American History Timeline - 1783-1800



  • Spain recognizes American Independence, followed quickly by Sweden and Denmark. Russia will also recognize America's independence before the year is out. 
  • Great Britain officially states that hostilities have ended in America on February 4th. Congress agrees on April 11, 1783. 
  • Major John Armstrong issues two Newburgh Addresses that call for Congress to honor their agreements to pay the Continental Army. Washington responds advising patience. Congress agrees to pay the officers a lump sum for five years worth of pay. 
  • John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens travel to Paris and negotiates a preliminary peace treaty with the British which Congress then ratifies. The Treaty of Paris will be signed on September 3, 1783. 
  • The Society of the Cincinnati is founded with George Washington as its first president. This is a fraternal order of Continental Army officers. 
  • Massachusetts officially abolishes slavery. 
  • George Washington officially issues a "Farewell Address to the Army" in November and formally discharges the Army. He later resigns as Commander in Chief. 
  • Before the year ends, the importation of African slaves has been banned in the northern states. 


  • The Treaty of Paris is officially ratified on January 14th after being signed the previous year. 
  • Congress creates a Treasury Board to be governed by three commissioners: Samuel Osgood, Walter Livingston, and Arthur Lee. 
  • Spain closes the lower half of the Mississippi River to America. 
  • Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin are stationed in Paris and authorized to negotiate commercial treaties. 
  • The Empress of China, the first American merchant ship, reached Canton, China and returned with goods including tea and silks. Many American merchants would soon follow. 
  • The Six Nations of the Iroquois gave up all claims to territory west of the Niagara River. The Creek Indians also sign a treaty expanding Georgia's territory. 
  • James Madison publishes Remonstrances Against Religious Assessments advocating the separation of church and state. 


  • The Chippewa, Delaware, Ottawa, and Wyandot Indians sign a treaty where they give America all their land in the present-day Ohio. 
  • John Adams is appointed as the ambassador to England. He fails at negotiating commerce treaties and ensuring that the terms of the Treaty of Paris are enforced including the abandoning of their military posts along the Great Lakes. He returns back from England in 1788. 
  • Henry Knox is appointed as the Secretary of War. 
  • Thomas Jefferson is made the minister to France. 
  • George Washington hosts a conference at Mount Vernon where Virginia and Maryland create a commercial pact on how to deal with navigation on Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. They show the willingness of states to cooperate. 
  • Land Ordinance of 1785 is passed providing for the division of the northwestern territories into townships with lots to be sold for $640 each. 
  • Massachusetts is the first to call for a revision of the Articles of Confederation. However, this will actually not be considered until 1787.
  • According to the Treaty of Hopewell, the Cherokee Indians are ensured of the right to their land in the Tennessee area. 


  • Virginia adopts the Ordinance of Religious Freedom which guarantees freedom of religion. 
  • New Jersey refuses to pay their share of money requisitioned for the national government. This shows a great weakness in the Articles of Confederation. 
  • Congress adopts a standard coinage system as proposed by Thomas Jefferson. 
  • Small incidences of violence erupt in Massachusetts and New Hampshire because of the economic depression being experienced in the individual states. States have turned to issuing unstable paper currency. 
  • Shays Rebellion occurs in Massachusetts. Daniel Shays is a former Revolutionary War captain who went bankrupt and led a group of armed individuals in protest. His 'Army' will continue to grow and make attacks in the state. They are not stopped until February 4, 1787. However, this rebellion reveals the weakness of the articles to provide military protection across state lines. 


  • Congress agrees to hold a constitutional convention on May 14th in Philadelphia to deal with the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. 
  • The Constitutional Convention meets from May 25th - September 17th and results in the creation of the US Constitution. It needs nine states to ratify it for it to come into effect. 
  • Arthur St. Clair is made the first governor of the Northwest Territory. 
  • The first of 77 essays called collectively The Federalist Papers is published in New York's The Independent Journal on October 27th. These articles are written to persuade individuals in the state to ratify the new Constitution. 
  • Before the end of the year, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey ratify the Constitution. 


  • Before the end of 1788, 8 more of the 13 states will have ratified the Constitution: Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York. The fight has been hard fought with opposing Federalist and Anti-Federalist forces. Many states will not agree until a bill of rights is added protecting civil liberties and ensuring that the states powers have been been preserved. Once nine states have ratified, the Constitution is formally adopted. 
  • Losantiville is established in the Ohio Territory. It will be renamed Cincinnati in 1790. 
  • On November 1, 1788, the Congress officially adjourned. The United States would have no official government until April, 1789. 
  • Maryland proposes ceding to the national government the area of land that would become the District of Columbia. 


  • Georgetown University becomes the first Catholic university founded in the United States. 
  • On April 30, 1789, George Washington is inaugurated in New York as the first President. He is sworn in by Robert Livingston. He then delivers his inaugural address to Congress. A week later, the first inaugural ball is held. 
  • The French Revolution begins, witnessed by American minister Thomas Jefferson. 
  • The Department of State (called the Department of Foreign Affairs at first) is established with Thomas Jefferson as his head. The War Department is also established with Henry Knox as its head. The new Treasury Department is headed by Alexander Hamilton. Samuel Osgood is named the Postmaster General. The Federal Judiciary Act creates a six-man Supreme Court. John Jay is named the Chief Justice. Finally, Congress establishes the US Army before adjourning. 
  • The first national Thanksgiving Day is established. 


  • The Quakers presents a petition to Congress asking for the abolition of slavery. 
  • The first census is completed. The total population of the United States is 3,929,625. 
  • The Naturalization Act passes and requires a two-year residency for new citizens. 
  • The Coast Guard is created. 
  • Benjamin Franklin dies at the age of 84 on April 17, 1790. 
  • Rhode Island is the last state to ratify the Constitution after being boycotted by other New England states. 
  • Congress agrees to assume the states' Revolutionary War debts. However, this is opposed by Patrick Henry as detailed in the Virginia resolutions. 


  • The First Bank of the United States is officially chartered after President Washington signs it into law. ​
  • The Whisky Act is signed putting a tax on whisky. This is opposed by farmers and many states pass laws protesting the tax. 
  • Vermont becomes the 14th state. 
  • President Washington chooses the site for the District of Columbia on the Potomac River. Benjamin Banneker, a black mathematician and scientist is named one of three individuals appointed to survey the site for the federal capital. 
  • Thomas Jefferson and James Madison join forces to oppose Washington's federalist programs. 
  • Violence repeatedly breaks in the Northwest Territory with repeated attacks by Ohio Indians on settlements along the frontier. 
  • The first 10 amendments are added to the US Constitution as the Bill of Rights. 


  • Thomas Pinckney is named as the first diplomat to be sent from the United States to Great Britain. 
  • The Presidential Succession Act is passed detailing the line of succession in the case of the death of the president and vice president. 
  • The national mint is established in Philadelphia. 
  • The New York Stock Exchange is organized. 
  • Kentucky enters the Union as the 15th state. 
  • George Washington is reelected as president in the second presidential election. 


  • France's revolutionary movement loses a lot of American support upon the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette along with the declaration of war against Great Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands. 
  • A Fugitive Slave Act is passed allowing slaveowners to recapture runaway slaves. 
  • The Citizen Genet scandal occurs. 
  • Washington proclaims America's neutrality in the wars that are occurring in Europe. Despite this, Great Britain orders all neutral vessels to be seized if they are travelling to French ports. In addition, the British begin to seize neutral vessels that are travelling to the French West Indies which means that British begin to capture, imprison, and impress American sailors. 
  • Thomas Jefferson resigns as Secretary of State. Edmund Randolph will become secretary of State in his stead. 


  • A bill is passed that bans the slave trade with foreign nations. 
  • The US Navy is established. 
  • John Jay is sent to Great Britain to negotiate a trade treaty which he does. James Monroe is sent to France as the American minister, and John Quincy Adams is sent to the Netherlands. 
  • Congress passes an act denying American citizens the right to join foreign military service or help foreign armed vessels. 
  • The Whiskey Rebellion occurs in Pennsylvania. Washington sends a huge militia force to put down the insurrection. The rebels return home quietly. 
  • The Battle of Fallen Timbers occurs in northwest Ohio where General Anthony Wayne defeated Indian insurgents ending hostilities in the region. 


  • Washington resigned as Secretary of the Treasury and was replaced by Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 
  • The Senate ratifies Jay's Treaty between the United States and Great Britain. Washington later signs it into law. 
  • The Treaty of Greenville is signed with the 12 Ohio Indian tribes who had been defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. They give large amounts of land to America. 
  • America signs a treaty with Algiers agreeing to pay money to the Barbary pirates in exchange for the release of prisoners along with a yearly tribute to protect their shipping interests in the Mediterranean Sea. 
  • Thomas Pinckney signs the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain that sets the Spanish-American border and allows free travel along the length of the Mississippi River. He later gets appointed as Secretary of State. 


  • Oliver Ellsworth replaces John Jay as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 
  • The acceptance of Jay's Treaty means that America and France come close to war. 
  • Tennessee is admitted to the Union as the 16th state. Andrew Jackson will be sent to Congress as its first Representative. 
  • France does not accept America's new minister, Thomas Pinckney, because of Jay's Treaty.In November, France announces it is suspending all diplomatic ties with America. 
  • John Adams wins the presidential election with 71 electoral votes. His opponent, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson, comes in second with 68 votes and wins the Vice Presidency.


  • The United States, the first US naval ship, is launched.
  • The French-American crisis is increasing throughout this year. In June, it is announced that 300 US ships have been captured by France. President Adams sends three men to negotiate with France. However, they are approached by agents of Talleyrand (called XYZ) in France and told that in order to agree to a treaty, America will have to pay money to France and a huge bribe to Talleyrand. However, the ministers will not agree.This called the XYZ Affair and leads to an unofficial naval war with France that lasts from 1798-1800. 
  • The US makes a treaty with Tunis to pay tribute in order to stop the Barbary pirate attacks. 
  • The U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) is launched. 


  • The 11th Amendment is ratified. 
  • The Mississippi Territory is created by Congress. 
  • The Department of the Navy is created with Benjamin Stoddert as its Secretary. 
  • The imprisonment of debtors is officially abolished in the US. 
  • Commerce with France is officially suspended. Treaties are also repealed. 
  • The Alien and Sedition Acts are passed to silence political opposition. In response, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions are passed at Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's behest. 
  • George Washington is named Commander-in-Chief of the US Army. 


  • Ministers are allowed back into France. 
  • Patrick Henry passed away. 
  • Napoleon Bonaparte becomes the first consul of France. 
  • George Washington passed away suddenly. He is mourned in the United States, given honors in England, and a week of mourning begins in France. 
  • The first organized labor action, a shoemakers strike, occurs in Philadelphia. 


  • The Library of Congress is created. 
  • Washington becomes the permanent federal capital. 
  • The Convention of 1800, the Treaty of Morfontaine, is signed by the French and American diplomats ending the undeclared war. 
  • Spain cedes Louisiana to France. 
  • Johnny Appleseed distributes apple trees and seeds to those settling in Ohio. 



  • Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M., ed. "The Almanac of American History." Barnes & Nobles Books: Greenwich, CT, 1993.