January 14, 1784 -
The Treaty of Paris is ratified
by Congress. The Revolutionary War officially ends.
March 1, 1784 - A congressional
committee led by Thomas Jefferson proposes
to divide up sprawling western territories into states, to be considered
equal with the original 13. Jefferson also proposes a ban on slavery everywhere
in the U.S. after 1800. This proposal is narrowly defeated.
August 30, 1784 - Beginning of the
China Trade, as the American Ship Empress
of China, sailing from New York, arrives at Canton, China. The ship
will return with exotic goods, including silks and tea, spurring large
numbers of American merchants to enter the trade.
September 22, 1784 - Russians establish
their first settlement in Alaska, on Kodiak Island.
January 11, 1785 - Congress relocates
to New York City, temporary capital of the U.S.
February 24, 1785 - Although England
refuses to send an ambassador to the U.S., John
Adams is sent as the American ambassador to Britain. He will spend
the next three years trying without success to settle problems regarding
the existence of a string of British forts along the Canadian border, pre-war
debts owed to British creditors, post-war American treatment of Loyalists,
and the closing of the West Indian colonies to American trade.
May 8, 1785 - Congress passes the
Land Ordinance of 1785 which divides the northwest
territories into townships, each set at 6 square miles, subdivided into
36 lots of 640 acres each, with each lot selling for no less than $640.
January 16, 1786 - The Virginia
legislature passes Jefferson's Ordinance of Religious
Freedom guaranteeing that no man may be forced to attend or support
any church or be discriminated against because of his religious preference.
This will later serve as the model for the first amendment to the U.S.
Summer of 1786 - Americans suffer
from post-war economic depression including a shortage of currency, high
taxes, nagging creditors, farm foreclosures and bankruptcies.
August 8, 1786 - Congress adopts
a monetary system based on the Spanish dollar, with a gold piece valued
at $10, silver pieces at $1, one-tenth of $1 also in silver, and copper
August 22-25, 1786 - Angry representatives
from 50 towns in Massachusetts meet to discuss money problems including
the rising number of foreclosures, the high cost of lawsuits, heavy land
and poll taxes, high salaries for state officials, and demands for new
paper money as a means of credit.
August 31, 1786 - In Massachusetts,
to prevent debtors from being tried and put in prison, ex-Revolutionary
War Captain Daniel Shays, who is now a bankrupt
farmer, leads an armed mob and prevents the Northampton Court from holding
September 20, 1786 - In New Hampshire,
an armed mob marches on the state assembly and demands enactment of an
issue of paper money.
September 26, 1786 - Shays'
rebels, fearing they might be charged with treason, confront
600 militiamen protecting the state Massachusetts Supreme Court
session in Springfield and force the court to adjourn.
October 16, 1786 - Congress establishes
the United States mint.
October 20, 1786 - Congress authorizes
Secretary of War Henry Knox to raise a an army of 1340 men over concerns
of the safety of the federal arsenal at Springfield, Mass.
December 26, 1786 - Shays assembles
1200 men near Worcester, Mass. and heads toward Springfield. Massachusetts
Governor, Bowdoin, then orders mobilization of a 4400 man force.
January 26, 1787 - Shays' rebels
attack the federal arsenal at Springfield but are unsuccessful. Revolutionary
War hero, Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, then arrives with reinforcements from
Boston to pursue the rebels.
February 4, 1787 - Gen. Lincoln's
troops attack Shays' rebels at Petersham, Massachusetts, and capture 150
rebels. Shays flees north to Vermont.
February 21, 1787 - Amid calls for
a stronger central government, due in part to Shays' Rebellion, Congress
endorses a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to be held
in Philadelphia, beginning in May.
May 25, 1787 -
With 29 delegates from nine states present,
the constitutional convention begins in the state house (Independence Hall)
in Philadelphia. A total of 73 delegates have been chosen by the states
(excluding Rhode Island) although only 55 will actually attend. There are
21 veterans of the Revolutionary War and 8 signers of the Declaration of
Independence. The delegates are farmers, merchants, lawyers and bankers,
with an average age of 42, and include the brilliant 36 year old James
Madison, the central figure at the convention, and 81 year old Ben Franklin.
Thomas Jefferson, serving abroad as ambassador to France, does not attend.
The delegates first vote is to keep the proceedings
absolutely secret. George Washington is then nominated as president of
the constitutional convention.
June 19, 1787
- Rather than revise the Articles of Confederation, delegates at the constitutional
convention vote to create an entirely new form of national government separated
into three branches - the legislative, executive and judicial - thus dispersing
power with checks and balances, and competing factions, as a measure of
protection against tyranny by a controlling majority.
July 13, 1787
- Congress enacts the Northwest
Ordinance which establishes formal procedures
for transforming territories into states. It provides for the eventual
establishment of three to five states in the area north of the Ohio River,
to be considered equal with the original 13. The Ordinance includes a Bill
of Rights that guarantees freedom of religion, the right to trial by jury,
public education and a ban on slavery in the Northwest.
July 16, 1787 -
At the constitutional convention, Roger Sherman
proposes a compromise which allows for representation in the House of Representatives
based on each state's population and equal representation for all of the
states in the Senate. The numerous black slaves in the South are to counted
at only three fifths of their total number. A rough draft of the constitution
is then drawn up.
August 6-10, 1787
- Items in the draft constitution are debated including the length of terms
for the president and legislators, the power of Congress to regulate commerce,
and a proposed 20 year ban on any Congressional action concerning slavery.
17, 1787 - Thirty nine delegates vote
to approve and then sign the final draft of the new Constitution.
The Legislative Branch
will consist of two houses. The upper house (Senate) to be composed of
nominees selected by state assemblies for six year terms; the lower house
(House of Representatives) to be elected every two years by popular vote.
The Executive Branch
is to be headed by a chief executive (President) elected every four years
by presidential electors from the states. The President is granted sweeping
powers including: veto power over Congress which can be overridden by a
two-thirds vote in each house; commander in chief of the armies; power
to make treaties with the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate;
power to appoint judges, diplomats and other officers with the consent
of the Senate; power to recommend legislation and responsibility for execution
of the laws.
The President is required to report each year
to the legislative branch on the state of the nation. The legislative branch
has the power to remove the President from office. The House can impeach
the President for treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors
with actual removal from office occurring by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
The Judicial Branch
consists of a Supreme Court headed by a chief justice. The court has the
implied power to review laws that conflict with the Constitution.
September 19, 1787
- For the first time the proposed Constitution is made public as printed
copies of the text are distributed. A storm of controversy soon arises
as most people had only expected a revision of the Articles of Confederation,
not a new central government with similarities to the British system they
had just overthrown.
September 28, 1787
- Congress votes to send the Constitution to the state legislatures for
ratification, needing the approval of nine states.
October 27, 1787
- The Federalists,
who advocate a strong central government and approval of the new Constitution,
begin publishing essays in favor of ratification. Written by Alexander
Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay,
the total number of articles will eventually reach 85 and be compiled and
published as the Federalist Papers.
December 7, 1787
- Delaware is the first of the nine states needed to ratify the Constitution.
To be followed by: Pennsylvania (Dec. 12) New Jersey (Dec. 18) Georgia
(Jan. 2, 1788) Connecticut (Jan. 9) Massachusetts (Feb. 7) Maryland (April
28) South Carolina (May 23) and New Hampshire (June 21).
February 6, 1788
in Massachusetts, led by Sam Adams and
John Hancock, favor a more decentralized system of government and give
their support to ratification of the Constitution only after a compromise
is reached that amendments will be included which guarantee civil liberties.
February 27, 1788
- In Massachusetts, following an incident in which free blacks were kidnapped
and transported to the island of Martinique, the Massachusetts legislature
declares the slavery trade illegal and provides for monetary damages to
victims of kidnappings.
March 24, 1788
- In Rhode Island, the Constitution is rejected by a popular referendum.
The state, fearful of consolidated federal power, had refused to send a
delegation to the constitutional convention in Philadelphia and had subsequently
rejected a state convention to consider ratification.
June 2, 1788
- In Virginia, anti-Federalist forces, led by Patrick Henry and George
Mason, oppose ratification of the Constitution. They are joined by Richard
Henry Lee who calls for a bill of rights and a lower house set up on
a more democratic basis.
June 25, 1788
- In Virginia, the Federalists, led by James Madison, finally prevail as
ratification of the Constitution (with a proposed bill of rights and 20
other changes) is endorsed by a close vote of 89 to 75.
July 2, 1788
- A formal announcement is made by the president of Congress that the Constitution
of the United States is now in effect, having been ratified by the
required nine states.
July 8, 1788
- A committee in the old Congress (still under the Articles of Confederation)
is established to prepare for an orderly transfer of power, including procedures
for electing representatives to the first Congress under the new Constitution
and procedures for choosing the electors of the first president.
July 26, 1788
- The state of New York votes 30 to 27 to endorse ratification while also
recommending a bill of rights be included.
September 13, 1788
- New York City is chosen by Congress to be the temporary seat of the new
- Commodity prices stabilize, spurring economic recovery and a gradual
return to pre-war levels of prosperity.
November 1, 1788
- The old Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, adjourns.
The U.S. is temporarily without a central government.
November 21, 1788
- North Carolina endorses the Constitution by a vote of 194 to 77.
December 23, 1788
- Maryland proposes giving a 10 square-mile area along the Potomac River
for the establishment of a federal town to be the new seat of the U.S.
January 7, 1789
- Presidential electors are chosen in the 11 ratifying states, except New
January 23, 1789
- Georgetown University, the first Catholic college in the U.S., is founded
by Father John Carroll.
February 4, 1789
- Ballots are cast in the first presidential election, to be counted on
March 4, 1789
- The first Congress convenes in New York City, but is unable to achieve
a quorum, since most members are still traveling there.
April 1, 1789
- A quorum is reached in Congress with 30 of 59 members present and the
House of Representatives begins to function. Of the 59 members, 54 had
also been delegates to the constitutional convention.
April 6, 1789
- In the Senate, with 9 of 22 senators present, the presidential ballots
cast on Feb. 4 are counted. George Washington is the unanimous choice for
President with 69 votes. John Adams is elected Vice President with 34 votes.
Messengers are then sent to inform Washington and Adams.
April 14, 1789
- Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, arrives at Mount Vernon and informs
George Washington of his election as President. Two days later, Washington
leaves for New York City.
April 21, 1789
- John Adams arrives in New York and is sworn in as Vice President, then
takes his seat as presiding officer of the Senate.
April 23, 1789
- After an eight day triumphal journey, Washington arrives in New York
April 30, 1789
- On the balcony of New York's Federal Hall, George Washington, at age
57, is sworn in as the first President of the United States. He then enters
the Senate chamber to deliver his inaugural address.
May 7, 1789
- The first inaugural ball occurs in honor of President
June 1, 1789
- In its first act, Congress establishes the procedure for administering
oaths of office.
July 4, 1789
- Congress passes its first tax, an 8.5 percent protective tax on 30 different
items, with items arriving on American ships charged at a lower rate than
July 14, 1789
- In France, the French Revolution
begins with the fall of the Bastille in Paris, an event witnessed by the
American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson.
July 20, 1789
- Congress passes the Tonnage Act of 1789
levying a 50 cents per ton tax on foreign ships entering American ports,
30 cents per ton on American built but foreign owned ships, and 6 cents
per ton on American ships.
July 27, 1789
- Congress begins organization of the departments of government with the
establishment of the Department of Foreign Affairs, later renamed the Department
of State. Followed by the War Department (Aug. 7) Treasury Dept. (Sept.
2) and Postmaster General under the Treasury Dept. (Sept. 2).
September 22, 1789
- The Federal Judiciary Act
passed by Congress establishes a six-man Supreme Court, attorney general,
13 federal district courts and 3 circuit courts. All federal cases would
originate in the district court and, if appealed, would go to the circuit
court and from there to the Supreme Court.
25, 1789 - Congress submits 12 proposed
constitutional amendments to the states for ratification. The first ten
will be ratified and added to the Constitution in 1791 as the Bill
September 29, 1789
- The U.S. Army is established by Congress. Totaling 1000 men, it consists
of one regiment of eight infantry companies and one battalion of four artillery
November 26, 1789
- A Day of Thanksgiving
is established by a congressional resolution and a proclamation by George
March 1, 1790
- A Census Act
is passed by Congress. The first census, finished on Aug. 1, indicates
a total population of nearly 4 million persons in the U.S. and western
territories. African Americans make up 19 percent of the population, with
90 percent living in the South. Native Americans were not counted, although
there were likely over 80 tribes with 150,000 persons. For white Americans,
the average age is under 16. Most white families are large, with an average
of eight children born. The white population will double every 22 years.
The largest American city is Philadelphia, with
42,000 persons, followed by New York (33,000) Boston (18,000) Charleston
(16,000) and Baltimore (13,000). The majority of Americans are involved
in agricultural pursuits, with little industrial activity occurring at
April 17, 1790
- Benjamin Franklin dies in Philadelphia at age 84. His funeral four days
later draws over 20,000 mourners.
July 10, 1790
- The House of Representatives votes to locate the national capital on
a 10 square-mile site along the Potomac, with President George Washington
choosing the exact location.