1295: A treaty of alliance is signed between the crowns of Scotland and France, pledging that if one of them is attacked by England, the other will attack England in return. The treaty, known informally as the Auld Alliance, was formally renewed by every sovereign of the two countries through 1560, when Scotland became officially Protestant, and after which the accession of Scotland’s James Vi (as England’s James I) formally joined the two island antagonists. Interestingly, the relationship between Scotland and France remains remarkably close. Until 1903, any Scot living in France could receive automatic French nationality; Charles de Gaulle noted in 1942 that the Auld Alliance as the oldest in the world; In 1995 both countries celebrated the 700th anniversary of the treaty, and finally, in 2011, a British historian published research that indicated the alliance was actually still in effect.
1456: Death of John of Capistrano (b.1386), Italian priest, Franciscan monk, theologian, and at age 70- a warrior accompanying the Hungarian army on a Crusade to Constantinople, and before which he personally led a military contingent that raised the siege of Belgrade.
1632: Birth of the great English architect, Christopher Wren (d.1723).
1642: The first battle of the English Civil War(s) is fought at Edgehill. It is a nominal victory for King Charles I, but does little to change the course of the deep conflict between Royalist and Parliamentarian armies.
1648: Final ratification of the Peace of Westphalia, which brought to an end the Thirty Years’ War. It is no stretch to call this the first “world war” in history, as it wracked the continent of Europe from one end to the other. The fighting centered in what is now Germany, but what was then the Holy Roman Empire, which was actually 255 fiercely independent city-states and territories, nominally confederated under the Holy Roman Emperor, of the Austrian House of Hapsburg. Does that all make sense? Good. The initial fighting was a spillover from earlier Catholic-Lutheran conflicts, made more complicated by the growth of Calvinism in many Protestant districts. All this unrest in the East held the attention of the Bourbon dynasty in both Spain (with its adjacent holdings in the Netherlands and northern Italy), and France, with its long Rhineland border with the fractious Germanic states. Because of the huge political undertones of the religious fighting, the emphasis shifted during the course of the war from the rights of Protestants and Catholics, to the general balance of power on the continent, especially as it played between the Bourbons and Hapsburgs. Even Sweden- who held extensive lands on the northern tier- and England, whose mercantile economy was intimately tied in with Continental trade, were pulled into the seemingly perpetual conflict. The whole point here is this: when the diplomats were finished negotiating this treaty, the sovereigns of Europe found themselves functioning within the concept of the State System: a system of recognized sovereignty and law, for which the sovereign was the custodian, not the arbiter. What we understand today as “Poland” or “Switzerland” or “Sweden” did not exist until Westphalia. The Peace drastically curtailed the already tenuous hold of the Emperor on his German states, focusing his core attentions on his Austrian domains. For France, the Peace consolidated its position as the major power in western Europe, giving it a relatively free hand to disabuse Spain of any continuing influence east of the Pyrenees, and ensuring that the German states would never become a unitary power of their own, at least within the lifetime of the Westphalia diplomatic corps.
1720: The notorious pirate of the Caribbean, John “Calico Jack” Rackham, is captured by a Royal Navy pirate hunter after terrorizing multiple small craft and fishermen along Jamaica’s north coast. He was brought to Spanish Town, Jamaica, where he received a fair trial and was found guilty and hanged by the neck until dead, his corpse suspended in a gibbet for several months at the entrance to the bay. His most lasting contribution to society, the “Jolly Roger” flag.
1776: Philadelphia printer and inventor Benjamin Franklin departs as the United States’ first Ambassador to France. His mission is to secure France’s support for the fledgling republic across the water, and he uses his utmost charm to engage the Crown on our behalf. For some reason, Franklin’s wry, rustic charm makes him tres populaire with the denizens of Court.
1795: After six years of political turmoil, intentional terror against its own citizens, regicide and war against virtually all of Europe, France dissolves its National Convention (its third legislature since the revolution began) and establishes a bicameral legislature consisting of the Council of Ancients (upper house) and the Council of 500 (lower house), both of whom will today appoint a 5-member Directory as the Executive agency. The Directory system will last for four years, after which Napolean will overthrow the toothless executive and replace it with a Consulate, headed by himself.
1803: After a relatively short debate, and fully aware of what some argued was the tenuous Constitutionality of the purchase, the U.S. Senate on this day ratifies the Louisiana Purchase as a treaty, essentially doubling the land mass of the United States without firing a shot.
1818: The United States and Great Britain sign The Convention of 1818, setting the southern Canadian and northern U.S. boundary starting at the northwest shoreline of Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, due south to 49 degrees latitude, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Northwest Angle, created by that southward excursion at the east end of the line, a holdover from the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and; 2) Point Roberts, Washington, a tiny peninsula of British Columbia that pokes into Puget sound for a mile or so south of the 49th. It makes for a convenient place for Canadians to buy staple supplies at American prices, not to mention providing a nominal U.S. address for U.S. relatives to mail packages without all the annoyances of clearing Canadian customs. Both the U.S. and UK had to cede prior claims on both sides of the line, and both sides agreed to joint governance of the Oregon Territory.
1825: Opening of the Erie Canal, connecting Albany, NY (and hence the port of NYC) to Lake Erie (and hence the agricultural riches of the Ohio valley). Not only did it eliminate the need for portage, it also cut shipping costs by 95%, which fueled an economic boom in western New York and points west.
1861: President Abraham Lincoln, under the provisions of Article I, section 9 of the Constitution, suspends the writ of habeus corpus, giving the federal government the ability to hold suspected rebels indefinitely without trial. Here’s the pertinent Constitutional clause, because I know you’re curious: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”Given the events of the previous six months, Lincoln certainly was dealing with a significant rebellion south of the Potomac River.
1861: Completion of the United States’ first transcontinental telegraph line, effectively killing the 18 month run of the Pony Express.
1869: Birth of Ohio sportsman John Heisman (d.1936), a great player in his own right, and a better football, basketball and baseball coach for ten universities and colleges between 1892 and 1927, retiring with a football record of 186-70-18 and a baseball record of 219-119-7.
1873: Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Rutgers Universities agreed this day to set up a set of consistent rules for intercollegiate football play.
1882: Birth of Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasco a.k.a. Bela Lugosi (d.1956), Hungarian-American actor best known for his defining characterization of Count Dracula in the 1931 movie. His thick accent remains the standard against which all other Dracula accents are judged.
1901: Annie Edson Tyler becomes the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She was 63 at the time, and when she was finally uncorked from the barrel, she declared: “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat… I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.”
1911: Reprising the brothers’ 1903 success with their flying machine, Orville Wright returns to Kill Devil Hill, NC with a newly designed glider that incorporates many of the lessons they learned during their Huffman Prairie flights* back in Dayton. The new machine uses a now-conventional elevator and rudder combination at the rear of the plane, and the pilot sits upright with hand controls, as opposed to lying prone in a hip cradle. On this day, with 40 knot winds blowing up the hill, Wright and his team get the machine airborne and remain aloft, under complete control, for 9 minutes 45 seconds, a record for non-powered flight that will stand for ten years.
1926: Birth of NFL great Y.A. Tittle, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers (1950-1960) and then for three championship years with the New York Giants (1961-63).
1940: Birth of Brazilian soccer superstar Pele.
1944: Opening guns of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which over the course of three days became the largest naval battle in history. The battle’s first shots were actually a highly successful torpedo attack by two American submarines against a Japanese cruiser force getting underway from Brunei. Two cruisers of the force went to the bottom, forcing a Japanese reversal overnight.
1944: Battle of Leyte Gulf, Day 2– The torpedo shot in Brunei yesterday should have given the Imperial Japanese Navy pause as they sortied toward the central Philippines, but it didn’t. As the American invasion fleet continued its offload in Leyte Gulf, two of the six carriers of the US Third Fleet intercepted Admiral Kurita’s Japanese Center Force of battleships and cruisers in the Subuyian Sea east of Leyte, making a furious and continuing attack on the Japanese super-battleship Musahsi in particular, which eventually sank after taking direct hits from at least 17 bombs and 18 torpedoes. The IJN Yamato and Nagato also took several hits, but remained operational as the Japanese fleet turned around for several hours to get out from under the American attackers. Late in the afternoon they reestablished their course for San Bernardino Strait. During the melee, land-based Japanese fighters swarmed toward the American striking aircraft, but were completely overpowered by the supporting American fighter aircraft. Commander David McCampbell distinguished himself this day with 9 confirmed kills. As the day wound down, the Third Fleet Commander, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, acting on intelligence about the discovery of the Japanese Northern Force, withdrew the two carriers to join with his other four carriers and their associated battleship forces to dash north east to intercept and destroy Japan’s remaining carriers. The American surface fleet that expected to be guarding the San Bernardino Strait was included in the run north, leaving the entire northern approaches of Leyte Gulf un-monitored and un-protected by the US Navy.
1947: Opening gavel for the House Un-American Activities Committee, a multi-administration exercise in detecting and black-listing Communists in the entertainment industry (there were lots of them), the State Department (ibid.), and other influential public and quasi-public organizations.
1931: Birth of the NY Yankees slugger, Mickey Mantle (d.1995).
1937: Birth of the SF Giants’ great right-hander, Juan Marichal.
1972: Death of Los Angeles Dodger, Jackie Robinson.
1973: Last day of the Yom Kippur War. Hoping to win back territory lost to Israel during the third Arab-Israeli war, in 1967, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a coordinated attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Taking the Israeli Defense Forces by surprise, Egyptian troops swept deep into the Sinai Peninsula, while Syria struggled to throw occupying Israeli troops out of the Golan Heights. Israel counterattacked and recaptured the Golan Heights. A cease-fire went into effect on October 25, 1973.
1983: The barracks of United States Marine peacekeepers at the Beirut airport is attacked by a suicide truck bomb, killing 241 Marines. Simultaneously, another suicide bomber attacks the French barracks, killing 51 French soldiers.
2002: Arrest of Washington, D.C. sniper terrorists John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo at a rest stop in Maryland.