbreak of the American Civil War four years later in 1861.
The Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford is widely denounced by contemporary scholars.Read More
1859 Silver is discovered in Nevada and gold in Colorado - The Comstock Lode (Virginia City, NV) is one of the most important mining discoveries in American history, in output and in significance. It was the first major silver discovery in United States history: of the total ore taken out from the district, best estimates are that 57 per cent was silver, yet it was a considerable gold camp, given that the remaining 42 per cent was of that metal. Certainly it is the most dramatic event in Nevada's nineteenth century history, and, without it, Nevada could not have attained statehood when it did.
The Colorado Gold Rush, originally known as the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, started in 1858 and was the second largest mining excitement in United States history after the California rush a decade earlier. Over 100,000 people participated in this rush and were known as "Fifty-Niners", a reference to 1859, the year the rush to Colorado peaked.
At the time of the rush, Colorado was still part of Kansas and Nebraska territory. This gold rush was accompanied by a dramatic influx of emigrants into the region of the Rocky Mountains and exemplified by the phrase "Pikes Peak or Bust", a reference to the mountain in the Front Range that guided many early prospectors to the region westward over the Great Plains.Read More
1860 - 1861 Pony Express begins, operating for only 19 months - The Pony Express mail service was founded under the name of the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company.
On March 2nd, St. Joseph, Missouri was chosen as the eastern terminus while everyone already knew Sacramento would be the western terminus. St. Joseph was the perfect choice since it was connected to the east by railroads and the telegraph. The firm set up the route that would travel from Missouri, through Kansas, and the territories now known as Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. Station keepers, stock tenders and riders were hired along the route. Over 400 horses were purchased and relay stations were built and staffed 10-15 miles apart. At relay stations, riders would change horses. Home stations were 90-120 miles apart where riders would change and rest. In March it had been announced the rider would leave St. Joseph and Sacramento on April 3rd and deliver the mail in a record ten days.
The Pony Express only continued in service until October 24, 1861. The completion of the transcontinental telegraph line made the service obsolete.
Interestingly, the poster shown above is widely associated with the legends and adventure of the Pony Express. Sadly, it is not authentic. It is a poster that was created more than 60 years after the ending of the Pony Express as a tourist souvenir, prompted by a popular article published in Sunset Magazine in 1923, an excerpt of which is shown below.Read More
The following Pony Express announcement and call for applications is what was published in the Missouri Republican on March 26, 1860.
1861 Transcontinental telegraph line is completed across the USA - On October 24, 1861, workers of the Western Union Telegraph Company link the eastern and western telegraph networks of the nation at Salt Lake City, Utah, completing a transcontinental line that for the first time allows instantaneous communication between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Stephen J. Field, chief justice of California, sent the first transcontinental telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, predicting that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.
1861 Confederate artillery fires on Fort Sumter and the Civil War begins - In a letter delivered January 31, 1861, South Carolina Governor Pickens demanded of President Buchanan that he surrender Fort Sumter because "I regard that possession is not consistent with the dignity or safety of the State of South Carolina." Over the next few months repeated calls for evacuation of Fort Sumter from the government of South Carolina and then from Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard were ignored. Union attempts to resupply and reinforce the garrison were repulsed on January 10, 1861 when the first shots of the war, fired by cadets from the Citadel, prevented the steamer Star of the West, hired to transport troops and supplies to Fort Sumter, from completing the task.
This lithograph appeared in Harper's Weekly on January 26, 1861. The caption read "Firing on the Star of the West from the South Carolina Battery on Morris Island, January 10, 1861". The accompanying article provides a first-person account of the attack from the deck of the Star of the West ship:
"When we arrived about two miles from Fort Moultrie - Fort Sumter being about the same distance - a masked battery on Morris Island, where there was a red Palmetto flag flying, opened fire upon us - distance, about five-eighths of a mile. We had the American flag flying at our flag-staff at the time, and, soon after the first shot, hoisted a large American ensign at the fore. We continued on under the fire of the battery for over ten minutes, several of the shots going clean over us.... we concluded that, to avoid certain capture or destruction, we would endeavor to get to sea. Consequently, we wore round and steamed down the channel, the battery firing upon us until their shot fell short."Read More
1862 Homestead Act - The Homestead Act, enacted during the Civil War in 1862, provided that any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land.
Claimants were required to “improve” the plot by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. After 5 years on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear, except for a small registration fee. Title could also be acquired after only a 6-month residency and trivial improvements, provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre. After the Civil War, Union soldiers could deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements. While 160 acres may have been sufficient for an eastern farmer, it was simply not enough to sustain agriculture on the dry plains, and scarce natural vegetation made raising livestock on the prairie difficult. As a result, in many areas, the original homesteader did not stay on the land long enough to fulfill the claim. Homesteaders who persevered were rewarded with opportunities as rapid changes in transportation eased some of the hardships. Six months after the Homestead Act was passed, the Railroad Act was signed, and by May 1869, a transcontinental railroad stretched across the frontier. The new railroads provided relatively easy transportation for homesteaders, and new immigrants were lured westward by railroad companies eager to sell off excess land at inflated prices. The new rail lines provided ready access to manufactured goods and catalog houses like Montgomery Ward offered farm tools, barbed wire, linens, weapons, and even houses delivered via the rails. The image above is a poster from 1872 advertising Railroad land sales.
1865 The 13th Amendment - Thomas Nast's celebration of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War.
Nast envisions a somewhat optimistic picture of the future of free blacks in the United States. The central scene shows the interior of a freedman's home with the family gathered around a "Union" wood stove. The father bounces his small child on his knee while his wife and others look on. On the wall near the mantel hang a picture of Abraham Lincoln and a banjo. Below this scene is an oval portrait of Lincoln and above it, Thomas Crawford's statue of "Freedom." On either side of the central picture are scenes contrasting black life in the South under the Confederacy (left) with visions of the freedman's life after the war (right). At top left fugitive slaves are hunted down in a coastal swamp. Below, a black man is sold, apart from his wife and children, on a public auction block. At bottom a black woman is flogged and a male slave branded. Above, two hags, one holding the three-headed hellhound Cerberus, preside over these scenes, and flee from the gleaming apparition of Freedom. In contrast, on the right, a woman with an olive branch and scales of justice stands triumphant. Here, a freedman's cottage can be seen in a peaceful landscape. Below, a black mother sends her children off to "Public School." At bottom a free Negro receives his pay from a cashier. Two smaller scenes flank Lincoln's portrait. In one a mounted overseer flogs a black field slave (left); in the other a foreman politely greets Negro cotton-field workers.
Thomas Nast (September 27, 1840 - December 7, 1902) was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist often considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon". This artwork is held at the Library of Congress and first appeared in Harper's Weekly.Read More
1869 Transcontinental Railroad is completed - In 1862, the Pacific Railroad Act chartered the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies, tasking them with building a transcontinental railroad that would link the United States from east to west. Over the next seven years, the two companies would race toward each other from Sacramento, California on the one side to Omaha, Nebraska on the other, struggling against great risks before they met at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869.
The photograph above, titled "Driving the last spike on the Northern Pacific Railway at Gold Creek, Montana, September 8, 1883" was taken upon completion of the fifth transcontinental railway across North America. General Grant is shown with a spike maul and at his left is Henry Villard, then President of the Northern Pacific.
This photograph is part of the collection of the University of Washington.Read More