Category Archives: History

New Jersey First to Ratify Bill of Rights – November 20, 1789 – History Today

I was born in New Jersey and I’ve always been proud to say so. I’ll grant you that we haven’t always got things right (The Jersey Shore, medical waste on beaches, the highest tax rate of all 50 states) but we’ve done some great things too (Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Frank Sinatra, Laura PreponLaura Prepon, FM Radio, and Diners). We were also the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.

On this day in 1789, New Jersey ratifies the Bill of Rights, becoming the first state to do so. New Jersey’s action was a first step toward making the first 10 amendments to the Constitution law and completing the revolutionary reforms begun by the Declaration of Independence.

The Anti-Federalist critics of the U.S. Constitution were afraid that a too-strong federal government would become just another sort of the monarchical regime from which they had recently been freed. They believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government by outlining its rights but failing to delineate the rights of the individuals living under it.

Amendment 1

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment 2

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment 3

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment 4

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment 5

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment 6

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment 7

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment 8

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment 9

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment 10

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – November 19, 1863 – History Today

Abraham LincolnOne hundred and forty nine years ago President Abraham Lincoln delivered the historical remarks that we now call the Gettysburg Address.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Battle of Antietam – September 17, 1862 – History Today

The bloodiest one-day battle in US History, the Battle of Antietam, took place one hundred and fifty years ago today.

Over the course of September 15 and 16, the Confederate and Union armies gathered on opposite sides of Antietam Creek. On the Confederate side, Jackson commanded the left flank with General James Longstreet at the head of the center and right. McClellan’s strategy was to attack the enemy left, then the right, and finally, when either of those movements met with success, to move forward in the center.

When fighting began in the foggy dawn hours of September 17, this strategy broke down into a series of uncoordinated advances by Union soldiers under the command of Generals Joseph Hooker, Joseph Mansfield and Edwin Sumner. As savage and bloody combat continued for eight hours across the region, the Confederates were pushed back but not beaten, despite sustaining some 15,000 casualties.

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By the time the sun went down, both armies still held their ground, despite staggering combined casualties–nearly 23,000 of the 100,000 soldiers engaged, including almost 4,000 dead.

Siege of Fort Stanwix Ends – August 22, 1777 – History Today

After nearly three weeks, the Siege of Fort Stanwix ends on August 22, 1777.

The fort was occupied by Continental Army forces from New York and Massachusetts under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort. The besieging force was composed of British regulars, American Loyalists, Hessian soldiers from Hesse-Hanau, and Indians, under the command of British Brigadier General Barry St. Leger and the Iroquois leader Joseph Brant. St. Leger’s expedition was a diversion in support of General John Burgoyne’s campaign to gain control of the Hudson River Valley.

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By August 20, [General Benedict] Arnold, [Gansevoort’s second-in-command, Marinus] Willett and 700 Continental Army regulars had arrived at Fort Dayton. In an attempt to enlarge his force, Arnold tried to interest the Tryon County men in another attempt against St. Leger, but raised only about 100 men. He then decided to wait, hoping that friendly Oneidas and Tuscaroras could be convinced to join the effort, or that a request to Schuyler for another 1,000 men would be fulfilled. However, news reached him that the siege had reached a critical stage, and that action was necessary.

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Uncomfortable with the number of troops available to him, Arnold opted for a deception to sow trouble in the British camp. While at Fort Dayton, a number of Loyalists had been arrested, including Hon-Yost Schuyler. Arnold convinced Hon-Yost, a member of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York who grew up with many of the Mohawk Indians attacking Fort Stanwix, to spread rumors that large numbers of Americans, under the command of “The Dark Eagle”, were about to descend on St. Leger’s camp. Hon-Yost’s good conduct was assured by holding hostage his brother.

Arnold’s stratagem seems to have met with some success. St. Leger recorded on August 21 that “Arnold was advancing, by rapid and forced marches, with 3,000 men”, even though Arnold was still at Fort Dayton on that day.

Hawaii Becomes a State – August 21, 1959 – History Today

Hawaii became the 50th state 53 years ago today.

The modern United States receives its crowning star when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs a proclamation admitting Hawaii into the Union as the 50th state. The president also issued an order for an American flag featuring 50 stars arranged in staggered rows: five six-star rows and four five-star rows. The new flag became official July 4, 1960.

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Many in Congress opposed the formal annexation of Hawaii, and it was not until 1898, following the use of the naval base at Pearl Harbor during the Spanish-American War, that Hawaii’s strategic importance became evident and formal annexation was approved. Two years later, Hawaii was organized into a formal U.S. territory. During World War II, Hawaii became firmly ensconced in the American national identity following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Birth of the NFL – August 20, 1920 – History Today

National Football LeagueWe are half way through the NFL preseason. The regular schedule kicks off on September 5th. And 92 years ago today the NFL was formed as the American Professional Football Conference.

On this day in 1920, seven men, including legendary all-around athlete and football star Jim Thorpe, meet to organize a professional football league at the Jordan and Hupmobile Auto Showroom in Canton, Ohio. The meeting led to the creation of the American Professional Football Conference (APFC), the forerunner to the hugely successful National Football League.

From Wikipedia:

On August 20, 1920, at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, the league was formalized, originally as the American Professional Football Conference, initially consisting only of the Ohio League teams, although some of the teams declined participation. One month later on September 17, the league was renamed the American Professional Football Association, adding Buffalo and Rochester from the New York league, and Detroit, Hammond, and several other teams from nearby circuits. The eleven founding teams initially struck an agreement over player poaching and the declaration of an end-of-season champion. Thorpe, while still playing for the Bulldogs, was elected president. Only four of the founding teams finished the 1920 schedule and the undefeated Akron Pros claimed the first championship. Membership of the league increased to 22 teams – including more of the New York teams – in 1921, but throughout the 1920s the membership was unstable and the league was not a major national sport. On June 24, 1922, the organization, now headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, changed its title a final time to the National Football League.

Happy Birthday NFL. I’m ready for some football.

Christopher Columbus Sets Sail – August 3, 1492 – History Today

Five hundred and twenty years ago Christopher Columbus left Palos, Spain in command of the the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria to find a western route to the gold and spices of Asia.

On the evening of 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera with three ships: a larger carrack, the Santa María ex-Gallega (“Galician”), and two smaller caravels, the Pinta (“Painted”) and the Santa Clara, nicknamed the Niña (lit. “Girl”) after her owner Juan Niño of Moguer. The monarchs forced the Palos inhabitants to contribute to the expedition. The Santa María was owned by Juan de la Cosa and captained by Columbus. The Pinta and the Niña were piloted by the Pinzón brothers (Martín Alonso and Vicente Yáñez).

Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands, which belonged to the Castile, where he restocked the provisions and made repairs. After stopping over in Gran Canaria, he finally departed from San Sebastián de La Gomera on 6 September, for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean. A lookout on the Pinta, Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodríguez Bermeo), spotted land about 2:00 on the morning of 12 October, and immediately alerted the rest of the crew with a shout.

PT-109 Attacked – August 2, 1943 – History Today

Future president John F. Kennedy and his crew aboard PT-109 were attacked on this day in 1943.

In the middle of the night on August 2, their boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and caught fire. Several of Kennedy’s shipmates were blown overboard into a sea of burning oil. Kennedy dove in to rescue three of the crew and in the process swallowed some of the toxic mixture. (Kennedy would later blame this for chronic stomach problems.) For 12 hours, Kennedy and his crew clung to the wrecked hull, before he ordered them to abandon ship. Kennedy and the other good swimmers placed the injured on a makeshift raft, and then took turns pushing and towing the raft four miles to safety on a nearby island.

FBI Begins – July 26, 1908 – History Today

On July 26, 1908 U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte orders a group of 10 former Secret Service employees and a number of Department of Justice investigators to report to Chief Examiner Stanley W. Finch of the Department of Justice. This is the beginning of the FBI.

When the Department of Justice was created in 1870 to enforce federal law and coordinate judicial policy, it had no permanent investigators on its staff. At first, it hired private detectives when it needed federal crimes investigated and later rented out investigators from other federal agencies, such as the Secret Service, which was created by the Department of the Treasury in 1865 to investigate counterfeiting. In the early part of the 20th century, the attorney general was authorized to hire a few permanent investigators, and the Office of the Chief Examiner, which consisted mostly of accountants, was created to review financial transactions of the federal courts.

Seeking to form an independent and more efficient investigative arm, in 1908 the Department of Justice hired 10 former Secret Service employees to join an expanded Office of the Chief Examiner. The date when these agents reported to duty–July 26, 1908–is celebrated as the genesis of the FBI. By March 1909, the force included 34 agents, and Attorney General George Wickersham, Bonaparte’s successor, renamed it the Bureau of Investigation.

The federal government used the bureau as a tool to investigate criminals who evaded prosecution by passing over state lines, and within a few years the number of agents had grown to more than 300.

The Kitchen Debate – July 24, 1959 – History Today

On July 24, 1959 then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev squared off in an impromptu “Kitchen Debate”.

On July 24, before the Moscow exhibition was officially opened to the public, Vice President Nixon served as a host for a visit by Soviet leader Khrushchev. As Nixon led Khrushchev through the American exhibition, the Soviet leader’s famous temper began to flare. When Nixon demonstrated some new American color television sets, Khrushchev launched into an attack on the so-called “Captive Nations Resolution” passed by the U.S. Congress just days before. The resolution condemned the Soviet control of the “captive” peoples of Eastern Europe and asked all Americans to pray for their deliverance. After denouncing the resolution, Khrushchev then sneered at the U.S. technology on display, proclaiming that the Soviet Union would have the same sort of gadgets and appliances within a few years. Nixon, never one to shy away from a debate, goaded Khrushchev by stating that the Russian leader should “not be afraid of ideas. After all, you don’t know everything.” The Soviet leader snapped at Nixon, “You don’t know anything about communism–except fear of it.”

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The “kitchen debate” was front-page news in the United States the next day. For a few moments, in the confines of a “modern” kitchen, the diplomatic gloves had come off and America and the Soviet Union had verbally jousted over which system was superior–communism or capitalism.