March 22, 1765: Stamp Act imposed on American colonies

In an effort to raise funds to pay off debts and defend the vast new American territories won from the French in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the British government passes the Stamp Act on this day in 1765. The legislation levied a direct tax on all materials printed for commercial and legal use in the colonies, from newspapers and pamphlets to playing cards and dice.

Though the Stamp Act employed a strategy that was a common fundraising vehicle in England, it stirred a storm of protest in the colonies. The colonists had recently been hit with three major taxes: the Sugar Act (1764), which levied new duties on imports of textiles, wines, coffee and sugar; the Currency Act (1764), which caused a major decline in the value of the paper money used by colonists; and the Quartering Act (1765), which required colonists to provide food and lodging to British troops.

With the passing of the Stamp Act, the colonists’ grumbling finally became an articulated response to what they saw as the mother country’s attempt to undermine their economic strength and independence. They raised the issue of taxation without representation, and formed societies throughout the colonies to rally against the British government and nobles who sought to exploit the colonies as a source of revenue and raw materials. By October of that year, nine of the 13 colonies sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress, at which the colonists drafted the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances,” a document that railed against the autocratic policies of the mercantilist British empire.

Realizing that it actually cost more to enforce the Stamp Act in the protesting colonies than it did to abolish it, the British government repealed the tax the following year. The fracas over the Stamp Act, though, helped plant seeds for a far larger movement against the British government and the eventual battle for independence. Most important of these was the formation of the Sons of Liberty–a group of tradesmen who led anti-British protests in Boston and other seaboard cities–and other groups of wealthy landowners who came together from the across the colonies. Well after the Stamp Act was repealed, these societies continued to meet in opposition to what they saw as the abusive policies of the British empire. Out of their meetings, a growing nationalism emerged that would culminate in the fighting of the American Revolution only a decade later.

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March 21, 1871: Stanley begins search for Livingstone

On this day in 1871, journalist Henry Morton Stanley begins his famous search through Africa for the missing British explorer Dr. David Livingstone.

In the late 19th century, Europeans and Americans were deeply fascinated by the “Dark Continent” of Africa and its many mysteries. Few did more to increase Africa’s fame than Livingstone, one of England’s most intrepid explorers. In August 1865, he set out on a planned two-year expedition to find the source of the Nile River. Livingstone also wanted to help bring about the abolition of the slave trade, which was devastating Africa’s population.

Almost six years after his expedition began, little had been heard from Livingstone. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., editor of the New York Herald, decided to capitalize on the public’s craze for news of their hero. He sent Stanley to lead an expedition into the African wilderness to find Livingstone or bring back proof of his death. At age 28, Stanley had his own fascinating past. As a young orphan in Wales, he crossed the Atlantic on the crew of a merchant ship. He jumped ship in New Orleans and later served in the Civil War as both a Confederate and a Union soldier before beginning a career in journalism.

After setting out from Zanzibar in March 1871, Stanley led his caravan of nearly 2,000 men into the interior of Africa. Nearly eight months passed–during which Stanley contracted dysentery, cerebral malaria and smallpox–before the expedition approached the village of Ujiji, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Sick and poverty-stricken, Livingstone had come to Ujiji that July after living for some time at the mercy of Arab slave traders. When Stanley’s caravan entered the village on October 27, flying the American flag, villagers crowded toward the new arrivals. Spotting a white man with a gray beard in the crowd, Stanley stepped toward him and stretched out his hand: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

These words–and Livingstone’s grateful response–soon became famous across Europe and the United States. Though Stanley urged Livingstone to return with him to London, the explorer vowed to continue his original mission. Livingstone died 18 months later in today’s Zambia; his body was embalmed and returned to Britain, where he was buried in Westminster Abbey. As for Stanley, he returned to Africa to fulfill a promise he had made to Livingstone to find the source of the Nile. He later damaged his reputation by accepting money from King Leopold II of Belgium to help create the Belgian-ruled Congo Free State and promote the slave trade. When he left Africa, Stanley resumed his British citizenship and even served in Parliament, but when he died he was refused burial in Westminster Abbey because of his actions in the Congo Free State.

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March 20, 1965: LBJ sends federal troops to Alabama

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson notifies Alabama’s Governor George Wallace that he will use federal authority to call up the Alabama National Guard in order to supervise a planned civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

Intimidation and discrimination had earlier prevented Selma’s black population–over half the city–from registering and voting. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, a group of 600 demonstrators marched on the capital city of Montgomery to protest this disenfranchisement and the earlier killing of a black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, by a state trooper.

In brutal scenes that were later broadcast on television, state and local police attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. TV viewers far and wide were outraged by the images, and a protest march was organized just two days after “Bloody Sunday” by Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King turned the marchers around, however, rather than carry out the march without federal judicial approval.

After an Alabama federal judge ruled on March 18 that a third march could go ahead, President Johnson and his advisers worked quickly to find a way to ensure the safety of King and his demonstrators on their way from Selma to Montgomery. The most powerful obstacle in their way was Governor Wallace, an outspoken segregationist who was reluctant to spend any state funds on protecting the demonstrators. Hours after promising Johnson–in telephone calls recorded by the White House–that he would call out the Alabama National Guard to maintain order, Wallace went on television and demanded that Johnson send in federal troops instead.

Furious, Johnson told Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to write a press release stating that because Wallace refused to use the 10,000 available guardsmen to preserve order in his state, Johnson himself was calling the guard up and giving them all necessary support. Several days later, 50,000 marchers followed King some 54 miles, under the watchful eyes of state and federal troops.

Arriving safely in Montgomery on March 25, they watched King deliver his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech from the steps of the Capitol building. The clash between Johnson and Wallace–and Johnson’s decisive action–was an important turning point in the civil rights movement. Within five months, Congress had passed the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson proudly signed into law on August 6, 1965.

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March 19, 2003: War in Iraq begins

On this day in 2003, the United States, along with coalition forces primarily from the United Kingdom, initiates war on Iraq. Just after explosions began to rock Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, U.S. President George W. Bush announced in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” President Bush and his advisors built much of their case for war on the idea that Iraq, under dictator Saddam Hussein, possessed or was in the process of building weapons of mass destruction.

Hostilities began about 90 minutes after the U.S.-imposed deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war passed. The first targets, which Bush said were “of military importance,” were hit with Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships stationed in the Persian Gulf. In response to the attacks, Republic of Iraq radio in Baghdad announced, “the evil ones, the enemies of God, the homeland and humanity, have committed the stupidity of aggression against our homeland and people.”

Though Saddam Hussein had declared in early March 2003 that, “it is without doubt that the faithful will be victorious against aggression,” he went into hiding soon after the American invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape. Coalition forces were able to topple his regime and capture Iraq’s major cities in just three weeks, sustaining few casualties. President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1, 2003. Despite the defeat of conventional military forces in Iraq, an insurgency has continued an intense guerrilla war in the nation in the years since military victory was announced, resulting in thousands of coalition military, insurgent and civilian deaths.

After an intense manhunt, U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in a six-to-eight-foot deep hole, nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as “a man resigned to his fate.” Hussein was arrested and began trial for crimes against his people, including mass killings, in October 2005.

In June 2004, the provisional government in place since soon after Saddam’s ouster transferred power to the Iraqi Interim Government. In January 2005, the Iraqi people elected a 275-member Iraqi National Assembly. A new constitution for the country was ratified that October. On November 6, 2006, Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. After an unsuccessful appeal, he was executed on December 30, 2006.

No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

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March 18, 1852: Wells and Fargo start shipping and banking company

On this day in 1852, in New York City, Henry Wells and William G. Fargo join with several other investors to launch their namesake business.

The discovery of gold in California in 1849 prompted a huge spike in the demand for cross-country shipping. Wells and Fargo decided to take advantage of these great opportunities. In July 1852, their company shipped its first loads of freight from the East Coast to mining camps scattered around northern California. The company contracted with independent stagecoach companies to provide the fastest possible transportation and delivery of gold dust, important documents and other valuable freight. It also served as a bank–buying gold dust, selling paper bank drafts and providing loans to help fuel California’s growing economy.

In 1857, Wells, Fargo and Co. formed the Overland Mail Company, known as the “Butterfield Line,” which provided regular mail and passenger service along an ever-growing number of routes. In the boom-and-bust economy of the 1850s, the company earned a reputation as a trustworthy and reliable business, and its logo–the classic stagecoach–became famous. For a premium price, Wells, Fargo and Co. would send an employee on horseback to deliver or pick up a message or package.

Wells, Fargo and Co. merged with several other “Pony Express” and stagecoach lines in 1866 to become the unrivaled leader in transportation in the West. When the transcontinental railroad was completed three years later, the company began using railroad to transport its freight. By 1910, its shipping network connected 6,000 locations, from the urban centers of the East and the farming towns of the Midwest to the ranching and mining centers of Texas and California and the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest.

After splitting from the freight business in 1905, the banking branch of the company merged with the Nevada National Bank and established new headquarters in San Francisco. During World War I, the U.S. government nationalized the company’s shipping routes and combined them with the railroads into the American Railway Express, effectively putting an end to Wells, Fargo and Co. as a transportation and delivery business. The following April, the banking headquarters was destroyed in a major earthquake, but the vaults remained intact and the bank’s business continued to grow. After two later mergers, the Wells Fargo Bank American Trust Company–shortened to the Wells Fargo Bank in 1962–became, and has remained, one of the biggest banking institutions in the United States.

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March 17, 461: Saint Patrick dies

On this day in 461 A.D., Saint Patrick, Christian missionary, bishop and apostle of Ireland, dies at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland.

Much of what is known about Patrick’s legendary life comes from the Confessio, a book he wrote during his last years. Born in Great Britain, probably in Scotland, to a well-to-do Christian family of Roman citizenship, Patrick was captured and enslaved at age 16 by Irish marauders. For the next six years, he worked as a herder in Ireland, turning to a deepening religious faith for comfort. Following the counsel of a voice he heard in a dream one night, he escaped and found passage on a ship to Britain, where he was eventually reunited with his family.

According to the Confessio, in Britain Patrick had another dream, in which an individual named Victoricus gave him a letter, entitled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, Patrick seemed to hear the voices of Irishmen pleading him to return to their country and walk among them once more. After studying for the priesthood, Patrick was ordained a bishop. He arrived in Ireland in 433 and began preaching the Gospel, converting many thousands of Irish and building churches around the country. After 40 years of living in poverty, teaching, traveling and working tirelessly, Patrick died on March 17, 461 in Saul, where he had built his first church.

Since that time, countless legends have grown up around Patrick. Made the patron saint of Ireland, he is said to have baptized hundreds of people on a single day, and to have used a three-leaf clover–the famous shamrock–to describe the Holy Trinity. In art, he is often portrayed trampling on snakes, in accordance with the belief that he drove those reptiles out of Ireland. For thousands of years, the Irish have observed the day of Saint Patrick’s death as a religious holiday, attending church in the morning and celebrating with food and drink in the afternoon. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade, though, took place not in Ireland, but the United States, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. As the years went on, the parades became a show of unity and strength for persecuted Irish-American immigrants, and then a popular celebration of Irish-American heritage. The party went global in 1995, when the Irish government began a large-scale campaign to market St. Patrick’s Day as a way of driving tourism and showcasing Ireland’s many charms to the rest of the world. Today, March 17 is a day of international celebration, as millions of people around the globe put on their best green clothing to drink beer, watch parades and toast the luck of the Irish.

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March 16, 1802: U.S. Military Academy established

The United States Military Academy–the first military school in the United States–is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Located at West Point, New York, the U.S. Military Academy is often simply known as West Point.

Located on the high west bank of New York’s Hudson River, West Point was the site of a Revolutionary-era fort built to protect the Hudson River Valley from British attack. In 1780, Patriot General Benedict Arnold, the commander of the fort, agreed to surrender West Point to the British in exchange for 6,000 pounds. However, the plot was uncovered before it fell into British hands, and Arnold fled to the British for protection.

Ten years after the establishment of the U.S. Military Academy in 1802, the growing threat of another war with Great Britain resulted in congressional action to expand the academy’s facilities and increase the West Point corps. Beginning in 1817, the U.S. Military Academy was reorganized by superintendent Sylvanus Thayer–later known as the “father of West Point”–and the school became one of the nation’s finest sources of civil engineers. During the Mexican-American War, West Point graduates filled the leading ranks of the victorious U.S. forces, and with the outbreak of the Civil War former West Point classmates regretfully lined up against one another in the defense of their native states.

In 1870, the first African-American cadet was admitted into the U.S. Military Academy, and in 1976, the first female cadets. The academy is now under the general direction and supervision of the department of the U.S. Army and has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students.

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March 15, 1965: Johnson calls for equal voting rights

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all.

Using the phrase “we shall overcome,” borrowed from African-American leaders struggling for equal rights, Johnson declared that “every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” Johnson reminded the nation that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War, gave all citizens the right to vote regardless of race or color. But states had defied the Constitution and erected barriers. Discrimination had taken the form of literacy, knowledge or character tests administered solely to African-Americans to keep them from registering to vote.

“Their cause must be our cause too,”Johnson said. “Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

The speech was delivered eight days after racial violence erupted in Selma, Alabama. Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King and over 500 supporters were attacked while planning a march from Selma to Montgomery to register African-Americans to vote. The police violence that erupted resulted in the death of a King supporter, a white Unitarian Minister from Boston named James J. Reeb. Television news coverage of the event galvanized voting rights supporters in Congress.

A second attempt to march to Montgomery was also blocked by police. It took Federal intervention with the “federalizing” of the Alabama national guard and the addition of over 2,000 other guards to allow the march to begin.

The march to Montgomery finally began March 21 with over 3,000 participants under the glare of worldwide news publicity.

The violence, however, continued. Just after the march was successfully completed on March 25, four Klansman shot and killed Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo as she drove marchers back to Selma.

On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which made it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to blacks.

While state and local enforcement of the act was initially weak, mainly in the South, the Voting Rights Act gave African-American voters the legal means to challenge voting restrictions and vastly improved voter turnout. In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among blacks increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon extended the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and lowered the eligible voting age for all voters to 18.

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March 14, 1879: Albert Einstein born

On March 14, 1879, Albert Einstein is born, the son of a Jewish electrical engineer in Ulm, Germany. Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity drastically altered man’s view of the universe, and his work in particle and energy theory helped make possible quantum mechanics and, ultimately, the atomic bomb.

After a childhood in Germany and Italy, Einstein studied physics and mathematics at the Federal Polytechnic Academy in Zurich, Switzerland. He became a Swiss citizen and in 1905 was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Zurich while working at the Swiss patent office in Bern. That year, which historians of Einstein’s career call the annus mirabilis–the “miracle year”–he published five theoretical papers that were to have a profound effect on the development of modern physics.

In the first of these, titled “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light,” Einstein theorized that light is made up of individual quanta (photons) that demonstrate particle-like properties while collectively behaving like a wave. The hypothesis, an important step in the development of quantum theory, was arrived at through Einstein’s examination of the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon in which some solids emit electrically charged particles when struck by light. This work would later earn him the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics.

In the second paper, he devised a new method of counting and determining the size of the atoms and molecules in a given space, and in the third he offered a mathematical explanation for the constant erratic movement of particles suspended in a fluid, known as Brownian motion. These two papers provided indisputable evidence of the existence of atoms, which at the time was still disputed by a few scientists.

Einstein’s fourth groundbreaking scientific work of 1905 addressed what he termed his special theory of relativity. In special relativity, time and space are not absolute, but relative to the motion of the observer. Thus, two observers traveling at great speeds in regard to each other would not necessarily observe simultaneous events in time at the same moment, nor necessarily agree in their measurements of space. In Einstein’s theory, the speed of light, which is the limiting speed of any body having mass, is constant in all frames of reference. In the fifth paper that year, an exploration of the mathematics of special relativity, Einstein announced that mass and energy were equivalent and could be calculated with an equation, E=mc2.

Although the public was not quick to embrace his revolutionary science, Einstein was welcomed into the circle of Europe’s most eminent physicists and given professorships in Zýrich, Prague, and Berlin. In 1916, he published “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity,” which proposed that gravity, as well as motion, can affect the intervals of time and of space. According to Einstein, gravitation is not a force, as Isaac Newton had argued, but a curved field in the space-time continuum, created by the presence of mass. An object of very large gravitational mass, such as the sun, would therefore appear to warp space and time around it, which could be demonstrated by observing starlight as it skirted the sun on its way to earth. In 1919, astronomers studying a solar eclipse verified predictions Einstein made in the general theory of relativity, and he became an overnight celebrity. Later, other predictions of general relativity, such as a shift in the orbit of the planet Mercury and the probable existence of black holes, were confirmed by scientists.

During the next decade, Einstein made continued contributions to quantum theory and began work on a unified field theory, which he hoped would encompass quantum mechanics and his own relativity theory as a grand explanation of the workings of the universe. As a world-renowned public figure, he became increasingly political, taking up the cause of Zionism and speaking out against militarism and rearmament. In his native Germany, this made him an unpopular figure, and after Nazi leader Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933 Einstein renounced his German citizenship and left the country.

He later settled in the United States, where he accepted a post at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He would remain there for the rest of his life, working on his unified field theory and relaxing by sailing on a local lake or playing his violin. He became an American citizen in 1940.

In 1939, despite his lifelong pacifist beliefs, he agreed to write to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on behalf of a group of scientists who were concerned with American inaction in the field of atomic-weapons research. Like the other scientists, he feared sole German possession of such a weapon. He played no role, however, in the subsequent Manhattan Project and later deplored the use of atomic bombs against Japan. After the war, he called for the establishment of a world government that would control nuclear technology and prevent future armed conflict.

In 1950, he published his unified field theory, which was quietly criticized as a failure. A unified explanation of gravitation, subatomic phenomena, and electromagnetism remains elusive today. Albert Einstein, one of the most creative minds in human history, died in Princeton in 1955.

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March 13, 1942: U.S. Army launches K-9 Corps

On this day in 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army begins training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, or “K-9 Corps.”

Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches and providing some measure of psychological comfort to the soldiers. The most famous dog to emerge from the war was Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned puppy of German war dogs found in France in 1918 and taken to the United States, where he made his film debut in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell’s River. As the first bona fide animal movie star, Rin Tin Tin made the little-known German Shepherd breed famous across the country.

In the United States, the practice of training dogs for military purposes was largely abandoned after World War I. When the country entered World War II in December 1941, the American Kennel Association and a group called Dogs for Defense began a movement to mobilize dog owners to donate healthy and capable animals to the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army. Training began in March 1942, and that fall the QMC was given the task of training dogs for the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard as well.

The K-9 Corps initially accepted over 30 breeds of dogs, but the list was soon narrowed to seven: German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman Pinschers, collies, Siberian Huskies, Malumutes and Eskimo dogs. Members of the K-9 Corps were trained for a total of 8 to 12 weeks. After basic obedience training, they were sent through one of four specialized programs to prepare them for work as sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs or mine-detection dogs. In active combat duty, scout dogs proved especially essential by alerting patrols to the approach of the enemy and preventing surprise attacks.

The top canine hero of World War II was Chips, a German Shepherd who served with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, forcing the entire crew to surrender. The wounded Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart–all of which were later revoked due to an Army policy preventing official commendation of animals.

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