1816 Facts

1816 Facts

As I've mentioned before, my main job at USCHS is researching daily facts in U.S. history from the year 1816, which will be published in USCHS' 2016 We, the People calendar. Now, I know what you're thinking. 1816 was a pretty hoppin' year. Not only was the population 100% literate and intentionally recording every presidential, congressional, and judiciary act at the exact moment of its occurrence, but every single one of those records were perfectly maintained and preserved and are easily accessible today. And as to the actual happenings of 1816--I mean, it's basically the 1968 of the 19th century. How can three interns possibly manage to limit the scope of their research down to just two facts a day for such a monumental year?


Okay, so 1816 really wasn't that exciting or well-documented. But, through a lot of letter deciphering and newspaper searching, Tessa, Emily, and I have managed to find some pretty interesting things:


  • Although 1816 was an election year, there was very little suspense about who would win. James Monroe was elected president for his first term, carrying almost 70 percent of the popular vote and winning 183 electoral votes to Rufus King's 34. Newspapers dating back to January of 1816 already predicted Monroe winning the presidency, mainly because of his successful role as Secretary of State. The main opposition against him was that he was from Virginia, and three of the four previous presidents (Jefferson, Madison, and Washington) were also Virginians. No one wanted a single state to have a monopoly over the presidency!
  • In spring 1815, an enormous volcano erupted in Indonesia that disrupted weather patterns around the world for over a year. 1816 consequently became known in the U.S. as the "Year without a Summer," because the weather never grew warm because of all the dust and ash still circulating in the atmosphere. Even scarier, the volcano itself, Mount Tambora, was completely unknown in the United States. No one had any idea what was keeping the weather cool and bringing on frosts in July. Some thought the world was actually coming to an end, but a few people offered slightly more rational reasons. One of the main theories behind the climate change had to do with sun spots, which many scientists viewed through their telescopes and suspected of blocking the sun's heat.
  • Indiana joined the union as the 19th state on December 11, 1816.
  • In July 31, 1816, an elephant in Alfred, Maine (then part of Massachusetts), was shot and killed by a maniac. The elephant had traveled to nearly every state as a show spectacle and was greatly loved in its home town.
  • Speaking of Maine/Massachusetts, the movement to separate Maine gained a huge following in 1816. Those in favor of the separation recognized that giving Maine its own state government would create a lot of jobs for the citizens of that area. However, there was also a deep-rooted prejudice in Massachusetts that pitted Massachusettsians against Mainers and Mainers against Massachusetts, fueling much debate. Many Massachusettsians were eager to see Maine go, but they also knew that if Maine separated, the Massachusetts economy would take a huge hit from losing Portland, a major trade hub.
  • James Madison received a letter in Arabic from the Dey of Algiers, and it took his clerk over a month to find someone able to accurately translate it.
  • On March 19, 1816, members of Congress voted to raise their salaries for the first time, from $6/day to $1,500/year. The pay raise sparked an outrage of angry citizens throughout the country.

Experience a Day in the Life of an Intern at The Washington Center

Learn More