Legislation – Acts & Treaties

At the beginning of the 19th century, America was still a new nation. From 1801 to 1900, several important legislations were passed that shaped the political and social orientation of the country.

During the same period, a number of vital treaties helped the country resolve conflicts, achieve peace and establish friendly ties. Following are some of the most important legislation and treaties that happened in 19th century America.

Homestead Act 1862

Homestead Act 1862 stated that any person above the age of 21 could claim Free Land in the Wild West. Read more about the Homestead Act 1862 >>

Treaty of Washington 1871

The Treaty of Washington was a treaty signed by United States of America and the United Kingdom in 1871 Read more about the Treaty of Washington 1871 >>


Embargo Act of 1807
In 1807, Britain and France were fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. America chose to stay neutral during this war. However, Britain and France started to forcefully impress American vessels and sailors into naval service. Britain, in particular, forced the impressment’s of thousands of American personnel.

The Embargo Act of 1807 was signed into law during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. The act prohibited American ships from trading in any foreign ports. Although it was meant to chasten Britain and France, the Act instead wrecked the U.S. economy. It was revoked less than 2 years later.

Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise was a piece of legislation that was passed by the United States Congress in 1820. At the time, Missouri sought statehood. The South wanted Missouri to become a slave state while the North opposed slavery. The compromise was struck when Maine also applied for statehood – Missouri was then accepted as a slave state while Maine was admitted as a free state. This maintained the balance between free and slave states.

Indian Removal Act

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson approved the Indian Removal Act. According to this act, the President was given the powers to negotiate with Indian tribes and relocate them from American south to the western territories. Soon afterwards, the U.S. government would use this Act to forcibly remove tens of thousands of Native Americans from the South. This led to the famous Trail of Tears in which Native Americans marched over thousands of miles, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed by the United States Congress. According to this act, states were obliged to arrange for the capture and return of the slaves who escaped from one state to another. The act created bitter resentment among the northern states who were opposed to slavery. Many states created their own legislations to nullify the act. Attempts to enforce the act, and the failure to do so, further alienated the North and the South.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1854. This act created Kansas and Nebraska as two new territories. The act gave both territories the right to support or oppose slavery through popular vote. This led to a small-scale civil war.

Thousands of pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers illegally crossed the Kansas border in order to bump up the votes for pro or anti-slavery camps. The conflict came to be known as Bleeding Kansas. In the end, Kansas became a free state. However, the conflict foreshadowed the American Civil War which would take place a few years later.


Louisiana Purchase Treaty

The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed between United States and Napoleonic France. In this treaty, France agreed to sell a large parcel of land known as the Louisiana Territory to US for $15 million. The treaty was signed in 1803. With the addition of the Louisiana Territory, the size of the United States effectively doubled. The new lands comprised nearly 15 modern-day states.

Treaty of Ghent

The Treaty of Ghent brought an end to the War of 1812. It established peace between the United States and the United Kingdom. The treaty was signed in December, 1814. It restored status quo ante bellum by restoring the pre-war borders and re-establishing friendly ties between the two sides. The treaty marked a restoration of amicable ties between UK and US, something which would remain intact for more than a century.

Adam-Onis Treaty

The Adam-Onis Treaty, also known as the Florida Purchase Treaty, was signed in February, 1819. It was a treaty between New Spain and United States. As per this treaty, Spain agreed to cede the territories of modern-day Florida to the United States. In exchange, United States agreed to accept the Sabine River as the border between United States and Spanish Texas.

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

In 1846, the Mexican-American War began over claims to Texas. Mexico claimed Texas to be a part of its own territories whereas United States considered Texas its new state. The war was swiftly decided in the favor of United States. Mexican army was defeated, its capital captured and the country’s economy severely affected by the war.

In the end, both sides signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. According to this treaty, Mexico accepted the independence of Texas and agreed to Rio Grande as the border between Texas and Mexico. United States also received new territories that comprised the modern-day areas of California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

Treaty of Amity and Commerce

The Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed between Japan and United States in July, 1858. This treaty effectively opened Japanese ports to commerce and trade activities by the United States vessels and citizens. Soon afterwards, Japan also signed similar treaties with a number of other European nations.

Alaska Purchase

The Alaska Treaty of Cessation was signed by United States and Russia in March, 1867. Before this treaty was signed, a large portion of the Alaska territory was under Russian control. Russia saw little value in keeping this land and ceded it to the United States as a part of the treaty. United States acquired the huge parcel of land for $7.2 million. Although initially viewed as a cold wilderness, Alaska soon proved a very valuable asset for the country.

Sixth Treaty of Paris

Also known as the Treaty of Paris of 1898, the Sixth Treaty of Paris was signed between United States and Spain. This treaty brought an end to the Spanish-American War. As a part of the treaty terms, Spain gave up its overseas empire including Cuba, Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. United States paid a sum of $20 million to Spain in return for these territories.

The treaties signed by the United States in the 19th century established the country as a global power. It also enabled United States to maintain amicable ties with notable European powers, especially Britain.