301A.D. Founding of the Principality of San Marino, by the stonecutter Marinus of Rab (Croatia). It is the third smallest micro-state in Europe (behind the Holy See and Monaco) but has the distinction of being the longest-lived republic in the world, with its 1600 constitution still in force.
1492: Italian navigator Christopher Columbus departs from La Gomera harbor in the Canary Islands, the last stop before sailing his little fleet of three ships off the edge of the known world.
1522: Three years after its departure as part of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet of exploration, the Spanish ship Victoria makes port in San Lucar de Barrameda, Spain under the command of Sailing Master Juan Sebastian Elcano. He and only 17 others are the sole surviving members from the original five ships and 235 men. They did not originally plan on circumnavigating, but after the dangers and loss of getting their small fleet through the southwest Pacific islands, Elcano chose to continue westward across the Indian Ocean to follow the coast of Africa back to Spain.
1620: After completing nominal repairs to the Speedwell in Dartmouth (see DLH 8/5), and again in Plymouth, the Pilgrims finally sell the leaky ship. They crowd into Mayflower and on this day finally depart England, enroute to the new Massachusetts Bay Colony
1666: The Great Fire of London breaks out and burns for three days, destroying over 10,000 buildings, including Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
1698: In a dramatic and widely despised attempt to drag the Russian aristocracy into the modern age, Tsar Peter I imposes a tax on beards: more hair = more tax. Unlike more modern thinkers today, he instinctively understood that when you tax something, there will eventually be less of that something to tax, human nature being what it is.
1715: Death of The Sun King, Louis XIV (b.1638), ending a reign of over 72 years. It is probably impossible to summarize a life as consequential as his in a DLH paragraph, but here goes: he was the personification of the concept of an absolute monarch, who believed he was put into his position by divine right, and was not subject to any standard of law other than God’s. When asked once to define the nature of the state, he responded with the famous quip,“L’etat, c’est moi.” (I am the State). It was Louis quatorze who converted the royal hunting lodge outside of Paris into the Palais du Versailles, forcing the nobility by decree to reside in its apartments and live the Court life isolated and distant from their own bases of power in Paris and the other regions of France. Versailles put the final punctuation mark on the development of a centralized, unitary state on the European continent, with its glamour and opulence seducing the nobility away from their nominal political independence from the French crown.
1757: Birth of the Marquis de Lafayette (d.1834), George Washington’s right hand man during the Revolutionary War.
1774: In response to the Intolerable Acts passed by Parliament, the First Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia to debate a collective colonial response. The naming of the acts on both sides of the Atlantic reflected the steadily growing rift between the parties. Parliament referred to the acts as the Coercive Acts, not a friendly title, but reflective of Britain’s exasperation with the independent thinking and latent violence that was infecting her expensive New World colonies, particularly as it related to paying down the debt from the recent Seven Years War. Through the burgeoning Committees of Correspondence throughout the colonies, consensus grew that these Acts had dangerous ramifications for all of British America, not just Boston. There were five of them: Boston Port Act, which closed the port to commerce until the value of the tea ruined by the Boston Tea Party was repaid in full; Massachusetts Government Act, which unilaterally changed the status of all government positions from elected to appointed by the Governor or the King and severely limited the activities of Town Meetings; Administration of Justice Act, permitted moving trials of royal officials to a different venue- including to England at crown expense- if they could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. George Washington called this the “Murder Act” since it allowed officials to conduct their harassment of Americans and then escape justice; Quartering Act, cited specifically in the Declaration of Independence, mandated colonial support for supporting the very soldiers who were suppressing them; Quebec Act, although not directly related to the insurrection in Boston, it defined British interests in Quebec in a way that demonstrated disregard for the interests of the British colonies already in place in America.
1777: The Stars and Stripes fly in combat for the first time at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Delaware.
1781: A group of 44 Spanish settlers form a small ranching town named El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, better known today by its abbreviation, L.A.1781: Battle of Virginia Capes- in the sixth year of our War of Independence, a French fleet of 24 ships of the line, under the command of Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul le Comte de Grasse, sails out from Lynnhaven anchorage* to meet and do battle with 19 Royal Navy ships under the Command of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Gage. The battle was a classic slugfest between two Lines of Battle. Under northerly winds the two fleets headed east, coming together just outside Cape Henry around 1500 in the afternoon and then pounded each other until sunset. The fleets maneuvered within sight of each other for two more days; de Grasse maneuvering his ships to ease the British ever-seaward in order to protect an expected French supply convoy coming up from the south, the very same convoy which Gage was tasked to find and destroy. After sighting one of the convoy ships late in the afternoon of the 7th, de Grasse abruptly broke off contact with the British after sunset and proceeded back to the Chesapeake, where the convoy was already re-supplying George Washington and the combined Franco-American forces besieging General Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown. Although the naval battle was only a tactical victory for the French, it was a strategic victory of highest importance for the fledgling United States, as it completely isolated the British in Yorktown from any expectation of relief or re-supply.
1792: In France’s continuing descent into the anarchy and bloodletting of the Revolution, mobs throughout Paris go on a rampage known as the September Massacres. Like most mob actions, this one began with a rumor, although the rumor had some basis in fact: the Duke of Brunswick’s Prussian army had indeed invaded France just days prior, overpowering the border fortress of Verdun before continuing on toward Paris. The Paris mobs, essentially un-led by anything resembling a functioning government, concluded that the officers at Verdun must have been secret Royalists who turned the fortress over to the Prussians. Brunswick himself was unusually blunt in publicly stating his aims to restore the monarchy and the authority of the church from the anarchy of the revolution. Fearing an uprising of the monarchists imprisoned throughout the city, the mobs surged into those prisons, most notably Saint Germaine du Pres, and began slaughtering all the “monarchists” behind the bars. For good measure, they also attacked and killed over 500 Carmelite priests and a number of other clergy. Within weeks, over 1,200 had been murdered by the mob in the name of the Revolution and Reason.
1797: With the political upheavals of the French Revolution settling into their eighth year, three members of the ruling Directory stage the Coup of 18 Fructidor, forcing what’s left of a representative legislature to purge themselves of lingering “royalists” and other members not fully committed to the revolution. Not surprisingly, all this resort to Reason led to yet another military confrontation between factions, the exercise of raw power being the ultimate arbiter of “truth” in this environment. Luckily for the Directory, the young Brigadier General Napoleon Bonaparte was on their side, in Paris now, after busily suppressing dissent down south in Toulon two years earlier with his famous “whiff of grapeshot.” Today’s coup sealed the triumph of the executive over the legislative branches, and set the stage for eventual dictatorship.
1836: Sam Houston is elected first President of the Republic of Texas.
1875: Birth of the automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche (d.1951).
1901: Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, speaking at the Minnesota State Fair, first uses the expression, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”
1905: Signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth (NH), an arbitration effort led by U.S President Theodore Roosevelt, which formally ended the Russo-Japanese war, and for which Roosevelt was recognized with a Nobel Prize.
1914: After retreating from the Battle of Mons the combined Franco-British force launches its first major counter-offensive in what became known as the Battle of the Marne.
1923: First flight of the U.S. Navy’s first rigid airship, USS Shenandoah (ZR-1). The ship was a technological masterpiece that improved on both the successes and weaknesses of the German Zeppelin program. It was the first to use helium for buoyancy instead of the highly volatile hydrogen that filled all previous airships. The 680 foot long Shenandoah and her three sister ships (Los Angeles, Macon, and Akron) flew extensively in support of Navy operations, particularly by exploiting their high loiter times and relative (to ships) high speed (~70 mph) in a reconnaissance mode. Of interest too was the extent of their usefulness during periods of foul weather, which remained problematic. After two years of service Shenandoah was lost on September 3rd, 1925, breaking apart in the air while transiting an area of thunderstorms over Ohio. 13 of her crew were killed, but 29 survived the wreck. Interestingly, 7 crew members were trapped in the bow section as it broke free from the main structure; LCDR Charles Rosendahl was able to navigate the section as a free-flying balloon, bringing it down in a controlled landing not far from the main wreckage.
1939(a): After finally using up all their diplomatic pretexts, and having neutered their Soviet adversaries with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact (DLH 8/23), Nazi Germany invades Poland, thus marking the start of World War II. The Poles put up a fierce resistance, but German Blitzkrieg tactics, refined in combat with the Condor Legions in Spain, overwhelm Poland’s defenses.
1939(b): Two days after Germany’s stunning invasion of Poland, and in accordance with longstanding defense treaties with that beleaguered nation, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia declare war on Germany. From this day until the following May, the “Allies” do virtually nothing to relieve the pressure on Poland, a period known now as the “Phony War” or “Sitzkrieg.”
1964: Death of Alvin York (b.1887). The World War I hero was a corporal during the Meuse-Argonne campaign when his battalion began to be mowed down by 32 German machine gun nests. As the firing let up, York realized it was only him and six others who could still function. He led the men behind the German machine gun line and began to systematically pick off the Germans one by one- (“And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush… As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.) …until the commander closest to him surrendered the remaining 132 Germans to the seven Americans. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor and a battlefield promotion to Sergeant. The Tennessee native later explained that it was something like picking off squirrels, he started shooting at the back of the line so the ones in front didn’t know they were being cut down until it was too late.
1968: Swaziland becomes an independent kingdom.
1969: Death of Ho Chi Minh
1970: Death of football legend Vince Lombardi
1972: In Reykjavik, Iceland, American chess wizard and political gadfly Bobby Fischer defeats Soviet chess master Boris Spassky to become the World Champion of Chess. Because the international chess tournament worked its way down to these two competitors, the match took on unusual levels of Cold War significance, made even more weird by the antics of both of these titanic egos making demands on the lighting, stage positioning, hours of play, food, breaks.
1972: American Swimmer Mark Spitz becomes the first athlete to win 7 gold medals in a single Olympic games.
1974: The SR-71 sets a world-record flight time NYC-London in 1 hour 54 minutes 56 seconds; an average speed of 1,435.587 mph, Mach 2.68, which includes deceleration periods for in-flight refueling. The record still stands.
1976: Soviet Air Force pilot Victor Belenko lands his MiG-25 at Hakodata airbase in Japan and requests political asylum in the United States.
1981: Death of Hitler’s architect and industrial production wizard, Albert Speer (b.1905). After serving his full 20 year sentence in Spandau Prison, he published three books that gave a unique view of the political and bureaucratic machinations of the workings of the Third Reich. The two autobiographies, Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries review Speer’s own role at the center of Nazi power. The third book, Infiltration, is about the workings of the SS.
1983: A Soviet SU-15 fighter shoots down Korean Airlines 747 enroute from Anchorage to Seoul when it strayed into Soviet airspace over Sakhalin Island. All 269 on board, including US Congressman Lawrence McDonald, are killed.