Decade by Decade Timeline of the 1800s

Several hundred years after its founding, the United States of America fought for and won its freedom as an independent country. But it wasn't until the 1800s that a series of events would propel this largely agrarian land toward its status as powerful and unified nation.

Key to this growth was the idea of "manifest destiny," a term credited to newspaper editor John O'Sullivan in 1845 that outlined the belief that America was destined—ordained by God, in fact—to expand the virtues of its democratic founding westward until it held every inch of land from shore to shore.

Yet the Civil War, which took place in the middle of the century, resulted in part as a challenge to this idea​. The war left the nation teetering on the edge of complete fracture. 

The 1800s were also a time of great intellectual and technical progress, with many people acquiring astonishing economic gains.


Jefferson Memorial in gray brick circular room
ericfoltz / Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson was in the White House, Lewis and Clark were heading west, a rebellion broke out in Ireland, Burr and Hamilton fought their duel, and the writings of Washington Irving defined American literature.


William Henry Harrison
Kean Collection / Getty Images

The National Road made westward movement possible, Tecumseh organized Native Americans, the British burned the White House and the Capitol, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, and Andrew Jackson became an American hero at the Battle of New Orleans.


Union by Henry S. Sadd
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

The Missouri Compromise held the Union together, American presidents fought bitter election battles, the Erie Canal made New York the Empire State, Andrew Jackson's inaugural party nearly wrecked the White House, and Scotland Yard came into being. 


Darwin Testing the Speed of an Elephant Tortoise (Galapagos Islands) by Meredith Nugent
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

A steam locomotive raced a horse, Andrew Jackson beat up the man who tried to assassinate him, Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands, and a tragic siege at the Alamo became legendary.


William H. Harrison on His Death Bed with Visitors
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The song "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" helped usher in a presidential election win for William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia a month later. Ireland was ravaged by the Great Famine, spurring one of the great migrations of people to the U.S., and Gold Fever struck California. 


Abraham Lincoln
Authenticated News / Getty Images

Compromises over slavery delayed the Civil War, Lincoln debated Douglas, John Brown's raid put America back on the path to war, and Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln
TonyBaggett / Getty Images

The United States was torn by the Civil War, President Lincoln was assassinated, John Muir arrived in Yosemite Valley, and a hero of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant, became president of the United States.  


Hayden Geological Survey
William Henry Jackson / Getty Images

Yellowstone became the first National Park, Stanley found Livingstone, Boss Tweed went to jail, Custer met his end at the Little Bighorn, and the 1876 presidential election was most likely stolen. 


Fireworks Display Over Brooklyn Bridge
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The Brooklyn Bridge opened with a huge celebration (and a disaster soon after), Krakatoa erupted, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor, and the Johnstown Flood shocked the nation.


Greece, Athens, First Olympics, 1896
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Lizzie Borden was charged with an ax murder, Yosemite became a National Park, the Panic of 1893 devastated the economy, the first modern Olympics were held in Greece, ​and Teddy Roosevelt shook up New York City before charging up San Juan Hill.