November 19, 1863: Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In just 272 words, Lincoln brilliantly and movingly reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought some four months earlier, was the single bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Over the course of three days, more than 45,000 men were killed, injured, captured or went missing. The battle also proved to be the turning point of the war: General Robert E. Lee’s defeat and retreat from Gettysburg marked the last Confederate invasion of Northern territory and the beginning of the Southern army’s ultimate decline.

Charged by Pennsylvania’s governor, Andrew Curtin, to care for the Gettysburg dead, an attorney named David Wills bought 17 acres of pasture to turn into a cemetery for the more than 7,500 who fell in battle. Wills invited Edward Everett, one of the most famous orators of the day, to deliver a speech at the cemetery’s dedication. Almost as an afterthought, Wills also sent a letter to Lincoln—just two weeks before the ceremony—requesting “a few appropriate remarks” to consecrate the grounds.

At the dedication, the crowd listened for two hours to Everett before Lincoln spoke. Lincoln’s address lasted just two or three minutes. The speech reflected his redefined belief that the Civil War was not just a fight to save the Union, but a struggle for freedom and equality for all, an idea Lincoln had not championed in the years leading up to the war. This was his stirring conclusion: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Reception of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was initially mixed, divided strictly along partisan lines. Nevertheless, the “little speech,” as he later called it, is thought by many today to be the most eloquent articulation of the democratic vision ever written.

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November 18, 1991: Terry Waite released

Shiite Muslim kidnappers in Lebanon free Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite after more than four years of captivity. Waite, looking thinner and his hair grayer, was freed along with American educator Thomas M. Sutherland after intense negotiations by the United Nations.

Waite, special envoy of the archbishop of Canterbury, had secured the release of missionaries detained in Iran after the Islamic revolution. He also extracted British hostages from Libya and even succeeded in releasing American hostages from Lebanon in 1986.

A total of 10 captives were released through Waite’s efforts before Shiite Muslims seized him during a return mission to Beirut on January 20, 1987. He was held captive for more than four years before he was finally released.

During captivity, Waite said he was frequently blindfolded, beaten and subjected to mock executions. He spent much of the time chained to a radiator, suffered from asthma and was transported in a giant refrigerator as his captors moved him about.

Waite, 52, made an impromptu, chaotic appearance before reporters in Damascus after his release to Syrian officials. He said one of his captors expressed regret as he informed Waite he was about to be released.

“He also said to me: ‘We apologize for having captured you. We recognize that now this was a wrong thing to do, that holding hostages achieves no useful, constructive purpose,’” Waite said.

The release of Waite and Sutherland left five Western hostages left in Beirut—three Americans, including Terry Anderson, and two Germans. The Americans would be released by December 1991, the Germans in June 1992.

Some 96 foreign hostages were taken and held during the Lebanon hostage crisis between 1982 and 1992. The victims were mostly from Western countries, and mostly journalists, diplomats or teachers.Twenty-five of them were Americans. At least 10 hostages died in captivity. Some were murdered and others died from lack of adequate medical attention to illnesses.

The hostages were originally taken to serve as insurance against retaliation against Hezbollah, which was thought to be responsible for the killing of over 300 Americans in the Marine barracks and embassy bombings in Beirut. It was widely believed that Iran and Syria also played a role in the kidnappings.

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November 17, 1558: Elizabethan Age begins

Queen Mary I, the monarch of England and Ireland since 1553, dies and is succeeded by her 25-year-old half-sister, Elizabeth.

The two half-sisters, both daughters of King Henry VIII, had a stormy relationship during Mary’s five-year reign. Mary, who was brought up as a Catholic, enacted pro-Catholic legislation and made efforts to restore the pope to supremacy in England. A Protestant rebellion ensued, and Queen Mary imprisoned Elizabeth, a Protestant, in the Tower of London on suspicion of complicity. After Mary’s death, Elizabeth survived several Catholic plots against her; though her ascension was greeted with approval by most of England’s lords, who were largely Protestant and hoped for greater religious tolerance under a Protestant queen. Under the early guidance of Secretary of State Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth repealed Mary’s pro-Catholic legislation, established a permanent Protestant Church of England, and encouraged the Calvinist reformers in Scotland.

In foreign affairs, Elizabeth practiced a policy of strengthening England’s Protestant allies and dividing her foes. Elizabeth was opposed by the pope, who refused to recognize her legitimacy, and by Spain, a Catholic nation that was at the height of its power. In 1588, English-Spanish rivalry led to an abortive Spanish invasion of England in which the Spanish Armada, the greatest naval force in the world at the time, was destroyed by storms and a determined English navy.

With increasing English domination at sea, Elizabeth encouraged voyages of discovery, such as Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world and Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions to the North American coast.

The long reign of Elizabeth, who became known as the “Virgin Queen” for her reluctance to endanger her authority through marriage, coincided with the flowering of the English Renaissance, associated with such renowned authors as William Shakespeare. By her death in 1603, England had become a major world power in every respect, and Queen Elizabeth I passed into history as one of England’s greatest monarchs.

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November 16, 1532: Pizarro traps Incan emperor Atahualpa

On November 16, 1532, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish explorer and conquistador, springs a trap on the Incan emperor, Atahualpa. With fewer than 200 men against several thousand, Pizarro lures Atahualpa to a feast in the emperor’s honor and then opens fire on the unarmed Incans. Pizarro’s men massacre the Incans and capture Atahualpa, forcing him to convert to Christianity before eventually killing him.

Pizarro’s timing for conquest was perfect. By 1532, the Inca Empire was embroiled in a civil war that had decimated the population and divided the people’s loyalties. Atahualpa, the younger son of former Incan ruler Huayna Capac, had just deposed his half-brother Huascar and was in the midst of reuniting his kingdom when Pizarro arrived in 1531, with the endorsement of Spain’s King Charles V. On his way to the Incan capital, Pizarro learned of the war and began recruiting soldiers still loyal to Huascar.

Pizarro met Atahualpa just outside Cajamarca, a small Incan town tucked into a valley of the Andes. Sending his brother Hernan as an envoy, Pizarro invited Atahualpa back to Cajamarca for a feast in honor of Atahualpa’s ascendance to the throne. Though he had nearly 80,000 soldiers with him in the mountains, Atahualpa consented to attend the feast with only 5,000 unarmed men. He was met by Vicente de Valverde, a friar traveling with Pizarro. While Pizarro’s men lay in wait, Valverde urged Atahualpa to convert and accept Charles V as sovereign. Atahualpa angrily refused, prompting Valverde to give the signal for Pizarro to open fire. Trapped in tight quarters, the panicking Incan soldiers made easy prey for the Spanish. Pizarro’s men slaughtered the 5,000 Incans in just an hour. Pizarro himself suffered the only Spanish injury: a cut on his hand sustained as he saved Atahualpa from death.

Realizing Atahualpa was initially more valuable alive than dead, Pizarro kept the emperor in captivity while he made plans to take over his empire.In response,Atahualpa appealed to his captors’ greed, offering them a room full of gold and silver in exchange for his liberation. Pizarro consented, but after receiving the ransom, Pizarro brought Atahualpa up on charges of stirring up rebellion. By that time, Atahualpa had played his part in pacifying the Incans while Pizarro secured his power, and Pizarro considered him disposable. Atahualpa was to be burned at the stake—the Spanish believed this to be a fitting death for a heathen—but at the last moment, Valverde offered the emperor clemency if he would convert. Atahualpa submitted, only to be executed by strangulation. The day was August 29, 1533.

Fighting between the Spanish and the Incas would continue well after Atahualpa’s death as Spain consolidated its conquests. Pizarro’s bold victory at Cajamarca, however, effectively marked the end of the Inca Empire and the beginning of the European colonization of South America.

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November 15, 1867: First stock ticker debuts

On this day in 1867, the first stock ticker is unveiled in New York City. The advent of the ticker ultimately revolutionized the stock market by making up-to-the-minute prices available to investors around the country. Prior to this development, information from the New York Stock Exchange, which has been around since 1792, traveled by mail or messenger.

The ticker was the brainchild of Edward Calahan, who configured a telegraph machine to print stock quotes on streams of paper tape (the same paper tape later used in ticker-tape parades). The ticker, which caught on quickly with investors, got its name from the sound its type wheel made.

Calahan worked for the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company, which rented its tickers to brokerage houses and regional exchanges for a fee and then transmitted the latest gold and stock prices to all its machines at the same time. In 1869, Thomas Edison, a former telegraph operator, patented an improved, easier-to-use version of Calahan’s ticker. Edison’s ticker was his first lucrative invention and, through the manufacture and sale of stock tickers and other telegraphic devices, he made enough money to open his own lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he developed the light bulb and phonograph, among other transformative inventions.

The last mechanical stock ticker debuted in 1960 and was eventually replaced by computerized tickers with electronic displays. A ticker shows a stock’s symbol, how many shares have traded that day and the price per share. It also tells how much the price has changed from the previous day’s closing price and whether it’s an up or down change. A common misconception is that there is one ticker used by everyone. In fact, private data companies run a variety of tickers; each provides information about a select mix of stocks.

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November 14, 1851: Moby-Dick published

On this day in 1851, Moby-Dick, a novel by Herman Melville about the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, is published by Harper & Brothers in New York. Moby-Dick is now considered a great classic of American literature and contains one of the most famous opening lines in fiction: “Call me Ishmael.” Initially, though, the book about Captain Ahab and his quest for a giant white whale was a flop.

Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819 and as a young man spent time in the merchant marines, the U.S. Navy and on a whaling ship in the South Seas. In 1846, he published his first novel, Typee, a romantic adventure based on his experiences in Polynesia. The book was a success and a sequel, Omoo, was published in 1847. Three more novels followed, with mixed critical and commercial results. Melville’s sixth book, Moby-Dick, was first published in October 1851 in London, in three volumes titled The Whale, and then in the U.S. a month later. Melville had promised his publisher an adventure story similar to his popular earlier works, but instead, Moby-Dick was a tragic epic, influenced in part by Melville’s friend and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, neighbor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novels include The Scarlet Letter.

After Moby-Dick‘s disappointing reception, Melville continued to produce novels, short stories (Bartleby) and poetry, but writing wasn’t paying the bills so in 1865 he returned to New York to work as a customs inspector, a job he held for 20 years.

Melville died in 1891, largely forgotten by the literary world. By the 1920s, scholars had rediscovered his work, particularly Moby-Dick, which would eventually become a staple of high school reading lists across the United States. Billy Budd, Melville’s final novel, was published in 1924, 33 years after his death.

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November 13, 1982: Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedicated

Near the end of a weeklong national salute to Americans who served in the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington after a march to its site by thousands of veterans of the conflict. The long-awaited memorial was a simple V-shaped black-granite wall inscribed with the names of the 57,939 Americans who died in the conflict, arranged in order of death, not rank, as was common in other memorials.

The designer of the memorial was Maya Lin, a Yale University architecture student who entered a nationwide competition to create a design for the monument. Lin, born in Ohio in 1959, was the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Many veterans’ groups were opposed to Lin’s winning design, which lacked a standard memorial’s heroic statues and stirring words. However, a remarkable shift in public opinion occurred in the months after the memorial’s dedication. Veterans and families of the dead walked the black reflective wall, seeking the names of their loved ones killed in the conflict. Once the name was located, visitors often made an etching or left a private offering, from notes and flowers to dog tags and cans of beer.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial soon became one of the most visited memorials in the nation’s capital. A Smithsonian Institution director called it “a community of feelings, almost a sacred precinct,” and a veteran declared that “it’s the parade we never got.” “The Wall” drew together both those who fought and those who marched against the war and served to promote national healing a decade after the divisive conflict’s end.

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November 12, 1954: Ellis Island closes

On this day in 1954, Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.

On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from Ireland, became the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designated as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Before that time, the processing of immigrants had been handled by individual states.

Not all immigrants who sailed into New York had to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submitted to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they passed through customs. People in third class, though, were transported to Ellis Island, where they underwent medical and legal inspections to ensure they didn’t have a contagious disease or some condition that would make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants were denied entrance into the U.S.

Immigration to Ellis Island peaked between 1892 and 1924, during which time the 3.3-acre island was enlarged with landfill (by the 1930s it reached its current 27.5-acre size) and additional buildings were constructed to handle the massive influx of immigrants. During the busiest year of operation, 1907, over 1 million people were processed at Ellis Island.

With America’s entrance into World War I, immigration declined and Ellis Island was used as a detention center for suspected enemies. Following the war, Congress passed quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduced the number of newcomers allowed into the country and also enabled immigrants to be processed at U.S. consulates abroad. After 1924, Ellis Island switched from a processing center to serving other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, was released and Ellis Island officially closed.

Beginning in 1984, Ellis Island underwent a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in U.S. history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened to the public and today is visited by almost 2 million people each year.

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November 11, 1918: World War I ends

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ends. At 5 a.m. that morning, Germany, bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiégne, France. The First World War left nine million soldiers dead and 21 million wounded, with Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Great Britain each losing nearly a million or more lives. In addition, at least five million civilians died from disease, starvation, or exposure.

On June 28, 1914, in an event that is widely regarded as sparking the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Ferdinand had been inspecting his uncle’s imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the threat of Serbian nationalists who wanted these Austro-Hungarian possessions to join newly independent Serbia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. However, as Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.

On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia’s ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium’s ally, to declare war against Germany.

For the most part, the people of Europe greeted the outbreak of war with jubilation. Most patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months. Of the initial belligerents, Germany was most prepared for the outbreak of hostilities, and its military leaders had formatted a sophisticated military strategy known as the “Schlieffen Plan,” which envisioned the conquest of France through a great arcing offensive through Belgium and into northern France. Russia, slow to mobilize, was to be kept occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces while Germany attacked France.

The Schlieffen Plan was nearly successful, but in early September the French rallied and halted the German advance at the bloody Battle of the Marne near Paris. By the end of 1914, well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and neither for the Allies nor the Central Powers was a final victory in sight. On the western front—the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium—the combatants settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition.

In 1915, the Allies attempted to break the stalemate with an amphibious invasion of Turkey, which had joined the Central Powers in October 1914, but after heavy bloodshed the Allies were forced to retreat in early 1916. The year 1916 saw great offensives by Germany and Britain along the western front, but neither side accomplished a decisive victory. In the east, Germany was more successful, and the disorganized Russian army suffered terrible losses, spurring the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and immediately set about negotiating peace with Germany. In 1918, the infusion of American troops and resources into the western front finally tipped the scale in the Allies’ favor. Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies on November 11, 1918.

World War I was known as the “war to end all wars” because of the great slaughter and destruction it caused. Unfortunately, the peace treaty that officially ended the conflict—the Treaty of Versailles of 1919—forced punitive terms on Germany that destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for World War II.

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