1502: Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Christopher Columbus, departs Spain on his fourth and final voyage to the New World.
1664: Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King,” opens the Palais du Versailles, originally the site of a small royal hunting lodge about 20 km outside of Paris. May 7th was the first day of a week-long fete (i.e., a massive party) that doubled as not only a fund-raiser but also foreshadowed the opening moves in Louis’ concentration of political power by bringing the regional nobility quite literally under his roof. During this first use of the palace, it was large enough to comfortably house all 600
1789: King Louis XVI of France convenes the Estates-General for the first time since 1614. The Estatesis a nominally representative, “tri-cameral” governing body answerable to the king; the First Estate representing the clergy, the Second Estate the nobility, and the Third Estate the common people. I won’t go into all the gory (but very interesting) details of the political maneuvering that accompanied the seating and voting procedures of the Estates, but the bottom line is this: for the first time, commoners had a viable voice in the French national government, and every vote both increased their political clout and decreased the heretofore absolute authority of the monarch. The proximate issue that triggered the event was a financial crisis– France’s enormous national debt- brought on by extravagant* spending, an archaic tax system, and high food costs. The sub-text was the enhanced legitimacy of the “voice of the people” in determining the direction of governmental decisions, a voice encouraged by the reigning philosophy of the Age of Reason and the recent dramatic success of the American Revolution. The political turmoil that arose at the seating of the Estates-General eventually spilled across all three Estates and into the streets of Paris, eventually undermining the very legitimacy of the monarchy and unleashing the violence that would define the French Revolution.
1813: Birth of Soren Kierkegaard (d.1855). The Danish philosopher is widely regarded as the father of existentialism, with the focus of his writings on the introspection of self and its relationship to the world around. He was a strong advocate of Christian ethics, but was also a strong antagonist to the established Danish National Church. Couple pity quotes: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Along similar lines, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
1821: Napoleon Bonaparte (b.1769) dies in exile on the remote British Island of St. Helena** in the South Atlantic. His body is returned to France in 1840 for burial in a new memorial tomb at Les Invalides. Before his final interment, officials open his casket to confirm his identity. All who are there are shocked as they gaze on the perfectly preserved form of the emperor, complete with skin that is both correctly colored and ductile. A strong odor of almonds rises from the casket, immediately raising suspicions of arsenic poisoning, vice stomach cancer, as the cause of death.
1824: World premier of Ludwig von Beethoven’s masterpiece, Symphony Number 9, in Vienna.
1840: Birth of the great Russian composer Pytor Ilych Tchaikosvsky
1856: Birth of Robert Peary (d.1920), American arctic explorer and the first man to reach the North Pole.
1861: In recognition of Virginia’s late– but decisive– secession from the United States, the Confederate States of America name Richmond as its capitol.
1862: Cinco de Mayo, a local holiday in the Mexican state of Puebla, celebrates the unlikely Mexican victory over a superior invading French army. The French invasion was an attempt to force payment for Mexico’s 1861 default on its massive debt to France and other countries. Despite their defeat in this battle, and confident that the United States was too preoccupied with its own civil war to intervene south of the border, the French army went on to conquer Mexico City and install Emperor Maximilian I on the throne of Mexico I 1864. Cinco de Mayo is more widely observed as a celebration of Mexican culture and food in the United States than in Mexico.
1877: Chief Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux nation surrenders to the US Army in Nebraska. Crazy Horse built his reputation as a warrior during multiple fighting seasons against the Sioux’s traditional enemies, the Crow, Shoshone, Blackfoot, and Pawnee, among others. He first fought against the US Army in 1864 to avenge the Sand Creek Massacre of the nearby Cheyennes, and then continued to lead raids and attacks, culminating in the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, where he played a leading role in the defeat of the 7th US Cavalry at Little Big Horn (June 1876). His tribe suffered greatly through the ensuing winter. Recognizing the inevitable, he finally led them from Montanato to the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska to surrender and settle into Reservation life. He was killed under “mysterious circumstances” in September of 1877.
1879: Death of John Stuart Mill (b.1806), the brilliant English parliamentarian and philosopher of individual liberty against the “tyranny of political rulers.” He was an outspoken advocate of free markets and free speech, among other causes, and became an early proponent of women’s rights.
1902: Mount Pelee, on the Carribean island of Martinique, erupts, killing over 30,000 souls.
1904: Boston Americans pitcher Cy Young pitches the first perfect game in the modern era of baseball; the fall guys for this feat were the Philadelphia Athletics.
1919: Birth of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, better known as Eva Peron (d.1952).
1933: Birth of Johnny Unitas, often regarded as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, although with you-know-who retiring after the the 2017 season, it might be fun to compare and contrast some records. Unitas’ record of throwing TD passes in 47 straight games (1956-60) stands to this day.
1933: Mohandas Ghandi begins a 21 day fast against British rule in India, done in the name of the Untouchable caste, whom he named “Harijans, the Children of God.”
1937: After a spectacular trans-Atlantic flight from Europe, including a photo fly-over of Manhattan, the hydrogen-filled German zeppelin Hindenburg bursts into flame and is completely destroyed in less than a minute as it makes its initial mooring in Lakehurst, NJ. Death toll was 36, including 35 of the 97 on board and one on the ground. Controversy over the disaster continues to this day, with no fewer than 10 competing theories about the ignition source. The dramatic newsreel footage of the crash is highlighted by announcer Herbert Morrison’s running commentary as it burns and falls to earth, punctuated by his plaintive cry, “Oh, the humanity!”
1942: After six months of nearly continuous siege and direct combat with the invading Japanese army, LTG Jonathan Wainwright surrenders the remaining U.S. forces on Corregidor Island in Manila harbor. In a final radio message to President Roosevelt, Wainwright stated, “There is a limit to human endurance, and that point is long past.”
1941: A Royal Navy corvette, HMS Bulldog, captures the German submarine U-110, including its current code books and most importantly, its Enigma coding machine. British intelligence is able to keep the capture secret for over seven months; Prime Minister Churchill did not disclose it to President Roosevelt until January, 1942.
1945: German Field Marshall Alfred Jodl signs unconditional surrender documents in Reims, France, formally ending the Second World War in Europe.
1954: Final day of the 8 week Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a catastrophic French defeat that sealed the loss of their colonial holdings in Indo-China.
1961: Commander Alan Shepherd, USN, becomes the first American into space, three weeks after Yuri Gagarin’s historic orbital flight. Shepherd’sFreedom-7 Mercury capsule achieves 115 miles altitude during the 15 minute sub-orbital (i.e. ballistic) flight and experiences 11G’s on re-entry. “What a ride!” Shepherd declares.
2002: Death of Dutch parliamentarian Pim Fortuyn (b.1948), a staunch critic of the corrosive effect of Islam on Dutch society.