Timeline: Politics and Public Policy 1865-1905

  • 1865
  • Thirteenth Amendment passed by Congress and ratified by two-thirds of states still in the Union
  • President Abraham Lincoln assassinated; V.P. Andrew Johnson assumes the office
  • Congress creates Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands to assist with physical reconstruction and human welfare in the defeated Confederacy
  • President Johnson extends recognition to Southern state governments, on lenient terms, while Congress is not in session; Congress rejects his action, refuses to seat representatives from ex-Confederate states, and creates a Joint
  • Committee to assert its authority in Reconstruction
  • Congress creates Secret Service
  • 1867
  • Congress passes Reconstruction Acts to establish military rule in former Confederacy, except Tennessee

United States Supreme Court Room

United States Supreme Court Room, Washington City - Chief-Justice Chase and Associates Hearing the Arguments in the Mississippi Injuction Case. "United States Supreme Court Room", Harper’s Weekly, Apr. 1867, p.265.

  • 1868
  • Congress attempts to impeach President Andrew Johnson for violating the Tenure of Office Act in firing the secretary of war without Congressional approval, and in a broader sense for obstructing and undermining Congressional policymaking; the House of Representatives votes to impeach but the Senate fails to do so, by one vote
  • Ulysses S. Grant, Republican, defeats Horatio Seymour, Democrat, in the US presidential election; popular vote 3,013,421 to 2,706,829; electoral vote 214 to 80
  • Republicans maintain control of both houses of Congress in the election; hold majority of 149 to 63 in the House, 56 to 11 in the Senate
  • 1869
  • Congress establishes Railway Mail Service, greatly increasing speed and reliability of postal delivery
  • Massachusetts establishes the first state board of health
  • Prohibition Party founded in Chicago
  • 1870
  • Congress passes KKK Act to repress violence against blacks in the South
  • First African-American Congressman seated
  • US Weather Bureau established
  • Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives with stunning gains in midterm elections; hold majority of , while Republicans hold Senate 52 to 17
  • All states represented in Congress for the first time since 1860
  • 1871
  • In rider to Indian Appropriations Act, Congress declares that it will no longer make treaties with Indian tribes, but instead they are subject to Congressional legislation and executive agreements
  • U.S. Life-Saving Service professionalized and funded by Congress
  • Boss William Tweed, of New York’s Tammany Hall Democratic political machine, arrested and convicted of graft
  • 1872
  • Ulysses S. Grant wins presidency over Liberal Republican Horace Greeley; popular vote 3,596,745 to 2,843, 446; Grant receives all 286 electoral votes when Greeley dies shortly after the election. Minor candidates include Victoria Woodhull, first woman to run for president, on the Equal Rights ticket
  • Congress establishes Yellowstone as world’s first national park
  • Nebraska becomes the first state to celebrate Arbor Day
  • Republicans attain a majority of appointments on the US Supreme Court, a majority they maintain until 1939
  • Crédit Mobilier scandal implicates high-level Grant Administration officials and Congressmen with bribes and kickbacks in construction of the Union Pacific Railroad (1872-1873)
  • Ulysses S. Grant, Republican,wins re-election as US president over Horace Greeley, Liberal Republican; popular vote , electoral vote (1872-1873)
  • 1873
  • Coinage Act establishes process for placing the United States on the gold standard over the next six years; specie payments resume in 1879
  • Comstock Law prohibits use of US postal service for obscene literature, including information on birth control
  • Timber Culture Act permits homesteaders to take 160 more acres, in addition to 160 provided by earlier Homestead Act, if 40 of the new acres are planted in trees
  • 1874
  • Congress passes law for protection of bison from hunters; vetoed by President Grant
  • 1876
  • Colorado enters the Union as the 38th state
  • Greenback Party founded, to become Greenback Labor Party two years later
  • US v. Cruikshank
  • Contested presidential election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden, driven by conflicting returns from three southern states where conservatives are in the process of overthrowing Reconstruction governments; voting on party lines, an election commission elects Hayes. Popular vote 4,036,592 for Hayes, 4,284,020 for Tilden; electoral vote (by ruling of commission) 185 to 184 (1876-1877)
  • 1877
  • In Munn v. Illinois the US Supreme Court upholds an Illinois law regulating storage rates in grain-elevators, stating that such businesses are “clothed in the public interest” and subject to state regulation
  • Congress creates National Guard
  • Desert Land Act permits homesteaders to buy 640 acres at $1.25 each, in designated arid areas, if within three years they irrigate the land they purchase
  • 1878
  • Greenback Labor Party founded
  • Socialist Labor Party founded
  • In re Ah Yup, US Supreme Court declares Chinese immigrants ineligible to naturalize and become US citizens
  • 1879
  • US Geological Survey created to study the nation’s topography and nature resources
  • Standing Bear v. Crook
  • 1880
  • James Garfield, Republican, defeats Winfield S. Hancock, Democrat, in the US presidential election; popular vote 4,453,295 to 4,414,082; electoral vote 214 to 155. Minor candidates include James B. Weaver on the Greenback-Labor ticket and Neal Dow on the Prohibition ticket
  • 1881
  • US President James Garfield assassinated; V. P. Chester A. Arthur assumes the office
  • 1882
  • Congress passes Edmunds Act prohibiting polygamy in federal territories
  • 1883
  • Congresses passes Pendleton Act, establishing Civil Service Commission and designating some federal offices as meri-based
  • Hatch Act provides federal support for agricultural experiment stations, run by states through state universities
  • US Supreme Court strikes down Civil Rights Act of 1875
  • 1884
  • Grover Cleveland, Democrat, defeats James G. Blaine, Republican, in the US presidential election; popular vote 4,879,507 to 4,850,293, electoral vote 219 to 182; minor candidates include Benjamin Butler on the Greenback-Labor ticket, John St. John on the Prohibition ticket, and Belva Lockwood on the National Equal Rights ticket

The only democratic presidential candidate who stands a chance of election in 1884.

The only democratic presidential candidate who stands a chance of election in 1884. Puck, Jan. 1883, p.321.

  • 1885
  • New York establishes Adirondack Forest Preserve
  • 1886
  • In Wabash v. Illinois, Supreme Court sets limit on government regulation of railroads
  • 1887
  • Dawes Allotment Act
  • Edmunds-Tucker Act makes further attempts to abolish polygamy and limit Mormon power in Utah Territory, and disfranchises the Territory’s women
  • With Interstate Commerce Act, Congress establishes Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate and oversee interstate trade
  • Massachusetts Bureau of Labor uses the term “unemployment” for the first time, in its modern usage, in one of its reports
  • 1888
  • Benjamin Harrison, Republican, defeats President Grover Cleveland, Democrat, in the US presidential election; popular vote 5,477,129 to 5,537,857; electoral vote 233 to 168. Minor candidates include Clinton Fisk on the Prhoibition ticket, Anson J. Streeter on the Union Labor ticket, and Belva Lockwood on the National Equal Rights ticket
  • Massachusetts is first state to adopt Australian ballot system
  • 1889
  • North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming enter the Union (39th, 40th, 41st, and 42nd states)
  • First use of electric chair for execution, in New York state; execution botched
  • 1890
  • Idaho and Wyoming enter the Union (43rd and 44th states)
  • Lodge Elections Bill, providing federal oversight of polls when petitioned by local citizens, defeated by one vote in the Senate
  • McKinley Tariff passed
  • Forest Reserve Act authorizes president to set aside public lands as forest reserves
  • California returns Yosemite Valley to federal control as a national park
  • Department of Agriculture becomes a cabinet-level agency
  • In Minnesota Rate Case, the Supreme Court limits government regulation of shipping rates
  • Sequoia National Park established
  • 1891
  • Court of Private Land Claims adjudicates conflicting property claims in the Southwest (1891-1904)
  • 1892
  • First national People’s Party convention in Omaha, Nebraska
  • Grover Cleveland, Democrat, defeats Benjamin Harrison, Republican, and James B. Weaver, Populist, to win a second term (non-consecutive) as US president; popular vote 5,555,429 to 5,182,690, electoral vote 277 to 145, with Weaver winning 1,029,846 votes and 22 electoral votes. Minor candidates include John Bidwell on the Prohibition ticket and Simon Wing on the Socialist Labor ticket

United States Supreme Court Room

President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom Cleveland, whose image was widely used to sell thread and many other consumer products--over the president's protests. Image courtesy the Victorian Scrapbook at The Trade Card Place.

  • 1893
  • Federal Railroad Safety Appliance Act requires air brakes on alll trains
  • 1894
  • Congress passes federal progressive income tax
  • Carey Desert Land Act grants federal land to the states for irrigation companies to develop and settle
  • Federal Bureau of Immigraton created
  • Labor Day made a national legal holiday
  • 1895
  • In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust, Supreme Court rules federal progressive income tax unconstitutional unless the tax can be apportioned by state rather than by individual, a stipulation that proves unworkable
  • In US v. E. C. Knight Company, Supreme Court rules that Sherman Antitrust Act does not give the federal government power to regulate the sugar monopoly
  • 1896
  • Utah enters the Union (45th state)
  • William McKinley, Republican, defeats William Jennings Bryan, Democrat, in the US presidential election; popular vote 7,102,246 to 6,492,559, electoral vote 271 to 176; Populist party also endorses Bryan but he does not acknowledge their support; minor candidates include Joshua Levering on the Prohibition ticket and John Palmer on the Gold Democratic (National Democratic) ticket
  • Congress provides rural free mail delivery (RFD); all Americans can now receive mail at home free of charge
  • In Ward v. Race Horse, Supreme Court upholds right of government to prosecute Indians caught hunting on unoccupied public lands
  • 1897
  • Social Democracy of America founded, forerunner of Social Democratic Party
  • 1898
  • In U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, Supreme Court rules that all people born in the United States are US citizens irrespective of race
  • In Holden v. Hardy, Supreme Court lets stand state regulations for health and safety in notably dangerous industries (such as mining)
  • 1899
  • Nation’s first juvenile court established in Chicago
  • Mt. Rainier National Park created
  • In Addystone Pipe case the Supreme Court upholds government right to prosecute corporations for price-fixing
  • Delaware loosens corporate law, creating the “Delaware corporation”
  • 1900
  • William McKinley, Republican,wins re-election as US president over William Jennigns Bryan, Democrat; popular vote 7,218,491 to 6,356,734 , electoral vote 292 to 155; minor candidates include John C. Wooley on the Prohibition ticket, Seth Ellis on the Union Reform ticket, Wharton Barker on the Anti-Fusionist People’s ticket, and Eugene Debs on the Social Democratic ticket
  • Robert LaFollette elected as progressive governor of Wisconsin; implements “Wisconsin idea” of using social science expertise for better government
  • Lacey Act provides federal wildlife protection

Governor Roosevelt Making a Speech

Governor Roosevelt Making a Speech from a Car Platform During his Campaign. "Governor Roosevelt and his Opinions", Harper’s Weekly, Sept. 1899, p.931.

  • 1901
  • President William McKinley assassinated, V.P. Theodore Roosevelt assumes the office
  • Congress creates National Bureau of Standards
  • 1902
  • Newlands Recolmation Act allows public lands in arid West to be sold if irrigation is made available; creates Bureau of Reclamation
  • Crater Lake National Park created
  • 1903
  • National Wildlife Refuge System created; Pelican Island, Florida, made nation’s first wildlife refuge
  • Wind Cave National Park created in South Dakota
  • Massachusetts becomes the first state to issue license plates for automobiles
  • 1904
  • Theodore Roosevelt, Republican, defeats Alton Parker, Democrat in the US presidential election; popular vote 7,628,461 to 5,084,223, electoral vote 292 to 155; minor candidates include Eugene V. Debs on the Socialist ticket and Silas C. Swallow on the Prohibition ticket
  • In Northern Securities case, the Supreme Court upholds Justice Department action to break up a monopoly operating “in restraint of trade”
  • 1905
  • US Forest Service created
  • In Lochner v. New York the Supreme Court strikes down a state law setting maximum working hours for bakers, arguing that the law violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment
  • In Swift and Company the Supreme Court acknowledges some federal powers of regulation over manufacturers engaged in interstate trade
  • In Hale v. Hinkel the Supreme Court extends to corporations, as “persons,” the Fourth Amendment right against self-incrimination

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press


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New Spirits
Timelines in US History 1895-1905
Perceptions and Realities: The Victorian Age Inventions of the era Tramps and Millionaires Yellowstone Park Journals of the era White City/1893 Worlds Fair The Civil War President McKinley