1502: Christopher Columbus departs Spain on his fourth and final voyage to the New World.
1655: The island of Jamaica captured by a 50 ship British fleet under Admiral William Penn.
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 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 of his invited guests.
1752: Benjamin Franklin survives the first test of his lightning rod.
1775(a): Led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, American militia crosses Lake Champlain to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the British.
1775(b): The Second Continental Congress names Virginian George Washington as Supreme Commander of the newly formed Continental Army.
1789: King Louis XVI of France convenes the Estates-General for the first time since 1614. The Estates is 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–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. “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” “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.
1856: Birth of Robert Peary (d.1920), American arctic explorer and the first man to reach the North Pole.British explorer Wally Herbert concluded that Peary did not reach the pole, although he may have been as close as 60 miles (97 km). His conclusions have been widely accepted, although disputed by some authorities.
1861: In recognition of Virginia’s secession from the United States, the Confederate States of America name Richmond as its capitol.
1863: Stonewall Jackson dies of pneumonia, contracted subsequent to his Confederate-inflicted wounding. When he first heard of Jackson’s wounds, General Robert E. Lee said, “Jackson has lost his left arm; I have lost my right.” His death had a profound effect on the Army of Northern Virginia.
1865: U.S. Army soldiers capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia. He spends two years in custody at Fortress Monroe in Hampton. The cell is still in the Casemate Museum inside the fort.
1869: Meeting at Promontory Point, Utah, the nation’s first transcontinental railroad is completed with a golden spike. The ceremonial hammer and spike are connected to telegraph wires that relay the historic impacts back to Washington, DC. The three year project of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads was largely financed by generous federal land grants.
1871: The Treaty of Frankfurt am Main ends the Franco-Prussian war. In addition to ceding to Germany the German-speaking French provinces of Alsace and Loraine, France is saddled with reparations of 5 billion Francs. German forces remain in strategic occupation positions across the north of France, right up to the outskirts of Paris, until September of 1873 when the last payment is finally made. The crushing German victory at the Battle of Sedan triggered the overthrow of the French government, and set the stage for the Great War in 1914.
1879: Death of John Stuart Mill , the 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. Mill’s On Liberty addresses the nature and limits of the power that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. However Mill is clear that his concern for liberty does not extend to all individuals and all societies. He states that “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians”.
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.
1902: Mount Pelee, on the Carribean island of Martinique, erupts, killing over 30,000
1904: Boston Americans pitcher Cy Young pitches the first perfect game in the modern era of baseball; fall guys for this feat were the Philadelphia Athletics.
1919: Birth of Maria Eva Duarte de Perón, better known as Eva Perón, the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón (1895–1974) and First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. She is usually referred to as Eva Perón or Evita. She was born in poverty in the rural village of Los Toldos, in the Pampas, as the youngest of five children. At 15 in 1934, she moved to the nation’s capital of Buenos Aires to pursue a career as a stage, radio, and film actress. She met Colonel Juan Perón there on 22 January 1944 during a charity event at the Luna Park Stadium to benefit the victims of an earthquake in San Juan, Argentina. The two were married the following year. Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina in 1946; during the next 6 years, Eva Perón became powerful within the pro-Peronist trade unions, primarily for speaking on behalf of labor rights. She also ran the Ministries of Labor and Health, founded and ran the charitable Eva Perón Foundation, championed women’s suffrage in Argentina, and founded and ran the nation’s first large-scale female political party, the Female Peronist Party.
1933(a): 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.” Revered the world over for his nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was known to his many followers as Mahatma, or “the great-souled one.” He began his activism as an Indian immigrant in South Africa in the early 1900s, and in the years following World War I became the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain. Known for his ascetic lifestyle–he often dressed only in a loincloth and shawl–and devout Hindu faith, Gandhi was imprisoned several times during his pursuit of non-cooperation, and undertook a number of hunger strikes to protest the oppression of India’s poorest classes, among other injustices. After Partition in 1947, he continued to work toward peace between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi was shot to death in Delhi in January 1948 by a Hindu fundamentalist.
1933 (b): Birth of Johnny Unitas, often regarded as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, although with you-know-who retiring after last 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.
1937: After a 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!” The spark was most likely caused by a difference in electric potential between the airship and the surrounding air: The airship was approximately 60 meters (about 200 feet) above the airfield in an electrically charged atmosphere, but the ship’s metal framework was grounded by its landing line; the difference in electric potential likely caused a spark to jump from the ship’s fabric covering (which had the ability to hold a charge) to the ship’s framework (which was grounded through the landing line). A somewhat less likely but still plausible theory attributes the spark to coronal discharge, more commonly known as St. Elmo’s Fire. The cause of the hydrogen leak is more of a mystery, but we know the ship experienced a significant leakage of hydrogen before the disaster. No evidence of sabotage was ever found, and no convincing theory of sabotaged has ever been advanced.
1941(a): A Royal Navy corvette 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.
1941(b): Nazi Deputy to the Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess, parachutes into Scotland to attempt peace negotiations with the government of Great Britain. The flight, staged just prior to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, continues to stir controversy over whether this was an official, but clandestine attempt by Hitler to make peace with his “natural ally” in England. Hess remained in British custody throughout the war, and was convicted at Nuremberg for crimes against the peace and conspiracy. After the 1966 release of Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach, Hess remained imprisoned at Spandau- the only prisoner in the facility- at the insistence of the Soviet Union- until his death in 1987.
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.”
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.
1955: West Germany joins NATO.
1961: Commander Alan Shepherd, USN, becomes the first American into space, three weeks after Yuri Gagarin’s historic orbital flight. Shepherd’s Freedom-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.
1974: The House Judiciary Committee opens formal impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon.
1994: Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as the first black President of South Africa.