July 25th 1853: Joaquin Murrieta killed
On this day in 1853 the Mexican outlaw Joaquin Murrieta, sometimes known as ‘the Robin Hood of El Dorado’, was supposedly killed by California Rangers. Most sources agree that he moved to California in 1849 to seek his fortune after the Gold Rush. He and his family were subject to racial discrimination, and eventually were attacked by American miners; Murrieta was beaten, his wife raped and his brother murdered. After this he supposedly, having been rejected legal help, sought vengeance and formed a gang of outlaws. However this story appears only in a 1854 novelised version of his life, though he was undoubtedly discriminated against, and other accounts say he turned to crime in frustration at being prevented from finding work. His gang took part in cattle rustling, bank robberies and murder. Eventually the infamy of their gang led the Governor of California to form the State Rangers and place a $5,000 bounty on Murrieta’s head. On July 25th 1853, the Rangers attacked the outlaws’ camp by surprise and in the ensuing gunbattle eight bandits, supposedly including Murrieta himself, were killed. To claim the reward, the Rangers decapitated Murrieta and preserved his head, which later went on public display. To some, Joaquin Murrieta was just a violent bandit, but to others he is a Mexican hero who sought to correct the injustices faced by Mexicans in the United States. Murrieta has become a symbol of Mexican resistance to Anglo-American domination of California, and other lands ceded to the United States after their victory over Mexico in 1848. A group of his descendants continue to work to correct what they see as historical inaccuracies about his life that portray him as nothing more than a bandit. His status as a folk hero is further cemented by the debates over the veracity of stories of his death. Whilst many who knew him testified that the head the Rangers displayed was Murrieta’s, some of his relatives claimed it wasn’t, and thus theories abound that he actually survived and lived into old age.
July 23rd 1885: Ulysses S. Grant dies
On this day in 1885, former Civil War general and 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant died. He became a national icon after he led the Union to victory over Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in the Civil War and secured Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865. He became President in 1869, and enforced Reconstruction and civil rights laws. However, his presidency was marred by stories of his alcoholism and corruption in his administration. He left the office in 1877, and launched an unsuccessful bid for a third term in 1880. In 1885 he died of throat cancer at the age of 63 and his body lay in state.
"I hope that nobody will be distressed on my account."
- Grant’s last words
July 22nd 1977: Deng Xiaoping restored to power
On this day in 1977 the Chinese politician Deng Xiaoping returned to government. He had been a prominent figure during the Chinese Civil War, having first become active in the communist movement while studying in France in the 1920s. He rose through the ranks of the Chinese Communist party but his policies differed from those of Communist leader Mao Zedong, especially regarding the economy and the rapid industrialisation and collectivisation of the Great Leap Forward campaign. He was therefore purged for his ‘capitalistic’ tendencies during Mao’s consolidation of Chinese communism in the Cultural Revolution. Deng was especially sidelined by the hardline leftist ‘Gang of Four’, but after their fall in October 1976 he emerged as the next likely leader of China following Mao’s death a month earlier. Therefore on July 22nd 1977 Deng was restored to the posts of Vice Premier of the State Council, Vice-Chairman of the Central Committee, Vice-Chairman of the Military Commission and Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army. He then succeeded in pushing aside Mao’s chosen successor Hua Guofeng and Deng thus became China’s de facto leader. Whilst in power, Deng made a reputation as a reformer who aimed to open up Chinese society by allowing criticism of the Cultural Revolution; he firmly argued that "Poverty is not socialism" and aimed to lift millions of peasants out of poverty. He also led market reforms that helped make China the global economic force it is today. However Deng was inflexible in his devotion to communism, and the 1989 brutal suppression of protests in Tienanmen Square occurred during his tenure. He also introduced the infamous ‘one-child policy’ in China. In 1984 Deng Xiaoping negotiated with Britain the return of Hong Kong to Chinese control by 1997, but did not live to see its fruition as he died in February 1997 aged 92.
July 20th 1944: Assassination attempt on Hitler
On this day in 1944, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler narrowly survived an assassination attempt in what became known as the July 1944 bomb plot. The plot was led by German Army Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and several military figures who also planned a military coup d’etat after the assassination. The plan was to place a bomb under the table in a briefcase in a conference room in Hitler’s Prussian Wolf’s Lair headquarters. However one of the attendees at the meeting moved the case behind the table leg with his foot, thus deflecting the blast from Hitler, though the blast did kill four in attendance. The Gestapo arrested at least 7000 people in response to the attack and almost 5000 were executed.
July 18th 1969: Chappaquiddick incident
On this day in 1969, after a party on Chappaquiddick island, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) drove his car off a bridge, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy, brother of late President John F. Kennedy, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and admitted he failed to report the incident to the authorities until fishermen found the car and Kopechne’s body. He denied that he was under the influence of alcohol, but whilst negligent driving was considered the cause of Kopechne’s death Kennedy was not prosecuted. Chappaquiddick continued to haunt Kennedy’s political career, and weakened his hopes of a run for the office of President of the United States. Some have taken the incident as another indication of a ‘Kennedy curse’.
On this day in 1999 John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette died in a plane crash. JFK Jr., the son of the late President, was flying the aircraft when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The crash was supposedly due to pilot error. They were reported missing on July 16th and their bodies were found on the ocean floor on July 21st. The tragic death of the assassinated President’s son at age 38, who captured the heart of the nation when he saluted his father’s coffin, fueled the idea of a ‘Kennedy curse’ on the family.
"We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side.But, like his father, he had every gift but length of years”
- John’s uncle Senator Edward Kennedy at his memorial service
July 14th 1789: Storming of the Bastille
On this day in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress in Paris. This event came towards the beginning of the French Revolution which led to the toppling of the monarchy and execution of King Louis XVI. The dramatic events at the Bastille were precipitated by the King’s refusal to approve the reorganisation of the Estates-General, a general assembly designed to represent the clergy, the nobles and the common people. In response to fears of a counter-attack by the King’s forces, revolutionaries planed to seize the weapons in the Bastille. The prison was lightly guarded and the revolutionaries were able to force their way through and the ensuing violence led to the surrender of the defenders. The Bastille was where the French monarchy held their opponents, including figures like the mysterious ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ from 1670 to 1703, and so the mob also released the seven prisoners held there. The Bastille had represented ironclad royal authority and its fall was a major turning point in the revolution. After the Bastille the revolution escalated, with the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and abolition of feudalism in August. A republic was declared in 1792 and the King was beheaded in January of the next year. For its prominent role in the French Revolution, this day is commemorated in France as a public holiday, Bastille Day.
"Is this a revolt?"
"No Majesty, this is a revolution”
- supposed conversation between Louis XVI and adviser Duc de Liancourt after the storming of the Bastille
July 12th 1543: Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr
On this day in 1543, King Henry VIII of England married his sixth and last wife Catherine Parr at Hampton Court Palace. Henry’s previous wife, Catherine Howard, had been executed on 13th February 1542 on charges of adultery. Of his other four previous wives, he divorced two (Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves), one was executed (Anne Boleyn) and Jane Seymour died of natural causes. Catherine Parr helped reconcile the King with his daughters and assisted in restoring them to the line of succession. Henry died on 28th January 1547, and thus his last wife outlived him.
July 24th 1911: Bingham at Machu Picchu
On this day in 1911, American historian Hiram Bingham III with his Peruvian guides arrived at the Inca site of Machu Picchu in the mountains of Peru. Machu Picchu is a 15th Century Inca estate built for emperor Pachacuti which was abandoned as a result of the Spanish conquest. The site lay largely undisturbed for hundreds of years, with only locals knowing of its existence. However, with Bingham’s arrival at the site it became known to the wider world and was studied scientifically; he is thus attributed with ‘re-discovering’ the erroneously called ‘Lost City of the Incas’. Bingham took artefacts from the site to Yale University for examination and only recently has the university agreed to return them to Peru. In the years since Bingham’s expedition, his grandoise claims of how he trekked through wilderness to find the ‘lost city’ have been discredited and instead it has been stressed how the site was accessible and well known to locals. However he is still renowned as the man who introduced the world to this spectacular sight. Restoration work began soon after Bingham’s expedition and the site has since become a major tourist attraction.
July 22nd 2011: Norway terror attacks
On this day in 2011, the 7/22 attacks occurred in Oslo and Utøya, Norway. In Oslo, a car bomb was set off near prominent government buildings killing eight people and injuring 209. The second attack under two hours later in Utøya took place at a Norwegian Labour Party (the ruling party) youth summer camp on the island. There, a gunman killed 69 and injured 110. Four days after the devastating events, 150,000 Norwegians gathered in Oslo carrying roses in memory of those who were killed in the attacks. Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist, was arrested on Utøya island and subsequently found guilty of both attacks. The brutal attacks were the deadliest in Norway since World War Two and three years on we remember all of the 77 victims of this senseless violence.
"Evil can kill a human being but never defeat a people"
- Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg after the attacks
July 21st 1969: Man walks on the Moon
On this day in 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon on July 20th at 20:18 UTC. and Armstrong’s boot hit the surface of the Moon at 02:56 UTC the next day. Aldrin soon joined Armstrong and the pair planted the flag of the United States on the lunar surface, and they received a brief phone call from US President Richard Nixon. The moon landing was broadcast live, reaching an estimated global audience of 450 million. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on July 24th where they were met by the President and celebrated globally. The landing was a major victory for the United States in the Cold War space race with Soviet Russia and fulfilled the goal put in place by the late President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
"That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind"
July 19th 64: Great Fire of Rome begins
On this day in 64 AD, a fire began in the merchant area of Rome and soon swept across the rest of the famed city. The fire burned for six days, and destroyed much of Rome in the process. Some have claimed, though it is debated, that the infamously insane Emperor Nero failed to do anything to control the fire and merely ‘fiddled while Rome burned’. It has not yet been determined whether the fire was caused by accident or arson, but it has been suggested that Nero began the fire himself and made Christians a scapegoat. Indeed, after the fire Nero did take the opportunity to blame the devastation on Rome’s Christian population, thus beginning one of the most intense and prolonged persecutions of the period - the so-called Neronian persecution. However, modern scholars have begun to doubt this old story of Nero’s role in starting the fire.
July 17th 1790: Adam Smith dies
On this day in 1790 the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith died in Edinburgh aged 67. He is best known for his 1776 work ‘The Wealth of Nations’, a treatise on economics which has earned him the title of father of modern economics. He is also remembered as one of the first thinkers to expound the principles of what is now referred to as ‘capitalism’; an economy based upon rational self-interest and a competitive free market in which the ‘invisible hand’ of the market should be trusted. Having enjoyed an illustrious career as a teacher and famed thinker, Smith died at an Edinburgh hospital after a long illness.
July 15th 1979: Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech
On this day in 1979, the US President Jimmy Carter made a televised address that has become known as the ‘crisis of confidence’ or ‘malaise’ speech. The address came during an energy crisis which had its roots in the 1973 oil embargo, which led Carter to conclude that America needed a focus on conserving energy and the use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Carter also encouraged people to be more responsible in their use of gas and electric. It was in this environment that the President made his July 15th speech, which he had spent many weeks preparing at Camp David. He identified a ‘crisis of confidence’ throughout the nation in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. The reception to the speech was initially favourable, but came to be seen as a scolding lecture where Carter was blaming the American people for the crisis in his emphasis on over consumption and consumerism. The address has since become identified with the general period of ‘malaise’ that characterised America in the 1970s, with a flagging economy, uninspiring politicians, heightened racial tensions and seemingly endless war; however Carter never actually used the word in his speech. Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid the year after this speech in 1980 against charismatic Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.
July 13th 1985: Live Aid
On this day in 1985, the Live Aid benefit concerts took place at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organised the concerts to raise money to provide aid for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. Notable artists such as Queen, Phil Collins, David Bowie, U2, The Who, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney performed. The London concert drew 72,000 and the Philadelphia concert was attended by 100,000. The global audience watching the live broadcast is estimated to have been at around 1.9 billion. The event was a great success, ultimately raising around £150m.