American Literature B 1850-1860


Nathaniel Hawthorne "THE SCARLET LETTER"


1850 romantic work of fiction in a historical setting, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is considered to be his magnum opus. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. Throughout the book, Hawthorne explores themes of legalism, sin, and guilt.

Herman Melville "MOBY DICK"


This is a novel by Herman Melville, first published in 1851. It is considered to be one of the Great American Novels and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

Harriet Beecher Stowe "UNCLE TOM'S CABIN"


anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel "helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War", according to Will Kaufman.

William Wells Brown "CLOTEL"


This is an 1853 novel by United States author and playwright William Wells Brown, an escaped slave from Kentucky who was active on the anti-slavery circuit. Brown published the book in London, where he stayed to evade possible recapture due to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, but it is considered the first novel. published by an African American and is set in the United States, reflecting the southern institution of slavery. Three additional versions were published through 1867.

Louise Clappe "CALIFORNIA, IN 1851 & 1852. RESIDENCE IN THE MINES"

01/01/1854 - 01/01/1855

Louise Clappe eventually published the letters she had written to her sister from the mining camps, using the title "CALIFORNIA, IN 1851 & 1852. RESIDENCE IN THE MINES. The letters appeared serially between 1854 and 1855 in the San Francisco magazine The Pioneer, where they became known as the "Shirley Letters" because Clappe signed them with the pseudonym "Shirley" or "Dame Shirley." If Clappe hoped to gain fame or fortune from her writings, she published a little too late, for public excitement over the Gold Rush had waned by 1854. Nonetheless, her letters have been important to historians for their unique perspective on life in the California mining camps, and her work is now recognized as an important literary accomplishment.

Henry David Thoreau "WALDEN"


This is an American book written by noted transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance. Published in 1854, it details Thoreau's experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts.



Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was an African-American abolitionist, poet and author. Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, she had a long and prolific career, publishing her first book of poetry at age 20 and her first novel, the widely praised Iola Leroy, at age 67.
POEMS OF MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECTS (1854), was extremely popular. Over the next few years, it was reprinted numerous times.

Walt Whitman "LEAVES OF GRASS"


LEAVES OF GRASS is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Though the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent his entire life writing Leaves of Grass, revising it in several editions until his death. Among the poems in the collection are "SONG OF MYSELF", "I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC", "OUT OF THE CRADLE ENDLESSLY ROCKING", and in later editions, Whitman's elegy to the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, "WHEN LILACS LAST IN THE DOORYARD BLOOM'D".



Fanny Fern, born Sara Willis (July 9, 1811 – October 10, 1872), was an American newspaper columnist, humorist, novelist, and author of children's stories in the 1850s-1870s. Fern's great popularity has been attributed to her conversational style and sense of what mattered to her mostly middle-class female readers. By 1855, Fern was the highest-paid columnist in the United States, commanding $100 per week for her New York Ledger column.
She Published FRESH LEAVES in 1857

Abraham Lincoln, “A HOUSE DIVIDED”


The House Divided Speech was an address given by Abraham Lincoln (who would later become President of the United States) on June 17, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's United States senator. The speech became the launching point for his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate seat held by Stephen A. Douglas; this campaign would climax with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

The South

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850


The law passed to adere to the Compromise of 1850. Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, special federal comissioners were allowed to determine the fate of alleged fugitives without the benefit of a jury trial or even testimony by the accused person. The law also prohibited local authorities from interfering with the capture of slave.



1850 - 1860

1855 was an unstable time for religion in America. Christianity was being challenged by science, and by discoveries and studies being made in astronomy and evolution. The landscape of religion was being changed by the arrival of new religious movements, like Mormonism and Spiritualism.


1850 - 1856

he following foods were "invented" in the 1850's:
Modern Marshmallows (1850), Potato Chips (1853), Boston Cream Pie (1855), Navy Bean Soup (1856), Condensed Milk (1856).



Women fashion in the 1850s, the domed skirts of the 1840s continued to expand. Skirts were made fuller by means of flounces (deep ruffles), usually in tiers of three, gathered tightly at the top and stiffened with horsehair braid at the bottom.
Men's clothing in the mid-1800's symbolized a man's status in society, his job, his income level, and his class standing. Little variation was allowed for self-expression through clothing, as a man's outfit was almost like a uniform, a declaration proclaiming, "I am a productive part of society." Men's clothing was staunch, uptight, and constricting in the same way that mid-1800's society was.

Popular Music


Music was always heard live, and was thus ephemeral. Other than the barrel organ and music box, no sound machines existed until late in the century (Thomas Edison patented his "talking machine" in 1877). For most Americans music was ubiquitous and casual, performed or encountered in the homes of their family and friends, at school, and in public venues and commercial establishments. Musicians and patrons employed music for different reasons in those spheres—for entertainment, moral training, and solace within the home, or as an essential component of the curricula of female seminaries intended to mold middle-class mothers, for example. Vocal and piano skills were highly prized and families brought music teachers into their homes to train their daughters. Music was more than household entertainment. It was a medium for instilling social and ethical values.

Historical Events

The Compromise of 1850


The Compromise of 1850 is introduced in the US Congress. The legislation would eventually pass and be highly controversial, but it essentially delayed the Civil War by a decade.
The Compromise of 1850 includes a controversial Fugitive Slave Law that compels all citizens to help in the recovery of fugitive slaves. Free blacks form more Vigilance Committees throughout the North to watch for slave hunters and alert the black community.

Bleeding kansas


Congress repeals the Missouri Compromise, opening western territories to slavery and setting the stage for a bloody struggle between pro and anti slavery forces in Kansas Territory (Bleeding Kansas).

The Death of Henry Clay


Death of Henry Clay. The great legislator's body was taken from Washington, D.C. to his home in Kentucky and elaborate funeral observances were held in cites along the way.

Frederick Douglass's speech


Frederick Douglass delivers notable speech, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro.”

Death of Daniel Webster.


Death of Daniel Webster.

Franklin Pierce's election


Franklin Pierce elected President of the United States.

The Crimean War

1853 - 1856

War fought mainly on the Crimean Peninsula between the Russians and the British, French, and Ottoman Turkish, with support, from January 1855, by the army of Sardinia-Piedmont. The war arose from the conflict of great powers in the Middle East and was more directly caused by Russian demands to exercise protection over the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman sultan. Another major factor was the dispute between Russia and France over the privileges of the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the holy places in Palestine.

Letter to Japan


Commodore Matthew Perry sails into Japanese harbor near present day Tokyo with four American warships, demanding to deliver a letter to the emperor of Japan.

The Panama Railroad


The Panama Railroad, the first locomotive to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Republican party first convention


The Republican Party, newly formed from various groups opposing the extension of slavery, holds its first convention in Philadelphia.

James Buchanan's election


James Buchanan elected president of the United States.

Dred Scott case


The Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision declares blacks, free or slave, have no citizenship right

John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry


John Brown, a staunch abolitionist, and a group of his supporters left their farmhouse hide-out en route to Harpers Ferry.Brown and his men captured prominent citizens and seized the federal armory and arsenal. However, this sanctuary from the fire storm did not last long, when in the late afternoon US Marines under Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived and stormed the engine house, killing many of the raiders and capturing Brown.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act


The Kansas-Nebraska Act signed into law. The legislation, designed to lessen the tension over slavery, actually has the opposite effect.