Tag Archives: United States

Remembering History: Napoleon Defeated and Seward’s Folly (March 30)

Napoleon Defeated (30 March 1814)

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

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.

Sources:

Britanica.com
Biography.com
History.com

Seward’s Folly

William H. Seward, Secretary of State 1861-69
Date Unknown
Public Domain/U.S. Library of Congress, digital id cph.3a23003

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.

Sources:

American.historama.org
History.com
Wikipedia


Remembering History: Post-World War I Conference Leads to Versailles Treaty

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.

Aftermath

Map of Europe, 1923, with territorial changes under Treaty of Versailles
Image credit: Fluteflute (Wikipedia)

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.

Sources
Treaty of Versailles (Britannica.com)
This Day in History (History.com)
Treaty of Versailles (History.com)


BILL OF RIGHTS RATIFIED in 1789

Bill of Rights
Public Domain

On 25 September 1789, the first Congress approved 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution sending them to the states for ratification. Under the Constitution, 2/3 of the states must approve before they can become legal. These amendments, often called the Bill of Rights, were designed to protect the basic rights of citizens that included freedom of speech, press, right to assemble, the free exercise of religion, limiting the government from unlawful entry into your home without a warrant, bearing arms, the right against self-incrimination in criminal trials and that you could not be tried for the same crime twice.

These amendments were influenced by the English Bill of Rights (1689) and by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights written by George Mason. As part of the original ratification of the Constitution, it was agreed that these would be the first amendments to be immediately adopted. These amendments were very important to the American colonists who had rebelled against England. They reflect the wrongs of the English government inflicted on its citizens and sought to make sure no U.S. government would ever do the same to its citizens. Mason and others were concerned that unless such limits were put into place, the temptation to misuse government would arise.

And history has largely proved this thinking correct. Unless you have a written constitution (not one that can be easily amended or changed as some parliamentary countries can do) the temptation to misuse government power can lead to tyranny being imposed. By limiting the powers of government, dividing it into separate branches, the U.S Constitution makes it impossible for one person to have all three powers: legislative, executive and judicial. The Bill of Rights ensures that citizens given basic freedoms that the government cannot take away.

Ten of the twelve amendments were ratified by December 1791. One was defeated and another went into limbo.

27th Amendment

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Originally proposed on 25 September 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights. Since it did not pass the 2/3 requirement but had no expiration date, it sat in a form of constitutional limbo for 80 years then was ratified by Ohio. It then went back into limbo again until 1978 when Wyoming, angry at a Congressional pay hike, passed it but then again it went into limbo until the 1980’s.

Gregory Watson, who had noticed it was still alive as an undergraduate at Austin State University, took up the cause as an aide to a Texas legislator. From 1983-1992 other states, angry at Congress for their pay hikes, also ratified it. It was declared ratified on 7 May 1992. Many states would also post-ratify the amendment as well. Of all the amendments, it took the longest to get ratified at 74,003 days.

Sources:

TITANIC NEWS FOR CHRISTMAS EVE

Safeguarding The RMS Titanic’s Final Resting Place (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 19 Dec 2019)

Last month the United States officially completed the acceptance process for the agreement and it is officially in force.  The agreement furthers the ability of the United States and the United Kingdom to minimize threats to the integrity of the Titanic wreck site and its remaining artifacts. It is intended to keep the artifacts together and intact in a manner allowing for public access. The United States and the United Kingdom hope that other nations will join the agreement in order to broaden cooperative efforts to protect the Titanic

At this point it is rather moot. There have already been several expeditions to Titanic that brought up artifacts along with survey expeditions to examine the wreck. Additionally you have tourists that dive nearby to see the wreck (for a handsome sum of money). The company that did the salvage operations is no longer doing this and focused on exhibitions for the most part (though they are trying to sell the collection but the price is so astronomically high that is hard to find buyers). It sounds nice but several decades too late for some who wanted the wreck protected from the start.

Inside the Titanic II, a close replica of the 1912 Titanic cruise liner that could set sail in 2022 (MSN, 16 Dec 2019)

Slideshow of what Titanic II will look like compared to the original along with historical and other information. Not much that people have not seen before but interesting to view. Although there has been some buzz about this project now going forward, there really is nothing new to report. No keel has been laid and no one can confirm that a shipyard is actually starting construction, just that it is on again now for 2022. The Chinese are building their own replica that will be docked in a theme park (it has come under criticism for wanting to have a simulated sinking that many thought distasteful).


With Christmas now just a day away, many are getting ready for welcoming Christmas Day. One of the most well-known Christmas songs is Silent Night. A simple melody that spread across many borders and sung in many languages. The movie The Nativity Story had its own version composed by Mychael Danna. It is heard at the end of the movie and is quite stirring on its own. It is sung in Latin but constructed to make it comport to the melody that is so beloved today. You can listen to it on YouTube here:

In case you are wondering about the lyrics, here they are:

Silens Nox (Latin)
Silens nox et sacra
Pastores tremisco
Caelis indicat gloria
Canunt Angeli alleluia
Christus natus est
Christus natus est.

English
Silent Night
Silent and holy night
Shepherds tremble
At heaven’s glorious sight
Angels sing, “Hallelujah!”
Christ is born.
Christ is born.

Translation by Josh(SilentRebel83) at http://lyricstranslate.com/en/silens-nox-silent-night.html.

Have a wonderful Christmas Eve everyone.

Happy Labor Day (US)

labordy2 copy

Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. It became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. It has also become the “unofficial”end of summer as by this time schools have reopened and most summer vacations have ended. Also by this time the days (in the northern hemisphere) are starting to get shorter as we get closer to the autumnal equinox. As all fifty states observe the holiday, state and local government offices are closed as well. Banks are closed as are the U.S. financial markets. Most people who work in office jobs get the day off but retail stores do not observe the holiday usually offering special “Labor Day Sales” to draw customers in.