April 24th 1980: Operation Eagle Claw
On this day in 1980, the American military operation named Operation Eagle Claw to try to end the Iran Hostage Crisis was launched. 52 Americans had been taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and the operation was intended to save the captives by sending helicopters into Iran. However many of the helicopters were damaged and some crashed, killing 8 servicemen. When the scale of the catastrophe became apparent, President Carter aborted the mission. Upon discovery of the attempt, the hostages were scattered across Iran to make a second rescue attempt impossible. The debacle was humiliating for the Carter administration and contributed to Carter’s defeat in the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. The hostages were eventually released after extensive diplomatic negotiations on January 20th 1981, Carter’s last day in office.
April 18th 1857: Clarence Darrow born
On this day in 1857 the legendary American lawyer Clarence Darrow was born in Ohio. Darrow was a prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union and the leading defense attorney of his day, taking many high profile cases. His most famous - or better yet, infamous - cases included defending Leopold and Loeb for the murder of 14 year old Bobby Franks in 1924 and teacher John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in the ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ in 1925. His defense of Leopold and Loeb has remained a contentious point in legal and moral discourse, as he managed to reduce their sentences from death to life imprisonment by arguing that the privileged rich teenagers were conditioned by their circumstances. His eloquent defense of Leopold and Loeb has gone down in history as one of the most prominent rejections of the element of free will and a classic deterministic viewpoint.
"Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.”
April 12th 1861: Firing on Fort Sumter
On this day in 1861, the American Civil War began when the first shots were fired upon Fort Sumter. Several Southern states had already seceded from the United States when this conflict occurred. The Southern slaveholding states had long been at odds with the anti-slavery agenda of the North, but secession was immediately preciptated by the election of anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln as President in 1860. Fort Sumter was a Union base in South Carolina, which was the first state to secede and thus its government demanded Union forces leave their state. The moment the siege became a battle and the fort was fired upon by Confederate forces, it seemed clear to all that civil war had begun. No one was killed in the conflict, perhaps a false omen that the civil war which became the bloodiest in American history would not be a costly one. The Union forces at the fort eventually surrendered, thus making it a victory for the Confederates. In the aftermath of the struggle each side called for troops and war soon broke out in full force. The American Civil War saw the defeat of the Southern secessionists and the end of slavery - the ‘peculiar institution’ - in the United States.
April 5th 1951: Rosenbergs sentenced
On this day in 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death for alleged spying. The couple were American citizens, but were convicted for espionage after they were accused of giving information to the Soviets about the atomic bomb. They were both arrested in 1950, and became the face of the supposed Communist conspiracy, the fear of which gripped Cold War United States throughout the 1950s and beyond. The couple insisted upon their innocence, but they were still convicted and sentenced to die. In the years between their conviction and execution, public opinion was divided on the guilt of the Rosenbergs. Despite the reservations of some, they were executed on June 19th 1953 by electric chair. It remained unclear whether the pair were indeed Soviet spies, but due to evidence which has since come to light Julius Rosenberg does appear to have been guilty.
April 3rd 1882: Jesse James killed
On this day in 1882 the famous outlaw of the Wild West, Jesse James, was killed by Robert Ford. James was a member of the James-Younger Gang from Missouri; his gang gained notoriety in the period 1866 to 1876 as they robbed banks, stagecoaches and trains. He first gained national attention after shooting a cashier during a robbery of a Missouri bank. The gang’s decline began with an attempted robbery of a bank in Northfield, Minnesota when the majority of the gang was captured or killed. James and his gang were pursued by law enforcement until the outlaw Robert Ford, who had posed as James’ friend, shot him in the back of the head in order to collect the bounty on him. The governor of Missouri quickly pardoned Ford, which shocked the public as it suggested their governor had conspired to kill a private citizen.
"In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here"
- epitaph for Jesse James, written by his mother
March 24th 1989: Exxon Valdez oil spill
On this day in 1989, hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil were spilled into Prince William Sound in Alaska by the Exxon Valdez oil tanker after it ran aground. Between 11 and 32 million gallons of oil were spilled, creating one of the worst human-caused environmental disasters in history. The cleanup operation was especially difficult due to the Sound’s remote location which was only accessible by air or by boat. The spill damaged the local habitat, covering 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean. It was the largest ever oil spill in American waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Whilst the cleanup operation was completed, it is believed that the oil will continue to have a negative effect on the area for many years.
March 21st 1925: Butler Act passed
On this day in 1925, the Butler Act was signed into law by Tennessee Governor Austin Peay. The bill was introduced by farmer John Butler of the Tennessee House of Representatives on January 21st and was immediately controversial. It banned school teachers from teaching evolution, and instead provided for the teaching of the Christian theory of creationism. Teachers who violated the law were to be fined a maximum of $500. Many protested that the law violated the 1st Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion and its provision of free speech. The Butler Act has become infamous in history due to its challenge in the so-called ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’. The trial was prompted by the arrest of science teacher John Scopes, and drew the attention of the nation as it essentially put the theory of evolution on trial. The lawyers for the case were famed in their fields - Clarence Darrow for the defense and William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution but his conviction was reversed on a technicality. The Butler Act was not repealed until 1967.
"I never had any idea my bill would make a fuss. I just thought it would become a law, and that everybody would abide by it and that we wouldn’t hear any more of evolution in Tennessee"
- John Butler during the Scopes trial
March 17th 1777: Roger Taney born
On this day in 1777, Roger B. Taney was born in Maryland. Taney went on to become the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1836. The Taney Court has gone down in infamy as the Court which issued the controversial ruling Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). This ruling declared that African-Americans did not count as United States citizens and thus could not sue in federal courts. The case originated when Dred Scott, a slave, claimed that because his master took him to a free state, he was thus a free man. The Court’s complete rejection of African-American rights evoked outrage from Northern anti-slavery forces, and support from Southern slaveowners. The decision, which Taney wrote, is thus often considered one of the causes of the American Civil War as it flared sectional tensions. Taney’s tenure ended with his death towards the end of the Civil War in 1864, but due to his role in the Dred Scott decision, he has gone down in history as one of the worst Chief Justices in history.
April 19th 1956: Wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier
On this day in 1956, the American actress Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco, Rainier III. Kelly was a successful established actress, having won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, when she met Prince Rainier. The couple met at the Cannes Film Festival, stayed in contact, and soon were engaged to be married. It was important for Rainier to marry and produce an heir as a 1918 treaty provided that if there was no heir Monaco would return to France. The wedding was an elaborate fanfare, with many calling it ‘the wedding of the century’. The civil ceremony took place the day before the April 19th wedding, but the church affair the next day was the real spectacle, with around 30 million people watching on television. Kelly soon retired from acting to focus on her duties in Monaco and as a mother to the couple’s three children. Princess Grace died in 1982 aged 52 after suffering a stroke while driving, which led to her crashing the vehicle. It was a tragedy for Monaco and the world, and her funeral received the same calibre of distinguished guests as her wedding had 26 years earlier. Prince Rainier did not remarry and was buried alongside her when he died in 2005.
April 17th 1964: Ford Mustang debuts
On this day in 1964, the Ford Motor Company introduced their new sports car - the Ford Mustang - to the public. The Mustang was one of the first ‘pony cars’, which are smaller sports car-like coupes. The car had debuted two years earlier at the United States Grand Prix, but Ford introduced their new car to the public at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. Ford received over 22,000 orders from around the world on the first day, and the car’s popularity only increased from there. The model’s fame was cemented when a Mustang appeared in the James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’ in September 1964. The Mustang is now approaching its sixth generation, and has changed a lot since the 1964 version. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this legendary American car, and Ford are celebrating with a limited edition 50th anniversary 2015 Mustang GT (pictured above).
50 years ago today
April 7th 1922: Teapot Dome lease signed
On this day in 1922, the US Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome to private oil companies at low rates in return for bribes. Other similar deals were made, but the subsequent scandal is generally called the ‘Teapot Dome’ scandal. When the story broke, the Senate launched an investigation and in 1927 the Supreme Court invalidated the leases. The parties involved were prosecuted, with Fall being found guilty of bribery and sentenced to prison, making him the first former cabinet official sentenced to prison. The scandal weakened Harding’s public standing and the stress contributed to his premature death in 1923. The Teapot Dome scandal was regarded as America’s worst political scandal until Watergate in the 1970s.
April 4th 1968: Martin Luther King Jr. killed
On this day in 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee aged just 39. The Baptist minister from Georgia first came to national attention for his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. This event is considered by many the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, which saw a national fight against discrimination suffered by African-Americans. King was one of many leaders, but became the face of the movement for his nonviolent tactics and powerful oratory. In 1963, during the March on Washington, King delivered the crowning speech of the struggle - the ‘I have a dream’ speech. Beyond his role in combating racial inequality, King also focused on tackling poverty and advocating peace, especially during the Vietnam War. On April 4th 1968, King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray. He lived to see the legislative achievements of the movement - the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act - but tragically was unable to continue the push for full equality. The movement King set in motion continues to be fought today; the United States is still not a completely equal society and systemic discrimination persists. However thanks to Martin Luther King, America is closer to fulfilling King’s dream of a truly free and equal society.
March 26th 1830: The Book of Mormon published
On this day in 1830, the Book of Mormon was first published at E.B Grandin’s New York bookstore. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith Jr, claimed that he had been visited by an angel called Moroni who told him of ancient writings on golden plates which described people God led to the Western hemisphere before the birth of Jesus. These plates were supposedly found by Smith buried by a tree on a hill in his back yard. Smith said he was told by Moroni to translate the plates into English and publish them. Smith initially struggled to find someone to publish the book as many considered it risky, fraudulent and blasphemous. Smith and his friend Martin Harris began work on translating the Book of Mormon, with Smith dictating by either reading directly or using seer stones placed in a top hat (accounts vary). It took eight men and boys working 12 hours a day, six days a week, for almost eight months to print the initial 5,000 copies, which went on sale in March 1830. The building in New York where the Book of Mormon was first published and sold is now the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site.
March 22nd 1622: Jamestown massacre
On this day in 1622, the Jamestown massacre occurred in colonial Virginia. Jamestown was the first successful English settlement in North America; this followed the failure of previous attempts to colonise North America, most notoriously the lost colony of Roanoke. On March 22nd, fighters of the Powhatan confederation of Indian tribes (also known as Algonquian Indians) came into the houses of the settlers in the area, grabbed their weapons, and attacked them. 347 people died in the incident, which made up a quarter of the English population at Jamestown. The massacre was in response to the colonists’ mistreatment of Native Americans - burning down their homes, destroying food supplies and threatening expansion into their land. In retaliation the Natives launched a surprise attack on the area, however Jamestown itself was spared as it was forewarned. The incident is one of many conflicts between Native Americans and English settlers in the early days of the colonial venture, as the settlers increasingly encroached upon Native lands.
March 20th 1852: ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ published
On this day in 1852, American author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was published. Previously published as a serial in the anti-slavery periodical the National Era, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ tells the story of a black slave and recounts the harsh reality of his enslavement. Stowe was an ardent advocate of the abolition of slavery, and wrote the novel in response to the passage of the controversial 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which was part of the Compromise of 1850. The Act ordered Northern citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves from the South, thus forcing the generally anti-slavery North to become complicit in the continuance of the ‘peculiar institution’. Thus the popular discontent over the slavery issue helped make ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century and saw its translation into sixty languages. The novel helped keep the flames of anti-slavery sentiment alive, and is therefore sometimes attributed with helping start the American Civil War. Whilst still hailed as a great anti-slavery work of its day, the novel falls short of modern expectations with its stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans.
"So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war"
- what, according to legend, Abraham Lincoln said upon meeting Stowe in 1862