This Day in History (April 15)

Apr 15, 1865: President Lincoln dies

History.com

At 7:22 a.m., Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, dies from a bullet wound inflicted the night before by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer. The president’s death came only six days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his massive army at Appomattox, effectively ending the American Civil War.

Booth, who remained in the North during the war despite his Confederate sympathies, initially plotted to capture President Lincoln and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. However, on March 20, 1865, the day of the planned kidnapping, the president failed to appear at the spot where Booth and his six fellow conspirators lay in wait. Two weeks later, Richmond fell to Union forces. In April, with Confederate armies near collapse across the South, Booth hatched a desperate plan to save the Confederacy.

Learning that Lincoln was to attend Laura Keene’s acclaimed performance in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater on April 14, Booth plotted the simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward. By murdering the president and two of his possible successors, Booth and his conspirators hoped to throw the U.S. government into a paralyzing disarray.

On the evening of April 14, conspirator Lewis T. Powell burst into Secretary of State Seward’s home, seriously wounding him and three others, while George A. Atzerodt, assigned to Vice President Johnson, lost his nerve and fled. Meanwhile, just after 10 p.m., Booth entered Lincoln’s private box unnoticed and shot the president with a single bullet in the back of his head. Slashing an army officer who rushed at him, Booth jumped to the stage and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis! [Thus always to tyrants]–the South is avenged!” Although Booth had broken his left leg jumping from Lincoln’s box, he succeeded in escaping Washington.

The president, mortally wounded, was carried to a cheap lodging house opposite Ford’s Theater. An hour after dawn the next morning, Abraham Lincoln died, becoming the first president to be assassinated. His body was taken to the White House, where it lay until April 18, at which point it was carried to the Capitol rotunda to lay in state on a catafalque. On April 21, Lincoln’s body was taken to the railroad station and boarded on a train that conveyed it to Springfield, Illinois, his home before becoming president. Tens of thousands of Americans lined the train’s railroad route and paid their respects to their fallen leader during the train’s solemn progression through the North. Lincoln was buried on May 4, 1865, at Oak Ridge Cemetery, near Springfield.

Booth, pursued by the army and secret service forces, was finally cornered in a barn near Bowling Green, Virginia, and died from a possibly self-inflicted bullet wound as the barn was burned to the ground. Of the eight other persons eventually charged with the conspiracy, four were hanged and four were jailed.

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This Day in History (March 29)

Mar 29, 1973: U.S. withdraws from Vietnam

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Two months after the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement, the last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam as Hanoi frees the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. America’s direct eight-year intervention in the Vietnam War was at an end. In Saigon, some 7,000 U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees remained behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting what looked to be a fierce and ongoing war with communist North Vietnam.

In 1961, after two decades of indirect military aid, U.S. President John F. Kennedy sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam to bolster the ineffectual autocratic regime of South Vietnam against the communist North. Three years later, with the South Vietnamese government crumbling, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered limited bombing raids on North Vietnam, and Congress authorized the use of U.S. troops. By 1965, North Vietnamese offensives left President Johnson with two choices: escalate U.S. involvement or withdraw. Johnson ordered the former, and troop levels soon jumped to more than 300,000 as U.S. air forces commenced the largest bombing campaign in history.

During the next few years, the extended length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai, helped turn many in the United States against the Vietnam War. The communists’ Tet Offensive of 1968 crushed U.S. hopes of an imminent end to the conflict and galvanized U.S. opposition to the war. In response, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek reelection, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating a perilous national division over Vietnam. He also authorized the beginning of peace talks.

In the spring of 1969, as protests against the war escalated in the United States, U.S. troop strength in the war-torn country reached its peak at nearly 550,000 men. Richard Nixon, the new U.S. president, began U.S. troop withdrawal and “Vietnamization” of the war effort that year, but he intensified bombing. Large U.S. troop withdrawals continued in the early 1970s as President Nixon expanded air and ground operations into Cambodia and Laos in attempts to block enemy supply routes along Vietnam’s borders. This expansion of the war, which accomplished few positive results, led to new waves of protests in the United States and elsewhere.

Finally, in January 1973, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement in Paris, ending the direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The South Vietnamese government was to remain in place until new elections were held, and North Vietnamese forces in the South were not to advance further nor be reinforced.

In reality, however, the agreement was little more than a face-saving gesture by the U.S. government. Even before the last American troops departed on March 29, the communists violated the cease-fire, and by early 1974 full-scale war had resumed. At the end of 1974, South Vietnamese authorities reported that 80,000 of their soldiers and civilians had been killed in fighting during the year, making it the most costly of the Vietnam War.

On April 30, 1975, the last few Americans still in South Vietnam were airlifted out of the country as Saigon fell to communist forces. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, accepting the surrender of South Vietnam later in the day, remarked, “You have nothing to fear; between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated.” The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular foreign war in U.S. history and cost 58,000 American lives. As many as two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed.

This Day in History (March 1)

Mar 1, 1872: Yellowstone Park established

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President Grant signs the bill creating the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone.

Native Americans had lived and hunted in the region that would become Yellowstone for hundreds of years before the first Anglo explorers arrived. Abundant game and mountain streams teaming with fish attracted the Indians to the region, though the awe-inspiring geysers, canyons, and gurgling mud pots also fascinated them.

John Colter, the famous mountain man, was the first Anglo to travel through the area. After journeying with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Colter joined a party of fur trappers to explore the wilderness. In 1807, he explored part of the Yellowstone plateau and returned with fantastic stories of steaming geysers and bubbling cauldrons. Some doubters accused the mountain man of telling tall tales and jokingly dubbed the area “Colter’s Hell.”

Before the Civil War, only a handful of trappers and hunters ventured into the area, and it remained largely a mystery. In 1869, the Folsom-Cook expedition made the first formal exploration, followed a year later by a much more thorough reconnaissance by the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition. The key to Yellowstone’s future as a national park, though, was the 1871 exploration under the direction of the government geologist Ferdinand Hayden. Hayden brought along William Jackson, a pioneering photographer, and Thomas Moran, a brilliant landscape artist, to make a visual record of the expedition. Their images provided the first visual proof of Yellowstone’s wonders and caught the attention of the U.S. Congress.

Early in 1872, Congress moved to set aside 1,221,773 acres of public land straddling the future states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho as America’s first national park. President Grant signed the bill into law on this day in 1872. The Yellowstone Act of 1872 designated the region as a public “pleasuring-ground,” which would be preserved “from injury or spoilation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within.”

For a nation bent on settling and exploiting the West, the creation of Yellowstone was surprising. Many congressmen gave it their support simply because they believed the rugged and isolated region was of little economic value. Yet the Yellowstone Act of 1872 set a precedent and popularized the idea of preserving sections of the public domain for use as public parks. Congress went on to designate dozens of other national parks, and the idea spread to other nations around the world.

This Day in History (February 24)

YEAH I THINK IM GONNA KEEP DOING MY THIS DAY IN HISTORY POSTS. I’LL TRY NOT TO  REPEAT MYSELF.
ENJOY AND I’LL TRY NOT TO REPEAT MYSELF.

YEP ITS OFFICIAL I’M A DORK!

Feb 24, 1988: Supreme Court defends right to satirize public figures

History.com

The U.S. Supreme Court votes 8-0 to overturn the $200,000 settlement awarded to the Reverend Jerry Falwell for his emotional distress at being parodied in Hustler, a pornographic magazine.

In 1983, Hustler ran a piece parodying Falwell’s first sexual experience as a drunken, incestuous, childhood encounter with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell, an important religious conservative and founder of the Moral Majority political advocacy group, sued Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt, for libel. Falwell won the case, but Flynt appealed, leading to the Supreme Court’s hearing the case because of its constitutional implications. In February 1988, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling that, although in poor taste, Hustler’s parody fell within the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and the press.

This Day in History (February 21)

Feb 21, 1965: Malcolm X assassinated

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In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm was the son of James Earl Little, a Baptist preacher who advocated the black nationalist ideals of Marcus Garvey. Threats from the Ku Klux Klan forced the family to move to Lansing, Michigan, where his father continued to preach his controversial sermons despite continuing threats. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was brutally murdered by the white supremacist Black Legion, and Michigan authorities refused to prosecute those responsible. In 1937, Malcolm was taken from his family by welfare caseworkers. By the time he reached high school age, he had dropped out of school and moved to Boston, where he became increasingly involved in criminal activities.

In 1946, at the age of 21, Malcolm was sent to prison on a burglary conviction. It was there he encountered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, whose members are popularly known as Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam advocated black nationalism and racial separatism and condemned Americans of European descent as immoral “devils.” Muhammad’s teachings had a strong effect on Malcolm, who entered into an intense program of self-education and took the last name “X” to symbolize his stolen African identity.

After six years, Malcolm was released from prison and became a loyal and effective minister of the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. In contrast with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X advocated self-defense and the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary.” A fiery orator, Malcolm was admired by the African American community in New York and around the country.

In the early 1960s, he began to develop a more outspoken philosophy than that of Elijah Muhammad, whom he felt did not sufficiently support the civil rights movement. In late 1963, Malcolm’s suggestion that President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was a matter of the “chickens coming home to roost” provided Elijah Muhammad, who believed that Malcolm had become too powerful, with a convenient opportunity to suspend him from the Nation of Islam.

A few months later, Malcolm formally left the organization and made a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, where he was profoundly affected by the lack of racial discord among orthodox Muslims. He returned to America as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and in June 1964 founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which advocated black identity and held that racism, not the white race, was the greatest foe of the African American. Malcolm’s new movement steadily gained followers, and his more moderate philosophy became increasingly influential in the civil rights movement, especially among the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

On February 21, 1965, one week after his home was firebombed, Malcolm X was shot to death by Nation of Islam members while speaking at a rally of his organization in New York City.

This Day in History (February 1)

Feb 1, 2003: Columbia mission ends in disaster

History.com

On this day in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia breaks up while entering the atmosphere over Texas, killing all seven crew members on board.

The Columbia’s 28th space mission, designated STS-107, was originally scheduled to launch on January 11, 2001, but was delayed numerous times for a variety of reasons over nearly two years. Columbia finally launched on January 16, 2003, with a crew of seven. Eighty seconds into the launch, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the shuttle’s propellant tank and hit the edge of the shuttle’s left wing.

Cameras focused on the launch sequence revealed the foam collision but engineers could not pinpoint the location and extent of the damage. Although similar incidents had occurred on three prior shuttle launches without causing critical damage, some engineers at the space agency believed that the damage to the wing could cause a catastrophic failure. Their concerns were not addressed in the two weeks that Columbia spent in orbit because NASA management believed that even if major damage had been caused, there was little that could be done to remedy the situation.

Columbia reentered the earth’s atmosphere on the morning of February 1. It wasn’t until 10 minutes later, at 8:53 a.m.–as the shuttle was 231,000 feet above the California coastline traveling at 23 times the speed of sound–that the first indications of trouble began. Because the heat-resistant tiles covering the left wing’s leading edge had been damaged or were missing, wind and heat entered the wing and blew it apart.

The first debris began falling to the ground in west Texas near Lubbock at 8:58 a.m. One minute later, the last communication from the crew was heard, and at 9 a.m. the shuttle disintegrated over southeast Texas, near Dallas. Residents in the area heard a loud boom and saw streaks of smoke in the sky. Debris and the remains of the crew were found in more than 2,000 locations across East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Making the tragedy even worse, two pilots aboard a search helicopter were killed in a crash while looking for debris. Strangely, worms that the crew had used in a study that were stored in a canister aboard the Columbia did survive.

In August 2003, an investigation board issued a report that revealed that it in fact would have been possible either for the Columbia crew to repair the damage to the wing or for the crew to be rescued from the shuttle. The Columbia could have stayed in orbit until February 15 and the already planned launch of the shuttle Atlantis could have been moved up as early as February 10, leaving a short window for repairing the wing or getting the crew off of the Columbia.

In the aftermath of the Columbia disaster, the space shuttle program was grounded until July 16, 2005, when the space shuttle Discovery was put into orbit.

This Day in History (January 30)

Jan 30, 1882: FDR is born

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On this day in 1882, future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is born.

Roosevelt grew up the only child in an upper middle-class family in Hyde Park, New York. He graduated from Harvard in 1904 and later received a degree from Columbia Law School. In 1905, Roosevelt married his influential future first lady, Eleanor, a niece of Theodore Roosevelt and a distant cousin. Roosevelt’s early involvement in politics included a seat in the New York State Senate and the role of Woodrow Wilson’s assistant secretary of the Navy during World War I. In 1920, Roosevelt ran for vice president on the unsuccessful Democratic ticket against Warren Harding. He served as governor of New York from 1929 to1932, during which time he tested out various programs to help the needy that would later form the backbone of his New Deal social and economic policies. Roosevelt’s personal appeal and a platform based on Wilsonian policies of a strong federal role in boosting industry and the public welfare led to his election as the 32nd president of the United States in 1933.

In 1921 at the age of 39, Roosevelt contracted a rare incidence of adult polio and lost the use of his legs. Although his disability was not a secret, the Roosevelt administration had a tacit agreement with photographers that they would avoid snapping images of the president being carried by assistants or using a wheelchair. During this era the American public still considered paraplegics crippled or weak, a stereotype Roosevelt fought throughout his presidency. Known for his sense of humor and optimism in the face of adversity, it was perhaps his own personal challenges that allowed him to appreciate the struggles of others. In 1938, Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes to raise funds for polio research and rehabilitation.

In 1933, Roosevelt embarked on an ambitious effort to jump-start the economy through federal work and welfare policies, which included the creation of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), the Federal Industrial Recovery Act and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The New Deal, as he dubbed his policies, was met in some quarters by opposition and controversy—Roosevelt was accused of practicing socialism in an era of rampant anti-communism, overreaching presidential power and being a big government spender. Some of Roosevelt’s programs were even ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. However, many of FDR’s New Deal reforms, including Social Security and the minimum wage, were maintained by successive conservative and liberal administrations.

At the same time as he faced unprecedented domestic problems, Roosevelt warily observed the rise of fascist dictatorships in Europe during the mid-1930s. While the German army stormed across Europe, Roosevelt tried to appease the American public’s entrenched isolationism by only gradually increasing U.S. aid to democratic European nations. As the war in Europe progressed, Roosevelt stepped up financial and humanitarian aid to Great Britain and France. When it looked as if Hitler might invade Britain after the saturation bombing of London, Roosevelt boldly launched the lend-lease program early in 1941, which promised massive weapons and war-material exports to Britain. During one of his signature fireside chat radio addresses, Roosevelt referred to the U.S. as an arsenal of democracy to help explain America’s increasing involvement in the European war and galvanize public support for the lend-lease program. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war and American industry then underwent a massive conversion to defense production. During the war, Roosevelt kept a tight rein on labor disputes between management and labor and implemented stringent rationing. He worked closely with Allied leaders to plan the liberation of Europe, which was led by American troops.

In delicate war-time negotiations with Stalin, Roosevelt recognized the strategic importance of relying on the Soviet Union to divert Hitler’s attention away from an Allied liberation of Europe. At the same time, Roosevelt earned harsh criticism at home and among the Allies for accommodating the communist leader. Many saw Roosevelt’s concessions to Stalin regarding post-war territorial issues as a violation of democratic principles. Critics blamed Roosevelt for giving Stalin most of Eastern Europe, thus ensuring the Soviet Union’s rise to world-power status during the Cold War. In addition, post-war conspiracy theorists suggested Roosevelt knew of Japan’s plan to bomb Pearl Harbor in advance and let it go forward to galvanize Americans’ support for the war. He was also accused of being insensitive to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. Yet Roosevelt’s war-time diplomacy did have its successes–it contributed to the defeat of fascist Nazi Germany and Japan and ended in the formation of the United Nations.

In all, Roosevelt served four terms–his election to a third and fourth term were unprecedented–and his presidency spanned two of the nation’s greatest crises, the Great Depression and the Second World War, a testament to his popularity and the faith he was able to inspire in the American people. (It was only a decade later that Congress adopted the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which limits presidents to two consecutive terms.) Roosevelt’s health deteriorated rapidly toward the end of the war and he died on April 12, 1945, of a stroke at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia, leaving Vice President Harry Truman to see the U.S. to victory. Whether reviled as a near-socialist or a beloved as a New Deal warrior for the people, Roosevelt’s influence on American politics was significant and longstanding–every subsequent president has invoked his name at one point or another in support of their own policies.