537A.D.: Dedication of the world’s largest Christian Church, the Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople. This was the third iteration of the center of imperial Byzantine worship to be constructed on the site. It still stands in Istanbul. During the Moslem conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II ordered the church converted to a mosque, melting gold fixtures and plastering over the centuries-old mosaics that decorated the domes and pillars of the structure. It remained an active mosque until 1935 until Kemal Attaturk, expelled the Muslim staff and converted the structure to a museum that explicitly recognized its powerful Christian roots. Debate is in progress with both Muslim and Christian groups demanding the building be re-opened as a place of worship.
1065: Formal consecration in London of Westminster Abbey, site of the coronation of every English and British monarch beginning with William the Conqueror in 1066.
1066: After his decisive victory at the Battle of Hastings, and with no viable English opposition to halt his plundering progress from the Channel coast to London, William the Conqueror is crowned king of England by the the Archbishop of Canterbury in London’s Westminster Abbey.
1492: Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, runs aground on a reef off the coast of Haiti close to Cap Haitien. The wreck was a classic case of poor watch-standing; with the captain himself having been up for two full days, he retired to his cabin to get some sleep on the calm night. His helmsmen decided to catch a few winks himself after the captain went below, and ordered a young cabin boy to steer for a while. Lack of skill, lack of seaman’s eye, shifting (light) winds and (not light) currents, and the Santa Maria is hard aground with a broken keel and sprung planking.
1776: After an overnight crossing from Pennsylvania of an icy Delaware River, General George Washington leads 2,400 Continental Army troops into action against Hessian mercenaries stationed in Trenton, N.J. The Hessians, caught completely off-guard by the attack–the Hessian commander realizing the Americans have completely cut off all chance of escape or reinforcement, surrenders his 1,500 professional troops to Washington. The victory galvanizes American support throughout the colonies, and confirms Washington’s effectiveness in exploiting the strengths of the relatively weak Continental Army against the potential weaknesses of his enemies.
1809: Birth of legendary frontiersman, trapper, Indian fighter, scout and soldier, Kit Carson
1814: British and American diplomats sign the Treaty of Ghent, formally ending the War of 1812. The terms of the agreement essentially return the belligerents to the status quo ante bellum, basically stating the whole affair was a wasted effort in lost political will, lost commerce, and lives. However, the US naval victories at sea and the victory at the Battle of New Orleans placed the United States as a legitimate power.
1822: Birth of Louis Pasteur (d.1895), whose studies in chemistry and microbiology created the basis for understanding the germ theory of disease, and the principles of vaccination and sterilization of milk and wine to prevent the spread of bacterial infections, a process now known as pasteurization.
1832: U.S. Vice-President John C. Calhoun resigns his position, the first sitting VP to do so. Having served as VP for the presidencies of both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Calhoun’s belief in the absolute supremacy of the States over the federal government led him into increasingly bitter conflict with President Jackson’s policies and certain members of his Cabinet. Calhoun’s resignation, along with the majority of Jackson’s Cabinet is known as the Nullification Crisis.
1845: New York Morning News journalist John O’Sullivan publishes an editorial advocating for the admission of the Oregon Territory into the United States as the logical result of the country’s manifest destiny to rule the entire continent of North America. It is the first explicit use of the term, which eventually helped rationalize western expansion all through the 19th Century.
1868: President Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional amnesty to all former Confederate soldiers.
1878: Birth of Louis Chevrolet (d.1941), Swiss-American race car driver and businessman.
1898: Concluding a year of experimentation and discovery on the properties of radioactivity, Marie and Paul Curie announce the isolation of Radium, the central element of their comprehensive analysis of uranium, X-rays, and other naturally occurring “electrical” transmissions, which they recognized as fundamentally different than electricity, and for which they coined the term “radiation.
1919: Boston Red Sox first baseman George Ruth is sold to the New York Yankees.
1929: Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Joseph Stalin, announces “The liquidation of the Kulaks as a class” as a means to bring socialist collective production into the agricultural sector. The Kulaks were independent farmers who had thus far avoided the communist movement . With civil war still festering between the communist Reds and the anti-communist Whites, Stalin took the opportunity to completely consolidate the communist model across the agricultural heartland, and so the rest of Russia. By the end of January, a formal resolution “On measures for the elimination of kulak households in districts of comprehensive collectivization” was issued. Local commissars had three alternatives for dealing with the farmers: 1) Be shot or imprisoned based on the judgment of the commissar; 2) Be sent to prison camps in Siberia after confiscation of all property; 3) Be evicted from their property and used as forced labor at collective farms in their local districts. This did not go over well in the Ukraine. Through 1933, events known as the Holodomor took place– the starvation-induced genocide of over 5,000,000 Ukrainians in the heart of “Russia’s Breadbasket.” Conventional estimates have settled on 14,500,000 deaths nationwide by famine and “judicial” deaths under the order. “If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs” and “A single death is a tragedy. A thousand deaths is a statistic,” Stalin said. Stalin’s legacy was generally overlooked by the American and European Left–the Nazi holocaust of the Jews, conducted in the heart of Europe overshadowed Russia’s self-genocide.
1941: Admiral Chester Nimitz arrives in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to take command of what’s left of the still-smoldering Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy.
1963: The Beatles release their first two musical cuts for the American market, I Want to Hold Your Hand and I Saw Her Standing There. So goes the great British Invasion of the 1960s.
1983: Pope John Paul II visits in his prison cell the man convicted of attempted murder, Mehmet Ali Agci, and forgives him for shooting him in St. Peter’s Square two years earlier.
1991: Former First Secretary of the Supreme Soviet, Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President the Soviet Union, at the same time declaring the end of the Soviet Union and beginning of the non-communist Russian state. He turned over his office and the launch codes for the Soviet nuclear forces to the popular former mayor of Moscow, Boris Yeltsin, who became President of Russia. To punctuate the moment, the red flag was lowered from the Kremlin, and the traditional tricolor of Russia was raised in its place.