1512: The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican opens for public visitation for the first time since completion of the great ceiling fresco by Michelangelo
1520: Fifteen months after departing on his epic voyage of discovery, Ferdinand Magellan enters the narrow strait that now bears his name. The “shortcut” between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans cuts off significant distance from the more navigationally straightforward route around Cape Horn, and it avoids the ferocious westerlies and high sea states of the Horn passage. On the other hand, the narrowness of the channel and those same prevailing westerlies make the strait a particularly difficult passage in a sailing vessel, especially for a square-rigged design that does not go well to windward.
1734: Birth of colonial-era explorer, hunter, adventurer and an elected member of the Virginia State Assembly, Daniel Boone (d.1820). After opening up the routes westward from the eastern seaboard into Kentucky, he became one of the nation’s first folk heroes for his exploits in taming the wild frontier west of the Appalachians. He spent his final years even further west in the central Missouri shores of the Missouri River, where he is buried in a modest gravesite near Marthasville, Missouri. [Himself (1820)]
1755: Birth of the Austrian princess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, better known as Marie Antoinette (d.1793) wife of French King Louis XVI. Widely regarded during the early days of the Revolution as a spendthrift and empty-headed waste of oxygen, she fought back publicly with a con brio performance as a caring mother and patron of the arts. It was in vain, however, and after the King fell victim to Madame Guillotine, the Queen met a similar fate ten months (DLH 10/16) later under similarly trumped up charges of treason against the French Republic.
1765: Continuing to pursue novel ways to get the American colonies to pay for the French and Indian War, Parliament passes the Stamp Act, a tax levied on every sheet of paper imported into the colonies, with payment proven by the presence of a royal stamp on the paper itself. Colonial leaders become highly agitated by this seemingly arbitrary ability of the government to tax its subjects without consultation.
1772: Increasingly concerned about unchecked British pressure on the American colonies, Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston form the first Committee of Correspondence, which functioned as the 18th century version of a blog, except the writing was done with a quill pen on paper or parchment, and the letters traveled by post road or were printed up as handbills. The Committees grew in importance as the Revolution developed, providing a well-read venue for debate, and allowing the leading political leaders of the time to reach an audience far larger than the usual speeches and lectures.
1790: British author and political philosopher Edmund Burke publishes his letter, Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he examines the French body politic and its leadership through the lens of the same Natural Law that guided the original revolution in the former British colonies. Burke is not impressed, and says so in scathing and prescient terms that accurately predicted the ruinous events the continent would soon endure. His main argument is that the abstract foundations of the French revolution could in no way account for the complexity of human nature, and were thus doomed to lead to tyranny. Further, he had no time for the rule of intellectuals, arguing that,“What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In this deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor.”
1814: The Congress of Vienna meets to negotiate the form of European politics after the final defeat of Napoleon at the hands of the Sixth Coalition and nearly 25 years of continuous war. The resulting Treaty of Paris exiled the former emperor to the tiny island of Elba off the south coast of France, but you’ll remember that he didn’t really relish the concept of staying there the rest of his life.
1861: The day after General Winfield Scott resigned as Commanding General of the Army, President Lincoln appoints the young and ambitious George B. McClellan to replace him
1871: Birth of American author Stephen Crane (d.1900), whose classic The Red Badge of Courage vividly told the story of the Civil War through the eyes of a young boy who got caught up in the war’s rhetorical glory, and grew up fully understanding its gory reality.
1952: The United States detonates its first hydrogen bomb, Operation IVY MIKE, at Eniwetok Atoll. The blast came in at 10 megatons
1947: Aircraft designer and movie mogul Howard Hughes takes his enormous H-4 Hercules seaplane on a “taxi test” in Long Beach Harbor. The gigantic plane, dubbed the “Spruce Goose” by its detractors, functioned exactly as Hughes thought it would, including getting airborne for its first and only flight, which lasted all of a few seconds, climbing to 70 feet and flying about a mile down range. It remains the largest aircraft ever built. After the flight Hughes stored the machine in a climate-controlled hangar, where it remained in pristine flying condition until after Hughes’ death in 1976. It has since been through a couple museum owners and now resides in the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. If you’re ever in Portland, it is worth your time to drive down there to see not only this splendid aircraft, but the full aviation museum complex that surrounds it. They also have extensive vineyards on the property, and you can purchase from the museum gift shop some very nice Spruce Goose Pinot Noir for your wine cellar.