History Lesson of the Month
The Cold War arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union began as the two World War II “allies” were still mopping up in Germany. Both sides wanted to learn all they could about German rocket and atomic technologies, and both wanted to get their hands on the scientists who were developing them.
Joseph Stalin’s forces captured the atomic research labs at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in May 1945. U.S. forces removed V-2 missiles from the Nordhausen complex that was built under the Harz Mountains just before the Soviets took possession of the facility.
On Oct. 15, 1962, U.S. intelligence workers analyzing photos taken by a U-2 spy plane discovered that the Soviet Union was building medium-range missile sites in Cuba. Seven days later, President John F. Kennedy gave a televised address to announce the discovery to Americans and to proclaim that he was ordering a naval “quarantine” of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from transporting offensive weapons to the islands. The President made it clear that America would not stop short of military action to end what he called a “clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.”
For the next 13 days, Americans believed that nuclear war with the Soviet Union—a war that would leave major U.S. cities like Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles incinerated—was about to break out any second.
No one, particularly not Gen. George Washington, doubted Benedict Arnold’s skill as a military commander. But Arnold had many faults, among them: he was hotheaded, a glory seeker, brash and haunted by the ever-swirling taint of corruption.
Following his victory at Ticonderoga in 1775, his life became one of humiliation and pain. He wanted to invade Canada, but he was rebuffed and the command was turned over to another officer. He sought reimbursement for the money he had spent on the Ticonderoga excursion, but the Massachusetts Committee of Public Safety passed his request to the Continental Congress. This caused his unpaid soldiers to mutiny. They arrested Arnold and negotiated for themselves with Massachusetts.
On Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” was ratified by Tennessee, giving it 36 States and the two-thirds majority required to make it law.
Even though women in Texas (Miriam Amanda Wallace “Ma” Ferguson) and Wyoming (Nellie Tayloe Ross) succeeded their deceased husbands as Governors in the mid- to late 1920s, most women took to politics slowly. Many women did not vote (some because of threats by their husbands) for many years.
In the late evening hours of July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people watched in rapt attention the grainy black-and-white footage of Neil Armstrong as he exited the lunar module Eagle and became the first man to set foot on the moon. As he did, he uttered the now-famous line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
That step culminated an eight-year project to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s goal of beating the Soviet Union to the moon. It took more than 400,000 scientists, engineers and technicians and about $100 billion in today’s currency to achieve.
The U.S. Constitution was ratified 224 years ago today.
The document that became the Constitution developed after three months of debate. It was signed on Sept. 17, 1787 by 38 of the 41 delegates present. But according to Article VII, it would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 States.
Fifty-eight years ago today, the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka and ruled that separate but equal school facilities stamped an inherent badge of inferiority on black students and public school systems were required to integrate “with all deliberate speed.”
Did integration accomplish what the court sought to accomplish? Hardly. Today, thanks to the Department of Education, children are required to attend a school near their home, with few exceptions. Most minorities now live in cities, while most white students now live in the suburbs and rural areas.
The Civil War’s first casualties from hostile fire came not on soil in a Confederate State, but in Baltimore, Md., on April 19, 1861. (A gun explosion during Ft. Sumter surrender ceremonies had killed two Union soldiers.)
Maryland was a border State that was divided over its loyalty to the Union or the Southern cause. President Abraham Lincoln had received just 2 percent of Baltimore’s vote for President, with most of the votes going to Southern Democratic candidate John Breckinridge. Most of the State’s western counties also went for Breckinridge.
A battle over the Bank of the United States between President Andrew Jackson and Congress turned into a Constitutional issue when Congress sought to censure Jackson for not turning over classified documents he used in his decision to veto Congress’ vote to renew the bank’s charter.
The Senate, led by Jackson’s nemesis Henry Clay, passed a resolution demanding to see Jackson’s papers. When Jackson refused, Clay introduced a resolution to censure Jackson.
The seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, was born on March 15, 1767, according to conventional wisdom. But Jackson’s birth history may be murkier than that of the current President.
The official history lists Jackson’s place of birth somewhere in the woods of northern South Carolina or southern North Carolina to Irish immigrant parents. Supposedly, his father died in an accident shortly before or about the time of Jackson’s birth. His mother died during a cholera outbreak in 1781 while serving as a nurse to prisoners of war on board a ship in Charleston Harbor. Jackson was then raised by uncles.