American History Timeline: 1783-1800

George Washington
Lansdowne Portrait - George Washington.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The first two decades after the establishment of the independence of the United States from England were times of great turmoil, with American leaders struggling to form a working constitution that would accommodate the multiple viewpoints of its people. Slavery, taxation and states' rights were hot-button issues that needed to be addressed.

At the same time, the new United States, as well as its allied and competitor nations around the world, struggled with finding a way to fit into the established trade and diplomatic circles.

1783

February 4: Great Britain officially states that hostilities have ended in America on February 4th. Congress agrees on April 11, 1783. 

March 10 and 12: 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. 

April: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens travel to Paris to negotiate a preliminary peace treaty with the British which Congress then ratifies.

May 13: The Society of the Cincinnati is founded with George Washington as its first president. This is a fraternal order of Continental Army officers. 

April 20: In Massachusetts, the third court case over Quock Walker, a man treated as a slave and beaten by his owner, was resolving finding the owner guilty of slavery, effectively abolishes slavery in the state.

September 3: The Treaty of Paris is signed, and Spain recognizes American Independence, followed quickly by Sweden and Denmark. Russia will also recognize America's independence before the year is out. 

November 23: 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 is banned in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. 

1784

January 14th: The Treaty of Paris is officially ratified after being signed the previous year. 

Spring: Congress creates a Treasury Board to be governed by three commissioners: Samuel Osgood, Walter Livingston, and Arthur Lee. 

June: Spain closes the lower half of the Mississippi River to America. 

Summer and Fall: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin are stationed in Paris and authorized to negotiate commercial treaties. 

August: The Empress of China, the first American merchant ship, reaches Canton, China and returned with goods including tea and silks. Many American merchants would soon follow. 

October 22: In the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Six Nations of the Iroquois give up all claims to territory west of the Niagara River. The Creek Indians also sign a treaty expanding Georgia's territory. 

1785

20 June: James Madison publishes Remonstrances Against Religious Assessments advocating the separation of church and state. 

January 21: In the Treaty of Fort McIntosh, the Chippewa, Delaware, Ottawa, and Wyandot Indians sign a treaty where they give America all their land in present-day Ohio. 

February 24: 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. 

March 8: Former military officer Henry Knox is appointed as the first Secretary of War. 

March 10: Thomas Jefferson is made the minister to France. 

March 28: George Washington hosts a conference at Mount Vernon where Virginia and Maryland create a commercial pact on how to deal with navigation on the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. They show the willingness of states to cooperate. 

May 25: The Constitutional Convention opens in Philadelphia and Massachusetts is the first to call for a revision of the Articles of Confederation. However, this will actually not be considered until 1787.

July 13: The Land Ordinance of 1785 is passed providing for the division of the northwestern territories into townships with lots to be sold for $640 each. 

November 28: According to the first Treaty of Hopewell, the Cherokee Indians are ensured of the right to their land in the Tennessee area. 

1786

January 16: Virginia adopts the Ordinance of Religious Freedom which guarantees freedom of religion. 

June 15: New Jersey refuses to pay their share of money requisitioned for the national government and offers the New Jersey Plan identifying weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation. 

August 8: Congress establishes a standard coinage system as proposed by Thomas Jefferson, the adopted Spanish dollar, with a silver weight of 375 64/100s grains of fine silver.

August: Small incidences of violence erupt in Massachusetts and New Hampshire because of the economic depression being experienced in the individual states. States begin issuing unstable paper currency. 

September: 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, which are not stopped until February 4, 1787. However, this rebellion reveals the weakness of the articles to provide military protection across state lines. 

1787

May 14: Congress agrees to hold a constitutional convention on May 14th in Philadelphia to deal with the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. 

May 25September 17: The Constitutional Convention meets and results in the creation of the US Constitution. It needs nine states to ratify it for it to come into effect. 

July 13: Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Arthur St. Clair is made the first governor of the Northwest Territory. 

October 27: The first of 77 essays called collectively The Federalist Papers is published in New York's The Independent Journal. 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. 

1788

November 1: The Congress officially adjourned. The United States would have no official government until April 1789. 

December 23: The Maryland General Assembly passes an act proposing ceding to the national government the area of land that would become the District of Columbia. 

December 28: Losantiville is established on the Ohio and Licking Rivers in the Ohio Territory. It will be renamed Cincinnati in 1790. 

Before the end of 1788, eight 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 preserved. Once nine states have ratified, the Constitution is formally adopted. 

1789

January 23: Georgetown University becomes the first Catholic university founded in the United States. 

April 30: George Washington is inaugurated in New York as the first President. He is sworn in by Robert Livingston and then delivers his inaugural address to Congress. A week later, the first inaugural ball is held. 

July 14: The French Revolution begins when revolutionaries stormed the Bastille Prison, events witnessed by the American minister Thomas Jefferson. 

July 27: The Department of State (called the Department of Foreign Affairs at first) is established with Thomas Jefferson as his head.

August 7: The War Department is also established with Henry Knox as its head.

September 2: The new Treasury Department is headed by Alexander Hamilton. Samuel Osgood is named the first Postmaster General under the new constitution.

September 24: The Federal Judiciary Act creates a six-man Supreme Court. John Jay is named the Chief Justice.

September 29: Congress establishes the US Army before adjourning. 

November 26: The first national Thanksgiving Day is proclaimed by George Washington at the request of Congress. 

1790

February 3: The Quakers presents a petition to Congress asking for the abolition of slavery. 

March 26: The Naturalization Act passes and requires a two-year residency for new citizens.

April 17: Benjamin Franklin dies at the age of 84. 

May 29: Rhode Island is the last state to ratify the Constitution after being boycotted by other New England states. 

June 20: Congress agrees to assume the states' Revolutionary War debts. However, this is opposed by Patrick Henry as detailed in the Virginia Resolutions. 

July 16: Washington signs into law the Permanent Seat of Government Act, establishing the location of the permanent federal capital. 

August 2: The first census is completed. The total population of the United States is 3,929,625. 

August 4: The Coast Guard is created. 

1791

February 25: The First Bank of the United States is officially chartered after President Washington signs it into law. ​

March: The Whiskey Act is signed putting a tax on whiskey. This is opposed by farmers and many states pass laws protesting the tax, eventually leading to the Whiskey Rebellion.

March 4: Vermont becomes the 14th state, the first to enter the United States after the 13 original colonies.

March: 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. 

Summer: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison join forces to oppose Washington's federalist programs. 

Fall: Violence repeatedly breaks in the Northwest Territory with repeated attacks by Ohio Indians on settlements along the frontier, culminating in the Battle of the Wabash in November. 

December 15: The first 10 amendments are added to the US Constitution as the Bill of Rights. 

1792

March 1: The Presidential Succession Act is passed detailing the line of succession in the case of the death of the president and vice president. 

Spring: Thomas Pinckney is named as the first diplomat to be sent from the United States to Great Britain. 

April 2: The national mint is established in Philadelphia. 

May 17: The New York Stock Exchange is organized. 

June 1: Kentucky enters the Union as the 15th state. 

 December 5: George Washington is reelected as president in the second presidential election. 

1793

Over the year, France's revolutionary movement loses a lot of American support upon the execution of Louis XVI (January 21) and Marie Antoinette (October 16) along with the declaration of war against Great Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands. 

February 12: A Fugitive Slave Act is passed allowing slave owners to recapture runaway slaves. 

April: The Citizen Genet scandal occurs, after the French minister Edmond Charles Genet arrived in the U.S. and passed out letters authorizing the attack on British commercial vessels and the city of Spanish New Orleans, what Washington saw as a clear violation of American neutrality.

April: As a result, 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 traveling to French ports. In addition, the British begin to seize neutral vessels that are traveling to the French West Indies which means that British begin to capture, imprison, and impress American sailors. 

December 31: Thomas Jefferson resigns as Secretary of State. Edmund Randolph will become secretary of State in his stead. 

1794

March 22: The Slave Trade Act is passed that bans the slave trade with foreign nations. 

March 27: The Naval Act is passed, authorizing construction of what would become the first ships in the US Navy. 

Summer: John Jay is sent to Great Britain to negotiate a trade treaty which he does (signed November 19). James Monroe is sent to France as the American minister, and John Quincy Adams is sent to the Netherlands. 

Summer: Congress passes an act denying American citizens the right to join foreign military service or help foreign armed vessels. 

August 7: The Whiskey Rebellion is ended in Pennsylvania when Washington sends a huge militia force to put down the insurrection. The rebels return home quietly. 

August 20: The Battle of Fallen Timbers occurs in northwest Ohio where General Anthony Wayne defeated Indian insurgents ending hostilities in the region. 

1795

January 31: Washington resigned as Secretary of the Treasury and was replaced by Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 

June 24: The Senate ratifies Jay's Treaty between the United States and Great Britain. Washington later signs it into law. The acceptance of Jay's Treaty means that America and France will come close to war. 

August 3: 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. 

September 5: 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. 

October 27: 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. 

1796

March 3: Oliver Ellsworth is nominated by George Washington to replace John Jay as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 

June 1: Tennessee is admitted to the Union as the 16th state. Andrew Jackson will be sent to Congress as its first Representative. 

November: After having rejected America's new foreign minister Thomas Pinckney because of Jay's Treaty. France announces it is suspending all diplomatic ties with America. 

December 7: 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.

1797

March 27: The United States, the first US naval ship, is launched.

The French-American crisis increases 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. 

August 19: The U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) is launched. 

August 28: The US makes a treaty with Tunis to pay tribute in order to stop the Barbary pirate attacks. 

1798

March 4: The 11th Amendment, which restricts the rights of citizens to bring suit against states in federal court, is ratified. 

April 7: The Mississippi Territory is created by Congress. 

May: The Department of the Navy is created with Benjamin Stoddert as its Secretary. 

July: Congress suspends all commerce with France, and treaties are also repealed. 

Summer: The Alien and Sedition Acts are passed to silence political opposition and signed into law by President Adams. In response, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions are passed at Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's behest. 

July 13: George Washington is named Commander-in-Chief of the US Army. 

1799

Spring: Tensions between France and the U.S. ease to the point where ministers are allowed back into France. 

June 6: Patrick Henry dies. 

November 11: Napoleon Bonaparte becomes the first consul of France. 

December 14: George Washington dies suddenly of a throat infection. He is mourned in the United States, given honors in England, and a week of mourning begins in France. 

1800

April 24: The Library of Congress is created. 

September 30: The Convention of 1800, the Treaty of Morfontaine, is signed by the French and American diplomats ending the undeclared war. 

October 1: In the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain cedes Louisiana back to France. 

Fall: Johnny Appleseed begins distributing apple trees and seeds to new settlers in Ohio. 

 Sources:

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