Monday, September 13, 2010

New Website

I've moved my blog over to

Come check out my new site featuring videos, links, and exhibits!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Armstrong Walks on the Moon


At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." At the time, the United States was still trailing the Soviet Union in space developments, and Cold War-era America welcomed Kennedy's bold proposal.

In 1966, after five years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, tragedy struck at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.

Despite the setback, NASA and its thousands of employees forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.

At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: "The Eagle has landed."

At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module's ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, which he later contended was slightly garbled by his microphone and meant to be "that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon.

"Buzz" Aldrin joined him on the moon's surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon--July 1969 A.D--We came in peace for all mankind."

At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today's dollars). The expense was justified by Kennedy's 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished ongoing missions lost their viability.

Here is the video of the Eagle landing on the moon and Armstrong’s famous words:

[Image via 4bp.blogspot]

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Most Famous Duel in American History: Hamilton Killed By Burr

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met on the dueling grounds of Weehawken, New Jersey to engage in one of the most famous duels in American history. The two politicians had been engaged in a war of words since 1791 when Burr won a United States Senate seat from Hamilton’s father in law. Hamilton, a Federalist, and Burr, a Republican, continued to fight over politics until 1804. That year, Burr suffered a crushing loss in the New York governor’s race, and believed, with some cause, that Hamilton had helped to convince voters to keep Burr out of office. What actually led to the duel was Hamilton’s supposed conduct at a dinner party.
In February 1804, Hamilton attended a dinner party at the home of Dr. Charles D. Cooper. At the dinner, Hamilton shared his own scathing views of Burr. At one time (though not at the dinner) he stated unequivocally, “[He is] For or against nothing, but as it suits his interests of ambitions. I feel the religious duty to oppose his career.” Cooper later related Hamilton’s bad opinion of Burr in a letter to Philip Schuyler.  At some point, this opinion traveled from a private conversation through the letter to Schuyler to the New York newspaper the “Albany Register.” The public smearing of Burr gave him an opportunity to revive his flagging political career (or so he thought). He challenged Hamilton to a duel for offending his honor. Hamilton couldn’t deny the accusation, which was substantively true, without offending his own honor. That said, to refuse to duel Burr would also ruin his honor. Thinking he had no other option, Hamilton agreed to the duel, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The two met on July 11th and fired .56 caliber revolvers at one another. Burr escaped unscathed while Hamilton was mortally wounded. He died the next day. The duel robber the young country of one of the most brilliant minds the young nation had in its ranks.
While Hamilton paid the ultimate price in the duel, Burr also suffered. The gambit he hoped would revitalize his political career essentially helped to end it. After his term as Vice President (1801-1805), Burr was never elected to another office. He was also charged with two counts of murder as a result of the duel. You might think the duel and its fallout would have ended Burr’s penchant for desperate action in the hopes of making political gains. Unfortunately, in history as in life some people do not learn from their mistakes. Burr’s next plot to gain power and prestige would end with charges of treason.

A few years ago, people gathered on the anniversary of the Burr and Hamilton duel at the scene of the crime to reenact history. Check it out:

Now that you know the facts about one of the most famous duels in American history, lets hope you never find yourself in this position.

To read some of the correspondence between Hamilton and Burr that led to the duel, check this out.

[Image via Rutgers]

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Monkey Trial Begins


In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called "Monkey Trial" begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.

The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to "teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in the defense, and the stage was set for one of the most famous trials in U.S. history.

On July 10, the Monkey Trial got underway, and within a few days hordes of spectators and reporters had descended on Dayton as preachers set up revival tents along the city's main street to keep the faithful stirred up. Inside the Rhea County Courthouse, the defense suffered early setbacks when Judge John Raulston ruled against their attempt to prove the law unconstitutional and then refused to end his practice of opening each day's proceeding with prayer.

Outside, Dayton took on a carnival-like atmosphere as an exhibit featuring two chimpanzees and a supposed "missing link" opened in town, and vendors sold Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. The missing link was in fact Jo Viens of Burlington, Vermont, a 51-year-old man who was of short stature and possessed a receding forehead and a protruding jaw. One of the chimpanzees--named Joe Mendi--wore a plaid suit, a brown fedora, and white spats, and entertained Dayton's citizens by monkeying around on the courthouse lawn.

In the courtroom, Judge Raulston destroyed the defense's strategy by ruling that expert scientific testimony on evolution was inadmissible--on the grounds that it was Scopes who was on trial, not the law he had violated. The next day, Raulston ordered the trial moved to the courthouse lawn, fearing that the weight of the crowd inside was in danger of collapsing the floor.

In front of several thousand spectators in the open air, Darrow changed his tactics and as his sole witness called Bryan in an attempt to discredit his literal interpretation of the Bible. In a searching examination, Bryan was subjected to severe ridicule and forced to make ignorant and contradictory statements to the amusement of the crowd. On July 21, in his closing speech, Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty in order that the case might be appealed. Under Tennessee law, Bryan was thereby denied the opportunity to deliver the closing speech he had been preparing for weeks. After eight minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict, and Raulston ordered Scopes to pay a fine of $100, the minimum the law allowed. Although Bryan had won the case, he had been publicly humiliated and his fundamentalist beliefs had been disgraced. Five days later, on July 26, he lay down for a Sunday afternoon nap and never woke up.

In 1927, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the Monkey Trial verdict on a technicality but left the constitutional issues unresolved until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar Arkansas law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. 

[Image via siarchives]

Monday, July 5, 2010

That's Alright Mama....It's Only Rock N Roll

This past weekend we’ve all probably had the chance to see some great fireworks…so I thought it would be appropriate to end the holiday weekend by commemorating a sonic firework that exploded onto the radio airwaves in 1954. 
Today in 1954, Elvis Presley recorded “That’s Alright Mama,” which was his first commercial record. It is one of the groundbreaking moments in rock and roll that helped crossover the genre to white audiences. In the segregated south, music, like much of life, was segregated by race. White radio stations played music for white audiences (think Pat Boone) and black stations played music for black audiences. While segregation may have been the order of the day on the radio, many white kids growing up in the south were exposed to black music and were influenced by it. Elvis Presley, a big fan of gospel and rhythm and blues music, was certainly one of them.
Presley helped to cross over rhythm and blues style singing by recording “That’s Alright Mama,” which gained popularity among white audiences. The song was originally written and recorded by Arthur Crudup in 1946. When Elvis’ version of the song was first played on white radio stations in the south, listeners would call in because they couldn’t believe that Presley was a white singer. The song was one of many which would help grow the audience of rhythm and blues music into what was eventually known as rock and roll.  

Here is Presley performing “That’s Alright Mama” during his 1968 comeback special. Enjoy!

[Image via por-img]

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

Here is a description of the Fourth of July from - It features a run down of important events leading to the Declaration of Independence:

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France's intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of "no taxation without representation," colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament's enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the "Boston Tea Party," which saw British tea valued at some 18,000 pounds dumped into Boston Harbor.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

Initially, both the Americans and the British saw the conflict as a kind of civil war within the British Empire: To King George III it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, Parliament remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead purchased German mercenaries to help the British army crush the rebellion. In response to Britain's continued opposition to reform, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. In the spring of 1776, support for independence swept the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments, and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a declaration.

The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other English theorists. The first section features the famous lines, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The second part presents a long list of grievances that provided the rationale for rebellion.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve a Virginia motion calling for separation from Britain. The dramatic words of this resolution were added to the closing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days later, on July 4, the declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed.

The American War for Independence would last for five more years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation. 

[Image via nicedeb]

Betsy Ross: Businesswoman

In honor of the Fourth of July, here is a great article in Slate that demystifies the legend surrounding Betsy Ross. As any elementary school kid can tell you, Betsy Ross was commissioned to make an early American flag. However, much of her story has been falsified through the years. This article does a great job in revealing what a shrewd businesswoman Ross actually was.

[Image via Betsyrossfacts]

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gone With the Wind Published


Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, one of the best-selling novels of all time and the basis for a blockbuster 1939 movie, is published on this day in 1936.

In 1926, Mitchell was forced to quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal to recover from a series of physical injuries. With too much time on her hands, Mitchell soon grew restless. Working on a Remington typewriter, a gift from her second husband, John R. Marsh, in their cramped one-bedroom apartment, Mitchell began telling the story of an Atlanta belle named Pansy O'Hara.

In tracing Pansy's tumultuous life from the antebellum South through the Civil War and into the Reconstruction era, Mitchell drew on the tales she had heard from her parents and other relatives, as well as from Confederate war veterans she had met as a young girl. While she was extremely secretive about her work, Mitchell eventually gave the manuscript to Harold Latham, an editor from New York's MacMillan Publishing. Latham encouraged Mitchell to complete the novel, with one important change: the heroine's name. Mitchell agreed to change it to Scarlett, now one of the most memorable names in the history of literature.

Published in 1936, Gone wth the Wind caused a sensation in Atlanta and went on to sell millions of copies in the United States and throughout the world. While the book drew some criticism for its romanticized view of the Old South and its slaveholding elite, its epic tale of war, passion and loss captivated readers far and wide. By the time Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, a movie project was already in the works. The film was produced by Hollywood giant David O. Selznick, who paid Mitchell a record-high $50,000 for the film rights to her book.

After testing hundreds of unknowns and big-name stars to play Scarlett, Selznick hired British actress Vivien Leigh days after filming began. Clark Gable was also on board as Rhett Butler, Scarlett's dashing love interest. Plagued with problems on set, Gone wth the Wind nonetheless became one of the highest-grossing and most acclaimed movies of all time, breaking box office records and winning nine Academy Awards out of 13 nominations.

Though she didn't take part in the film adaptation of her book, Mitchell did attend its star-studded premiere in December 1939 in Atlanta. Tragically, she died just 10 years later, after she was struck by a speeding car while crossing Atlanta's Peachtree Street. Scarlett, a relatively unmemorable sequel to Gone wth the Wind written by Alexandra Ripley, was published in 1992.

[Image via Blondierockets]

Friday, June 25, 2010

RIP Michael Jackson

Turn on any TV today and you'll be reminded that today is the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death. He left an indelible mark on American music and culture - for his music, dance moves... and increasingly erratic behavior. To mark the anniversary, here is Michael Jackson's "Thriller". 

Vanity Fair recently published an article on the making of this genre defining video, including behind the scenes antic-dotes detailing Jackson's eccentricities. His talent cannot be denied, and this video has left an incredible legacy in its own right, inspiring copy cat routines from everyone from five year old girls down to a group of prisoners. 

Enjoy the original from the King of Pop:

[Image via Stanford

Battle of Little Big Horn


On this day in 1876, Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana's Little Bighorn River.

Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota's Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River--which they called the Greasy Grass--in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.

In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer's 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.

At mid-day, Custer's 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer's desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldier were dead.

The Battle of Little Bighorn--also called Custer's Last Stand--marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty. Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.

[Image via]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Poet

Here's a great article by Robert Pinsky at Slate about the poetry of Abraham Lincoln. In particular, he focuses on a poem Lincoln wrote after returning to his Indiana home after twenty years away called "My Childhood-Home I See Again." He is initially nostalgic, but then saddened by the news that many of his childhood friends have died. Later on, the poem moves in a more tragic direction as Lincoln remembers a friend named Matthew who went insane at 19 and was institutionalized. 

Here is "My Childhood-Home I See Again"

My childhood-home I see again,
And gladden with the view;

And still as mem'ries crowd my brain,
.There's sadness in it too.

O memory! thou mid-way world
.'Twixt Earth and Paradise,

Where things decayed, and loved ones lost
...In dreamy shadows rise.

And freed from all that's gross or vile,
..Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,

Like scenes in some enchanted isle,
.All bathed in liquid light.

As distant mountains please the eye,
When twilight chases day—

As bugle-tones, that, passing by,
.In distance die away—

As leaving some grand water-fall
..We ling'ring, list it's roar,

So memory will hallow all
.We've known, but know no more.

Now twenty years have passed away,
Since here I bid farewell

To woods, and fields, and scenes of play
.And school-mates loved so well.

Where many were, how few remain
Of old familiar things!

But seeing these to mind again
..The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day—
How changed, as time has sped!

Young childhood grown, strong manhood grey,
.And half of all are dead.

I hear the lone survivors tell
How nought from death could save,

Till every sound appears a knell,
.And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread,
.And pace the hollow rooms;

And feel (companions of the dead)
.I'm living in the tombs.

And here's an object more of dread,
Than ought the grave contains—

A human-form, with reason fled,
While wretched life remains.

Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,—
.A fortune-favored child—

Now locked for aye, in mental night,
..A haggard mad-man wild.

Poor Matthew! I have ne'er forgot
.When first with maddened will,

Yourself you maimed, your father fought,
.And mother strove to kill;

And terror spread, and neighbours ran,
.Your dang'rous strength to bind;

And soon a howling crazy man,
Your limbs were fast confined.

How then you writhed and shrieked aloud,
Your bones and sinnews bared;

And fiendish on the gaping crowd,
With burning eye-balls glared.

And begged, and swore, and wept, and prayed,

....With maniac laughter joined—

How fearful are the signs displayed,
.By pangs that kill the mind!

And when at length, tho' drear and long,
.Time soothed your fiercer woes—

How plaintively your mournful song,
.Upon the still night rose.

I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed,
Far-distant, sweet, and lone;

The funeral dirge it ever seemed
Of reason dead and gone.

To drink it's strains, I've stole away,
.All silently and still,

Ere yet the rising god of day
Had streaked the Eastern hill.

Air held his breath; the trees all still
..Seemed sorr'wing angels round,

Their swelling tears in dew-drops fell
.Upon the list'ning ground.

But this is past, and nought remains
That raised you o'er the brute.

Your mad'ning shrieks and soothing strains
.Are like forever mute.

Now fare thee well: more thou the cause
.Than subject now of woe.

All mental pangs, but time's kind laws,
Hast lost the power to know.

And now away to seek some scene
.Less painful than the last—

With less of horror mingled in
The present and the past.

The very spot where grew the bread
.That formed my bones,
I see.
How strange, old field, on thee to tread,
And feel I'm part of thee!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Presidential Homes Not Immune from Great Recession

Here is a great article from Forbes and MSN about a recent evaluation of famous presidential pads. Special focus is given to the Obama residence in Chicago, the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod and Harry S. Truman's home, among others. It appears that the Great Recession that has been hitting real estate markets hard has also lowered the worth of the private homes of current and past presidents. Don't feel too badly for them though, something tells me Obama and the Kennedy's won't have to worry about keeping their homes.

[Image via lise2cc]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A House Divided - Abraham Lincoln Tells It Like It Is

Today in 1858, Illinois candidate for Senate Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson compete in my mind for the title of the best presidential writer, and this 1858 speech by Lincoln showed his prowess at turning a powerful phrase. The metaphor of a house divided was a perfect description for the contentious antebellum years. Half of the country believed slavery was protected in our nation’s Constitution, and were growing increasingly hostile to any threat to its “peculiar institution.” Meanwhile, the North was growing impatient at what it believed to be the increased demands of the South to not only continue the institution of slavery, but to allow its spread to the western territories. Lincoln’s prediction that this kind of national tension could not last with both sides refusing to alter its position would prove tragically accurate when he was elected to the presidency in 1860.
He was able to gain the nomination in part from the national notoriety he earned in the 1858 Senate race in which he famous debated his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas on numerous occasions. He delivered his “House Divided” address on the day he accepted the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in Springfield, Illinois. The image of a “House Divided,” united Republicans across the country who feared the debate over slavery would lead to disunion. While this “House Divided” speech has become one of Lincoln’s most famous, the metaphor was not his own. The language comes originally from the Book of Matthew, “ Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Lincoln was also not the first to allude to this biblical passage in commenting on the American political landscape. During the Senate debate on the Compromise of 1850, Sam Houston also referenced the Book of Matthew, “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” While Lincoln may not have originated the line or its use in comparison to American politics, he had the keen sense to shape words and phrases that were worthy of the historical moment.
To read the speech in its entirety, click here, or visit the Presidential History page of my site.

[Image via rhapsodyinbooks]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day - June 6, 1944


Although the term D-Day is used routinely as military lingo for the day an operation or event will take place, for many it is also synonymous with June 6, 1944, the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control during World War II. Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.

With Hitler's armies in control of most of mainland Europe, the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.

On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.

By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day's end, 155,000 Allied troops--Americans, British and Canadians--had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.

For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays. He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.

Though it did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery--for example, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France--D-Day was a decided success. By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.

The heroism and bravery displayed by troops from the Allied countries on D-Day has served as inspiration for several films, most famously The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It was also depicted in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001).

[Image via

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mark Twain Uncensored: Autobiography to be Published after 100 Year Wait

Mark Twain sure knows how to sell books. He spent the last decade of his life working on a no holds bar autobiography that amounts to roughly 5000 pages of manuscript. While he published some excerpts of this book when the precarious state of his finances forced him too, the rest has remained vaulted in an archive at the University of California, Berkeley….until now. Twain dictated that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death (he sure knew how to create anticipation). Now, the University is prepping the autobiography to be published in three volumes.
Why did Twain not want to publish it in his lifetime? Well, as various sources with knowledge of the manuscript have hinted, it contains his candid views on issues such as religion and imperialism that might have hurt his celebrity in early 20th century America. He had doubts about God, and disliked imperialists like Teddy Roosevelt for rushing into the Spanish American War. The book also contains hundreds of pages of invective about Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, Twain’s personal secretary. Hired after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904, the two became extremely close only to have Twain fire Lyon in 1909. Apparently, it was not an amicable parting, and Twain tells the world how he really felt about her in his forthcoming autobiography. I’m curious to read it when it comes out, how about you?

[Image via Berkeley]

Monday, May 17, 2010

Brown vs. Board of Ed is Decided


In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. That ruling was used to justify segregating all public facilities, including elementary schools. However, in the case of Linda Brown, the white school she attempted to attend was far superior to her black alternative and miles closer to her home. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up Linda's cause, and in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reached the Supreme Court. African American lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall led Brown's legal team, and on May 17, 1954, the high court handed down its decision.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the nation's highest court ruled that not only was the "separate but equal" doctrine unconstitutional in Linda's case, it was unconstitutional in all cases because educational segregation stamped an inherent badge of inferiority on African American students. A year later, after hearing arguments on the implementation of their ruling, the Supreme Court published guidelines requiring public school systems to integrate "with all deliberate speed."

The Brown v. Board of Education decision served to greatly motivate the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and ultimately led to the abolishment of racial segregation in all public facilities and accommodations.

Here is a clip from a PBS documentary on the Supreme Court and the Brown vs. Board of Education decision:

[Image via MyWonderfulWorld]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When the Saints Go Marching In

On this day in 1938, Louis Armstrong and his orchestra recorded “When the Saints Go Marching In” at Decca Records. The song is a spiritual from the American gospel tradition that is frequently played as part of a funeral march in New Orleans, Louisiana. On the way to the cemetery the song is played in a slow musical dirge. When leaving the cemetery after the burial, the song is played again in the more familiar dixieland style. Louis Armstrong is credited with making the song familiar to American audiences after recording it in 1938.  
As the song is so closely associated with New Orleans, it seems appropriate to remember the recording of this song at a time when Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf states are experiencing very real economic and environmental tragedies in the weeks since the oil rig explosion. Here’s hoping BP is held responsible for their actions, and the people of the Gulf can rebound from this devastating turn of events. 

Here is Louis Armstrong and his band performing the song:

[Image via newton]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dust Bowl Begins in 1934

On this day in 1934, a massive storm sends millions of tons of topsoil flying from across the parched Great Plains region of the United States as far east as New York, Boston and Atlanta.

At the time the Great Plains were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass, which held moisture in the earth and kept most of the soil from blowing away even during dry spells. By the early 20th century, however, farmers had plowed under much of the grass to create fields. The U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 caused a great need for wheat, and farms began to push their fields to the limit, plowing under more and more grassland with the newly invented tractor. The plowing continued after the war, when the introduction of even more powerful gasoline tractors sped up the process. During the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300 percent, causing a glut in the market by 1931.

That year, a severe drought spread across the region. As crops died, wind began to carry dust from the over-plowed and over-grazed lands. The number of dust storms reported jumped from 14 in 1932 to 28 in 1933. The following year, the storms decreased in frequency but increased in intensity, culminating in the most severe storm yet in May 1934. Over a period of two days, high-level winds caught and carried some 350 million tons of silt all the way from the northern Great Plains to the eastern seaboard. According to The New York Times, dust "lodged itself in the eyes and throats of weeping and coughing New Yorkers," and even ships some 300 miles offshore saw dust collect on their decks.

The dust storms forced thousands of families from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico to uproot and migrate to California, where they were derisively known as "Okies"--no matter which state they were from. These transplants found life out West not much easier than what they had left, as work was scarce and pay meager during the worst years of the Great Depression.

Another massive storm on April 15, 1935--known as "Black Sunday"--brought even more attention to the desperate situation in the Great Plains region, which reporter Robert Geiger called the "Dust Bowl." That year, as part of its New Deal program, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration began to enforce federal regulation of farming methods, including crop rotation, grass-seeding and new plowing methods. This worked to a point, reducing dust storms by up to 65 percent, but only the end of the drought in the fall of 1939 would truly bring relief.


Here is some footage of the Dust Bowl from a "Year in Review" newsreel about 1934. The Dust Bowl footage starts around 40 seconds in: