1512: The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican opens for public visitation for the first time since the completion of the great ceiling fresco by Michelangelo.
1517: Augustinian monk Martin Luther makes public his objection to the sale of indulgences by posting on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg a list of 95 “theses” which outlined a comprehensive, biblical-based dissent of papal authority, and set in motion the spiritual, intellectual and political upheaval we now know as the Protestant Reformation.
1520: Fifteen months after departing on his voyage of discovery, Ferdinand Magellan enters the narrow strait that now bears his name. The “shortcut” between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans cuts off significant distance from the more navigationally straightforward route around Cape Horn, and it avoids the ferocious westerlies and high sea states of the Horn passage.
1587: Leiden University- the oldest university in the Netherlands- opens it library. After its initial founding in 1575, the university itself quickly became the intellectual hub of the Reformation period.
1618: Death of Sir Walter Raleigh (b.1552), on the order of King James I of England, by beheading. Raleigh was a nobleman-adventurer, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, who commissioned his self-financed but ill-fated attempt to colonize “Virginia” down in what we now know as Dare County, NC. Raleigh fell out of Elizabeth’s favor when he secretly married one of her (pregnant) ladies-in-waiting without the Queen’s permission. For this crime, he was arrested and held in the Tower of London for a short time before his wife was released from Royal service. In 1594 he read a Spanish report concerning Muana, a supposed city of gold in South America. A year later he led an expedition that explored the northeast coast of that continent, particularly in and around the region of Guiana. A year after his return he published an account of the voyage, exaggerating somewhat the lurid concept of the golden city, as yet still undiscovered, and now known as the famous El Dorado. When the Protestant Elizabeth died in 1603, the Catholic James I had Raleigh arrested for treason based on circumstantial evidence linking him to an unsuccessful plot to overthrow the king. Back to the Tower where he remained for thirteen years, writing prolifically, and where his son Crewe was conceived, although as a guilty traitor, Raleigh was legally “dead” during the conception. James authorized Raleigh’s release in 1616 to undertake another expedition to find El Dorado. Again, they didn’t find it, but during the trip, they did take the opportunity to plunder the Spanish town of San Tome. News of this act infuriated the Spanish ambassador, and for the sake of the already tenuous relationship between England and Spain, James had Raleigh re-arrested and executed. Raleigh lay his head on the block waiting for the axe to fall, he called to the executioner, “Strike man! Strike!”
1628: After 14 months of siege, the Huguenot seaport of La Rochelle surrenders to the forces of King Louis XIII and his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu. La Rochelle was the center of French Protestantism, and despite having formal permission under the Edict of Nantes (1598) to worship as they chose, the Catholic restoration under Louis put the city- third largest in France at 30,000- in direct opposition to His Most Catholic Majesty. Richelieu’s determination to crush the Huguenots was the main force that consolidated central political power in the hands of the King, creating the concept of a strong, centralized state that defines nationhood to this day. The British made three attempts to intervene on behalf of La Rochelle but were unable to sustain it by sea after the French fortified all the seaward approaches to the city.
1634: The legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony establishes the charter for Harvard College, with the specific injunction later noted in a 1645 brochure: “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministery to the Churche.”
1704: Death of English philosopher John Locke (b.1632), whose writing on the nature of government, property, price theory, and the life of the mindset the foundations for the Scottish Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Thomas Jefferson considered Locke as one of the three “…greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception…”
1734: Birth of colonial era explorer, hunter, adventurer, and elected member of the Virginia State Assembly, Daniel Boone (d.1820). After opening up the routes westward from the eastern seaboard into Kentucky, he became one of the nation’s first folk heroes for his exploits in taming the wild frontier west of the Appalachians. He spent his final years even further west on the central Missouri shores of the Missouri River, where he is buried in a modest gravesite near Marthasville, Missouri.
1755: Birth of the Austrian princess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, better known as Marie Antoinette (d.1793) wife of French King Louis XVI. During the early days of the Revolution, she fought back publicly with a con brio performance as a caring mother and patron of the arts. It was in vain, however, and after the King fell victim to the Guillotine, the Queen met a similar fate ten months later under similarly trumped-up charges of treason against the French Republic.
1765: Continuing to find ways to get the American colonies to pay for the French and Indian War, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a tax levied on every sheet of paper imported into the colonies, with payment proven by the presence of a royal stamp on the paper itself. Colonial leaders become highly agitated by this seemingly arbitrary ability of the government to tax its subjects without consultation.
1772: Increasingly concerned about unchecked British pressure on the American colonies, Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston formed the first Committee of Correspondence, which functioned as the 18th-century version of a blog, except the writing was done with a quill pen on paper or parchment, and the letters traveled by post road or were printed up as handbills. The Committees grew in importance as the Revolution developed, providing a well-read venue for debate, and allowing the leading political leaders of the time to reach an audience far larger than the usual speeches and lectures.
1783: The final public execution is held at London’s Tyburn Gallows. Tyburn played a significant role in 18th-century culture, with permanent grandstands set up for the regular spectacle. Several popular catchphrases were coined to describe the happenings: a Tyburn dance or jig; take a drive to Tyburn (i.e., in the gaol wagon); the Lord Manor of Tyburn (the executioner). Wikipedia notes the condemned were expected to put on a good show, being both well-dressed for the hanging, and displaying no fear. Those that failed to live up to the crowd’s standards were jeered.
1790: British author and political philosopher Edmund Burke publishes his letter, Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he examines the French body politic and its leadership through the lens of the same Natural Law that guided the original revolution in the former British colonies. Burke accurately predicted the ruinous events on the continent. His main argument is that the abstract foundations of the French Revolution could in no way account for the complexity of human nature, and were thus doomed to lead to tyranny. Further, he had no time for the rule of intellectuals, arguing that, “What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In this deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor.”
1814: The Congress of Vienna meets to negotiate the form of European politics after the final defeat of Napoleon at the hands of the Sixth Coalition and 25 years of nearly continuous war. The resulting Treaty of Paris exiled the former emperor to tiny Elba off the south coast of France.
1861: The day after General Winfield Scott resigned as Commanding General of the Army, President Lincoln appointed George B. McClellan to replace him.
1863: Under the leadership of Swiss businessman Henry Dunant, a group of 18 nations met in Geneva and agreed to form an “International Committee for Relief to the Wounded” with a specific charter that centered on:
1) The foundation of national relief societies for wounded soldiers;
2) Neutrality and protection for wounded soldiers;
3) Utilization of volunteer forces for relief assistance on the battlefield;
4) Organization of additional conferences to enact these concepts in legally binding international treaties, and;
5) The introduction of a common distinctive protection symbol for medical personnel in the field, namely a white armlet bearing a red cross.
A year later, the Committee added two more requirements:
6) The national society must be recognized by its own national government as a relief society according to the convention, and
7) The national government of the respective country must be a state party to the Geneva Convention.
1877: Death of Nathan Bedford Forrest (b.1821), whose brilliance as a Confederate cavalry commander was tarnished by his post-war association with the Ku Klux Klan. When asked about his successes during the Civil War, he was widely credited with explaining it to people by “…being the fustest with the mostest.”
1887: Birth of Chiang Kai-sheck (d.1975), a Nationalist Chinese leader who followed Dr. Sun Yat-sen in moving Chinese society away from its feudal dynastic roots during the Northern Expedition of the 1920s. After Sun Yat-sen died in 1927, Chiang became the de facto leader of the Republic of China and strenuously opposed the rise of the Communists under Mao Tse-tung. After the Japanese defeat in World War II, the civil war that broke out in China eventually drove Chiang, a strong U.S. ally against the Japanese, to the island of Formosa (Taiwan), where he set up the Republic of China government in exile and ruled until his death.
1903: The Colombian province of Panama stages a revolt and declares its independence. The United States immediately recognized the new nation and guaranteed its defense. The United States also has plans to build a canal across the isthmus, and the new government of Panama cedes the Canal Zone to the U.S. to ensure the security and successful administration of the project.
1914: Birth of Jonas Salk (d.1995). Virologist and medical researcher who developed one of the first successful polio vaccines.
1926: Death of legendary sharpshooter, Annie Oakley (b.1860).
1929: Wall Street suffers the original Black Monday, after two weeks of sagging stock prices that failed to rally from two earlier interventions. This one day’s losses amounted to a 13% drop in market value. On Tuesday, the market dropped another 12%, and the week ended with total losses of over $30,000,000,000.00.
1941: USS Reuben James (DD-245), a WWI vintage “4-piper” destroyer on Neutrality Patrol in the northeastern Atlantic, is torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, becoming the Navy’s first combat loss of WWII, with a loss of 105 of her 159 man crew. This spawned a folk song by Woodie Guthrie: “What were their names, tell me what were their names? Did you lose a friend on the good Reuben James?”
1947: Aircraft designer and movie mogul Howard Hughes takes the H-4 Hercules seaplane on a “taxi test” in Long Beach Harbor. The gigantic plane, dubbed the “Spruce Goose” by its detractors, functioned exactly as Hughes thought it would, including getting airborne for its first and only flight, which lasted all of a few moments, climbing to 70 feet and flying about a mile down range. It remains the largest aircraft ever built. After the flight Hughes stored the machine in a climate-controlled hangar, where it remained in pristine flying condition until after Hughes’ death in 1976. It now resides in the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.
1952: The United States detonates its first hydrogen bomb, Operation IVY MIKE, at Eniwetok Atoll. The blast came in at 10 megatons.
1954: Death of French post-impressionist painter Henri Matisse (b.1869).
1956: First day of direct military action in the Suez Crisis of 1956. The dispute, centering on control of the Suez Canal, pitted a coalition of Britain, France and Israel against the United Arab Republic (Egypt) of President Gamal Abdul Nasser. The United States found itself in the awkward position of diplomatically opposing and militarily threatening its two closest Cold War and WWII allies to maintain its favorable position vis-à-vis its primary Arab ally, Saudi Arabia. The crisis had been playing out for the better part of 1956, with the nationalist Nasser overthrowing the pro-British King Farouk, followed by nationalizing the Canal itself, much to the dismay of Britain and France in particular. In a parallel slap to the United States, after the U.S. withdrew support for the Aswan High Dam project, Nasser took pains to also formally recognize Red China in defiance of the U.S. The secret Anglo-Franco-Israeli scheme was to have Israel capture the Sinai Peninsula and both sides of the Canal, after which Britain and France would call for UN disengagement between the Israeli and Egyptian forces, all the while they provided major air support from six aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean and three airfields on Cyprus. The expected end state was the restoration of British control over the Canal. Israeli armed forces launched their attack to capture Mitla Pass and began a systematic destruction of Egyptian forces in the remainder of the Sinai. The actual end state was a highly successful Israeli military campaign, complemented by highly effective Anglo-French attacks on Egyptian infrastructure. For its part, the United States then itself quite effectively threatened the United Kingdom with bankruptcy if it persisted on its course, and re-positioned two U.S. carriers between the Anglo-French fleet and the coast of North Africa. The success of this threat underscored Britain’s (and to a lesser extent France’s) diminishing role on the international stage in the Cold War era.
1957: The Soviet Union launches the first living being into orbit, the dog Laika, who survives the launch and initial orbit, but dies within two hours. There was no plan for a de-orbit recovery, and the Soviets announced she died by being automatically euthanized before oxygen deprivation. Recently opened archives indicate she died from overheating due to a critical component of the booster system failing to detach.
1962: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced the withdrawal of Russian SS-3 nuclear missiles from their new launching sites in Cuba, effectively ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States, for its part, agreed publicly to not invade Cuba or allow anyone else to invade the island via U.S. assistance. Secretly, President Kennedy also agreed to withdraw our Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy, deployments that the Soviet leadership used to justify their installation of SS-3s in Cuba. In Soviet circles, Khrushchev was seen as having been disgraced by Kennedy, a situation that led to his dismissal as Party Secretary two years later.
1984: Death of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi (b.1917), assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards four months after she ordered the Indian army to storm the Sikh temple of Harmandir Sahib to put down a nascent Sikh independence movement. The daughter of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, she became India’s first female PM, and legitimately earned her reputation as a consolidator of both India’s governing structures and its regional hegemony.
1998: Space Shuttle Discovery launches into orbit on STS-95. One of the crew was a 77-year-old former Marine combat pilot, test pilot, astronaut, and Senator, John Glenn. In the control room for his historic return to space was his Capsule Communicator for the riveting Friendship 7 mission at the dawn of American space flight, Scott Carpenter, who reprised for this launch his famous quote from the first one: “Godspeed John Glenn.”
1998: The Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein declares it will no longer cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.