June 1st 1812: Beginnings of War of 1812
On this day in 1812, the US President James Madison sent a message to Congress listing American grievances against the United Kingdom. This led to Congress issuing its first declaration of war, which began the War of 1812. The tensions between the two nations arose out of the Napoleonic Wars, with grievances including impressment of American sailors into the British Navy and the UK stopping American ships from trading. The US also feared a resurgence of British control over the fledgling nation. It was during this war that British troops set fire to many public buildings in Washington DC, including the White House and Capitol building. America’s victory inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.
April 30th 1789: Washington inaugurated
On this day in 1789 the dominant general of the War of Independence and one of the framers of the Constitution, George Washington, was inaugurated first President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City. He was unanimously chosen President by the Electoral College and the runner-up, John Adams, became Vice President. At his inauguration, Washington set the first of many precedents in making an inaugural address. Washington was re-elected in 1792 but stepped down after two terms, thus setting the precedent that Presidents usually served two terms (this became part of the Constitution with the 22nd Amendment in 1951).
“Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”
- New York Chancellor Livingston upon swearing in the President
April 14th 1865: Lincoln shot
On this day in 1865, the US President Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theatre, Washington DC while attending a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’. Lincoln died the next day. He was shot by Confederate sympathiser John Wilkes Booth who escaped but was later tracked down and killed. Lincoln is often considered one of the greatest American presidents for his pivotal role in leading the Union to victory during the American Civil War and ending the practice of slavery. Lincoln was the first President to be assassinated and his death was widely mourned across the nation.
April 4th 1841: President Harrison dies
On this day in 1841, the 9th President of the United States William Henry Harrison died in office. Harrison’s time in office was the shortest of any US President, serving only 32 days. He died of complications from pneumonia which he supposedly caught at his inauguration, held in the middle of winter, as he did not want to look old and so refused to wear a coat. Harrison was the oldest President to take office, aged 68, until Ronald Reagan in 1981. He was succeeded upon his death by his Vice-President John Tyler.
February 9th 1825: John Quincy Adams elected
On this day in 1825, the disputed presidential election of 1824 was resolved when the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams as the 6th President. No presidential candidate in that election won a majority of Electoral College votes and so the decision came to Congress. Despite Andrew Jackson winning a plurality of the popular and electoral vote, Henry Clay agreed to transfer his electoral votes to John Quincy Adams which handed Adams the Presidency. Clay was then made Secretary of State, which Jackson and his supporters criticised as a ‘Corrupt Bargain’. Jackson eventually won the presidency in 1828.
January 9th 1913: Nixon born
On this day in 1913, the future 37th President of the United States Richard M. Nixon was born. Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California and later represented his state in the House of Representatives and the Senate as a member of the Republican Party. Nixon was Vice-President from 1953 to 1961 under President Eisenhower. He lost the 1960 election to the Democrat John F. Kennedy but later won the presidency in 1968. As President, Nixon initially increased US involvement in Vietnam and extended the war into Cambodia, but he eventually ended the war in 1973. In 1974 he became the first and only President to resign after revelations about illegal activities of his administration in the Watergate scandal. He was pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford and tried to rebuild his image until he died from a stroke in 1994 aged 81.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of his birth
December 26th 1799: Washington’s funeral
On this day in 1799 the funeral of the American revolutionary leader and first President of the United States, George Washington, was held. 4,000 people attended to commemorate the ‘father of the country’. Washington died on December 14th 1799 at his home Mount Vernon, Virginia; he was 67 years old. His final will freed all of his slaves. Washington was mourned throughout the world, with Napoleon of France ordering 10 days of mourning.
“first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
- Henry Lee eulogising Washington
November 19th 1863: Gettysburg Address
On this day in 1863 during the American Civil War the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, delivered his famous Gettysburg Address. He made the speech at the dedication ceremony for the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the major battle between the Union and Confederacy that July. The speech is one of the most famous in American history, despite being only around two minutes long. In this brief time, Lincoln discussed the egalitarian ideas of the Declaration of Independence, praised the efforts of Union soldiers and extolled the virtues of American democracy.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
- Opening lines of the speech
May 8th 1884: Truman born
On this day in 1884, the future 33rd President of the United States Harry S. Truman was born. Truman served as Vice-President under Franklin D. Roosevelt and became President upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945. As President, Truman oversaw the end of World War Two and made the decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan. His other acts as President include passing the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, issuing the Truman Doctrine to contain communism and overseeing the Korean War. Truman left the presidency in 1953 and died in 1972 aged 88.
April 17th 1961: Bay of Pigs Invasion
On this day in 1961, a group of around 1,500 CIA financed and trained Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba with the aim of ousting the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. The invasion was part of US plans to end Castro’s regime, which had seized power in the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, without direct US intervention. They aimed to sneak ashore and secure the area before flying in a government-in-exile and hoped for a mass uprising in Cuba. The invasion was a failure and an embarrassment to the administration of President John F. Kennedy, with the exiles being defeated by the Cuban army within three days. The invasion pushed Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union and soured US-Cuban relations.
April 12th 1945: FDR dies
On this day in 1945, the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office aged 63. His Vice-President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as President upon Roosevelt’s death. Roosevelt was first elected in 1932 and led the country during the Great Depression, pushing his New Deal reforms to tackle the crisis. Roosevelt, Britain’s Winston Churchill and Russia’s Joseph Stalin, led the Allied Powers to victory against Nazi Germany in World War Two. He was elected to an unprecedented four terms in office but died soon into his fourth term.
February 17th 1801: Jefferson elected President
On this day in 1801, the disputed 1800 presidential election was resolved when the House of Representatives elected Thomas Jefferson President of the United States and Aaron Burr as Vice-President. The pair had won the most votes in the Electoral College, defeating John Adams and his running mate Charles Pinckney, but as they did not have a majority the decision came to the House. After Jefferson was elected, he took the oath of office on March 4th 1801.
January 6th 1853: Franklin Pierce’s train accident
On this day in 1853, the President-elect of the United States Franklin Pierce and his family were involved in a train accident in Massachusetts. Pierce and his wife saw their young son Benjamin decapitated before their eyes and both sank into deep depression. Benjamin was the couple’s last surviving child, the rest had died young. Pierce’s depression over his son’s death and the distance it had created between him and his wife severely affected his performance as President. The 14th President is commonly regarded as one of the worst in US history, especially due to his failure to deal effectively with the slavery issue which would, in a few years, divide the nation in two during the Civil War.
“How I long to see you and say something to you as if you were as you always have been (until these last three dreadful weeks) near me. Oh! How precious do those days now seem, my darling boy - and how I should have praised the days passed with you had I suspected they might be so short”
- extract from one of Jane Pierce’s letters to her late son (see picture)
November 24th 1784: Zachary Taylor born
On this day in 1784 the future 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor, was born in Virginia. Before becoming President Taylor lead a distinguished military career, serving in the War of 1812 and leading America to victory in the Mexican-American War. He was elected President in 1848 as a Whig. He died a year and a half into his presidency and was succeeded by Vice-President Millard Fillmore. He was the last slave-holding President.