301A.D. Founding of the Principality of San Marino, by the stonecutter Marinus of Rab (Croatia). It is the third smallest micro-state in Europe (behind the Holy See and Monaco) but has the distinction of being the longest-lived republic in the world, with its 1600 constitution still in force. And you thought it was just another lovely Tuscan village… QUIZ! What is the defining relationship between this tiny place and the United States?
1666: The Great Fire of London breaks out and burns for three days, destroying over 10,000 buildings, including Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
1715: Death of The Sun King, Louis XIV (b.1638), ending a reign of over 72 years. He was the personification of the concept of an absolute monarch, who believed he was put into his position by divine right and was not subject to any standard of law other than God’s. When asked once to define the nature of the state, he responded with the famous quip,“L’etat, c’est moi.” (I am the State). It was Louis quatorze who converted the royal hunting lodge outside of Paris into the Palais du Versailles, forcing the nobility by decree to reside in its apartments and live the Court life isolated and distant from their own power bases in Paris and the other regions of France. Versailles put the final punctuation mark on the development of a centralized, unitary state on the European continent, with its glamour and opulence seducing the nobility away from their nominal political independence from the French crown.
1777: The Stars and Stripes fly in combat for the first time at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Delaware.
1781: A group of 44 Spanish settlers form a small ranching town named El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, better known today by its abbreviation, L.A.
1783: After eight year of bitter warfare, the nascent United States of America and the Kingdom of Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris, with Britain acknowledging the independence of its former 13 colonies and ceding all of its holdings west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes. Britain expects the States to become valuable trading partners with their growing territories, lands which will no longer require the expense of British arms to keep them secure. [Portrait of the U.S. delegation- The Treaty of Paris by Benjamin West (1783). L-R John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin. My favorite quick reference site notes that the British delegation refused to sit for their part of the portrait, and as a consequence, the painting remains unfinished.
1792: In France’s continuing descent into the anarchy and bloodletting of the Revolution, mobs throughout Paris go on a rampage known as the September Massacres. Like most mob actions, this one began with a rumor, although the rumor had some basis in fact: the Duke of Brunswick’s Prussian army had indeed invaded France just days prior, overpowering the border fortress of Verdun before continuing on toward Paris. The Paris mobs, essentially un-led by anything resembling a functioning government, concluded that the officers at Verdun must have been secret Royalists who turned the fortress over to the Prussians. Brunswick himself was unusually blunt in publicly stating his aims to restore the monarchy and the authority of the church from the anarchy of the revolution. Fearing an uprising of the monarchists imprisoned throughout the city, the mobs surged into those prisons, most notably Saint Germaine du Pres, and began slaughtering all the “monarchists” behind the bars. For good measure, they also attacked and killed over 500 Carmelite priests and a number of other clergy. Within weeks, over 1,200 had been murdered by the mob in the name of the Revolution and Reason.
1797: With the political upheavals of the French Revolution settling into their eighth year, three members of the ruling Directory stage the Coup of 18 Fructidor, forcing what’s left of a representative legislature to purge themselves of lingering “royalists” and other members not fully committed to the revolution. Not surprisingly, all this resort to Reason led to yet another military confrontation between factions, the exercise of raw power being the ultimate arbiter of “truth” in this environment. Luckily for the Directory, the young Brigadier General Napoleon Bonaparte was on their side, in Paris now, after busily suppressing dissent down south in Toulon two years earlier with his famous “whiff of grapeshot.” Today’s coup sealed the triumph of the executive over the legislative branches, and set the stage for eventual dictatorship.
1862: Confederate General Robert E. Lee takes the war to the North in the opening phases of the Maryland Campaign.
1875: Birth of the brilliant automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche (d.1951). This would probably call for some comment about the glories of the machines that bear his name, but I’ll refrain. A little bit. [Himself; with son Ferry (middle) and the very first, hand-built car with his name on it, known as the “Gmund” car, Project 356-1 (1947). It had the guts of a Beetle, but much lighter weight, a highly improved suspension, and a design philosophy that stripped the sports car to its essence.
1901: Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, speaking at the Minnesota State Fair, first uses the expression, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”
1923: First flight of the U.S. Navy’s first rigid airship, USS Shenandoah (ZR-1). The ship was a technological masterpiece that improved on both the successes and weaknesses of the German Zeppelin program. It was the first to use helium for buoyancy instead of the highly volatile hydrogen that filled all previous airships. The 680 foot long Shenandoah and her three sister ships (Los Angeles, Macon, and Akron) flew extensively in support of Navy operations, particularly by exploiting their high loiter times and relative (to ships) high speed (~70 mph) in a reconnaissance mode. Of interest too was the extent of their usefulness during periods of foul weather, which remained problematic. After two years of service Shenandoah was lost on September 3rd, 1925, breaking apart in the air while transiting an area of thunderstorms over Ohio. 13 of her crew were killed, but 29 survived the wreck. Interestingly, 7 crew members were trapped in the bow section as it broke free from the main structure; LCDR Charles Rosendahl was able to navigate the section as a free-flying balloon, bringing it down in a controlled landing not far from the main wreckage.
1939: Two days after Germany’s stunning invasion of Poland, and in accordance with longstanding defense treaties with that beleaguered nation, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia declare war on Germany. From this day until the following May, the “Allies” do virtually nothing to relieve the pressure on Poland, a period known now as the “Phony War” or “Sitzkrieg.”
1939After finally using up all their diplomatic pretexts, and having neutered their Soviet adversaries with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact (DLH 8/23), Nazi Germany invades Poland, thus marking the start of World War II. The Poles put up a fierce resistance, but German Blitzkrieg tactics, refined in combat with the Condor Legions in Spain, overwhelm Poland’s defenses.
1964: Death of Alvin York (b.1887). The World War I hero was a corporal during the Meuse-Argonne campaign when his battalion began to be mowed down by 32 German machine gun nests. As the firing let up, York realized it was only him and six others who could still function. He led the men behind the German machine gun line and began to systematically pick off the Germans one by one- (“And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush… As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.) …until the commander closest to him surrendered the remaining 132 Germans to the seven Americans. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor and a battlefield promotion to Sergeant. The Tennessee native later explained that it was something like picking off squirrels, he started shooting at the back of the line so the ones in front didn’t know they were being cut down until it was too late.
1970: Death of football legend Vince Lombardi.
1972: In Reykjavik, Iceland, American chess wizard and political gadfly Bobby Fischer defeats Soviet chess master Boris Spassky to become the World Champion of Chess. Because the international chess tournament worked its way down to these two competitors, the match took on unusual levels of Cold War significance, made even more weird by the antics of both of these titanic egos making demands on the lighting, stage positioning, hours of play, food, breaks.
1972: American Swimmer Mark Spitz becomes the first athlete to win 7 gold medals in a single Olympic games.
1974: The SR-71 sets a world-record flight time NYC-London in 1 hour 54 minutes 56 seconds; an average speed of 1,435.587 mph, Mach 2.68, which includes deceleration periods for in-flight refueling. The record still stands.
1981: Death of Hitler’s architect and industrial production wizard, Albert Speer (b.1905). After serving his full 20 year sentence in Spandau Prison, he published three books that gave a unique view of the political and bureaucratic machinations of the workings of the Third Reich. The two autobiographies, Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries review Speer’s own role at the center of Nazi power. The third book, Infiltration, is about the workings of the SS.