323BC: Death of Alexander the Great (b.356BC). The young King of Macedon initiated a series of conquests that spread Hellenic civilization essentially throughout the known world of his day. He was never defeated in battle, but died at age 32 in Babylon, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, just prior to beginning a planned campaign against Arabia.
632: Death of the Arab warlord and putative prophet Muhammad.
1190: Enroute to the Third Crusade*, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Fredrick Barbarossa (name means “red beard”) (b.1122), drowns in the Saleph River. His loss causes his Germanic army to nearly collapse, but the remnants eventually join the armies of France’s Philip II and England’sRichard Coeur de Lion in Acre.
1215: King John- Prince John whom Robin Hood harassed and who finally assumed the throne of England after the death of his popular brother Richard Lionheart- signs the Magna Carta on Runnymede plain. The 64-article “Great Charter” is the first royal acknowledgment that the king is subject to the rule of law rather than divine right. It laid the foundation for the revolution in civil governance that gave us English Common Law and eventually the Constitution of the United States.
1389: Battle of Kosovo, in which a Serb nationalist army under the command of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic fights an Ottoman Turk army under Sultan Murad I. The battle was fought on Kosovo Field just outside of present-day Pristina, and was a bloodbath for both sides. The Ottomans secured a nominal victory on the field, having not only killed tens of thousands of soldiers, but also the Serbs’ leadership cadre as well. Owing to the Ottoman’s massive manpower reserves back in the empire, they were able to force Serbia into submission as a tribute-paying principality. For the Serbs this battle represented all that was good in the Serbian character- it remains a cultural touchstone to this day, most notably when President Slobodan Milosevic invoked it in a speech during the Kosovo War in 1998.
1525: Four years after his excommunication at the Diet of Worms, and in defiance of the Vatican’s rules on priestly celibacy, Martin Luther marries the former nun Katharina von Bora. The two of them not only make beautiful music together (A Mighty Fortress is his most famous hymn), they raise six children of their own in addition to adopting four orphans.
1775: Virginia militia Colonel George Washington accepts a commission to lead the fledgling Continental Army.
1775: Eight weeks after the failed raids on Lexington and Concord, British General Thomas Gage declares martial law in Massachusetts. He offers amnesty to any of the American rebels who will lay down their arms, except for Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whom he promises to hang on the spot.
1776: The Continental Congress appoints a “Committee of Five” led by Virginian Thomas Jefferson to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain.
1777: Congress adopts the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States of America.
1789: Eight weeks (29th April) after being set adrift in a 23 foot open launch with 18 loyal crew from HMS Bounty, Captain William Bligh lands on the Dutch East Indies island of Timor. The crew’s transit between the site of the mutiny and Timor was an extraordinary feat of survival and navigation, with Bligh using only his pocket watch and a sextant- no charts or compass- across 3600 miles of the South Pacific. The only casualty on the voyage was crewman John Norton, who was stoned to death by natives during a brief provisioning stop on the island of Tofua.
1793: The Jacobin faction of the French revolutionary leadership takes over control of the ill-named Committee of Public Safety and converts it into the Revolutionary Dictatorship.
1789: Virginian James Madison submits to the Continental Congress twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution. By 1791, ten of them are ratified by the states as the Bill of Rights. One more is finally ratified by the Several States in 1992, to become the 27th Amendment- prohibiting changes in Congressional pay and benefits without an intervening election.
1809: Death of Thomas Paine (b.1737), one of the intellectual fathers of the American Revolution, whose 1776 broadside, Common Sense, laid down in clear rhetoric the foundation for the Colonies making a complete break with the United Kingdom. By 1789 he became an early enthusiast for the French Revolution and was in fact “elected” to the French Assembly, even though he spoke no French. As an ally of Robespierre, he eventually fell into disfavor and was imprisoned in 1793. While in prison he penned The Age of Reason, which excoriated the teachings of the Church in favor of “free rational inquiry” into any and all subjects. But before descending into the mire of revolutionary France, and during the course of the American Revolution, he published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis. You may recognize these words:
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
1811: Birth of Harriet Beecher Stowe (d.1896). When President Abraham Lincoln met the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at a White House reception he is reported to have said, “So, you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”
1854: First graduation of midshipmen from the new US Naval Academy.
1864(a): With both armies having made strategic movements away from the battlefield of Cold Harbor, Union guns open fire on the crucial Confederate transportation junction of Petersburg, Virginia. Lee’s army throws up breastworks and entrenchments that will eventually stretch for miles around the eastern edges of the city as the siege deepens.
1864(b): Secretary of War Edwin Stanton authorizes a national cemetery on 200 acres of Robert E. Lee’s Arlington plantation. One of the early burials of Union soldiers takes place in a mass grave in the garden very near the residence itself.
1886: On the shore of Lake Starnberg, searchers late at night discover the body of King Ludwig II of Bavaria (b.1845), along with Doctor Gudden, who declared him clinically insane a day earlier, thus completing the planned usurpation of the Bavarian throne by his uncle Prince Luitpold. The death was ruled “suicide by drowning” but not surprisingly, controversy remains as to the reality of what really occurred that evening. Ludwig is best remembered as patron to composer Richard Wagner, and for his nearly continuous construction of fanciful palaces and castles.
1915: Birth of Les Paul (d.2009), prolific musician and inventor of the legendary Gibson solid body electric guitar that bears his name.
1924: Death of George Mallory (b.1886), the great British explorer and mountaineer who, with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine,attempted an ascent to the summit of Mount Everest this day and never returned. Irvine’s ice axe was discovered in 1933, but no trace of either man was found except for a cryptic Chinese report of finding “an English dead” on the north face above 26,000 feet. Mallory’s body was eventually found during a dedicated search mission in 1999, although the question of whether he and Irvine actually achieved the summit remains one of mountaineering’s great mysteries
1940(a): Using the Pact of Steel with Germany, Italy declares war on France and Great Britain.
1940(b): Under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the German Wermacht reaches the English Channel.
1940(c): Canada declares war on Italy.
1940(d): Triumphant German troops enter Paris unopposed.
1940(e): Norway surrenders to Germany.
1940(f): Only days after the British evacuation from Dunkirk, the roughly 50,000 remaining Allied troops on the continent surrender to the overwhelming juggernaut of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. French General Maxime Weygrand orders Paris to be an open city- “A cessation of hostilities is compulsory-” to save it from certain destruction. Weygrand bitterly blames the British for France’s defeat. France formally capitulates to German arms on the 25th.
1944: The Marines land on the South Pacific island of Saipan in Operation Forager. Despite intense naval gunfire support at near point-blank range, Japanese defensive preparation of the landing zone allowed for quick recovery from the barrage, and created devastating accuracy from their defending artillery. Over half the Marine amphibious tractors are destroyed in the first wave of the assault, and it takes the Marines over three days to expand their toehold beyond the surf zone. The three-week operation finally achieved Saipan’s eventual capture at cost to the Marine Corps of 16,525 casualties, including 3,426 dead. It became the first operational B-29 base in the Pacific theater
1964: Nelson Mandella and others from the African National Congress are sentenced to life in prison for treason and sabotage. Mandella never denies the charge and in fact proudly asserted that the violence planned by the ANC was a legitimate reflection of South African blacks’ grievances. After 27 years of hard labor he is released in 1990 and four years later is elected President of the now-desegregated country.
1967: Five days into the war with its Arab neighbors, having conquered all of Sinai and the Jordanian territory west of the Jordan River, Israel opens a large-scale armor assault on Syria’s Golan Heights, from which the Syrians had been raining artillery shells on Israeli towns in the Galilee region.
1967: With the complete collapse of Syrian defenses in Golan, and the frontiers with Jordan and Egypt stabilized, Israel signs a ceasefire with Syria, thus ending the Six Day War
1971: The New York Times begins publication of a set of classified documents that came to be known as The Pentagon Papers. They were a 1968 top secret report ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, originally titled: United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense. The report outlined in close detail the thinking and decision-making behind the United States’ buildup and early execution of the Vietnam War, and bolstered the cause of the anti-war protesters nationwide. The legal wrangling that followed led to an extensive review and affirmation of First Amendment rights. The person who gave the classified report to the Times was one of the contributors to the report, Daniel Ellsberg. He justified releasing the documents on in a statement: “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision” The NYT rationale centered on publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s judgment that: “Newspapers, as our editorial said this morning, were really a part of history that should have been made available, considerably longer ago. I just didn’t feel there was any breach of national security, in the sense that we were giving secrets to the enemy.”
1973: Virginia race horse Secretariat wins the third race of the Triple Crown.
1985: Petty Officer Second Class Robert Stethem, USN, is murdered by Shi’ite terrorists aboard the hijacked TWA flight 847, his beaten and shot body dumped onto the tarmac at Beirut International Airport. In 1994 the Navy honored his memory by commissioning a ship bearing his name, USS Stethem(DDG-63).
1987: In what may be the defining speech of his presidency, Ronald Reagan stands in the shadow of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and issues his stirring call to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Paul Plante says
Cheers for Daniel Ellsberg’s courage and sense of patriotism from this veteran of that ******-up misadventure known as the VEET NAM war.
As to Arthur Sulzberger’s judgment that “I just didn’t feel there was any breach of national security, in the sense that we were giving secrets to the enemy,” how true that is, since the “enemy,” who we had been arming and supporting during WWII, probably knew more about what was going on in that war than either the White House or Pentagon ever did.
Paul Plante says
Les Paul was an inspiration to me as a fledgling musician/disabled veteran for this reason – in January 1948, Paul shattered his right arm and elbow in a near-fatal automobile accident on an icy Route 66 west of Davenport, Oklahoma.
Mary Ford, his wife, was driving the Buick convertible, which plunged off the side of a railroad overpass and dropped twenty feet into a ravine when they were returning from Wisconsin to Los Angeles after visiting family.
Doctors at Oklahoma City’s Wesley Presbyterian Hospital told Paul that they could not rebuild his elbow.
Their other option was amputation.
Paul was flown to Los Angeles, where his arm was set at an angle—just under 90 degrees—that allowed him to cradle and pick the guitar.
It took him nearly a year and a half to recover.
It was the fact that he was able to recover from that, that was such an inspiration to me to keep on persevering.
RIP, Les Paul.
Paul Plante says
With respect to the Magna Carta, the 64-article “Great Charter” which was the first royal acknowledgment that the king in England was subject to the rule of law rather than divine right, laying the foundation for the revolution in civil governance that gave us English Common Law, it is still questionable in my mind, anyway, what role that document played with respect to the Constitution of the United States.
Consider “Alfredus” by Samuel Tenny of New Hampshire, for example, on January 18, 1788, in Freeman’s Oracle, on the subject of whether the new Constitution should be ratified or not:
“Mr. President (of New Hampshire Constitutional Convention), We are repeatedly called upon to give some reason why a bill of rights has not been annexed to the proposed plan.”
“I not only think that enquiry is at this time unnecessary and out of order, but I expect, at least, that those who desire us to shew why it was omitted will furnish some arguments to shew that it ought to have been inserted; for the proof of the affirmative naturally falls upon them.”
“But the truth is, Sir, that this circumstance, which has since occasioned so much clamour and debate, never struck the mind of any member in the late convention until, I believe, within three days of the dissolution of that body, and even then, of so little account was the idea, that it passed off in a short conversation, without introducing a formal debate, or assuming the shape of a motion.”
“For, Sir, the attempt to have thrown into the national scale an instrument in order to evince that any power not mentioned in the constitution was reserved, would have been formed as an insult to the common understanding of mankind.”
“In civil governments it is certain, that bills of rights are unnecessary and useless, nor can I conceive whence the contrary notion has arisen.”
“Virginia has no bill of rights, and will it be said that her constitution was the less free?”
“Has South Carolina no security for her liberties?”
“That state has no bill of rights.”
“Are the citizens of Delaware more secured in their freedom, or more enlightened in the subjects of government than the citizens of Maryland?”
“New-Jersey has no bill of rights; New-York has none; and Rhode Island has none.”
“Thus, Sir, it appears from the sample of other states, as well as from principle that a bill of rights is neither essential nor a necessary instrument in forming a system of government, since liberty may exist and be as well secured without it.”
“But it was not only unnecessary, but on this occasion, it was found impracticable; for who will be bold enough to undertake to enumerate all the rights of the people?”
“And when the attempt to enumerate them is made, it will be remembered that if the enumeration is not complete, every thing not expressly mentioned will be presumed to be purposely omitted.”
“So it must be with a bill of rights, and an omission in stating the powers granted to the government, is not so dangerous as an omission in recapitulating the rights reserved by the people.”
“We have already seen the reign of magna charta, and tracing the subject still further we find the petition of rights claiming the liberties of the people, according to the laws and statutes of the realm, of which the great charter was, the most material; so that here again recourse is had to the old source from which their liberties are derived, the grant of the king.”
“It was not until the revolution that the subject was placed upon a different footing, and even then the people did not claim their liberties as an inherent right, but as the result of an original contract between them and the sovereign.”
“Thus, Mr. President, an attention to the situation of England will shew that the conduct of that country in respect to bills of rights, cannot furnish an example to the inhabitants of the United States, who by the revolution have regained all their natural rights, and possess their liberty neither by grant nor contract.”
And then there is “A Democratic Federalist” by Tench Coxe in the Independent Gazetteer on November 26, 1787, to wit:
The executive powers of the Union are separated in a higher degree from the legislative than in any government now existing in the world.
As a check upon the President, the Senate may disapprove of the officers he appoints, but no person holding any office under the United States can be a member of the federal legislature.
How differently are things circumstanced in the two houses in Britain where any officer of any kind, naval, military, civil or ecclesiastical, may hold a seat in either house.
This is a most enlightened time, but more especially so in regard to matters of government.
The divine right of kings, the force of ecclesiastical obligations in civil affairs, and many other gross errors, under which our forefathers have lain in darker ages of the world, are now done away.
The natural, indefeasible and unalienable rights of mankind form the more eligible ground on which we now stand.
The United States are in this respect “the favored of Heaven.”
The Magna Charta, Bill of Rights, and common law of England furnished in 1776 a great part of the materials out of which were formed our several state constitutions.
All these were more or less recognized in the old Articles of Confederation.
On this solid basis is reared the fabric of our new federal government.
These taken together form THE GREAT WHOLE OF THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION, the fairest fabric of liberty that ever blessed mankind, immovably founded on a solid rock, whose mighty base is laid at the center of the earth.
And “A Freeman I” by A Freeman in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, on January 23, 1788:
When the people of America dissolved their connexion with the crown of Britain, they found themselves separated from all the world, but a few powerless colonies, the principal of which indeed they expected to induce into their measures.
The crown having been merely a centre of union, the act of independence dissolved the political ties that had formerly existed among the states, and it was attended with no absolute confederacy; but many circumstances conspired to render some new form of connexion desirable and necessary.
The remains of our ancient governments kept us in the form of thirteen political bodies, and from a variety of just and prudent considerations, we determined to enter into an indissoluble and perpetual union.
Certainly, Magna Carta played some role in terms of our nascent political philosophy in this nation, but how big a role that was remains a subject of debate.
Paul Plante says
With respect to any role Magna Carta might have played with respect to ,our federal Constitution, in FEDERALIST No. 84, Certain General and Miscellaneous Objections to the Constitution Considered and Answered, from McLEAN’s Edition, New York to the People of the State of New York by Alexander Hamilton, further mention of Magna Carta is made as follows:
IN THE course of the foregoing review of the Constitution, I have taken notice of, and endeavored to answer most of the objections which have appeared against it.
There, however, remain a few which either did not fall naturally under any particular head or were forgotten in their proper places.
These shall now be discussed; but as the subject has been drawn into great length, I shall so far consult brevity as to comprise all my observations on these miscellaneous points in a single paper.
The most considerable of the remaining objections is that the plan of the convention contains no bill of rights.
It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince.
Such was MAGNA CHARTA, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John.
Such were the subsequent confirmations of that charter by succeeding princes.
Such was the PETITION OF RIGHT assented to by Charles I., in the beginning of his reign.
Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons to the Prince of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights.
It is evident, therefore, that, according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants.
Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain every thing they have no need of particular reservations.
“WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ORDAIN and ESTABLISH this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Here is a better recognition of popular rights, than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.
Paul Plante says
As to Saipan, that is a word that goes back to my earliest days, as the National Guard unit from my area was also involved in that battle, along with the Marines, so as a youth, I was surrounded by survivors of the Japanese Banzai attack which took place on that island, and resulted in the Army troops being branded as cowards by the Marines.
This article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch “Survivors recall Saipan attack – Army vs. Marine rift festered after WWII battle” by The Associated Press on July 7, 2014 recounts what transpired there as follows:
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Even after seven decades, Wilfred “Spike” Mailloux won’t talk about surviving a bloody World War II battle unless longtime friend John Sidur is by his side.
It was Sidur who found the severely wounded Mailloux hours after both survived Japan’s largest mass suicide attack in the Pacific.
The predawn assault launched 70 years ago today on the Japan-held island of Saipan nearly wiped out two former New York National Guard battalions fighting alongside U.S. Marines.
“He found me in the mud,” Mailloux recalled during a visit to the New York State Military Museum on the battle’s 70th anniversary.
Mailloux and Sidur are among the dwindling ranks of WWII veterans of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, which endured some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific, only to have its reputation besmirched by a Marine general in one of the war’s biggest controversies.
In the Mariana Islands, 1,400 miles south of Tokyo, Saipan was sought by the Americans as a base for bombing raids against Japan.
U.S. forces landed on Saipan on June 15, 1944, with two Marine divisions, the 2nd and the 4th, making the first beach assaults and losing some 2,000 men on the first day alone.
A few days later, the inexperienced 27th Division joined the fight.
A New York National Guard outfit activated in October 1940, the “Appleknockers” retained a sizable Empire State contingent among its ranks after two years of garrison duty in Hawaii.
Marine Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith, dubbed “Howling Mad,” was commander of the ground forces at Saipan.
A week into the battle, he relieved the 27th’s commander, Maj. Gen. Ralph Smith (no relation), after the division lagged behind the Marines operating on its flanks.
Holland Smith blasted the 27th’s leadership and criticized its soldiers in front of war correspondents, who later reported on the rift that became known as “Smith vs. Smith.”
Arthur Robinson, 92, of Saratoga Springs knew nothing of the flap brewing on Saipan.
As an infantryman in the 27th’s 105th Infantry Regiment, he was concentrating on staying alive.
On July 3, he was wounded by machinegun fire and endured a 10-mile ride in a Jeep to a field hospital, with the driver opting to travel on railroad tracks because the road was mined.
On July 7, after three weeks of fighting, two battalions of the 105th Regiment were positioned across a plain along Saipan’s western shore.
With the island’s 30,000 defenders down to a few thousand starving, ill-equipped soldiers and sailors, Japanese commanders ordered one last charge.
The battalions’ 1,100 soldiers bore the brunt of what became known as the banzai attack.
U.S. military officials later said 3,000 Japanese charged the American lines, though others put the estimate closer to 5,000.
“I was scared as hell,” said Mailloux, then a 20- year-old corporal from Cohoes, a mill town north of Albany.
“When you hear that screaming — ‘banzai’ — who wouldn’t be?”
The 105th’s positions were overrun.
The Americans set up a second perimeter and fought for hours before the attackers were all but annihilated.
When it was over, some 4,300 enemy dead were found on the battlefield.
The regiment saw 406 killed and 512 wounded.
More than 3,000 Americans died in the land battle for Saipan, about a third of them 27th Division soldiers.
Holland Smith declared Saipan secure on July 9.
Two of those “Appleknockers” were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.