100BC: Birth of Julius Caesar (d.44BC), first Dictator of the Roman Republic.
988: Traditional date of the founding of Dublin, Ireland.
1040: Lady Godiva makes her famous ride through Coventry to protest an onerous tax levied by her husband. He relents.
1191: The Saracen garrison at Acre surrenders to Conrad of Montferral, ending a two year siege of the city- a key waypoint on the Third Crusade.
1099: The First Crusade- Low on supplies, and finding themselves encamped on arid ground after they failed to initially breach the fortified walls of Jerusalem, the 15,000 men of the First Crusade respond to a vision by the priest Peter Desiderius to purify themselves by a three day fast, and then make a pious demonstration of marching barefoot around the city, mimicking the Hebrews’ actions at Jericho. This day saw both the completion of the fast and the demonstration around the city, and stimulated a public rapprochement between bickering factions in the Crusader army. One week later, the final assault on Jerusalem will begin.
1189: Richard the Lionhearted is crowned King of England. The son of French King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Ireland, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany. Richard spent only six months or so on the Auld Sod, complaining that it was “always rainy.” But Britons remained proud of his military prowess and continued to hold him up as the embodiment of British virtues, even as they were perpetually taxed to pay for not only his crusades, but also his literal King’s Ransom, which finally freed him from imprisonment in Austria on return from the Holy Lands.
1415: Death of Bohemian religious reformer Jan Hus (b.1369), burned at the stake for heresy. An early precursor to the great Protestant Reformation that began a century later, Hus was deeply influenced by the teachings of Briton John Wycliffe, and brought back to Bohemia new religious thinking that shocked the established church with its emphasis on the individual over the institution in salvation. He played a central role during the papal schism between Rome and Avignon. He wrote against the European papal crusades and the sales of indulgences. He was excommunicated by Pope Alexander V in 1409, but the Bohemian government took his side against the pope. Tensions continued over the next several years, until Prince Sigsmund of Hungary convened the Council of Constance to settle the dispute once for all. Despite promise of safe passage, Hus was arrested and imprisoned. During his trial he was read 39 charges against him, all derived from excerpts from his and Wycliffe’s writings, but framed in the context of their threat to the authority of both church and state. Repeatedly asked to recant, he refused, denying that anything written was contrary to the Bible. His fate thus sealed, he was on this day taken to the cathedral in Constance, dressed in priestly vestments. He was repeatedly asked to recant, and with each denial a part of the vestment was torn from his person. His degradation continued to the point of being shorn and stripped, then tied to the stake with a massive pile of straw heaped around him. At the final request for recantation, he declined with the words, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.”After his death, his bones were dug up and re-burned, and his ashes scattered at sea.
1535: Death of Sir Thomas More (b.1478), executed for treason against King Henry VIII. The brilliant humanist philosopher and the king’s recent Lord High Chancellor refused to countenance Henry’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon, and denied the king’s recently assumed role as head of the Church in England: “No temporal man may be the head of the spirituality.” More’s strong defense of papal authority in matters spiritual put him deeply at odds with the mercurial king and led to his removal from office and subsequent trial and execution. In a nominal commutation of his sentence, Henry averred that More’s earlier status permitted he be beheaded rather than hanged, drawn and quartered as the punishment for treason. When he mounted the execution scaffold he turned to the sheriff: “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, seem me safe up; and for my coming down, I can shift for myself… I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Tower of London, his head fixed on a pike over London Bridge for a month after the execution, then rescued by his daughter and buried in the Roper family vault in Canterbury. His death was (and is) widely seen as a travesty of justice. Winston Churchill wrote, “The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a noble and historic stand. They realized the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom…Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system, which…had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.” More was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1886 and was canonized, along with John Fisher, in 1935. He is remembered in the literary world as A Man for All Seasons.
1536: Death of Erasmus of Rotterdam (b.1466), best known as the first and greatest humanist thinker, biblical translator, and author of nearly 30 percent of the books circulating in the early 16th century. Ironically, despite being a devout Catholic, his incisive sense of logic and belief in human free-will decisions made him one of the an early intellectual “fathers” of the Protestant Reformation.
1543: King Henry VIII marries his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, who not only survived him but also survived three other husbands, thus becoming the most married queen in English history.
1576: Explorer Martin Frobisher sites the landmass of Greenland.
1776: Captain James Cook departs Plymouth on his third journey of exploration of the Pacific Ocean. As far as a war with the American colonies, he had better things to do.
1778: As evidence of his support- heavily lobbied by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson- of the newly declared United States of America, Louis XVI of France declares war on the United Kingdom. The war costs him large sums of money, which he finances through heavy borrowing. The financial strain plays directly into the crisis that caused him to convene the Estates General in 1789.
1789: The French National Assembly, which on the 17th of June formed itself out of an uneasy alliance between the 3rd and 2nd Estates of the Estates Generale, almost immediately became embroiled with both the Crown and the 1st Estate over its legitimate authority. Banned from the Estates venue, on the 20th of June it met on a tennis court and took The Tennis Court Oath, which committed the Assembly not to adjourn until it had created a new national constitution. By this day, the Crown had moderated its demands on the group, and they in turn re-designated themselves the National Constituent Assembly, and assumed unto themselves sole legislative authority, an assertion not yet universally agreed upon. It did, however, provide a viable venue for the continued transformation- to full revolution– of the French government.
1789: The French Minister of Finance, Jacques Necker, is dismissed from office by King Louis XVI for favoring a re-structured tax program that would shift the burden more evenly across the Estates. In his years of service Necker was widely viewed as a highly forward-thinking reformer, even when working directly for the Crown. During the upheavals of early 1789, he took a leading role in supporting the demands of the Third Estate, but over time he found less and less cooperation from the rest of Louis’ government. With unrest growing concurrent with the dissolution of the National Assembly and the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly, high expectations were growing among the common people of Paris, many of whom looked to Necker as their voice at Court. His dismissal on this day, and the way the news traveled through the grapevine on the 12th triggered an increasingly violent mob mentality, exacerbated by the extensive presence of mercenary troops serving at the order of the King. With Necker’s dismissal, the mobs began to grow panicked over the prospect of a violent repression of the political and social movement that was energizing the city.
1793: Death of Jean Paul Marat (b.1743), a fiery member of the French National Assembly and the ruling Directorate. A member of the Jacobin faction who favored radical implementation of revolutionary principles, he was a particular opponent of the Girondan faction, who were looking more for major reform than actual revolution. Marat was afflicted with a withering skin disease that caused him to spend most of his days in a therapeutic bath. On this day, he was called upon by Charlotte Corday, who claimed to have evidence of Girondan movements outside of Paris. As she finished making her case, Marat exclaimed, “Their heads will fall in ten days!” at which point Corday pulled a knife from her corset and plunged it into Marat’s chest, severing his aorta. Executed by guillotine on the 17th, she never denied her guilt: “I killed one man to save 10,000!” The Directory decided to make Marat a martyr to the Revolution, and commissioned Jean Louis David to assist in burnishing his image, the main portrait of which is included here
1798: The Quasi-War with France- After four years of increasing tensions between the United States and the revolutionary French Republic, including repeated capture of American merchant ships by French privateers, Congress on this day repeals all treaties with France. This includes cancelling our Revolutionary War debt to France, justified on the basis that the money was owed to the Crown and not the Republic. The action infuriated the French government, who increased its issue of Letters of Marque in order to continue harassing American shipping. With its entire navy in layup after the war, the American coastline is completely naked to attacks. President Adams re-activated 25 ships, who go on to distinguish themselves by capturing 22 privateers and deterring hundreds of attacks on American shipping. The conflict lasts nearly two years, until Napoleon Bonaparte takes control of the French Directory.
1804: Death of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (b.1755), the victim of a duel with the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr. The two had long been political rivals, but after a recent NY gubernatorial election which Burr lost to an associate of Hamilton’s, Burr became so incensed at Hamilton and vice versa, that the two took their dispute to a bluff over the Hudson River at Weehawken, NJ. Hamilton shot intentionally high, but Burr was determined to take his revenge and aimed directly at Hamilton’s torso. After his fall, Hamilton turned to his Second and his doctor, and told them the wound was mortal. Minutes later he fell unconscious and was taken back home to NYC. On his deathbed, he moved in and out of consciousness as he bid farewell to a stream of friends and relatives. Finally, in the early afternoon of this day, he died.
1839: Birth of John D. Rockefeller (d.1937): Cleveland native, oil man, industrial titan, and philanthropist.
1846: U.S. troops occupy Monterrey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco), beginning the American conquest of California.
1846: Congress authorizes the retrocession to Virginia of District of Columbia lands south of the Potomac River. So the Pentagon is, in reality, not in DC.
1853: Commodore Matthew Perry, with a United States Navy fleet dubbed the “Black Ships” by the Japanese, steams into Tokyo Bay to begin negotiations to open trade relations between the United States and Japan.
1854: Birth of George Eastman (d.1932), inventor of roll film in 1884 and film transparencies, the foundation of the motion picture industry. He founded the Eastman Kodak company in 1892, establishing mass-produced film and standardized photo equipment that brought photography out of the expensive laboratories of the dry plate process and into the hands of the general public. In his later years, Eastman was a notable philanthropist, donating over $100 million to a variety of charities and foundations.
1856: Birth of Nikola Tesla (d.1943), Serbian-American inventor whose work with electricity and magnetism was well ahead of his time. He compounded the aura of his foreign background with a certain mysticism and P.T Barnum-like hucksterism that isolated him and his work from the mainstream scientists of the early twentieth century.
1863: The United States authorizes its first Draft. Exemptions and substitutions may be purchased for $300; a lucrative black market follows.
1863: New York Draft Riots- Remember the first day of the Union Draft (DLH 7/7)? July thirteenth saw the draft’s second lottery drawing, and it wasn’t complete before a mob of over 500 Irish immigrant laborers converged on the building where the drawing was underway and began shattering windows with paving stones, eventually setting the building ablaze. NYC’s police were inadequate to quell the riot and it ended up spreading uptown. Over the next three days, over 120 civilians were killed, scores of buildings destroyed, and the riots degenerated into a near-pogrom against the city’s black population, against whom the Irish competed for the low-paying entry jobs.
1865: At the Navy Yard in Washington, four conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are hanged by the neck until dead, three months after the President’s shooting by John Wilkes Booth. Lewis Payne, David Herold, George Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt are hung at the scaffold. Surratt was the first woman executed in the United States.
1868: Final ratification of the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing full citizenship to former slaves.
1870: Death of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren (b.1809), Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, and inventor of a number of advanced muzzleloading naval artillery pieces. His legacy includes the Naval Test range on the Potomac River that bears his name.
1914: Babe Ruth makes his major league debut with the Boston Red Socks, playing pitcher and outfield.
1917: Under the leadership of Colonel T.E. Lawrence, troops from the Arab Legion captured the Ottoman port of Aqaba as part of the British-inspired Arab uprising against the Turks, whose empire was regularly referred to during the Great War as “The Sick Man of Europe.” Given Turkey’s alignment with the Central Powers, both Britain and France looked eagerly to the post-war dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and their eventual participation in the spoils.
1921: Former President William Howard Taft is sworn in as the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
1923: Official dedication of the HOLLYWOOD sign.
1925: Opening day of the ACLU-initiated trial against young biology teacher John T. Scopes, in Dayton, Tennessee. Media circus to follow. The case was sensationalized primarily because of the presence of the two most famous lawyers in the country, three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow for Scopes. The climax came when the two lawyers agreed to cross-examine each other on the issues surrounding the teaching of evolution.
1930: Under the guidance of industrialist Henry Kaiser, construction begins on Boulder Dam in southern Nevada.
1940: First major Luftwaffe assault in what would become known as the Battle of Britain.
1943: Opening guns of Operation HUSKEY, the Allied invasion of Sicily. During this campaign Lieutenant General George S. Patton cements his reputation as “Old Blood and Guts” as he sweeps wide of his assigned lanes and captures not only Palermo at the western end of the island, but beats British Field Marshall Montgomery to Messina in the east.
1943: Battle of Prokhorovka, the primary armor engagement of the two months long Battle of Kursk, which began on the 9th as a German attempt to perform a double-pincer encirclement of the Soviet bulge resulting from the German’s earlier withdrawal from Stalingrad. Kursk was the last offensive operation executed by the Wehrmacht on their eastern front; any further action was halted by Hitler as a result of yesterday’s Allied invasion of Sicily. Today’s eight-hour battle pitted 494 German tanks against 593 Soviet T-34 tanks plus 37 pieces of self-propelled artillery, creating the largest armored battle in history. The Soviets were able to stall the German offensive and save their over-extended forces, but they could not exploit the action to prevent a continued orderly German withdrawal.
1944: After three weeks of intense fighting, Saipan Island in the Marinas is declared taken. The final days of the assault included the Japanese staging a suicidal Bonzai charge that overwhelmed the combined Army and Marines units in their path but resulted in over 4,500 Japanese deaths, many of whom were already-wounded personnel dragooned into the desperate charge. Saipan was also where Japanese civilian suicides were first ordered en masse. The island became a major US Army Air Corps bomber base for attacks on the Japanese homeland.
1947: The AK-47 rifle goes into production in the Soviet Union. It remains the most widely produced and distributed firearm in the world.
1960: Two months after being shot down on a U-2 reconnaissance mission over Russia, the Soviet Union formally charges Francis Gary Powers with espionage. He is convicted in August and spends two years in prison before being part of a prisoner exchange with the U.S. for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.
1962: The United States conducts the STARFISH high altitude nuclear test program. This burst was one of five conducted in outer space during the FISHBOWL series of tests. STARFISH was a 1.4 megaton W49 warhead carried by a Thor rocket to an apogee of 680 miles. The Mk.4 re-entry vehicle was detonated at 250 miles and produced an electromagnetic pulse that forced virtually all of the instrumentation off the scale, in addition to creating an orbital radiation belt and an aurora visible for hours after the burst.
1962: Launch of TELSTAR, the world’s first active, direct-relay communications.
1985: French intelligence agents (DGSE) bomb and sink the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor, New Zealand.
2009: Death of Robert Strange McNamara (b.1916), Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he was one of General Curtis LeMay’s planners who designed the incendiary bombing campaign against Japan during the latter stages of the war, when they applied numerical analysis processes to measure the effectiveness of the bombing. He went on to become CEO of Ford Motor Company during the 1950s and was brought into President Kennedy’s cabinet with the specific task of bringing organizational rigor to the Pentagon’s planning, programming, and budgeting processes.