588 BC: Traditional start date for Nebuchadnezzar II’s siege of Jerusalem, which steadily tightens the noose around the Jewish capitol until it finally capitulates in July, 586 BC, sending the majority of Judah’s population into exile in Babylon. You can read what it was like to be on the receiving end of this period in the Biblical books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah (chapters 4 & 52), and the early chapters of Daniel.
888: Death of Charles the Fat (b.839), Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who presided over one of the Empire’s early periods of fractured alliances and abrogated treaties. It isn’t worth the effort to describe the diplomatic wrangling during his reign, but his name is too cool to not publish. None of his surviving images look particularly corpulent, but he had a reputation for lassitude, which may account for the name.
1412: The Medici family of Florence is formally appointed to act as banker to the Papacy, an account that greatly accelerated their rise as the most powerful family in Italy, to say nothing of hastening the development of modern banking and accounting methods to accurately deal with vast sums of money.
1493: From his anchorage off the Caribbean island of Hispanola, Christopher Columbus weighs anchor and sets his small fleet on a course back to Spain, bringing to a close the exploratory phase of his first voyage to the New World.
1559: Coronation of Elizabeth I as Queen of England.
1707: The Scottish Parliament ratifies the Act of Union with England, beginning the process of creating the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales (and later, Northern Ireland). Interestingly, back in January 2011, the Scottish Parliament decided to hold a plebiscite on the de-ratification of the Act of Union, in order to make Scotland an independent country within the EU. The independence vote was finally taken in September of 2014 and was handily defeated 54/46, with a historically high turnout of 85% of the electorate making their voices heard.
1729: Birth of Edmund Burke (d.1797), Member of the British Parliament, who nonetheless supported the cause of the American Revolution, based on his admiration of its dependence on the principles of classical liberalism and the Scottish Enlightenment. His writing defined the “Old Whigs” of the 18th Century. He was an unabashed critic of the excesses of the French Revolution, best known in this regard for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he correctly identified that a government unconstrained by external morality would descend into tyranny. Today, Burke is widely considered the father of modern Conservatism. Wikipedia highlights a typical Burkean quote, still worth considering to this day: “The writers against religion, whilst they oppose every system, are wisely careful never to set up any of their own.” –from his book, A Vindication of Natural Society (1756).
1761: Great Britain captures Pondicherry, India from its former French overlords. Despite coming under British rule from this point, the city never lost its French colonial flavor. It served culturally as a competitive rival to Bombay and Calcutta, both of which were under British influence from the early days of the East India Company. The name pops up regularly in fiction about the British Raj. The old colonial districts are also known for their extensive use of yellow paint.
1786: The Virginia General Assembly accepts the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson– as part of the supreme law of the Commonwealth. Jefferson was so pleased with this concise document that he insisted it is included in his epitaph.
1794: Death of British historian and man of letters, Edward Gibbon (b.1737), best known for his seminal work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His research and subsequent publication of this true magnum opus sets the standard for scholarly work to this day.
1808: Birth of Salmon P. Chase (d.1873), a prominent New Yorker and principled “Free Soil” abolitionist. Chase ran for the 1860 Republican nomination for President, but lost to Abraham Lincoln, who nevertheless brought him into his Cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury, where he established the framework for a national banking system and created a viable market for government bonds supported by paper money. His financial reforms provided the crucial capital necessary for financing the war effort against the Confederacy. Chase was notorious for trying to manipulate Lincoln politically by periodically threatening resignation, but on the fourth attempt at this tactic, Lincoln turned the tables on Chase by accepting it, using it as an opportunity to kick him upstairs to sit as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, where he served with distinction until his death. The Chase banking empire in New York was named in his honor, even though Chase himself had no fiduciary interest in the corporation.
1831: Birth of Horatio Alger, Jr. (d.1899), prolific American writer of inspiring books about boys who rise from humble circumstances to accomplish great things.
1833: As the Nullification Crisis grew increasingly strident, President Andrew Jackson writes a letter to his Vice-President, Martin Van Buren, outlining his principled and Constitutionally-reasoned objections to the simmering secession threats from South Carolina.
1815: The frigate USS President, under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur, is captured by a squadron of four British frigates as it tries to break out of its year-long blockade of New York harbor.
1866: Establishment of the Royal Aeronautical Society, in London. If you notice the date here, and you remember that the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk was in 1903, you’d be correct in realizing that the problem of manned flight- the actual scientific physics and mechanics of it, not the dreaming- had been under study for decades before finally achieving success.
1893: Birth of German fighter ace of the Great War, Herman Goering.
1898: Opening salvo in a scandal that will rock the French body politic to its foundations: The Dreyfus Affair. Readers opened their morning paper this day to find an explosive headline from the well-known writer Emile Zola: “J’Accuse…! Lettre au President du Republique” [I accuse you!…A letter to the President of the Republic], followed by even more explosive accusations of judicial cover ups and anti-Semitism at the highest level of government. The scandal would divide French society for the next eight years, and it remains a singular cultural touchstone in the annals of the French Republic.
1919: Death of Rosa Luxemburg (b.1871), a fiery Marxist absolutist who played a crucial role in agitating German workers during the 1918 revolution, through her pamphleteering and communist agitation in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. With the functional dissolution of the German government, bands of vigilante enforcers known as the Freicorps roamed the cities and countryside, enforcing a harsh German nationalism against the untrammeled influences of outside forces. As a particularly blatant exemplar of those outside forces, Rosa Luxemburg found herself increasingly harassed by the Freicorps and finally on this day, she was arrested, tortured, and murdered- her corpse thrown into the Landwher Canal for good measure. Since her death, the international communist movement has worked to beatify her as a martyr for the Marxist-Socialist movement. She remains a darling of the intellectual Left; in their minds her brutal death is an exemplar of what happens if the communists are not in charge of everything.
1929: Birth of Civil Rights activist and Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr.
1943: Opening day for The Pentagon, at the time and for decades afterward, the world’s largest office building. For all of the evil associated with it, the building remains a uniquely functional space; despite its size, a normal person can walk from any office to any other in 12 minutes or less. Its hubs and spokes provide for a straightforward office numbering system (I worked in 2E977) and the courtyard in the middle provides a very nice respite from the cube-farm world inside. Here’s another fascinating fact: the hot dog stand in the middle of the courtyard has more nuclear weapons targeted on it than any other hot dog stand in the world.
1951: Birth of radio impresario and commentator, Rush Limbaugh, brother of columnist David.
1964: Polish priest Karol Wojtyla is elevated to Archbishop of Krakow.
1967: The Green Bay Packers (remember them, Dino?) defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10 in the first Super Bowl.
1976: Death of the great mystery writer Agatha Christie (b.1890). Her technique seems simplistic on the surface, but it works, every time. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly ever guess who done it, right up to the final group meeting where she lays it all out. My favorite film adaptation is the BBC Poirot series, starring David Suchet.
1982: Air Florida Flight 90, attempting to take off in a bitter snowstorm, barely gets off the ground from National Airport in Washington, DC. The machine almost immediately began losing airspeed and altitude, finally falling onto the 14th Street Bridge. 71 are killed, including 4 motorists on the bridge. Miraculously, five survive the impact and plunge into the icy water of the Potomac River. When I went through DC-9 training at TWA, we discussed this crash in detail (even though AF90 was a 737 (we used the same engines)). Reconstruction of the event showed that because of partially iced-over pitot-static ports, the pilots were not getting correct indications of their power settings (EPR), and misinterpreted the airplane’s slow acceleration as an aerodynamic problem (i.e. wing icing), as opposed to the highly reduced power setting that they were using. It created a cognitive disconnect between cockpit procedures and latent pilot instincts, which should have had them push the throttles to the firewall when they realized they were dangerously slow on their takeoff roll.
1991: The United States Congress authorizes the President to use military force to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, which they have occupied since August. Secretary Baker carefully outlined the U.S. and UN positions, including all the steps short of war that we were willing to accept. And then he said the word on which- in this case- the forces of history pivot: “Unfortunately…” His recitation of Iraqi intransigence led directly to the Congressional Resolution passed this day.
1991: At midnight local time, the United States-led coalition opens fire in Operation Desert Storm. President George H.W. Bush, in his Address to the Nation, puts it very simply: “The liberation of Kuwait has begun.”
2001: Our source for many backfills of information, Wikipedia goes online.