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A Biography of America

The Events of 1831

January 1

Garrison publishes the Liberator
William Lloyd Garrison publishes the first issue of the Liberator and emerges as the leader of the abolitionist movement in the United States.

February 17

Jackson-Calhoun correspondence published
Correspondence between President Andrew Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun over activities during the Seminole War is published in newspapers and as a result, the divide between president and vice president grows.

March 18

Supreme Court rules against Cherokee
The Supreme Court issues its decision in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and rules that the Cherokee are not an independent nation free from state laws.

April 7

Cabinet resignations begin
Jackson’s Cabinet dissolves over political differences, when Secretary of War John Eaton, Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, Secretary of Treasury Samuel Ingham, Attorney General John Berrien, and Secretary of Navy John Branch all resign.

April 26

New York abolishes crime of debt
The New York Legislature abolishes imprisonment for debt. Many states soon follow New York’s lead in abolishing terms of imprisonment for debtors, who often languished in jails for the inability to pay off minor debts if creditors swore out warrants against them.

May 10

Tocqueville and Beaumont arrive
Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave Beaumont arrive in New York from France and begin their tour of American society.

July 4

Hymn America debuts
At the Boston Sabbath School Union, the choir sings for the first time “My country ’tis of thee, Sweet Land of Liberty.”

July 25

McCormick invents reaper
Cyrus McCormick, a Virginia farmer and inventor, tests his mechanical reaper. The machine will transform American agriculture.

August 22

Nat Turner’s Rebellion
Nat Turner leads a rebellion of several dozen slaves in Southampton County, Virginia that lasts three days and results in the deaths of 55 whites.

September 3

Audubon arrives
John James Audubon, artist and naturalist famous for his depictions of birds, arrives in New York from England. This marks the beginning of a three-year tour in which the naturalist avidly hunts and draws birds and seeks subscribers for his Birds of America.

September 24

First rural cemetery
Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first rural burial ground in America, is consecrated. The opening of Mt. Auburn Cemetery marks a shift in attitudes toward death, away from fear and terror toward romantic ideals of peaceful rest and natural beauty.

September 28

First presidential nominating convention
The first presidential nominating convention in American history takes place, and the Anti-Masonic party puts forth William Wirt, former attorney general, as candidate.

September 30 - October 7

Free Trade Convention
The Free Trade Convention, opposed to all tariffs on imported goods, meets in Philadelphia.

October 23

Finney delivers sermon
Charles Grandison Finney delivers his sermon, “Sinners Bound to Change their Own Hearts.” Finney is the leading evangelical minister of the Second Great Awakening, a period of religious enthusiasm marked by vast increases in church membership in the United States.

October 26

Friends of Domestic Industry meet
The Friends of Domestic Industry, who support tariffs as an incentive to American manufacturing growth, meet in New York.

November 12

First steam-powered railroad
The John Bull, the first steam-powered railroad engine in America, makes its initial trip in Bordentown, New Jersey. Local dignitaries cheer as the steam engine makes its journey of a little over a mile. The John Bull cost $4,000 and arrived from England in boxes and was assembled by a local mechanic.

November 25

Confessions of Nat Turner published
Available for sale is The Confessions of Nat Turner, a pamphlet in which the rebel tells his story as edited by Thomas Gray, a lawyer.

December 12 - 16

National Republican convention
The National Republican Convention meets in Baltimore and nominates Henry Clay of Kentucky for president.

December 14

Virginia begins abolition debate
The Virginia Legislature begins to debate Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s bill to abolish slavery gradually. It is defeated the following month.

December 24

Biddle applies for Bank of U.S. charter
Nicholas Biddle, director of the Second Bank of the United States, decides to apply early for rechartering of the institution, a move that the following year will lead to the destruction of the Bank when Jackson vetoes the Bill.

December 26

Cholera epidemic
Newspapers report that the cholera epidemic has reached England and is headed for American shores.