Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to power during the French Revolution and became emperor of France, was defeated when allied troops entered Paris on 30 March 1814. Since 1803, the Napoleonic War had inflamed Europe. England and other powers had united against France during this period. France had expanded its power into the heart of Europe, Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean. His failed foray into Russia and his forces being ejected from Portugal and Spain, weakened his once powerful forces allowing for the invasion of France and the taking of Paris.
Why this Is Important
Napoleon was a major figure in European and French history. He reformed the French state after French Revolution, established and streamlined the justice system under the Napoleonic Code, and sought better relations with the Catholic Church. His military tactics (wins and loses) are still studied today in military academies around the world. The Napoleonic Code laid the basis for legal administration in France today and many of its former colonies.
In a purchase ridiculed at the time, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia for $7 million. While it only cost 2 cents an acre, it was widely jeered in the press and politicians alike. It was nicknamed “Seward’s Folly” and other names as well. Russia had tried to sell it to the U.S. prior to the Civil War, but talks stopped when the war began. Seward believed the landmass was important for the country. Others were not so sure and took a lot of convincing to get the Senate to ratify the treaty. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on 9 April 1867 and the formal transfer was at Fort Sitka on October 18, 1867.
At first settlement was slow (getting there required taking a ship on the Pacific side and sailing up to a port) but in 1898 gold was discovered causing a rapid influx of prospectors and of course businesses to support them. Other resources were found in due course allowing Alaska to grow into a prosperous territory (albeit a cold one). Alaska would become the 49thstate when it was admitted to the union on 3 January 1959. The folly turned out to be golden instead.
Why this is Important
The purchase of Alaska expanded the territory of the United States substantially. The West Coast borders of the country were now forming up. California and Oregon were now states and Washington would soon follow in 1889. The rich resources of Alaska would also contribute as well. By the end of the 19th century, the United States had grown across a continent with cities and settlements on each end and within it.
It is hard to remember a time without telephones. Important messages and correspondence was limited by foot, horse and sail. Mail sent overseas could take, depending on the distance involved, weeks or months (and even longer when you depended on wind to power your sails). When the railroad arrived, mail could be loaded onto trains but still had to be delivered at the end. The telegraph had speeded things up enormously. Messages could be sent fast from point to point but it had its limitations as well. It required hand delivery of messages from the telegraph to its recipients. Enter Alexander Graham Bell and his invention called an harmonic telegraph that would combine the telegraph and a record player so that people could speak with each other over long distances.
On 7 March 1876, his patent for this device was registered. He had begun work on the device in 1871 and was able to get investors to back his idea. By 1875 with the help of his partner Thomas Watson, he had come up with a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound. Two other scientists, Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray, were working on similar technologies as well.The prototype that he and Watson developed allowed sound waves to create an electric current causing a soft thin iron plate (called the diaphragm) to vibrate. It was these vibrations when transferred magnetically to another wire connected to another diaphragm in another distant instrument that would replicate the original sound. A few days after the patent was filed, Bell called his assistant and uttered the now famous “Mr Watson, come here, I need you.”
The Bell Telephone Company was founded in 1877 (now AT&T) to market the new product. The first telephone line from Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts was completed in 1877 and by 1880 there was an estimated 49,000 telephones in the United States. It would spread to major East coast cities and by 1915 transcontinental service had begun. Bell Telephone grew quickly and bought out competitors or merged with them to form American Telephone and Telegraphy Company. Since they held the patent on this technology, they had a monopoly on the industry. And one they would not give up until a 1984 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice requiring them to end control over state markets.
Litigation by those who claimed to have invented the telephone before Bell would last for over 20 years. At one point there was an attempt by the U.S. government to withdraw the patent over the numerous claims in 1887. However the Supreme Court ruled in 1897 that the U.S. government lacked standing. Simply put the patent had been duly registered as required by law with the Patent Office. In order cancel a patent, it must show that the patent had been fraudulently obtained requiring such fraud to be proved by testimony. Since the case lacked that determination, the Supreme Court told the government you have no standing to cancel a patent.
The telephone system that was created resulted in major changes, large and small. It was easy in many places to now call for a doctor, the police, or fire department. Likewise other important business and government information could be done by phone rather than by sending a messenger or a telegraph. Speaking long distance was possible as well instead of telegraph. And dialing O for the operator meant a live human person would respond to assist.
Telephone technology would continually change over time. Calling long distance sometimes took a while depending on where you were located in earlier times (direct dialing was not yet possible due to many local exchanges, so the local exchange would set up the long distance call with other exchanges and that would take sometime to do that). In some rural locales, you had party lines where everyone was on the same line. So when you picked up the phone, you might find someone already talking! Dialing a number meant just that, you dialed a number on the old rotary phone. Speed dialing was not really possible except by mechanical means.
When touch-tone came into being, it made dialing a whole lot faster and easier. Phones changed as well from the old standard wall and desk types to more functional and even stylish types. And technology changed how phone calls were made too. Direct dialing ended the need for having to go through local exchanges for long distance calls. Now you just dialed an area code and the local number to speak with your favorite relative who lived far away. And as predicted by some futuristic science fiction, we now have wireless phones these days without the need of a phone line. Bell’s invention has certainly had an impact on us all. We cannot imagine a world without a phone.
On 31 Jan 1865, the U.S. Congress approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude for the entire country. The wording was simple:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
While President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate states, it did not apply to the entire country. To do that required federal law but merely enacting a statute, which could be rescinded or altered by Congress or a court, meant that the Constitution itself had to be amended. In April 1864 the amendment was passed in the U.S. Senate but faced difficulties in House of Representatives as many Democrats (due it being an election year) did not support it. And President Lincoln’s reelection did not look assured either. However with more Union military victories taking place and Lincoln soundly defeating General George McClellan in the November election, it emboldened Republicans to pass the amendment in the House in December 1864.
Lincoln got personally involved in the process by inviting individual representatives to meet with him. And he put pressure on representatives from border-states to change their votes to pass it. He authorized his supporters in the House to offer plum positions and other inducements to get their vote (a time-honored tradition in Washington politics). He left it up to his allies on how to do it. Some drama ensued when word of a Confederate peace commission having been dispatched to Washington, but it turned out to be false. And the vote for the amendment took place on 31 January 1865. It passed by 119-56 receiving the required two-thirds required by the Constitution. Then with a joint resolution of Congress the following day, the 13th Amendment was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.
The ratification process began immediately but sadly President Lincoln, who was assassinated on 14 April 1865, did not see it ratified in December. Here is a list of the states that ratified, which does include former Confederate states who ratified after rejoining the Union.
1 Illinois Feb 1, 1865
2 Rhode Island Feb 2, 1865
3 Michigan Feb 3, 1865
4 Maryland Feb 3, 1865
5 New York Feb 3, 1865
6 Pennsylvania Feb 3, 1865
7 West Virginia Feb 3, 1865
8 Missouri Feb 6, 1865
9 Maine Feb 7, 1865
10 Kansas Feb 7, 1865
11 Massachusetts Feb 7, 1865
12 Virginia Feb 9, 1865
13 Ohio Feb 10, 1865
14 Indiana Feb 13, 1865
15 Nevada Feb 16, 1865
16 Louisiana Feb 17, 1865
17 Minnesota Feb 23, 1865
18 Wisconsin Feb 24, 1865
19 Vermont Mar 8, 1865
20 Tennessee Apr 7, 1865
21 Arkansas Apr 14, 1865
22 Connecticut May 4, 1865
23 New Hampshire Jul 1, 1865
24 South Carolina Nov 13, 1865
25 Alabama Dec 2, 1865
26 North Carolina Dec 4, 1865
27 Georgia Dec 6, 1865 *
28 Oregon Dec 8, 1865
29 California Dec 19, 1865
30 Florida Dec 28, 1865
31 Iowa Jan 15, 1866
32 New Jersey Jan 23, 1866
33 Texas Feb 18, 1870
34 Delaware Feb 12, 1901
35 Kentucky Mar 18, 1976
36 Mississippi Mar 16, 1995 *
The amendment was ratified in 309 days with Georgia giving it the required number of votes to formally amend the Constitution. Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi initially rejected it (but approved it later). However, Mississippi did approve it on 16 Mar 1995 but failed to notify the U.S. Archivist. It became official in 2012.
World War I came to an end in November 1918. The next step was to hammer out a formal agreement that would end the war. The major allied powers-France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States-would meet to begin this process on 18 Jan 1919. The European powers, particularly Britain and France, wanted Germany punished. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States argued for a peace without victory strategy where Germany would not be treated to harshly. Unfortunately, the major powers wanted Germany punished for the costs of the war. Wilson eventually compromised in order to get an international peacekeeping organization, the League of Nations, established.
Germany was excluded until May and presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. That is when they learned that Wilson’s promises were not included. The draft required Germany and Austria-Hungary to forfeit a lot of territory and pay reparations. It also made Germany solely responsible for the war. This disillusioned the Germans and for many a bitter pill to swallow. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 on the five year anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that had sparked the war. Anger and resentment over the treaty would cause problems in Germany. And it would lead to extreme parties in Germany agitating against it. The Nazi Party would use the anger to achieve power, resulting in a second world war. Exactly what Wilson and others had hoped to avoid in 1919.
Today is Columbus Day in the United States. Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition. As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders.
Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well. Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places.
However it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then. Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday.
Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus they thought East Asia was closer than it actually was.
After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships–Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court.
Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and South and Central American mainlands. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open up new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result.
Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.
Each year we celebrate the 4th of July (also known as Independence Day) by watching parades, grilling food, and watching baseball. We celebrate it because in 1776 leaders took a brave and radical course of action by declaring independence from the premiere power of the day—Great Britain.
This was no small thing to do. The British were powerful and would respond by trying to crush the rebellion. Every person who signed the document knew their very lives were at stake. And some did pay a price when they were captured. The War for Independence was not easy and faced great obstacles. It was no sure thing at all the rebellion would succeed. It did succeed only because of the determination of those fighting to be free of British rule. They wanted to govern themselves and not serve a country that did not respond to their grievances. The American War for Independence would inspire others to do the same.
But why did they rebel? The Declaration of Independence lays out the case to the world. This is not a snippet but the complete document. Forgetting history though has consequences. Not long ago, a survey of young people educated through high school and college were asked what the Declaration of Independence was. Some thought it was The Communist Manifesto (1848). While that document has had an impact as well, the difference could not be more striking.
The American Revolution brought forth a constitutional republic that guarantees citizens many rights. It also limited the powers of government to protect those citizens. Governments inspired by the Communist Manifesto and its supportive writings resulted in Communist dictatorships. These dictatorships cared not for liberty but were oppressive regimes that imprisoned anyone who disagreed with their policies, seized all lands reducing farmers to serfs, and banned any religious activity that did not conform to state policies. These regimes brutalized their citizens in the name of the “revolution” while the American War for Independence was fought for citizens to have power to govern themselves.
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776 The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
We are coming down to the last days of summer. The Autumnal Equinox is 23 Sept 2015 at 4:22 AM EDT (adjust local time accordingly). Already Halloween decorations are out in stores and there are even reports-gasp!-of Christmas decorations appearing as well. Longer nights and shorter days are coming. Out here in Northern California we are having a mini heatwave. Our long dry spring and summer allowed for grapes and other crops to mature early. Grapes were harvested early this year. Sadly the drought has meant fewer crops planted,farmland gone to waste, and many jobs lost. Few understand truly how economies are interconnected. The farmer cannot plant much because there is little water to spare. That means he highers fewer workers to assist. Crops then need fewer people in the production and distribution sectors (canning, packing etc). Less inventory but high demand means prices go up. And so it goes. And if you do not have workers getting employed in the agricultural areas, it means retail and fast food stores sell less. There is less money going into the local economy which effects growth. Where the drought is the most severe, people are simply packing up and leaving. Worse for the state in areas where groundwater is dangerously low or empty, it means the land above it starts sinking. Which means infrastructure like bridges, roads and other things start sinking too.
Once long ago people flocked to California fleeing bad economic times that shuttered farms in the Midwest. It is quite possible now the reverse may happen.
On 15 September 1858 transcontinental mail service between St. Louis, Missouri and San Francisco, CA began when the Overland Mail Company sent out its first stages. Under contract with the U.S. Postal Department, it would transport mail twice a week between those two points in 25 days. It avoided the slow ocean voyage and promised quicker transport of mail between east and west. Although subsidized by a $600,000 by the federal government, Overland Mail Company would spend over a million dollars establishing way stations (10-20 mile intervals) and improving the 2,800 mile route.
Custom-built stages driven by teams of horses soon were racing across the open spaces of the West. They carried more than mail with passengers willing to spend 25 days in carriage that was hardly comfortable. Way stations along the way provided some comfort but pricey. And if you got off the stage at a way station, there was a possibility the stage might take off with out you. In that case you were stranded until the next one arrived but if it was full it might be a while for the next one as well. Aside from the dust that was ever present, there were no comforts and the coach ran night and day. Toilets were few and far between (as were places to wash off the dust). Then there were other problems as well. Coaches were targets for robbers and even the occasional Indian attack making it sometimes a risky proposition. Add to it that some stage drivers were not always sober making the ride more uncomfortable. Some of the routes connected states like Alabama to California through Texas.
In 1860 Overland Mail was taken over by Wells Fargo that operated the Pony Express mail service and other operations. With the Civil War looming, the Overland would be forced to change its route by an Act of Congress. Its contract with the government would end in March 1861. During the war, many of the West and Southwest and stations would be become targets of either the Union or Confederacy to prevent their use by the other side. Wells Fargo would resume stagecoach transcontinental service but it would end on 10 May 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed. Local stagecoach service though would continue on (to ferry people, cargo, and mail away from trains) until the advent of the automobile. Today there is an effort underway to preserve the transcontinental route as a heritage trail.
Susan Q. Stranahan writing for Smithsonian Online gives an excellent account of the tragic events of the SS Eastland, which rolled over while docked in the Chicago River in 1915. The death toll was appalling and most of those who died were under 25. It was a sensational story in the papers yet it faded. The Titanic, which sank in 1912 is still remembered today while Eastland is just barely remembered. So what happened?
Titanic became a symbol for the age she was built in, part Gilded Age, industrial, and the last embers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The ship became iconic and achieved immortality, something rare in historical memory. James Cameron’s movie cemented that in recent years. And the high money fetched in authentic Titanic memorabilia shows how strong that memory still is. Mention things like the Children’s Blizzard (1888), the General Slocum disaster(1904) or the 1918 flu pandemic and you get stares. Mention things like the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and that still has historical memory especially for people in Northern California that still live in its shadow.
One argument for the loss of Eastland memory is that there was no one rich or famous aboard. Possible but I do not think that is why it is forgotten. It is forgotten perhaps because the tragedy never reached a certain level that ingrained itself like some disasters do. Why is it that an old Great Lakes freighter is remembered while other ships that sank in those cold waters not? A song by Gordon Lightfoot called Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. While some knew about the tragedy in the news, it was this song that put it into a national consciousness. Titanic had books, songs, plays and movies. The Eastland has a few books, historical societies, newspaper records, and testimony at hearings. Yet it got no national memory because while tragic it simply did not stick into the historical memory. We may never know exactly why. And that is what historians and historical societies are for, to make sure such things do not pass into the realm of forgotten.
And even if there was someone famous or rich on Eastland that day, that is no guarantee it would be remembered beyond a certain radius. Historical memory can be shocking in its forgetfulness. All we can do is try to shine a light on what happened so that people do not forget what has happened before.