United States History



Kansas-Nebraska Act1854 Act of Congress that repealed the Missouri Compromise and introduced as the guiding principle behind the incorporation of the Kansas and Nebraska Territories the idea of Popular Sovereignty, the idea that citizens of newly formed territories could decide when they applied for statehood whether slavery would be allowed in their new state.
Kentucky and Virginia ResolutionsResolutions passed in Kentucky and Virginia in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. The resolutions said that government was overstepping its bounds and violating the idea of a contract with the people. This idea of a contract was the basis for the Declaration of Independence. Both Resolutions were written by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration and founder of the Democratic-Republican Party.
Francis Scott KeyLawyer and amateur poet who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, which has become the national anthem of the United States. On September 13, 1814, during the War of 1812, the British bombed Fort McHenry, near Baltimore. It was a terrible battle, and it lasted most of the day and night. In the early part of September 14, Key saw the U.S. flag still flying. He was so moved by this experience that he began to write on the back of a letter he had in his pocket. He finished the poem, all four verses, a little while later. It was later printed as "Defence of Fort M'Henry."
Battle of Kings MountainAmerican victory on October 7, 1780 near the North Carolina-South Carolina border that destroyed one whole section of General Charles Cornwallis's army and forced him to retreat to South Carolina to wait for reinforcements. It also gave American General Nathanael Greene time to reorganize his forces. The result was what some historians call the turning point in the war in the south. The British had won handily at Charleston and Camden and had sewed up South Carolina. Several months later, Kings Mountain, coupled with the subsequent American victory at Cowpens, forced the British to concentrate on Virginia, where they were eventually trapped into surrender at Yorktown.
Know-Nothing Partypolitical party that had its heyday in the 1840s and 1850s. Also known as the American Party, its members had a strong anti-immigrant stance that cut across slavery-abolitionist lines. The Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 brought many more members into the Know-Nothing fold. (The party got its way, by the way, because its members would not for the longest time publicly admit their political views. When asked what they thought about the political issues of the day, they would say, "I know nothing.") They had, in 1855, 43 members of the party in Congress. Their only presidential candidate, Millard Fillmore, lost badly to Democrat Franklin Pierce in 1856. The party fell apart after that, with many of its followers joining some former members of the Whig Party (which had also fallen apart) to form the Constitutional Union Party.
LafayetteFrench officer who fought for America in the Revolutionary War. He participated in the Continental Congress and served under George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine and at Valley Forge. He also had a part in the final battle of the war, Yorktown.
Lake ChamplainLake far in the north of New York that saw its share of Revolutionary War battles. It was the staging point for a handful of invasions from and of Canada, and it was the scene of a brilliant naval victory by American General Benedict Arnold against a much larger British force. It was also the scene of the War of 1812 Battle of Plattsburg, a great American victory.
Battle of Lake ErieAmerican victory over British ships on September 10, 1813. This victory secured the Northwest Territory for America and reversed the British momentum gained at the surrender of Fort Detroit. At Put-in-Bay, Ohio Territory, American ships under Oliver Hazard Perry engaged British ships. The American ships were smaller, but they had more of them. Of the American victory, Perry made his famous statement: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."
Lancaster TurnpikeFirst important turnpike in America. Also the first long-distance stone and gravel road in the country. Chartered in 1792 and completed in 1795, it ran 62 miles from Philadelphia to Lancaster and gave travelers an easier way to reach the Northwest Territory. The turnpike route was later replaced by a canal.
Land Ordinance 1785Law passed by Congress that allowed for sales of land in the Northwest Territory and set up standards for land sale that became precedents. Among them was the idea of selling mile-square sections of land.
Robert E. LeeMexican War veteran, superintendent at West Point, and Confederate commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and ultimately of all Southern troops. He was the colonel in charge of the troops that arrested John Brown at Harpers Ferry. President Lincoln asked Lee to command the Union troops, but Lee would not abandon his native Virginia. His strategy, risk-taking, overcome-all-odds strategies bedeviled all the Army of the Potomac commanders except Ulysses S. Grant, to whom he surrendered at Appomattox Court House.
Lewis & ClarkMeriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis in 1804 to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Along the way, they hired several guides, among them a Native American woman named Sacagawea, who led them the entire trip west to the Pacific Ocean and back again. Lewis & Clark observed other cultures, their customs, their food and clothing, their agriculture, and all sorts of other aspects of their society. In addition, the explorers discovered the existence of a large number of animal and plant species that Americans hadn't know about before. They returned to territorial America in 1806 and passed their findings on to all Americans.
Lexington & ConcordFirst shots fired between American and British troops, on April 19, 1775. The British chose to march to Concord because it was an arms depot. This meant that the Americans had stockpiled weapons there. British troops had occupied Boston and were marching on Concord as they passed through Lexington. No one is still sure who fired first, but it was the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Both sides opened fire, and the Americans were forced to withdraw. But they had slowed the British advance. By the time the Redcoats got to Concord, the Americans were waiting for them in force. The weapons depot was saved, and the British were forced to retreat, harassed by militiamen along the way. The skirmishes were preceded by Paul Revere's famous ride, warning the countryside: "The British are Coming!"
Abraham LincolnThe 16th president of the United States. One of the first important figures of the newly formed Republican Party, Lincoln first gained prominence by losing the race for the U.S. Senate in Illinois to Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln was elected and then re-elected, all the while directing the war effort and holding the country together. He is regarded by historians as one of America's greatest presidents.
Lincoln-Douglas DebatesAbraham Lincoln and the incumbent, Stephen A. Douglas, ran against each other for an Illinois Senate seat in 1858. The hot topics in the seven debates were slavery and Popular Sovereignty. In accepting his party's nomination for the seat, Lincoln gave his famous "House Divided" speech. Douglas won the Senate seat, but Lincoln gained nationwide recognition for his thoughtful, impassioned arguments.
Benjamin LincolnAmerican general who played a large part in the American victory at Saratoga but suffered defeat at Charleston. He was there because he had led an attack on British-held Savannah and had been forced to retreat to Charleston. He was taken prisoner, then exchanged for a British officer. He later led American troops to Yorktown and accepted Lord Cornwallis's sword in surrender, marking the end of the Revolutionary War. He later was a member of the Massachusetts convention to ratify the Constitution.
James LongstreetMexican War veteran and Confederate general who fought under Robert E. Lee at most of the major battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia. He was famous for his ability to hold a line, best demonstrated in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He fought at the Battle of Chickamauga and was briefly at Chattanooga but was sent away at the last minute. He also was commander of the troops that made Pickett's Charge, the disastrous assault on Cemetery Ridge during the Battle of Gettysburg.
LouisbourgFrench island citadel seized in June-July 1758 by British troops under Jeffery Amherst and James Wolfe. British troops sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, under cover of darkness to Cape Breton Island, then had to wait almost a week for heavy fog to lift before attacking. The French defense was sturdy, but British luck won out once again as a small band of sailors managed to land onshore and secure a beachhead while a lucky shot from a British ship touched off a French gunpowder store, igniting most of the other French ships in a tremendous fireball. Once the British were onshore, it was only a matter of time. The battle turned into a siege, and the French finally surrendered, more than three weeks after the fighting began. This battle was extremely important in that it effectively cut off French reinforcements. It also allowed allowed the British to sail down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec, the last real French stronghold in North America.
Louisiana PurchaseHuge addition of land that doubled the size of the country. Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from France for the paltry sum of $15 million. The size of the Territory was 828,000 square miles! Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored this vast territory from 1804 to 1806.
LoyalistsAmerican colonists who remained loyal to Great Britain during the Revolutionary War. They were mostly farmers and numbered about 500,000, or 16 percent of the population. Some of them fought in the British army, but many did not. The terms of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, protected the Loyalists from persecution after the war.
James MadisonFourth president, signer of the Constitution, writer of The Federalist Papers, leader of the Democratic-Republican Party. He is probably most famous, however, for his draft of the Virginia Plan (the basis for our republican government), his insistence on a Bill of Rights, and his notes of the Constitutional Convention. As president, he presided over the War of 1812, which the United States won.
Horace MannFamous educator who formed the first state board of education in the U.S., in Massachusetts in the 1830s. He was a champion of free public schools and campaigned to make going to school required. He also did a great deal to inform the public at large about the benefits of and the need for education. His Common-School Journal was read by thousands of people all over the country. He also served in Congress and was the first president of Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
MarburyFirst decision by the Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional (1803).
MarinesBranch of the armed forces begun by the Second Continental Congress in 1775. The first amphibious landing came the next year. The Marines were disbanded in 1783, following the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. The Marines were restarted in 1798 and made a name for themselves with victories against the Barbary Pirates in 1805 in Tripoli. They also saw action in the Mexican War.
John MarshallFirst important Chief Justice of the United States (beginning in 1801). He wrote many of the Supreme Court's first famous opinions, including Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Ogden, and Gibbons v. Ogden. All of these opinions strengthened the power of the federal government. He served as Chief Justice until 1836. He had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War and had served with George Washington at Valley Forge.
MassasoitMassasoit was the chief of the Native American tribe the Wampanoag. He was introduced to the Pilgrims by Samoset and later signed a peace treaty with them that lasted for 50 years.
MayflowerThe Mayflower was the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America. It sailed from Southampton, England, on September 16, 1620, with 102 passengers on board. The voyage took 65 days, during which time two people died and one person was born. The colonists had been granted territory in Virginia, but the ship landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Dec. 26, 1620.
Mayflower CompactThe Mayflower Compact was a document signed by 41 male Pilgrims on November 21, 1620. By signing this document, the men agreed to form a temporary government and be bound by its laws. The compact became the basis of government in the Plymouth Colony.
George McClellanUnion general whose Peninsular Campaign was turned back by Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. He won an important (but accidental) victory at Antietam. A meticulous organizer, he prided himself on examining all the possibilities. This caution and willingness to believe that he was overmatched even though his numbers were far superior to the Southern armies', however, led him to a road out of the army in November, 1862, as Lincoln's confidence in him to deliver waned. McClellan resurfaced as a Democratic candidate for president in 1864 but lost badly to Lincoln.
Cyrus McCormickInventor who is famous for his invention of the reaper, a device that speeds up the harvesting of grain. He invented this machine in 1831. The result was a much easier and faster grain harvest, making possible larger sales of grain.
McCullochChief Justice John Marshall wrote the opinion for this landmark case defining the powers of a state over the federal government. The case involved a conflict between the federal government and the State of Maryland.
Irvin McDowellCommander of Union troops at the First Battle of Bull Run. He served in lesser roles until relieved in 1862.
George Gordon MeadeUnion general who rose through the ranks fighting with Generals George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, and Joseph Hooker, and finally commanded the troops at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was officially commander of the Army of the Potomac from Gettysburg until the end of the war, but General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant traveled with those troops and was ostensibly their commander.
Mexican CessionArea of the present-day United States that Mexico agreed to give up as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. This territory included all of the present-day states of California, Nevada, and Utah and also parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Mexican WarWar between Mexico and the United States over the independence of Texas and other territorial claims. The war lasted officially from 1846 to 1848 but had its unofficial beginnings mainly over the governing of Texas as early as the 1830s. Texas declared itself independent from Mexico in 1835, and the famous massacres at the Alamo and Goliad took place in 1836. Americans secured Texas independence at San Jacinto later in 1836. The U.S. annexed Texas in 1844. Two years later, war erupted. The Mexicans fought tough, but Americans prevailed in the end, including a stubborn charge up and over the walls of two large castles in and around Mexico City. As part of the settlement, Mexico agreed to give up more than half of its territory, which the U.S. convered eventually into several states. This was known as the Mexican Cession.
Mexico CityMexican capital city that was captured by American forces during the Mexican-American War. American troops under Winfield Scott traveled through heavily hostile territory and made three separate charges against three heavily guarded positions before winning the battle. The battle lasted two days. The Americans lost 139 dead and 876 injured. The Mexicans lost 4,000 killed and injured. Not long after, a war-ending treaty was signed.
MinutemenAmerican soldiers who got their name because they could be ready to right "at a minute's notice." They saw their first action at Lexington and Concord and gained fame from there. The first minutemen were from Massachusetts, but other states soon had their own regiments.
Missouri CompromiseAgreement put forward by Henry Clay that allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine to enter the Union as a free state. The Compromise also drew an imaginary line at 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, dividing the new Louisiana Territory into two areas, one north and one south. All of the Louisiana Territory north of this line was free territory, meaning that any territories that became states from this area would enable African-Americans to be free. The Compromise also encouraged people in the north to return runaway slaves to their homes and did not prohibit slavery, even in the free territories.
Monitor and MerrimackIronclad ships that fought a famous battle near Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 1861. The Merrimack was actually a sunken Union castoff, dredged up by Confederates and renamed the Virginia. The Monitor was a new Union ship. The ships fired at each other all day, but their iron shells prevented damage.
Battle of MonmouthIndecisive battle near Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey, on June 28, 1778. American troops under General George Washington fought British troops under General Henry Clinton. The British had left Philadelphia en route to New York. The Americans were pursuing from Valley Forge, their goal to stop the British advance. It was a very hot day, and the heat took its toll on both sides. Exhausted, both sides stopped the fighting. Under cover of darkness, the British slipped away. This battle also saw the deeds of one Mary Hays McCauly, better known as "Molly Pitcher."
James MonroeFifth president, served two terms. Fought in the Revolutionary War. Delegate from Virginia to the Constitutional Convention. Served on diplomatic mission to France in 1803, helped convince U.S. to accept Louisiana Purchase. Governor of Virginia. During the War of 1812, he served both as Secretary of State and as Secretary of War, the only person ever to do this. As president, bought Florida from Spain and, in 1823, issued the Monroe Doctrine, which basically told European nations to leave Central and South America alone.
Monroe DoctrineProclamation in 1823 by President James Monroe. Basically, it warned European nations not to get involved in political matters in Central and South America. The Doctrine was intended to show that the United States was the only country that could influence such political matters. Further, several countries in South American had recently undergone revolutions against their European colonial owners and ended up with republican governments. The United States agreed with their political philosophy and did not want to see those newly free nations become European colonies again.
MontcalmFrench commander in charge of all French troops in Canada. He was the architect of the "fort strategy," by which French forts were built at key spots all across Canada to protect French interests there. He was the commander at the Battle of Fort William Henry and personally tried to stop the massacre that followed. He won several small battles, but his greatest success was in the taking of Fort Ticonderoga in July 1758. The war took a decidedly Britain turn after that. British victories at Crown Point and Loiusbourg left the St. Lawrence River open to attack, and Montcalm retreat to Montreal and then Quebec. He lost his prestige and his life at the Battle of Quebec. Without his leadership and with British troops advancing from all sides, France surrendered all of Canada at Montreal on September 8, 1760..
MonterreyMexican War battle that took place on September 21, 1846. American forces under Zachary Taylor took the strategic Mexican city. It was one of several triumphs for Taylor and the Americans.
Mormon TrailTrail that the Mormons followed on their migration west to Utah. The trail stretched west, from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Utah. About 70,000 Mormons followed in the footsteps of Joseph Smith, their prophet, to their Promised Land. They eventually formed the State of Deseret, the Utah Territory, and the
Samuel MorseArtist and inventor most famous for the development of a workable, easily produced electric telegraph. The first telegraph was between Baltimore and Washington in 1844. Just 17 years later, telegraph lines stretched from coast to coast. Morse also came up with a code of dots-and-dashes that stood for letters and numbers. This was called the Morse Code. The telegraph made it possible for people to send instant messages over long distances, without having to wait for mail delivery.
Lucretia MottLeader of the movement to grant American women the right to vote, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Mott was instrumental in bringing together men and women for a national convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The result was a sort of "improved" Declaration of Independence, which included the phrase "all men and women are created equal." She also spoke out against slavery.
MurfreesboroTennessee city that was the site of a Confederate victory by General Braxton Bragg over Union General William S. Rosencrans. However, Bragg left the field after his victory, allowing Rosencrans to occupy the city of Murfreesboro and continue the pursuit that would end in a Union victory at the Battle of Chattanooga.
National RoadAlso known as the Cumberland Road, it was the first federal highway. It stretched from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois. It was created by an act of Congress in 1806 and built between 1811 and 1852. The National Road was the main route to the West for eastern settlers for a great many years.
Battle of New OrleansAmerican victory in a battle that never had to happen. American forces under General Andrew Jackson defeated British forces on January 8, 1815, several weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which had officially ended the war. Neither group of troops had gotten the news by the time the battle began. This battle is also interesting in that the British lost more than 700 dead and 1,400 injured while the Americans lost only 8 dead and 13 wounded.
Lord NorthPrime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. A former Lord of the Treasury, he focused on economic problems for the first part of his reign. He thought to make an example of Massachusetts by coming down hard on the insurrection there. An example was the Tea Act, which so angered American colonists that they dumped 342 crates of tea into Boston Harbor. But his experiment backfired. Not only did the Massachusetts colonists fight back, but the rest of the colonies also caught the revolutionary fire. War was declared, and the fighting began. North continued to serve as prime minister throughout the war, managing the affairs of the country from home while his armies fought in the field afar. He tried to resign several times during the war, but King George III would not accept the resignation. Finally, a year after Yorktown, while peace negotiations were dragging on, North resigned for good.
Northwest OrdinanceLand agreement of 1787 that created the Northwest Territory, enabling the United States to expand into the Great Lakes area. States created from the Northwest Territory included Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Northwest TerritoryLarge area of land created by the Continental Congress in the Northwest Ordinance of July 13, 1787. The region was later called the Old Northwest. American settlers poured into the Northwest Territory, which was eventually divided into the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Based on standards set forth in the Land Ordinance of 1785, settlers could buy land in mile-square blocks. They did so in large numbers. Slavery was prohibited. Several British forts nearby led to tensions that eventually broke out into the War of 1812. The American victory in that war ended British claims to any lands in the Northwest Territory.
NullificationConstitutional struggle between some states and President Andrew Jackson. The states didn't want to pay the protective tariff that Jackson wanted, and the states claimed the right to "nullify," or declare void the tariff. This would have meant that the states didn't have to pay the tariff. More importantly, it would have meant that the states would have had authority over the federal government in a basic economic matter like the tariff. The states involved withdrew their objection to the tariff, mainly because of yet another compromise bill introduced by Henry Clay. This bill gradually reduced tariffs for 11 years, putting off the nullification question until then.
Oregon TerritoryLand claimed by both the United States and Great Britain. This was an ongoing dispute until the Treaty of 1846, which set the boundary at the 49th parallel, where it is today.
Oregon TrailWay west followed by thousands of Americans during the 1840s and 1850s. The Trail was mapped out by the great explorer John C Fremont and began at Independence, Missouri, and ended at Fort Vancouver, in what is now Washington. The last part of the trail was the Columbia River; pioneers usually traveled by raft. Use of the Oregon Trail fell off when gold was discovered in California in 1848 and people went there instead.
OsceolaLeader of the Seminole tribe, living in Florida. Andrew Jackson had defeated the Seminole in 1818, burning many of their villages. Osceola led them in a war against Americans in 1835. Among those fighting against him were Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. The Seminole dug in and kept the Americans at bay for a long time, fighting in the swamps of the Everglades. But Osceola was eventually lured to a conference under a flag of truce. At this truce conference, American General Thomas Jesup had Osceola captured. The great Seminole leader was thrown into prison, where he died.
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