National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1791-1824: We forge a nation where the people rule

When we elected our first president under the new Constitution in 1789, there were still many details of government to work out. The Constitution, for instance, didn’t mention how many terms a president could serve, but George Washington set the precedent when he stepped down after his second term. Similarly, the Constitution didn’t contemplate the existence of political parties, but they soon emerged. In those early days of the republic, most Americans didn’t realize that democratic politics would require acceptance of organized political opposition. But in 1800 the Constitution passed a crucial test, when the bitter presidential race between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson resulted in a peaceful transfer of power.

   
1791
Does the Constitution permit the new government to establish a National Bank?
  December 12, 1791
On this day Congress charters first Bank of the U.S.
December 15, 1791
States ratify the first ten constitutional amendments, known as the Bill of Rights
March 3, 1791
Congress puts the Constitution’s principles into practice
  October 13, 1792
On this day Cornerstone of White House laid
May 17, 1793
Everything Washington does as President sets a precedent
  September 18, 1793
On this day Cornerstone of Capitol laid
February 7, 1795
States ratify 11th Amendment, limiting power of federal courts
September 19, 1796
Noble, yes; royal, never: our president will step down
  March 4, 1797
On this day Federalist John Adams inaugurated as president
July 24, 1797
Arguing about government power, we have split into bitter factions
  July 6, 1798
On this day Congress passes Alien Act; president empowered to expel “dangerous” aliens at his discretion
  July 14, 1798
On this day Congress passes Sedition Act; freedom of speech and press severely limited
December 24, 1798
Can a state say to Congress “that’s unconstitutional”?
  December 14, 1799
On this day George Washington dies at Mount Vernon at age 67
  January 31, 1801
On this day John Marshall becomes fourth Chief Justice of the U.S.
  February 17, 1801
On this day Jefferson-Burr tie in the Electoral College; House of Representatives elects Thomas Jefferson on 26th ballot
March 4, 1801
Our Constitution passes a test as power passes to the opposition
December 8, 1801
Two parties, two views of the Consitution...and our future
February 24, 1803
Marbury v. Madison confirms the Supreme Court’s power
  May 2, 1803
On this day The U.S. purchases Louisiana from France for $15 million
  July 4, 1803
On this day The U.S. Military Academy opens at West Point
December 9, 1803
A new amendment recognizes that political parties are here to stay
  February 25, 1804
On this day New Jersey becomes last northern state to pass emancipation act
June 15, 1804
Twelfth Amendment ratified, requiring separate election of the president and vice president
  January 1, 1808
On this day Congress abolishes African slave trade
  March 4, 1809
On this day James Madison inaugurated as president
  June 18, 1812
On this day U.S. declares war on Great Britain
  August 24, 1814
On this day British capture Washington, D.C., setting fire to White House, Capitol and most Department buildings
  September 14, 1814
On this day Francis Scott Key completes composition of “Star Spangled Banner”
  January 4, 1815
On this day New England Federalists conclude Hartford Convention, protesting Republican war and commercial policy
  March 4, 1815
On this day Treaty of Ghent formally ends War of 1812
  April 10, 1816
On this day Congress charters second Bank of the U.S.
  March 4, 1817
On this day James Monroe inaugurated as president
  November 20, 1817
On this day The First Seminole War begins when Georgia whites raid Seminole settlements inside Spanish controlled Florida
  March 2, 1819
On this day Congress passes first immigration law in U.S. history
March 6, 1819
Marshall's decision gives the national government a boost
March 3, 1820
A compromise on Missouri gives us 12 slave states and 12 free
  December 2, 1823
On this day President Monroe declares “Monroe Doctrine,” warning European powers not to interfere in American continents
March 2, 1824
Marshall has turned the High Court into a force to be reckoned with

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