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Emancipation Proclamation Issued–January 1, 1863

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. With it, he freed all slaves in Confederate or contested areas of the South. However, the Proclamation did not include slaves in non-Confederate border states and in parts of the Confederacy under Union control.

During the war, Republicans and Northern free blacks called on the President to act decisively to end slavery. Members of the Lincoln administration also hoped that an act of emancipation would make it difficult for Britain or France to officially recognize the Confederacy in view of the antislavery sentiments among their home populations–especially in Britain. In July 1862, President Lincoln announced to his cabinet that he intended to issue an Emancipation Proclamation in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the armed forces in the time of war. The Proclamation would free all slaves in areas still in rebellion, and henceforth it would be a Union objective to destroy slavery within the Confederate South. His cabinet persuaded Lincoln to wait until a Union victory, lest it appear to the world like an act of desperation.

After General George McClellan stopped Robert E. Lee's advance into Maryland at Antietam Creek in September 1862, Lincoln announced his preliminary Proclamation. The President warned that if the rebellion did not end by January 1, 1863, he would issue his presidential order of emancipation and move to destroy slavery in the rebel states once and for all. In the Proclamation, Lincoln left out occupied Tennessee and certain occupied parts of Louisiana and Virginia as well as the loyal slave states. The document declared, with the exception of those areas, that all slaves in the rebellious states were hereafter "forever free." It also asserted that the Union Army would now receive black men into the service as regular soldiers. (The U.S. Navy had accepted black sailors from the beginning of the war.)

In a single stroke of his pen, Abraham Lincoln issued the most revolutionary measure ever to come from an American President up to that time. Still, the President was worried that the courts might void his wartime Proclamation after the war on the grounds that any confiscation of "property" required due process of law, and that such a policy could only be adopted by a law passed by Congress. Thus, Lincoln used his reelection victory in 1864 to promote a constitutional amendment that would end slavery everywhere in the nation. The Republican platform of 1864 endorsed the Thirteenth Amendment–which the U.S. Senate had passed in April. Lincoln used all the powers of his office, including patronage, to push it through the House, which adopted the amendment on January 31, 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December 1865.

To read the full text of the Emancipation Proclamation, click here.

For more information, please visit the Abraham Lincoln home page or Abraham Lincoln key events.

Truman Announces Fair Deal Program–January 5, 1949

On January 5, 1949, just weeks before the start of his second term as President, Harry S. Truman delivered his State of the Union Address. The speech contained a series of measures that Truman recommended for congressional action. Truman closed his address by citing the philosophy behind this domestic program. "Every segment of our population and every individual," he explained, "has a right to expect from our government a fair deal." His list of demands thus became known as the "Fair Deal," an attempt by Truman to augment Roosevelt's New Deal. Nevertheless, where Roosevelt had met with great success in implementing his proposals, Truman struggled to pass his program. Of all the goals he presented, only three-increasing public housing programs, raising the minimum wage, and expanding Social Security-were fulfilled by the end of the congressional session in 1950.

Truman's Fair Deal included a wide ranging group of proposals: economic controls to halt inflation, a more progressive tax structure, the raising of the minimum wage, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, agricultural reform, resource development and public power, national medical insurance, expansion of Social Security, federal housing programs, aid to education, and civil rights protections. The President, however, faced numerous difficulties in passing his liberal legislative program. Despite the election of Democratic majorities to both the House and the Senate, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats from the South continued to dominate both chambers of Congress. For example, Truman proposed cloture reform-reducing the number of votes necessary to end a filibuster in the Senate-to facilitate the passage of civil rights legislation. Conservative Senators narrowly defeated this proposal, shutting down the possibility of more liberal legislation. Other aspects of Truman's program met with opposition from powerful interest groups. The administration's agricultural reform bill was defeated through the influence of the Farm Bureau Federation; likewise, the American Medical Association lobbied against national healthcare. These forces limited Congress's ability to pass substantial parts of the Fair Deal.

Those programs that were enacted barely made it through Congress. Even with the support of conservative Senator Robert Taft, the Housing Act of 1949 passed an important vote in the House by a margin of only five representatives; the act was weakened version of the public housing bill the President proposed, but it still promised to build 810,000 housing units over the next six years. Congress also raised the minimum wage in 1949 from 40 to 75 cents. Finally, the Social Security Act of 1950 expanded significantly the coverage offered in the original 1935 act. While Truman failed to implement most of his Fair Deal, the passage of these three acts and other smaller pieces of legislation were significant victories for the President and liberals in Congress.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

The Fourteen Points–January 8, 1918

On January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech to Congress in which he presented his Fourteen Points that outlined his program of peace to end World War I. The first five points called for an end to secret treaties, freedom of the seas, free trade, reduction of arms, and adjustment of colonial claims, taking into account the wishes of the colonial population. Wilson's sixth point called for Germany to withdraw from Russian territory and for Russian self-determination of its own government. The President then called for the restoration of Belgian, Italian, and French borders, the establishment of a Polish state, and autonomy for the ethnic peoples of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Wilson's final and, in his mind, most important point was the establishment of a "general association of nations" that would foster international cooperation, freedom, and peace.

Wilson had drafted the Fourteen Points as a series of war aims he hoped would reinvigorate the Allied cause after Russia withdrew from the war following the November 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The war aims were based on the principle of "peace without victory" that Wilson had proposed in 1916 as a solution to the European stalemate. Along with his adviser, Colonel Edward House, Wilson had come up with his Fourteen Points after more than a year of discussions with other progressive thinkers, especially journalist Walter Lippmann, on what the United States should hope to accomplish through its intervention in the war.

Wilson intended his speech to rally support in the Allied governments to the idea of a league of nations and a more transparent international system. He hoped these war aims would entice the Russian people back into the war by giving them something worthy for which to fight. Wilson also hoped the democratic ideas of the proposal, especially self-determination, would breed unrest in Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The Fourteen Points speech, as the New York Herald dubbed it, became the basis for Allied armistice plans. As Germany neared military defeat in the fall of 1918, the German government approached Wilson first in response to his Fourteen Points plan. The plan's territorial provisions and call for the establishment of a league of nations became the basis for a portion of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war in 1919. However, Wilson was unable to convince Britain, France, and Italy to pursue "peace without victory," and he was forced to compromise on many points.

Still, as a work of international relations policy, Wilson's Fourteen Points represent one of the most remarkable efforts of an American President. Wilson's embrace of anti-imperialism and national self-determination made a lasting impact in international relations through the rest of the 20th century.

For more information, please visit the Woodrow Wilson home page or Woodrow Wilson key events.

Grand Canyon Becomes National Monument–January 11, 1908

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon in northwest Arizona a national monument. Roosevelt used the American Antiquities Act of 1906 to create 18 national monuments during his presidency. The Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919.

Roosevelt was the nation's first conservationist President. Everywhere he went, he preached the need to preserve woodlands and mountain ranges as places of refuge and retreat. He used his presidential authority to issue executive orders to create 150 new national forests, increasing the amount of protected land from 42 million acres to 172 million acres. Along with the 18 national monuments, the President also created 5 national parks and 51 wildlife refuges during his tenure.

Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot heavily influenced President Roosevelt and encouraged him to make conservation a major portion of his political agenda. Pinchot, the nation's first professional forester, and Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, teamed up during Roosevelt's second term to push their shared progressive vision for wilderness conservation.

Conservation to these progressives, however, did not mean simply placing land off limits to development and industry. Pinchot believed that the science of forestry could make forests more productive and valuable to industry; scientific expertise could improve upon nature. Like Roosevelt, Pinchot also believed that conservation was at its core an issue of equality of opportunity, as conservation allowed for public access to land that would otherwise wastefully bring profit to a few. The pair wanted all Americans to be able to use parklands.

Pinchot was a strong advocate for more federal power to protect wilderness in the United States, particularly in the West. With his prodding, President Roosevelt secured the Transfer Act in 1905, which shifted the responsibility of managing federal forests from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture and the Division of Forestry, later remained the Forest Service. As head of the Forest Service, Pinchot staffed it with scientists, not bureaucrats, and Pinchot and his team added millions of acres of western land to federal holdings.

During the early 1900s, conservation became a new and increasingly popular agenda for the federal government, due to President Roosevelt's energetic promotion of the issue.

For more information, please visit the Theodore Roosevelt home page or Theodore Roosevelt key events.

Persian Gulf War Begins–January 17, 1991

Early on the morning of January 17, 1991, coalition forces led by the United States launched air strikes against Iraq. These strikes signaled the beginning of the military phase of the Persian Gulf War.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, a neighboring country. Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, had long argued with Kuwait over the rights to certain oil-rich lands. He had been preparing to invade Kuwait for several weeks, but when the attack came-on August 2, 1990-it nevertheless surprised much of the world. Several countries in the Middle East had assured the United States that Hussein was massing his troops only to bluff Kuwait into meeting his demands. When the Iraqi leader sent 140,000 troops storming toward-and quickly taking-the Kuwaiti capital, President George H.W. Bush responded.

The United States quickly intervened for a number of reasons. By invading Kuwait, Saddam Hussein gained control over a vast amount of the world's oil supply, which gave him the potential to wreak havoc with U.S. energy policy and oil prices. Bush also drew vivid parallels between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler in the 1930s: a decisive, early blow to Saddam's imperialist ambitions, the President believed, would forestall another "Munich," preventing the outbreak of a more serious crisis later on. Finally, political and military theorists thought that a show of U.S. military resolve would improve America's international credibility-especially in this first major crisis of the post-Cold War era-and boost confidence in a military still trying to throw off the legacy of the Vietnam War.

President Bush and his administrative team were extraordinarily active, and extraordinarily successful, in building an international coalition to counter the Iraqi aggression. Perhaps the most impressive feat of international diplomacy was President Bush's ability either to neutralize or win outright the support of traditionally hostile China and Russia, together with many countries of the Middle East. He also persuaded Israel to stay out of the coalition, which made it possible for Middle Eastern countries to join without seeming to unite with Israel.

The United Nations first approved the use of sanctions and a U.S.-led defensive posture, designed to deter Saddam Hussein from advancing any further and to persuade him to pull back from Kuwait. In November, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 678 authorizing member states to use "all necessary means" to remove Iraq from Kuwait if Iraq had not withdraw all of its forces by January 15, 1991. The U.S. plan to forcibly remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait was dubbed Operation Desert Storm and included an effective mixture of air power and overwhelming ground forces, including the use of 500,000 U.S. troops. Once the deadline passed and Iraq had not withdrawn from Kuwait, the U.S.-led coalition quickly overpowered the Iraqi military, and on February 28th, the coalition declared a cease-fire.

When the war ended, President Bush had very high approval ratings for his conduct of the war and his success in coalition building. However, he endured criticism for failing to remove Saddam Hussein from power and destroy the Iraqi military. That stance left Kurds and Shiites who were sympathetic to the United States at the mercy of a vengeful Iraqi government, but President Bush apparently feared the consequences of Saddam Hussein's unknown replacement-and a geopolitically destabilized region-even more than Saddam himself.

For more information, please visit the George Herbert Walker Bush home page or George Herbert Walker Bush key events.

Cleveland Signs Presidential Succession Act–January 19, 1886

On January 19, 1886, President Grover Cleveland signed the Presidential Succession Act. The act specified that in the absence of a President and vice president, heads of executive departments would succeed to the presidency in the order in which the departments were created, starting with the secretary of state. The Presidential Succession Act of 1886 remained in force until 1947.

Vice President Thomas Hendricks died in his Indianapolis home in November 1885. President Grover Cleveland's message to Congress on December 8 regarding the death of the new vice president called for a constitutional amendment to clarify the line of succession should both the President and vice president die or become unable to serve. While the Presidential Succession Act that was proposed and passed shortly afterward on January 15, 1886, was primarily the work of the Congress, President Cleveland supported the legislation and signed the bill into law.

In 1792, Congress had passed a law that addressed presidential succession; the law stipulated that if the President and vice president should both be unable to serve, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate would take office, followed by the Speaker of the House. The Presidential Succession Act changed the previous legislation by placing in line for the presidency, after the vice president, the heads of each executive department in the order in which the department was created. The new system provided a long list of successors, making it all but impossible for the nation to be without a chief executive.

Congress changed the law again in 1947, when it was argued that those at the top of the list for presidential succession should be elected, not appointed, officials. The order established in 1947, which remains in place today, set up the line of succession in the form of President, vice president, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the heads of each executive department in the order of their creation beginning with the secretary of state and the secretary of the treasury.

For more information, please visit the Grover Cleveland home page or Grover Cleveland key events.

Barack Obama Inaugurated–January 20, 2009

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. He was the first African American President in U.S. history.

Obama emerged as an unlikely candidate during the 2008 presidential campaign. He was born and raised in Hawaii. His mother, a white American from Kansas, and his father, a black Kenyan studying in the United States, met as students at the University of Hawaii. After attending school in Hawaii, Obama moved to the mainland for college—first attending Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, and then graduating from Columbia University in New York City.

Obama then moved to Chicago, Illinois, and began working as a community organizer, helping low-income residents improve their public housing conditions. In 1988, he enrolled at Harvard Law School. During the 1990-1991 academic year, he was president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, the first African American elected to the position. Returning to Chicago, Obama worked in a civil rights law firm and as a lecturer at the University of Chicago.

He first entered public office as a state senator in 1997. Obama attracted national attention in the summer of 2004 when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America," he declared. "There's a United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America. There's a United States of America."

After serving as a state legislator for eight years, Obama ran for the U.S. Senate and won the election in 2004 by the largest margin in the history of Senate elections in Illinois. As a first-term Senator, he launched his presidential campaign in February 2007. After a hard-fought Democratic primary against Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton, Obama secured the Democratic Party nomination in June 2008. Two days before the Democratic National Convention, he picked Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware as his vice presidential running mate.

The 2008 presidential campaign featured the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden against the Republican ticket of Senator John McCain of Arizona and his vice presidential running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. Obama and Biden won the election handily, 53 percent of the popular vote to 46 percent and 365 Electoral College votes to 173.

For more information, please visit the Barack Obama home page or Barack Obama key events.

Tet Offensive Begins–January 30, 1968

On January 30, 1968, on the Vietnamese Lunar New Year of Tet, the North Vietnamese Army and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam coordinated a massive offensive against South Vietnam. More than 80,000 troops and guerrillas attacked 44 provincial capitals, 64 district capitals, and 5 of South Vietnam's major cities. While the South Vietnamese and United States troops reversed most of the offensive's gains in the following two weeks, some intense fighting continued for months after the attack. In the end, the Tet Offensive failed to deliver a military victory for the North Vietnamese, but it did create a crisis for the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

For ten days before the attack, the U.S. military had focused its attention on relieving the siege of a marine outpost at Khe Sanh close to the demilitarized zone. American officers feared that this siege would turn into another Diem Bien Phu, the final siege before the French abandoned Vietnam in 1954. To protect Khe Sanh, U.S. military commanders moved troops away from populated areas on the coast. This move left cities and capitals vulnerable to the attacks of the offensive. After the Tet Offensive began, the North Vietnamese halted their siege of Khe Sanh, but managed to take other targets in the region like the ancient imperial capital of Hue. It took American and South Vietnamese troops almost a month to recapture Hue. Still, the United States managed to turn the Tet Offensive into a military victory. While loses were high on both sides, the actions of the American military saved the South Vietnamese regime from collapse.

Back in the United States, however, the American public had a very negative reaction. President Johnson, his administration, and U.S. generals had been telling the American people for months that the situation in Vietnam was under control. After the offensive, they quickly lost their credibility. Prominent journalists, such as Walter Cronkite, began to doubt that the United States could win the war and voiced these fears in newspapers and on television. On February 3, days after the attack, millions of Americans watched on their televisions as a Saigon police officer summarily shot a Viet Cong guerilla in the head on a Saigon city street. More than ever before, many Americans began to have doubts about the war. One public opinion survey conducted after Tet found that 78 percent of the American public thought that the United States was not making progress in the war.

The reaction of the American public to the Tet Offensive had serious consequences for the Johnson administration. Militarily, it forced the administration to reconsider its strategy in Vietnam, leading to a partial halt in the bombing of the North. Politically, the Tet Offensive shattered the President's political future. On March 31, two months after the start of the offensive, President Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection.

For more information, please visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson home page or Lyndon Baines Johnson key events.

House Passes Thirteenth Amendment–January 31, 1865

On January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed the Thirteenth Amendment, which made slavery illegal in the United States. The Senate had passed the amendment in April 1864. With Congress's approval, the amendment then went to the states for ratification. By December 1865, enough states had ratified the amendment to make it constitutionally binding.

The Thirteenth Amendment had two sections. Section one read: "Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Section two stated that Congress had the power to pass legislation to enforce the abolition of slavery.

Prior to becoming President, Abraham Lincoln had compromised on the slavery issue in the political arena. Although Lincoln clearly hated slavery, he assumed the presidency promising not to interfere with it. During the American Civil War, President Lincoln noted again and again that his purpose in fighting the South was to save the Union, not to free the slaves. But as the war dragged on and more and more slaves from the South fled to the Union Army, Lincoln began to reconsider slavery, and he came under more and more pressure to free the slaves.

In July 1862, the President announced to his cabinet that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation in his capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces in time of war. The Proclamation would free all slaves in areas still in rebellion, and henceforth it would be a Union objective to destroy slavery within the Confederate South. After the Union Army defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation and warned that if the war did not end by January 1, 1863, the Emancipation would go into effect and the Union would move to destroy slavery in the rebel states forever.

During his reelection campaign of 1864, President Lincoln promoted a constitutional amendment that would end slavery throughout the country. Lincoln used all the powers of his office to have Congress pass the amendment. Lincoln, however, did not live to see the Thirteenth Amendment become part of the Constitution. The President was assassinated in April 1865, and the amendment was ratified in December of that year.

For more information, please visit the Abraham Lincoln home page or Abraham Lincoln key events.

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Signed–February 2, 1848

On February 2, 1848, Nicholas Trist-a special emissary dispatched to Mexico by President James K. Polk-signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with the Mexican government. The treaty ended the Mexican War, which began in 1846. Under the terms of the treaty, Mexico agreed to recognize the Rio Grande as the Texas border and ceded California and New Mexico to the United States. The United States agreed to pay Mexico $15 million for the territories and assume $3 million in outstanding American claims against the Mexican government.

Following General Winfield Scott's victories at Contreras and Churubusco in August 1847, Trist began negotiating a peace settlement to end the Mexican War. The next month, General Scott captured Mexico City. Still the Mexican government refused President Polk's terms for a peace treaty.

The slow progress of talks, as well as Trist's budding friendship with the Whig General Scott, frustrated Polk, and in October he ordered Trist to abandon negotiations and return to Washington, D.C. When Trist received the order in mid-November, he decided that Polk did not understand the situation in Mexico and ignored the recall notice. He reasoned that he could secure a treaty and the U.S. government would still be at liberty to reject it.

Polk was livid when Trist ignored his order to return to Washington, but he was nevertheless pleased when Trist signed the treaty with Mexico in February. At the suggestion of his cabinet, President Polk forwarded it to the Whig-controlled Senate. The treaty passed 38 to 14 on March 10, 1848, despite efforts from some Democrats (who wanted more Mexican territory) and some Whigs (who stood firmly against any acquisition of Mexican territory) to kill it. The treaty drastically enlarged the United States, granting the country more than 500,000 square miles of new western territory and valuable ports in California. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was one of President James Polk's greatest accomplishments.

For more information, please visit the James Knox Polk home page or James Knox Polk key events.

Cleveland Signs Dawes Act–February 8, 1887

On February 8, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the General Allotment Act into law. The law, commonly known as the Dawes Act after Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts who proposed it, divided tribal lands of Native Americans into individual allotments and encouraged the assimilation of Native Americans into American society.

In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor, detailing the federal government's mistreatment of American Indians. Her work created a strong general sentiment for reform of the government's policy toward Native Americans. Senator Dawes proposed the General Allotment Act in 1886 to attempt to put an end to the abuses described in Jackson's book.

The bill gave 160 acres of land to each family, 80 acres to single adults and 40 acres to orphaned children, and prohibited recipients from selling the land for a period of 25 years. Indians who renounced their tribal holdings were made eligible for U.S. citizenship. The federal government purchased the land remaining after the allotments were made and then sold much of it to non-Indians.

President Grover Cleveland was an enthusiastic supporter of the bill, and he helped it through Congress. He was a strong believer in assimilation of Indians as a means to improve their living conditions. The bill passed in the Senate on February 25, 1886, and the House on December 16.

In general, the supporters of the Dawes Act (including Helen Hunt Jackson) genuinely believed that the act would improve the situation in which American Indians found themselves. Cleveland viewed himself as a protector of the Indians and believed that they would benefit greatly in adopting the norms of American life.

The actual effects of the act were far from beneficial for American Indians. The tradition of tribal lands was a central feature of American Indian culture. The Dawes Act dissolved tribal structure and was a general failure in its attempt to assimilate Indians. In addition to creating greater mistrust among Indians for the U.S. government, the act's provision to allow the government to sell remaining land after allotments were made significantly depleted the quantity of land American Indians held. This was, incidentally, one of the law's goals, as American settlers and rail road entrepreneurs had pressured the President to reduce the quantity of land in reservations, feeling that the federal government had provided Native Americans with more land than they needed. The Dawes Act was a disastrous policy that robbed Native Americans of much of their land and did little to improve their way of life.

For more information, please visit the Grover Cleveland home page or Grover Cleveland key events.

John Quincy Adams Elected President–February 9, 1825

On February 9, 1825, the House of Representative elected John Quincy Adams as the sixth President of the United States after the electoral college failed to produce a winner. The 1824 election was one of only three presidential elections in which that scenario occurred (1800, 1824, and 1876). With no candidate having an outright majority, the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution placed the election in the hands of the House of Representatives, which then decided from among the top three candidates. In 1825, the House elected John Quincy Adams, but the resulting controversy haunted him for the entirety of his term and was a factor in his defeat for reelection in 1828.

After James Monroe's reelection in 1820, the Federalists had collapsed as a national opposition party, and nearly every national political figure was a member of the same party-the Jeffersonian Republicans. By the 1824 election, no front runner had emerged to succeed Monroe. Five candidates were in the running: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Without a national base of support, Calhoun unofficially withdrew himself from contention for the presidency, and his supporters campaigned for him to become vice president.

The results of the 1824 election were confusing and indecisive. Jackson won 99 electoral votes, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. Jackson had received more than 150,000 popular votes, and nearly 40,000 more than Adams. Yet, in 1824, the overall popular vote had no standing. In some states, the state legislatures still chose the electors; many other states had only begun to have their electors chosen by general election. With no candidate having an outright majority of the electoral votes, the House was to choose between the top three vote-getters, and Clay's supporters generally threw their votes to Adams. On February 9, 1825, John Quincy Adams received 13 votes, Jackson 7, and Crawford 4. Adams thus became the sixth President of the United States.

Jackson and his supporters were furious at both Clay and Adams. When Adams chose Clay as secretary of state, Jackson's partisans alleged that they had made a "corrupt bargain." Jackson's supporters used this slogan to mobilize for the 1828 election, and Jackson defeated Adams in that election four years later.

The 1824 election was only the second time a presidential election had been thrown into the House of Representatives. With the emergence of a two-party system during the Jackson presidency, such electoral logjams became rare. Only twice since 1824 - in 1876 and 2000 - has the presidential election failed to produce an immediate winner.

For more information, please visit the John Quincy Adams home page or John Quincy Adams key events.

Battleship Maine Sinks–February 15, 1898

On the night of February 15, 1898, a fire in a coal bunker of the battleship Maine ignited a reserve gunpowder magazine, blowing the ship in half and killing 266 crew members. "Remember the Maine!" became a rallying cry for Americans who wanted to go to war against Spain over the island of Cuba. President William McKinley tried to find a diplomatic solution to resolve the conflict but ultimately Spain declared war against the United States, beginning the Spanish-American War.

Spain had long controlled the Caribbean island of Cuba but throughout the 19th century, the Cuban people had struggled to gain independence. In 1895, Cuban rebels led a revolt against Spanish rule. When Spain tried to quash the rebellion, the American press publicized conditions in Cuba and atrocities committed by the Spanish. Public opinion in the United States began to clamor for U.S. government involvement.

In January 1898, the United States dispatched the battleship Maine to Cuba both to protect American citizens and property and to demonstrate that the United States still valued Spain's friendship. The Maine arrived in the Havana harbor on January 25, 1898. Over the next few weeks, its officers enjoyed friendly relations with Spanish officials ashore.

After the explosion and destruction of the battleship, pro-interventionists, including Theodore Roosevelt and the "yellow press," attributed the disaster to Spanish sabotage and beat the drums for war. President McKinley called for calm, urging Americans to wait for the results of a naval investigation of the explosion. Spain immediately sent its entire diplomatic delegation to express the nation's sympathy to McKinley and conducted its own investigation of the disaster. However, public furor over the incident grew.

On March 28, the naval court of inquiry presented its findings to Congress, concluding incorrectly that an external explosion, such as an underwater mine, had destroyed the Maine. (A later naval study concluded that an internal explosion had destroyed the Maine.) The court failed to name the responsible party in their erroneous verdict, but the American public instantly assumed Spanish culpability.

Wary of starting a war, President McKinley urged the Spanish to agree to an armistice with Cuban rebels and demanded an end to civil rights abuses against the Cuban people. When the Spanish government wavered on an armistice behind the pressures of its own public opinion, McKinley asked Congress for the power to take military action against Spain in Cuba on April 11, 1898, thereby hoping to stabilize the region for American interests and quell the humanitarian disaster that war had brought to Cuba. Congress passed a series of four resolutions on April 19 recognizing Cuban independence and gave McKinley the power to eject Spain from the island. McKinley used these powers to declare a blockade of Cuba on April 21, leading the Spanish Empire to declare war on the United States on April 23, 1898. Two days later, the United States declared war against Spain. The Spanish-American War had begun.

For more information, please visit the William McKinley home page or William McKinley key events.

John Glenn Orbits Earth–February 20, 1962

On February 20, 1962, Astronaut John Glenn aboard the Mercury craft Friendship 7 became the first American to orbit the earth. In a five-hour flight, Glenn orbited the Earth three times and landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean. Both President John Kennedy and the American people celebrated Glenn's space flight. The United States had equaled the Soviet Union in scientific accomplishment.

Ever since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the United States trailed the USSR in the space race. Since space technology demonstrated potential weapons, this competition became an important aspect of the Cold War. In April 1961, the Soviets launched the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit. Soon the American followed suit sending Alan Shepard into space in 1961 and Virgil Grissom in 1962. Both Shepard's and Grissom's flights, however, were suborbital, failing to match the Soviet accomplishment.

In light of the Soviet successes, President Kennedy endorsed an aggressive space program. While realizing the importance of space exploration to the military, Kennedy remained firmly committed to a civilian controlled program of manned space flights. Eisenhower had reluctantly approved Project Mercury and its goal of sending Americans into space. With the encouragement of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy increased spending on the space program hoping to surpass the Soviets. In an address to Congress on May 25, 1961, the President challenged the nation to "commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon." Despite lagging behind the Soviets, Kennedy envisioned an American victory in the space race.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

President Richard Nixon Arrives in China–February 21, 1972

On February 21, 1972, President Richard Nixon arrived in Beijing, China. It was the first time an American President had visited the country.

Nixon, his wife, Pat, and his entourage, including National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, visited China from February 21 to February 27. The eight-day visit included official meetings, cultural visits, and sightseeing in Beijing, Hangchow, and Shanghai. The media extensively covered the trip, televising many of the events. Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou En-Lai met with President Nixon and American officials, and the people of both nations saw the beginning of a diplomatic thaw most thought impossible only months earlier. At his farewell banquet, President Nixon remarked in his toast, "This was the week that changed the world."

In late 1971, President Nixon had stunned the world by announcing that he would visit "Red China," the first visit by an American President to the world's most populous country. It was a startling announcement from a politician who had built much of his political career championing anti-Communism and using the issue as a means to ascend through the higher reaches of American government. Nixon had long harbored great antipathy for Communism and its adherents from his work on the House Committee for Un-American Activities in the 1940s to his stands as vice president in the Eisenhower administration to his own pronouncements as President.

As President, Nixon reasoned that improving relations with China would allow him to inject more fluidity into the international environment and offset the growing power of the Soviet Union. But in order to improve relations with China, he had to resolve the Taiwan issue. Until 1971, Nixon had been a supporter of the pro-Taiwan lobby that had blocked any move to recognize the People's Republic of China.

At the end of the visit, China and the United States jointly issued the Shanghai Communiqué, which pledged that both countries wanted to strive toward normalizing relations. The United States also agreed that there was one China and Taiwan was part of it and that the United States would work toward the ultimate objective of removing U.S. forces from Taiwan. The most lasting contribution of the Nixon visit was a rapprochement with China itself, with the United States recognizing the People's Republic of China as the sole diplomatic voice of China.

European allies applauded the trip, but leaders in Japan and Taiwan viewed the diplomatic move with caution and concern. Nixon's secret diplomacy also concerned many who felt that matters of national interest ought to be debated publicly. Still, Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972 opened the door to relations between two of the world's most powerful countries, China and the United States.

For more information, please visit the Richard Milhous Nixon home page or Richard Milhous Nixon key events.

Marbury v. Madison Decided–February 24, 1803

On February 24, 1803, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its unanimous ruling in Marbury v. Madison, one of the most important Supreme Court cases in early American history. This ruling established for the first time the principle that the Supreme Court can declare an act of Congress void if it is inconsistent with the Constitution. This landmark case established the basis for judicial review of congressional and executive actions on the grounds of their constitutionality.

Thomas Jefferson's election as President in 1800 came after a bitter partisan struggle between Federalists and Republicans. Republicans won both the presidency and a majority in Congress. Before leaving early in 1801, the Federalist Congress passed a new Judiciary Act that created new judgeships, which enabled outgoing President John Adams to appoint numerous additional Federalists to the judiciary. On his last day in office, Adams worked late into the night signing commissions for new judgeships.

When President Jefferson took over in March 1801, he ordered Secretary of State James Madison not to deliver the commissions. William Marbury, an appointee as a justice of the peace in Washington, sued in the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, or a formal order of delivery, that would compel Madison to deliver his commission. Under the 1789 Judiciary Act that instructed the Court to issue writs to government officials in such cases, Chief Justice John Marshall issued a preliminary writ. Madison ignored the writ as judicial interference with the executive branch. Marshall, an arch-Federalist, was eager to oppose Jefferson's administration but knew he could not force its submission, and wanted to assert the power of the judicial branch.

In 1803, Judge Marshall issued a clever ruling, noting that Marbury had a right to his commission, but explaining that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the matter. Because the Constitution did not explicitly grant the Court power to issue writs to government officials, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional. Recognizing the importance of separation of powers, however, he allowed that certain political actions of the executive fell beyond court jurisdiction.

In Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court for the first time declared an act of Congress unconstitutional; it would not do so again until the infamous Dred Scott case in 1857. Technically, Marshall let Jefferson win the battle and protected some executive action from judicial review. His ruling announced in ringing terms, however, that the Supreme Court would assume the role of guardian of the Constitution and the nation's laws, providing a forceful check on Congress.

For more information, please visit the Thomas Jefferson home page or Thomas Jefferson key events.

President Tyler Signs Texas Annexation Bill–March 1, 1845

On March 1, 1845, President John Tyler signed the Texas annexation bill. The bill called for Texas to enter the United States directly as a state, with its boundaries to be determined after annexation. Under the new bill, the United States would not assume the Republic of Texas's sizable debt, but the new state would be allowed to keep its vast public lands (which could be used presumably to alleviate the debt). Texas could also consent to creating up to four more states out of the original area, with those above 30 degrees and 30 minutes created as free states, and those below the line formed as slave states.

President Tyler had long championed bringing Texas into the Union, and he interpreted Democrat James K. Polk's 1844 election victory as a popular mandate for territorial expansion and the annexation of Texas. After the Senate had rejected a treaty with Texas in June 1844, President Tyler decided to pursue annexation through a different means. Instead of ratifying a treaty, which required approval from two-thirds of the Senate, Tyler decided to use a joint resolution to annex Texas; a resolution only required a simple majority in the House and Senate for approval.

President Tyler concentrated his annual message in December almost entirely on the issue of Texas, and he quickly submitted to Congress a joint resolution to admit Texas into the Union. The House passed a compromise resolution in January 1845 but efforts in the Senate moved slowly until Polk arrived in Washington, D.C., in mid-February. The President-elect immediately began to exert pressure on the Senate, hinting that patronage appointments might hinge on the bill's passage, and the Senate finally passed an amended version of the bill. The revised bill approved the terms of the House version with the added stipulation that the President was to decide whether to annex Texas immediately or settle another annexation treaty with the Republic. The measure passed the Senate 27 to 25.

Although Tyler signed the bill on March 1, 1845, the presidential choice between immediate annexation and a new treaty was intended for Polk. Secretary of State John C. Calhoun, however, pushed Tyler to offer Texas annexation immediately, arguing that there was no reason for delay. Tyler, already eager for some credit in the annexation of Texas and wanting it as the crowning achievement of his administration, took little convincing. President Tyler officially dispatched word to Texas, offering immediate annexation if Texas approved, on his last full day in office, March 3, 1845. Texas joined the United States as the twenty-eighth state on December 29, 1845.

For more information, please visit the John Tyler home page or John Tyler key events.

Andrew Jackson Inaugurated–March 4, 1829

On March 4, 1829, Andrew Jackson took the oath of office and became the seventh President of the United States. Jackson's inauguration has become a part of American political folklore because thousand of people participated in the ceremonies. Jackson's supporters reveled in the image of an executive mansion, and by extension a government, open to all. His critics cited the chaos of the day as an example of the will of the people run amok. The lasting images of the inauguration have made it a staple in histories of the American presidency as well histories of Andrew Jackson and his times.

Jackson's inaugural was the first one to take place on the east portico of the Capitol building in Washington. (Presidential inaugurations were moved to the west portico in 1981.) This site was selected in order to accommodate the thousands of people who had journeyed to Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration. Public adulation greeted Jackson before the ceremony began, and thousands thronged around him when he left his hotel to walk to the Capitol. Jackson played the part of a democratic hero, as he wore a suit of plain black and no hat. His tall figure and gray hair made him easily visible to the crowds. Somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people witnessed Jackson deliver his inaugural address and take the oath of office. Before and after the ceremony, Jackson bowed to the people, a symbolic gesture that was the exact opposite of a monarchy, where the people bow to the king or queen.

Jackson delivered his address before receiving the oath of office, as was the practice of the time. His inaugural address was brief, lasting only about ten minutes. In the address, he reaffirmed many of the promises he and his supporters had made during the campaign. He would work against corruption and for reform. He promised to end the national debt and keep the size of the government small. There was little new in the address, and as Jackson did not speak loudly, not many in the crowd heard it. After the address, when Chief Justice John Marshall administered the oath of office to Jackson, the whole crowd cheered wildly.

The bulk of the crowd walked with the new President down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. The executive mansion had traditionally been kept open for the public to call on the President during inauguration day, but the sheer numbers on the day of Jackson's inauguration surpassed anything seen before. No one was prepared for it, and people grew impatient as they waited in line to meet Jackson. The lower floor of the White House filled to capacity, and then people began climbing over carpets and furniture in order to get even a glimpse of the new President. Many in the crowd swarmed on waiters when they brought out drinks and ice cream, and the rush to be served resulted in thousands of dollars of broken china. Washington elites looked on the entire episode as evidence of a new era in American politics, and not necessarily a change for the better. The press of people overwhelmed even Jackson himself, and he escaped the mansion in the late afternoon to return to his hotel.

To read Andrew Jackson's inaugural address, click here.

For more information, please visit the Andrew Jackson home page or Andrew Jackson key events.

Monroe Signs Missouri CompromiseÐMarch 6, 1820

On March 6, 1820, President James Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise. The Compromise was made up of three parts: it admitted Maine, part of northern Massachusetts, as a free state; it admitted Missouri as a slave state; and it henceforth restricted slavery to territories south of the latitude 36º30' north.

The controversy began in Congress in early 1819 when Missouri applied for admission to the Union. Debates raged between those who wanted to limit slavery in Missouri in exchange for its admission as a state and those who wanted Missouri admitted as a state without preconditions. The volatile issue of slavery, which had been somewhat balanced by an equal split between slave and free states, flared back into public debate. Those who supported slavery believed that states should decide on their own whether to allow slavery. Those who opposed slavery wanted to stop its spread throughout the country. Speaker of the House Henry Clay finally engineered a compromise that balanced the slave state of Missouri with the free state of Maine, and limited the future expansion of slavery into the territories of the United States.

President Monroe did not speak publicly about the crisis or the Compromise, but he worked behind the scenes to secure the result he wanted. He did not think it was constitutional for Congress to impose restrictions on admitting the state of Missouri that it had not imposed on other states, and he threatened to veto any bill that contained such restrictions. Although Monroe did not support limiting slavery, he pragmatically supported the Missouri Compromise because he valued the integrity of the Union and did not want it to come apart.

Monroe privately corresponded with Senator James Barbour of Virginia, encouraging him to promote the Compromise legislation, which Barbour did. Monroe also feared that northern Federalists were promoting restrictions to Missouri's admittance into the Union because they wanted to split the Jefferson Republicans and make their party a legitimate opposition party again. It was this fear of a resurgent Federalist Party that Monroe and Barbour used to quiet the hard-core Jeffersonian Republicans of Virginia, who wanted no limits on slavery whatsoever. Virginia Republicans even threatened to withhold their state's nomination of Monroe for a second term as President if he supported the Compromise. Barbour's lobbying and evocation of the alleged Federalist threat convinced them to support Monroe.

Although President Monroe was not openly involved in the congressional debates, he supported the Compromise and worked quietly for its passage. Monroe's political skills helped solve the Missouri Crisis and preserve his own candidacy in the 1820 presidential election.

For more information, please visit the James Monroe home page or James Monroe key events.

Truman Doctrine Announced–March 12, 1947

On March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman appeared before a joint session of Congress to request military aid for the countries of Greece and Turkey. During the course of his remarks, Truman described the United States as engaged in an ideological conflict with the forces of totalitarianism-a thinly veiled reference to the Soviet Union. The President observed that every nation had to choose between a way of life "based upon the will of the majority," and a way of life "based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority." Setting America on a new course in world affairs, Truman proclaimed that "it must be the policy of the United State to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The United States would thenceforth provide aid to countries fighting the forces of Communism. Truman did not advocate sending troops around the world to fight against Communist insurgents, however. Instead, starting with Greece and Turkey, he asked Congress for financial aid to support those nations facing Communist threats.

Truman's aid request did not mark a dramatic shift in the policies of his administration. The President's advisers on foreign policy had long advocated that Truman adopt a tougher stance against the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the address did signify a shift in how Truman characterized the Soviet Union and the menace it represented to the American public. In framing the issues as a conflict between two irreconcilable ideologies, Truman sharpened the tone of his rhetoric, asking for a global commitment to contain a ruthless foe.

Truman's speech prompted criticism from both the left and right of the American political spectrum. Liberals, such as Henry Wallace, continued to call for cooperation with the Soviet Union. Conservatives, including powerful Republican Senator Robert Taft, spoke out against further American involvement in Europe. The administration, however, was able to mobilize support from moderates in both parties who recognized in Communism a threat of increasing proportions. Congress passed Truman's aid package to Greece and Turkey in May 1947 with clear majorities in both the House and the Senate.

To read President Truman's entire speech, click here.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

Johnson Introduces Voting Rights Act–March 15, 1965

On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to introduce voting rights legislation. In a moving oration, Johnson called on white Americans to make the cause of African Americans their cause too. Together, he explained, echoing the anthem of the civil rights movement, "we shall overcome."

After winning reelection in 1964, President Johnson realized the need for significant voting rights legislation, but, as he explained to Martin Luther King, Jr., he felt that such a bill would hold up the passage of other programs in his domestic program. Still King and other civil rights leaders sought ways to bring the issue of voting rights to the attention of the American people.

Selma, Alabama, provided the perfect opportunity for civil rights organization such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to stage a nonviolent campaign on the issue of voting rights. The city of Selma had 15,000 African Americans of voting age but only 355 were registered to vote. Furthermore, the city's board of registers used blatantly racist tactics to keep African Americans off the voting rolls. SNCC and SCLC leaders decided to lead a march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, to protest the gross disenfranchisement of African Americans.

On March 7, 1965, more than 500 marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge, when state troopers confronted them and demanded that they turn around. The marchers halted facing the troopers, and the troopers advanced on the marchers, attacking them with nightsticks and tear gas. SNCC leader John Lewis was clubbed in the head and suffered a skull fracture. Images of the attacks on the peaceful marchers were broadcast throughout the country, and the incident became known as "Bloody Sunday." Two days later, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a group of protestors on another march from Selma. When police confronted them, however, they knelt in prayer and turned around.

In his address to Congress on March 15, President Johnson used stirring oratory to create support for voting rights legislation. He spoke of events in Selma as a historic moment and continually pressed the right to vote as a fundamental American right, proclaiming, "Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote." He stressed that denying the right to vote to African Americans cheapened the ideals of America for everyone. (Click here to read and listen to his speech in its entirety.)

The Voting Rights Act passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The act outlawed practices, such as literacy tests, that had been used to keep African Americans from registering to vote. The Justice Department gained the power to intervene where discriminatory practices had kept less than 50 percent of eligible voters from registering to vote. If this intervention failed to fix the situation, federal registers could take over the local voting systems.

President Johnson, the master legislator, pushed for the passage of a strong bill to end the disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South. Together with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act effectively ended the systematic segregation of the South.

To read and listen to the full text of Johnson's speech, click here.

For more information, please visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson home page or Lyndon Baines Johnson key events.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Published–March 20, 1852

On March 20, 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly, an antislavery novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was first published as a book. It initially appeared in serial form in National Era, an abolitionist newspaper, from June 1851 to April 1852. The novel focuses on the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery by centering on the horrifying travails of the pious, Christian slave Uncle Tom. A cruel and vicious plantation owner, Simon Legree, buys Tom, and Tom's innate goodness and Christian faith repel Legree who repeatedly mistreats Tom and his other slaves. In the end, Legree orders his overseers to beat Tom severely after he refuses to reveal the hiding place of two runaway slaves. Tom dies just as his former owner arrives to buy him back.

Uncle Tom's Cabin galvanized Northern opposition to slavery in the 1850s, which was Stowe's intention; she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin in response to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which mandated the return of runaway slaves to their owners. The book appeared as the nation debated the merits of slavery, and the public's reaction was extraordinary. Its emotional appeal incensed Northerners and rallied many of them against slavery. Southerners, too, read the book, but it often evoked a different reaction. Some believed it was a fabrication, and others sought to ban it. And by inflaming public opinion concerning slavery, the novel made it much more difficult to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. Years later, Abraham Lincoln reflected on the influence of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a cause of the Civil War. According to legend, when Lincoln met Stowe, he remarked, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

Stowe's portrayals of slavery and African Americans were complicated. Slavery was seen as the source of vice, cruelty, and human depravity, with Legree as its embodiment. In her main character Tom, Stowe created a humane, honorable, and brave person; Tom even forgave Legree in a final act of Christian compassion. But critics have also pointed out that the book largely reinforced 1850s-era stereotypes about African Americans. For example, Stowe portrayed only light-skinned blacks as intelligent, while characterizing dark-skinned blacks as docile and submissive. Still the book sold about 300,000 copies in 1852 alone and was a best seller throughout the 19th century.

For more information, please visit the Millard Fillmore home page or Millard Fillmore key events.

United States Captures Emilio Aguinaldo–March 23, 1901

On March 23, 1901, the United States captured Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the independence movement in the Philippine Islands. Once in U.S. custody, Aguinaldo signed an oath of allegiance to the United States, which ended any lingering hope of the rebellion's success. President William McKinley tried to convince the Filipinos that U.S. rule would benefit the country, but the United States continued fighting rebel troops across the islands for another year until American forces secured full control of the country.

The Philippine independence movement began in 1896 as Filipinos revolted against Spanish rule. Both sides agreed to a truce in December 1897, with Aguinaldo going into exile in Hong Kong. During the Spanish-American War, U.S. leadership brought Aguinaldo back to the islands to aid in mobilizing the native population against Spain. Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence on June 12, 1898, naming himself President of the Philippine Republic after Spanish forces surrendered to the Americans that August in Manila.

Although the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain through the Treaty of Paris, Aguinaldo continued his fight for independence. Widespread fighting erupted around Manila in February 1899 as President McKinley pushed his program of "benevolent assimilation" of the island. McKinley and his advisers believed incorrectly that only a minority of Filipinos supported the independence movement; the Americans set up the trappings of development, including schools, sanitation, and local government, to woo the majority of Filipinos to accept American rule. As fighting subsided during the islands' rainy season in the spring, McKinley offered the rebels a governance plan that included an elected Filipino advisory council to aid American administrators. Filipino nationalists rejected the American plan in May 1899.

General Elwell Otis led American troops into combat in the fall of 1899 and routed the Filipino army by November. Filipino forces regrouped using guerrilla tactics, and American forces aggressively pursued their destruction in the bitter fighting that followed. Throughout 1899, anti-imperialist Americans criticized McKinley's annexation of the islands and prosecution of the war as anathema to the democratic traditions of the United States. McKinley held firm, however, since putting down the rebellion went hand-in-hand with the establishment of a paternalist American presence on the archipelago. The United States secured its control over the Philippines by 1902.

During President McKinley's tenure, the United States fought and won a war with a European power, and acquired overseas territories. Along with the Philippines, the United States obtained Guam and Puerto Rico and occupied Cuba. In short, the United States emerged on the world stage in new and unprecedented ways.

For more information, please visit the William McKinley home page or William McKinley key events.

"Aroostook War" Ends–March 25, 1839

On March 25, 1839, Governor John Fairfield of Maine agreed to terms that ended the so-called Aroostook War. The issue at hand was the border between the American state of Maine and British Canadian province of New Brunswick. The border was a long-standing controversy which almost boiled over in 1839 when the Governor Fairfield sent militia to occupy the Aroostook River Valley. President Martin Van Buren deftly defused the crisis and paved the way for the final settlement of the boundary question, which came in 1842.

The boundary line between Maine and New Brunswick had been a matter of controversy between Britain and the United States since the end of the American Revolution. The 1783 Treaty of Paris drew the boundary with maps that were both incomplete and incorrect in regards to the region of northern Maine. Since the rivers and mountains described in the 1783 treaty were unclear, the British and American governments each had their own ideas of the border boundaries.

The situation grew more serious in 1838, when both the British and the Americans began surveying roads through the Maine lands. Additionally, lumberjacks from both countries traversed the Maine backcountry at will, angering both sides. William Harvey, the governor of New Brunswick, arrested a Maine census taker who was surveying the settlements along the Madawaska River. Finally, in January 1839, Governor Fairfield of Maine mobilized a militia and sent it to the Aroostook River Valley to expel timber cutters from New Brunswick. In response, Governor Harvey claimed that the Maine men were in New Brunswick territory and that he had the right to expel them by force.

President Van Buren turned to diplomacy to defuse the crisis. On February 26, 1839, he delivered a special message to Congress, which put forward a program of action. Van Buren both praised and criticized Governor Fairfield. Fairfield was right to expel trespassers onto Maine's territory, but he should have communicated with the governor of New Brunswick as he mobilized the militia. Van Buren said he would support Maine if it was attacked, but that Fairfield's occupation of the Aroostook was a provocation, and it had to be discontinued.

At the same time as the President addressed Congress and Maine, he negotiated with the British minister in Washington. They agreed that New Brunswick would not attack, Maine would withdraw, and both sides would agree to a joint solution to deal with incidents of trespass. The joint memorandum was controversial in Maine, but supported almost everywhere else in the United States. Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott to negotiate on the ground in Maine, and Scott negotiated a truce between Governors Harvey and Fairfield. Maine and New Brunswick tacitly agreed to divide the disputed area into spheres of interest, with Maine controlling the Aroostook River Valley and New Brunswick controlling the Madawaska River Valley. The "Aroostook War" never actually became a real war. Although President Van Buren ended the crisis, a permanent settlement was not immediate. The United States and Britain did not formally resolve the boundary dispute until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.

For more information, please visit the Martin Van Buren home page or Martin Van Buren key events.

President Reagan Shot–March 30, 1981

On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by John W. Hinkley, Jr., while leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel after giving a speech. The President was hit under his left arm by a bullet that ricocheted off his limousine. Once the sound of shots rang in the air, Secret Service agent Jerry Parr shoved Reagan into his limousine, and then, after noticing the President had been shot, directed the car to the George Washington University Hospital. Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and Washington, D.C., police officer Thomas Delahanty were also shot and seriously wounded.

Parr's quick-witted diversion of the presidential limousine to the hospital was a move that probably saved Reagan's life. The bullet had missed Reagan's heart by a mere inch. Although not believed to be serious at the time, Reagan's wounds were in fact life-threatening. He underwent surgery to remove the bullet and repair a lung that had collapsed.

Still President Reagan, ever the trouper, walked into the hospital before he collapsed. Later he won the heart of the nation when the stories of his courage and humor disarmed critics and endeared him to the public. When he arrived at the hospital, he reportedly joked with the medical staff, "Please tell me you're Republicans," and he quipped to an anxious Nancy, "Honey, I forgot to duck." One of the older Presidents when elected, Reagan was 70 years old when he took the oath of office; questions about his stamina and energy were commonplace during the early months of his presidency. His quick recovery from the assassination attempt, however, helped to brush those concerns aside.

President Reagan appeared before a joint session of Congress a few months after the assassination attempt to thunderous support. The attempt on his life and speedy recovery from his wounds helped establish his reputation for toughness, humility, and strength-a far cry from the public perception of his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. Press Secretary James Brady, however, suffered permanent brain damage from his wounds, and later advocated the passage of gun control laws. The "Brady Bill," named in his honor, limited handgun purchases and required background checks on gun purchasers.

In 1982, a District of Columbia jury tried John W. Hinkley, Jr., and found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He was then committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for treatment of his mental illness.

For more information, please visit the Ronald Wilson Reagan home page or Ronald Wilson Reagan key events, a collection of excerpts from the Ronald Reagan Oral History Project, or more Events in Presidential History.

Johnson Announces Decision Not to Seek Reelection–March 31, 1968

On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson, during a prime-time televised address, announced that he would not seek reelection. "There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight." Johnson explained. "And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and prospect of peace for all people. . . . I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes. . . . Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President." The Vietnam War had shattered Johnson's political future.

The domestic reaction to the Tet offensive launched by the North Vietnamese in January 1968 created great strain on his presidency. In March, when former Truman advisor Clark Clifford became Johnson's new Secretary of Defense, the President requested a reevaluation of the war. The generals were calling for an additional 206,000 American troops to join the half a million soldiers already in Vietnam. Clifford thought such a move would be both politically and economically disastrous. The cost of any further escalation would threaten America's economic standing in the world and could detract from then nation's ability to maintain its strategic commitments in Europe. Clifford advised Johnson against large scale escalation, requesting that he send only about 20,000 additional soldiers.

Meanwhile, displeasure with Johnson's war policy became part of the 1968 presidential race. On March 12, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, running on a platform opposed to continuing the war, won 41 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary. While Johnson won the primary, McCarthy's strong showing against a sitting President demonstrated the displeasure with the Johnson administration. On March 16, Robert F. Kennedy, Johnson's long-time political rival, announced that he too would challenge the President for the Democratic nomination. While Johnson was still the most likely Democratic nominee, this intraparty competition threatened to shatter the party.

In late March, Secretary Clifford assembled some of the top foreign-policy experts to discuss the future of the war in Vietnam. Known as the "wise men," the group included Dean Acheson, Maxwell Taylor, George Ball, McGeorge Bundy, Matthew Ridgeway, and Henry Cabot Lodge. Some of the wise men supported the idea of increased escalation in the war. Most, however, concluded that Vietnam was, in Bundy's words, "a bottomless pit." Additional U.S. troops would not quickly lead to an end of the war, only an increase in American casualties. Following their advice, Johnson chose to call for a partial halt in the bombing of North Vietnam and agreed to consider peace talks with the North Vietnamese.

In his announcement on March 31, President Johnson also told the American people about the partial bombing halt in North Vietnam. He stated that there would be no bombing of North Vietnam except in the area near the demilitarized zone and asked Ho Chi Minh to respond positively to this gesture. Johnson finished his announcement on Vietnam; then he paused dramatically before launching into his decision not to run for reelection.

To read President Johnson's entire address, click here.

For more information, please visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson home page or Lyndon Baines Johnson key events.

President Harrison Dies–April 4, 1841

On April 4, 1841, President William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia, exactly one month after his inauguration as the ninth President of the United States. The sixty-eight-year-old President likely had caught a cold while standing outside in harsh weather with no hat or coat during his nearly two-hour inaugural speech. Harrison's health further deteriorated under the constant barrage of office seekers who sought his favor from the moment he assumed office. Only three weeks after his inauguration, Harrison was bedridden, his cold having developed into pneumonia. He whispered his last words to the attending doctor, although they may have been intended for Vice President John Tyler: "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more."

Harrison's administration was the shortest in American history, and his death marked the first of a sitting President. Harrison's death also opened the sticky and untested issue of presidential succession. The Constitution stated that upon the death of a President the "Duties of said office" were to "devolve on the Vice President," and the 12th Amendment provided for the Vice President to "act as President" when there was no Executive. But neither document stated explicitly whether the vice president was now himself President, or merely taking on the responsibilities of the office until a new election could be held.

Harrison's cabinet dispatched a messenger to inform Vice President Tyler of Harrison's death, summoning him to the nation's capital. Upon his arrival two days later in Washington, D.C., Tyler immediately met with Harrison's cabinet to discuss the matter of succession. Quickly the cabinet members agreed that Tyler should take the oath of office and become President in his own right. Tyler's assumption of the vacated office in the wake of Harrison's sudden death established the procedure and precedent for presidential succession - and averted a possible constitutional and political problem.

For more information, please visit the William Henry Harrison home page or William Henry Harrison key events.

United States Declares War on Germany–April 6, 1917

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Although President Woodrow Wilson had campaigned for reelection in 1916 emphasizing how he had kept the United States out of the war, he soon realized that the United States could not stand by and remain neutral in the Great War.

At the end of January 1917, German U-Boats resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, attacking ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Shortly afterwards, the British released the Zimmermann telegram to the American government. The telegram revealed a German plot to try to entice Mexico into joining against the United States. President Wilson told the nation at his second inaugural on March 5 that he felt the United States had no control over its neutral status and that outside pressures "have drawn us more and more irresistibly into their current and influence."

Nevertheless, Wilson remained locked in a remarkable struggle between conflicting principles in his own ideology over the decision whether to go to war. Congress and the public were divided enough on the issue of intervention that the decision to enter the Great War fell on Wilson alone. He remained hopeful in early 1917 for a "peace without victory" that would secure a balance of power and equality of rights for all sides. But he feared that war would undo the progressive reforms he sought domestically and exacerbate the social divisions already present in the country. Nevertheless, Wilson believed that German behavior stood out of bounds of the civilized world and that a German victory would have disastrous consequences for Western civilization.

After the American press published the Zimmermann telegram, Wilson could count on support for a declaration of war if he asked for one from Congress. On April 2, 1917, the President decided to address a joint session of Congress that night. Wilson's speech asked for a declaration of war not as a crusade for justice, but as a somber and terrible act to "make the world safe for democracy." In the speech, the President asked for increased taxation, a compulsory draft, and government repression of dissent to support the war cause. The Senate debated a war declaration first, passing it on April 4, and the House passed it on April 6. American troops did not enter combat until more than a year later.

To read the full proclamation from April 6, 1917, declaring a state of war between the United States and Germany, click here.

For more information, please visit the Woodrow Wilson home page or Woodrow Wilson key events.

Truman Seizes Control of Steel Industry–April 8, 1952

On April 8, 1952, President Harry Truman seized control of steel industry, allowing the federal government to administer and oversee the industry. The seizure resulted after the steel producers and steel workers had been unable to reach agreement on a new contract. Truman justified this action under his authority as President but it resulted in a stunning rebuke for him.

On December 31, 1951, the contract between the nation's steel producers and the United Steelworkers Union expired. Weeks of negotiations had failed to produce an acceptable agreement. Since Truman had created a new bureaucracy to manage the economy during the Korean War, both the union and management looked to these agencies to provide a solution. Truman referred the dispute to Wage Stabilization Board (WSB) and requested that both sides continue production until the board made a decision. In March 1952, the WSB voted to give labor a raise of 26 cents an hour. To pay for this increase in wages, the steel manufacturers appealed to the Office of Price Stabilization (OPS) to raise the price of steel but the OPS rejected the request. The administration again attempted to negotiate a compromise, but the steel companies refused to accept the price increases offered by the government, and the union would only accept the raise promised by the WSB. With negotiations at an impasse, a strike appeared inevitable.

Throughout the ordeal, Truman's objectives were to avert a strike, maintain steel production, and stay on good terms with labor, an important Democratic constituency. Viewing steel as necessary to the war effort, he could not allow a strike to begin. Yet, he refrained from using his powers to force the union back to work under the Taft-Hartley Act. He believed that to do so would be to punish labor for management's intransigence and strengthen the political position of the Republican Party. So instead he issued Executive Order 10340 to have the secretary of commerce seize control of the steel industry.

Both the courts and public opinion opposed Truman's action. According to a Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans disapproved of the seizures. In April, a federal district court found Truman's actions unconstitutional. Two months later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court's finding in a 6 to 3 decision.

With control of the steel plants back in private hands, a fifty-three day strike ensued. In July, the President was finally able to get both sides to agree to terms similar to those on the table at the start of the year. Truman had risked much of his political capital on a strike that, in the end, had minimal effect on the Korean War. The choices he made in this incident increased the unpopularity of an already embattled President.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

Truman Dismisses General MacArthur–April 11, 1951

On April 11, 1951, President Harry Truman dismissed General Douglas MacArthur, one of the most well known and respected officers in the Army, as commander of the U.S. forces in the Korean War.

MacArthur had graduated first in his class from West Point in 1903 and served with distinction in the World War I. In World War II, he was commander of U.S. forces in Asia, coordinating the island-hoping campaign against the Japanese. After the war, he remained in Japan as head of the occupation forces. When the invasion of South Korea began, MacArthur quickly requested permission from Truman to intervene. The President agreed, and MacArthur became commander of the U.S. forces in Korea, masterminding the successful landing at Inchon.

MacArthur, aware of his heroic reputation, created many difficulties for the Truman administration. Despite orders that all his public comments had to be approved, he frequently made statements to the press undermining Truman's foreign policy. MacArthur often ignored suggestions made by his superiors on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While MacArthur was told to use caution in approaching the Yalu River, he instead quickly advanced toward the Chinese border. In December, while the Truman administration attempted to maintain a limited conflict, MacArthur recommended military action against China including a blockade and large-scale bombings.

The General's greatest infractions, however, occurred in March 1951. When Truman informed MacArthur that he would seek a negotiated settlement of the Korean conflict, MacArthur chose to make his own offer to meet with the Chinese. If this was not enough, MacArthur sent a letter to Republican Congressman Joseph Martin, criticizing Truman's decision to try to end the war. This was the last straw. Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur, and General Matthew Ridgeway became commander of the U.S. troops in Korea.

Upon his return to the United States, MacArthur received a hero's welcome. He addressed a joint session of Congress to a standing ovation and was greeted by a ticker tape parade in New York City. Despite this excitement, much of the press, many congressmen, and large segments of the public agreed with Truman's actions. Truman had upheld the constitutional supremacy of elected officials over the military and had maintained the strategy of limited war.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

Civil War Begins–April 12, 1861

The American Civil War began at 4:30am on April 12, 1861, when General Pierre G. T. Beauregard's Confederate artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Beauregard's bombardment lasted for thirty-three hours until Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. The Confederates took down the stars and stripes and raised the stars and bars at Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter represented a symbol of state sovereignty to both the United States and Confederate States of America (CSA). The Confederate Provisional Congress considered it an outpost under foreign control in an important harbor. Negotiations between the CSA and the United States over Fort Sumter failed, however. On April 9, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Beauregard to attack Fort Sumter if Anderson refused a final appeal to surrender. The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter placed responsibility for starting the Civil War on the shoulders of the Confederacy.

The fall of Fort Sumter brought the secession crisis to the breaking point. On April 15, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve in the U.S. Army for a period of ninety days. In doing so, Lincoln answered the South's challenge to civil war. Following Sumter, Lincoln believed that the insurrection was "too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary process of judicial proceedings." It would be settled by force of arms. In the weeks that followed, four more states-Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, the South's most populous state-seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy.

Abraham Lincoln's decisive action following the fall of Fort Sumter inaugurated a wartime presidency in which the executive superseded the other two branches of the federal government. As commander in chief, Lincoln was responsible for how the war was conducted, and he transformed the President's role as commander in chief and as chief executive into a powerful new position. In several emergencies, Lincoln exercised powers not constitutionally granted to a President and ignored Supreme Court decisions ruling his conduct unconstitutional. Still he was committed to preserving the Union and thus vindicating democracy no matter what the consequences to himself, and his strong presidency helped save the Union.

For more information, please visit the Abraham Lincoln home page or Abraham Lincoln key events.

President Abraham Lincoln Dies–April 15, 1865

On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died. He had been shot by an assassin the night before and died of a head wound early on the morning of the 15th.

President Lincoln had been sworn in to his second term of office on March 4, 1865. On April 9, he oversaw the end of the American Civil War when the Confederate Army surrendered to the Union. It had been a remarkable spring for the commander in chief.

On April 14, Lincoln sat in Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., watching a play when a man burst into the presidential box and shot the President in the back of his head. The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, leaped from the box to the stage to make his escape, shouting "Sic semper Tyrannis! (Thus always to Tyrants) The South is avenged!"

The President died at 7:22 a.m. the next morning in the home of William Petersen. A few hours after Lincoln's death, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase swore Vice President Andrew Johnson in as President of the United States.

The assassin, Booth, was an actor and an ardent Confederate sympathizer who had planned to kill Lincoln along with accomplices who were supposed to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and General Ulysses S. Grant. However, the plan went array, and only Booth carried out his part of the plan. Four of his co-conspirators were convicted and hanged for taking part in the plot or for having known about it in advance. Booth was discovered in a barn in rural Virginia ten days after Lincoln's assassination after frantic searching by the Army and the Secret Service. As they attempted to capture Booth, the barn was set on fire, and Booth either shot himself or was killed in a shoot-out.

Lincoln's death stunned the country and muted its joy over the end of the Civil War. After seven days of official mourning in the Capitol, Lincoln's coffin was carried on a slow-moving funeral train back to Springfield, Illinois. As the procession traveled through the country, people in small towns and villages, in big cities, and throughout the countryside gathered to see the train pass and offer their last respects to Lincoln. Thousands of Americans remembered the sight of the passing funeral train as one of the most deeply emotional events of their lives.

For more information, please visit the Abraham Lincoln home page or Abraham Lincoln key events.

Bay of Pigs Invasion Begins–April 17, 1961

On April 17, 1961, a brigade of about 1,500 Cuban exiles landed at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on the southern coast of Cuba. Their mission was to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro by inciting revolt among the Cuban people. Funded and supplied by the United States, this invasion ended in absolute failure with some of the exiles killed and many captured by Castro's army. Although President John F. Kennedy wanted American involvement in the operation to remain covert, signs of CIA sponsorship of the brigade were obvious. In addition, the President's decision not to provide American air support for the invasion made him appear weak. The disastrous invasion stands out as one of the major mistakes of Kennedy's presidency.

The plan for a covert invasion of Cuba originated in the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Supported by both President Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon, CIA Director Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell, CIA deputy for planning, had trained anti-Castro forces in Guatemala in preparation for an invasion. Dulles and Bissell briefed Kennedy on the operation shortly after his election victory in November. Kennedy chose to reappoint Dulles to head the CIA in his administration.

Some in the administration warned Kennedy not to follow through with this attack. Liberals in the administration such as Chester Bowles, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and John Kenneth Galbraith felt that a Democratic administration should not carry out this kind of "adventurism." In addition, some foreign policy experts, such as Dean Acheson, feared that the operation as planned was too small and would not succeed. Still, most of the President's advisers maintained that this operation would work and rid the United States of a Communist dictatorship 90 miles of the coast of Florida.

President Kennedy wanted to blur any connections between the American military and the Cuban operation. The American press threatened the secrecy of the mission, however, when they reported on the training of exiles and an impending invasion. Kennedy chose not to authorize any air strikes by American planes during the mission, fearing that a downed plane would expose the American role in the plan. The operation was limited to one round of air strikes in disguised planes followed by the CIA-trained exiles landing at the Bay of Pigs to invade Cuba.

On April 15, B-26 bombers from Nicaragua began the attack on Cuba. While they succeeded in destroying some of Castro's air force, their attack warned the Cuban leader of further assaults. When the invasion began on April 17, Castro quickly ordered his military forces to the area, trapping the exiles on the beach. By the next day, it was clear that the operation had failed. The planners had claimed that the invasion would spark an uprising in Cuba. However, the uprising failed to materialize. Kennedy, hoping to maintain American invisibility, refused to allow additional air strikes to salvage the disaster. In the end, some 115 men died, and the Cuban forces captured almost 1,200 exiles. Criticism of the administration soon poured in from all political perspectives; President Kennedy had failed in the first major test of his administration.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Ku Klux Klan Bill Enacted–April 20, 1871

On April 20, 1871, at the urging of President Ulysses Grant, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act. Also known as the third Enforcement Act, the bill was a controversial expansion of federal authority designed to give the federal government additional power to protect voters. The act established penalties in the form of fines and jail time for attempts to deprive citizens of equal protection under the laws and gave the President the authority to use federal troops and suspend the writ of habeas corpus in ensuring that civil rights were upheld.

Founded as a fraternal organization by Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan soon became a paramilitary group devoted to the overthrow of Republican governments in the South and the reassertion of white supremacy. Through murder, kidnapping, and violent intimidation, Klansmen sought to secure Democratic victories in elections by attacking black voters and, less frequently, white Republican leaders.

In response to Klan violence, Congress passed the first of three Enforcement Acts on May 31, 1870, to ensure that the provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were followed. The act, which made it a federal offensive to try to deprive anyone of his civil rights, had little effect on the deteriorating situation. A second Enforcement Act, passed on February 28, 1871, established federal supervision over elections, but also did little to remedy the situation.

After the failure in the House of a more powerful bill that would have given the federal government additional power to enforce election law, President Grant decided to intervene. The President met with Congressional leaders to urge the passage of stronger legislation, and on their recommendation, Grant issued a direct appeal to Congress requesting a new law. Grant's appeal was successful, and Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act.

President Grant put the new legislation to work after several Klan incidents in May. He sent additional troops to the South and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in nine counties in South Carolina. Aided by Attorney General Amos T. Akermen and the newly created Department of Justice, extensive work was done to prosecute the Klan. While relatively few convictions were obtained, the new legislation helped to suppress Klan activities and ensure a greater degree of fairness in the election of 1872.

For more information, please visit the Ulysses Simpson Grant home page or Ulysses Simpson Grant key events.

Chemical Weapons Convention Ratified–April 25, 1997

On April 25, 1997, the United States Senate ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. It is one of the most ambitious arms agreements in history. The international treaty was originally signed at the United Nations in January 1993, and it went into effect on April 29, 1997.

Since the use of mustard gas in the trenches of World War I, chemical weaponry has held great potential for military scientists and posed a terrifying threat to troops and ordinary citizens. The fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s led the United States to reduce nuclear stockpiles; but the deadly reality of chemical weapons took a back seat in the American public consciousness. A series of frightening events turned the public's attention back to chemical weapons. The release of poisonous gas into the Tokyo subway in 1995 left eleven people dead and more than five thousand injured, creating strong Japanese and international support for ratification of the CWC. Disturbing reports that thousands of American veterans were suffering from painful and inexplicable illnesses suggested that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi military had used chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War. Finally, the new reality of terrorism-seen in the 1995 destruction of the Oklahoma City federal building and in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center-brought the potentially catastrophic danger of chemical weapons uncomfortably closer to home.

When the Senate finally ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention on April 25, 1997, it endorsed what had truly been a bipartisan effort. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush first negotiated and signed the convention, but President Clinton had struggled to secure its ratification, which bogged down in the Senate. His difficulty arose, in part, because many feared the United States would put itself at a comparative disadvantage in relation to its adversaries. Troubles also stemmed from the Democrats loss of control over both the House and the Senate in 1994.

As the deadline for pre-approval approached, President Bill Clinton increased his avid support of the treaty, going before Congress and addressing the American people directly to garner sufficient backing. In his 1997 State of the Union Address, Clinton announced that Americans "must rise to a new test of leadership-ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention." The President argued that endorsement of the treaty would "make our troops safer from chemical attack" and would "help us to fight terrorism," maintaining that "we have no more important obligations." Ultimately, the treaty was embraced by many: the Pentagon, the American intelligence community, and the American public favored a future free from the threat of chemical weapons.

For more information, please visit the Bill Clinton home page or Bill Clinton key events.

Louisiana Purchase Treaty Signed–April 30, 1803

On April 30, 1803, representatives from the United States and France signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. The terms of the agreement gave all of the Louisiana territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains to the United States. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States and is considered one of President Thomas Jefferson's greatest presidential accomplishments.

In 1800, President Jefferson learned that Spain had secretly ceded Louisiana to France, and he was concerned about France attempting to reclaim its North American empire. Jefferson wanted to insure that American farmers in the Ohio River Valley had access to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River–the river was a key to the farmers' economic well-being.

In the spring of 1803, the President sent James Monroe to France to join the French minister, Robert Livingston. He instructed Monroe and Livingston to negotiate the purchase of the city of New Orleans and all or part of Florida from France for $10 million. Monroe arrived just as Napoleon I of France faced renewed war with Britain. In need of money and eager to rid himself of the hassles of governing distant lands after the successful revolt of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), Napoleon offered the entire Louisiana territory to the astonished ministers. Exceeding their instructions, Monroe and Livingston agreed to pay $15 million for the whole territory. The price of $15 million amounted to approximately four cents per acre for 828,000 square miles.

Delighted with the deal but troubled because the Constitution did not specifically provide for the acquisition of new territory, Jefferson considered a constitutional amendment to allow the purchase. Napoleon threatened to withdraw the deal if not soon ratified, however, and so Jefferson sent the treaty to the Senate for approval. Federalists were furious at Jefferson's seeming hypocrisy, as he had long criticized them for not strictly interpreting the Constitution.

The constitutional dilemma for the President was substantial. While believing that the United States must expand to fulfill its republican destiny, he was the first to assert the Constitution did not authorize acquiring new territory. As would be the case in numerous issues during his presidency, Jefferson was forced seek a balance between sometimes conflicting principles. In this case, President Jefferson chose expediency and national interest when he submitted the Louisiana Purchase Treaty to the Senate. The Senate ratified the treaty in October 1803.

For more information, please visit the Thomas Jefferson home page or Thomas Jefferson key events.

U-2 Plane Shot DownÐMay 1, 1960

On May 1, 1960, the Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 reconnaissance plane. The pilot Francis Gary Powers ejected from the plane and survived. The Soviets quickly took Powers prisoner and recovered the remains of the U-2 plane. Hoping to embarrass the United States, the Soviets kept the capture of Powers secret only announcing that an American plane had been shot down.

The administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower hoped to avoid a conflict with the Soviet Union over the U-2 incident because the long-anticipated Paris conference between the United States, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union to discuss possible arms control agreements was scheduled to begin in mid-May. Rather than revealing that the United States had been flying U-2s over the Soviet Union since 1956 when Eisenhower had authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to being top-secret intelligence flights over the Soviet Union, the State Department and the White House issued a series of cover stories, including one that a weather plane had been lost. The Kremlin exposed these cover stories as lies. On May 7, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev scored a diplomatic victory when he revealed that the Soviets had the plane, its pilot, and proof that the United States had been spying on the Soviet Union. This announcement seriously challenged the credibility of the administration with both its allies and the American public.

Eisenhower now had to make a choice. He could refrain from commenting on the incident, but this would encourage rumors that he had not authorized the mission thereby weakening his political position. His other option was to take responsibility for the flights and attempt to defend his actions. On May 11, only days before the summit meetings in Paris, Eisenhower took this latter route. He announced that he had approved the flights, and he emphasized their importance to avoid "another Pearl Harbor." These U-2 flights were, the President concluded, "a distasteful but vital necessity."

Despite the U.S. admission, the President still hoped that the summit could lead to some agreement between the Soviets and the Western powers. Khrushchev, however, remained angry about the U-2 incident. Under pressure from hard-liners in Moscow, the Soviet Premier insisted that Eisenhower end the program of U-2 flights, apologize for previous flights, and punish those responsible for the espionage. Eisenhower stated that he would halt future flights, but refused to bend to any other demands. Khrushchev stormed out of the conference, effectively ending it. The U-2 incident ended the détente in the Cold War that Eisenhower had cultivated during much of his administration.

For more information, please visit the Dwight David Eisenhower home page or Dwight David Eisenhower key events.

Lusitania Sinks–May 7, 1915

On May 7, 1915, the German submarine U-20 torpedoed the British luxury liner Lusitania within sight of the Irish coast. The largest passenger ship in wartime transatlantic service at the time, the Lusitania was struck by a single torpedo and sank in twenty minutes after a second internal explosion. Of the more than 1,900 people on board, nearly 1,200 died, including 128 Americans.

After the outbreak of World War I in Europe in the summer of 1914, Britain laid a blockade upon German ports. In response, Germany deployed experimental attack submarines, called U-boats, in the Atlantic Ocean. The German government declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone in February 1915 and cautioned that its U-boats would sink any ship entering the zone without warning. Germany justified the action of unrestricted submarine warfare by claiming that Britain had violated its own freedom of the seas with the blockade. The German government also argued, correctly, that the British used neutral and civilian ships to transport munitions.

With the outbreak of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson led the United States in its declaration of neutrality. However, this stance began to be tested when Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare. Shortly afterwards, four American citizens were killed in three U-boat attacks. Wilson debated a proper response to German violations of American neutrality with advisor Robert Lansing and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan. While Wilson and his advisers debated, the Germans torpedoed the Lusitania.

The scale of the disaster shocked and enraged the American public and moved Wilson to take a defensive stand against Germany's violation of American neutrality rights at sea. The President issued a note to the German government demanding that it stop its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and pay reparations for the deaths of those Americans lost on the Lusitania. The German Imperial Government defended itself by reminding Wilson that the ship had been illegally carrying contraband munitions. It claimed it was the explosion of such munitions that so rapidly sank the ship.

Wilson found Germany's reply unconvincing and drafted a second note over Bryan's objections that urged Germany again to respect civilian and neutrals' "rights of humanity" and warned of his will to defend his own citizens. Bryan resigned rather than sign the second note because he felt that Wilson was not balancing both British and German violations of American neutrality. He was also concerned that the President was taking too hard a stance towards Germany that would leave the United States no alternative except to enter the war. After Bryan's resignation, Wilson promoted Lansing to secretary of state and issued a third note to Berlin warning that the United States would regard another sinking of a passenger liner as a "deliberately unfriendly" act.

Germany never accepted culpability for the loss of the Lusitania. While the German government maintained its position that it sank the ship within the conventions of war, it wanted to keep the United States from entering the war and issued secret orders to its submarine captains to stop sinking large passenger liners. Nevertheless, the Lusitania issue remained a lingering sore spot in American-German relations as the two nations drifted closer to war.

For more information, please visit the Woodrow Wilson home page or Woodrow Wilson key events.

Transcontinental Railroad Completed–May 10, 1869

On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed when a ceremonial golden spike was driven into the place where the two railroads met. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined the railroad together in Promontory Point, Utah. Celebrations and special addresses took place across the nation after a telegraph message announced the event to the world.

Agitation for the construction of a transcontinental railroad had existed since the 1840s. Army Topographical Engineers had proposed five separate routes during the 1850s, but sectional tensions prevented construction. The Civil War later resulted in Southern routes being removed from consideration. On July 1, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act, calling for the construction of a railroad from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. The act provided government bonds to fund the project and mandated a timetable for completing railroad mileage. The endeavor was virtually risk free for the government, as the bonds were to be repaid and mileage requirements forced the two companies building the tracks to work quickly.

The Union Pacific railroad began construction in Omaha, Nebraska, while the Central Pacific began in Sacramento, California. Armed guards and U.S. troops guarded the construction crews from potential Native American attacks as workers moved across the country in temporary, military style encampments. With the end of the Civil War, former soldiers often went west in search of work, helping to alleviate the lack of labor available in the region that had made large projects difficult to execute. In California, Chinese immigrant laborers provided much of the necessary manpower. A sense of competition developed between the two companies, leading to both crews working faster and at times even leading to sabotage.

As the project neared completion in the late 1860s, it became evident that a meeting point would have to be established, as otherwise the two companies were likely to continue building past one another. Under pressure from Congress, the meeting place was selected at Promontory Point, Utah. Railroad companies would complete additional transcontinental railroads in the following decades, although the Panic of 1873 delayed construction on those projects.

For more information, please visit the Ulysses S. Grant home page or Ulysses S. Grant key events.

United States Declares War on Mexico–May 13, 1846

On May 13, 1846, President James K. Polk signed a declaration of war against Mexico. Polk had submitted his war message to Congress on May 11 after General Zachary Taylor and his troops had clashed with Mexican forces on the northern bank of the Rio Grande, and Congress quickly approved the declaration of war against Mexico. After the President signed the declaration, he and his cabinet decided to conduct a three-pronged war: General Taylor would secure northern Mexico, an army under Stephen Kearny would capture New Mexico and California, and a third force under the command of Winfield Scott would capture Mexico City.

Kearny headed west and found New Mexico abandoned by Mexican forces. He then moved to California, capturing Los Angeles in January 1847. Taylor remained active in northern Mexico, winning several battles and capturing Monterrey, an important Mexican trade-center. Polk then ordered a large portion of Taylor's troops to Vera Cruz to bolster Scott's force for the assault on Mexico City. Hearing of Taylor's reduced forces, Mexican General Santa Anna decided to attack but Taylor and his outnumbered troops repulsed the Mexican forces at the Battle of Buena Vista. Santa Anna retreated south and was again defeated when Scott captured Mexico City in September 1847.

With a strong advantage in the field, Polk's diplomat Nicholas Trist attempted to arrange terms with Mexico. After several false starts, Trist on February 2, 1948 arranged the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war. Under the terms of the treaty, Mexico agreed to recognize the Rio Grande as the Texas border and ceded California and New Mexico to the United States. The United States agreed to pay Mexico $15 million for the territories and assume $3 million in outstanding American claims against the Mexican government. The Senate approved the treaty on March 10, 1848.

The Mexican War was both controversial and compelling at home. Many Whigs, including a young congressman named Abraham Lincoln, objected to the war, but these dissenting voices were mostly lost underneath an outburst of nationalism that only grew more vociferous as the American victories mounted. Propelling this nationalist upsurge was the penny press, which sent war correspondents to the field and made the war the most reported in American history to that date. The press coverage made General Zachary Taylor a hero who captured the public's imagination and helped to propel him to the presidency in 1848.

For more information, please visit the James Knox Polk home page or James Knox Polk key events.

Standard Oil Company Dissolved–May 15, 1911

On May 15, 1911, Chief Justice Edward White issued the Supreme Court's majority opinion upholding the dissolution of the Standard Oil Company. White agreed that the Standard Oil Company's business practices did violate the Sherman Antitrust Act because they were anticompetitive and abusive. However, he muted the circuit court's breakup plan for the company, allowing Standard Oil six months to spin off its subsidiaries instead of the initial three months mandated.

After the circuit court of St. Louis initially ruled against the Standard Oil Company, the company's lawyers prepared their appeal to the Supreme Court. With the support of President William Taft, Attorney General George Wickersham and prosecutor Frank Kellogg presented the government's case in January 1911. Mimicking Kellogg's successful argumentation in front of the St. Louis circuit court, they claimed that Standard Oil's consolidation of the petroleum industry through its trust company and its enormous size restricted interstate trade and produced a monopoly as outlawed in the Sherman Antitrust Act. Standard Oil lawyers countered that the circuit court's decree for the breakup of the company violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment that guaranteed freedom of contract and right to property. The company's lawyers also claimed that the oil trust was beyond the constitutional reach of the Sherman Act because the corporation engaged in production, not commerce.

The way Chief Justice White interpreted the Sherman Act altered the vague sweep of the legislation. The Sherman Act was worded to outlaw every single contract or arrangement that resulted in a restriction of trade. White added a rule of reason test-a centuries-old principle of common law-to his interpretation of the act. If the restrictions of trade produced by a trust were reasonable, that is, did not infringe on individual rights or the public good, then the judiciary need not dissolve the trust through the arbitrariness of the Sherman Act. Only if a trust unreasonably interfered with commerce in a way that damaged the American economy could it be dissolved. White's extraneous interpretation of the Standard Oil case considered the possibility of trusts to be socially beneficial. It also allowed the judiciary to be the ultimate arbitrator to what was a "reasonable" infringement of commerce by a corporation, a principle Justice Harlan claimed violated the intent of the Sherman Act's authors.

President Taft supported the decision, claiming it was not a dramatic departure from previous cases. The President had little ideologically invested in the Standard Oil case and actually supported industrial combinations. The case had been former President Theodore Roosevelt's idea and the centerpiece of his popular trust-busting campaign. Taft could not afford to break with Roosevelt on the case and so he supported the prosecution of Standard Oil for his own political gain. Taft praised the decision while progressives and Democrats attacked White's reason test.

For more information, please visit the William Howard Taft home page or William Howard Taft key events.

Washington Receives "Citizen Genet"–May 18, 1793

On May 18, 1793, President George Washington received the French minister to the United States, Edmond Charles Genet. Known as "Citizen Genet," the minister had come to the United States to try to gain U.S. support for France. He arrived in the country in April 1793 and journeyed to Philadelphia, stopping to celebrate along the way with adoring, supportive crowds.

France and the United States had maintained friendly relations since signing an alliance in 1778. When the French Revolution turned violent in 1792, however, many Americans re-evaluated that friendship. Republicans, including Thomas Jefferson, sympathized with the revolution, seeing it as an emulation of America's own freedom struggle. Alexander Hamilton and his fellow Federalists feared that the chaos and violence would spread to the United States and destroy the young republic. When revolutionary France and Britain went to war in early 1793, Washington declared the United States neutral, warning Americans to avoid aiding either side in the emerging European conflict. However, this proclamation of neutrality only deepened domestic partisan divisions over the tenor of Franco-American relations.

Edmond Charles Genet arrived in the United States in April 1793 with instructions to persuade the President to observe the 1778 treaty by supporting the French war effort. Twisting Washington's definition of neutrality, Genet immediately set to work attempting to use American commercial ports as French military bases. He cultivated support against neutrality and tried to stir up agitation in the western United States against the Spanish territories of Louisiana and Florida. Even Jefferson, initially a supporter of Genet, tried to restrain the Frenchman, but to no avail. When Washington refused to cooperate with Genet's schemes, Genet threatened to appeal directly to the American people.

Washington and Hamilton believed Genet's activities constituted a threat to the stability of the American republic. Hamilton and other Federalists worked to discredit Genet, and Republicans tried to distance themselves from him. In August 1793, Washington and his cabinet unanimously agreed to request that France recall Genet. However, a new government had come to power in France during Genet's absence, and it had decided that his actions were hurting its cause and called for his arrest. Fearing for the Frenchman's safety, Washington allowed Genet to remain in the country as a private resident; he lived in New York until his death in 1834.

Genet's activities in 1793 sharpened the existing divisions between Federalists and Republicans, adding to the growing political partisanship that marked the 1790s. As the American citizenry became further politicized, President Washington's ability to promote consensus quickly eroded and his ability to govern was compromised. Washington's second term stalled under intense partisan political turmoil, one of the reasons he happily retired to Mount Vernon when his presidency ended.

For more information, please visit the George Washington home page or George Washington key events.

Opening of the Brooklyn Bridge–May 24, 1883

On May 24, 1883, President Chester Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland participated in the ceremonial opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to be built across the East River linking New York City and Brooklyn. The bridge was an engineering marvel, utilizing numerous construction techniques that had never before been attempted on such a massive scale.

The original designer, John Roebling, died of an infection caused by an injury he received only days after having secured permission to begin his project. His son Washington took over, supervising the construction project that took thirteen years and more than $15 million to complete (three times as long and twice as expensive as had been anticipated). By the end of the project, Washington Roebling's health had deteriorated considerably. He, along with many of those involved in the project, had contracted decompression sickness because of working in the caissons used to form the foundations of the bridge towers. It is estimated that more than twenty men were killed during the construction of the bridge, although records are debatable.

Prior to the Brooklyn Bridge opening celebration, President Arthur's health had been deteriorating. (He suffered from Bright's disease, a then-fatal kidney ailment.) Still, the crowd of people who showed up for the event were unaware, and the President received a spectacular welcome. Arthur and Governor Cleveland walked across the bridge along with the 7th regiment as part of the celebration. Later that day, both personally congratulated Washington Roebling.

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world and one of the most revolutionary structures of the era. It remains a symbol of engineering prowess.

For more information, please visit the Chester Alan Arthur home page or Chester Alan Arthur key events.

Kennedy Pledges to Support Space Program–May 25, 1961

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy in an address to Congress challenged the nation to "commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon." He asked Congress to find additional funds to support the nation's space program.

President Kennedy was committed to an aggressive space program. The Soviet Union had surpassed the United States in the space race by launching Sputnik, an artificial satellite, in 1957. Since space technology demonstrated potential weapons, this competition became an important aspect of the Cold War. Although Kennedy realized the importance of space exploration to the military, he remained firmly committed to a civilian-controlled program of manned space flights. With the encouragement of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy appealed to Congress to increase spending on the space program in the hopes of surpassing the Soviets.

Then, on February 20, 1962, Astronaut John Glenn aboard the Mercury craft Friendship 7 became the first American to orbit the earth. Both the Kennedy administration and the American people celebrated Glenn's space flight. But Kennedy did not live to see his dream come true when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in July 1969.

To read an excerpt of Kennedy's speech about the goal of sending a man to the moon, please click here.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Jackson Signs Indian Removal Act–May 28, 1830

On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the President additional powers in speeding the removal of American Indian communities in the eastern United States to territories west of the Mississippi River. The Indian Removal Act set the stage for the forced removals of the Cherokees, Creeks, and other southern Native American nations that took place during the 1830s.

President Jackson's annual message of December 1829 contained extensive remarks on the present and future state of American Indians in the United States. His message contained many observations, assessments, and prejudices about Native Americans that had been widely held by American policy makers since Thomas Jefferson's presidency. Jackson observed that as white settlement in the east expanded, the range for Native American hunters diminished, and that this would gradually lead to their extinction. For their own good, American Indians needed to be resettled on vacant lands west of the Mississippi River, the President argued.

In Congress, debates on a bill that would authorize the removals that Jackson proposed began in late February 1830. The debates in both the Senate and the House were quite contentious. Those opposed to Jackson's plans had many reasons for concern. They felt for the Native American situation, and many pleaded eloquently for the inviolable nature of the Native American nations' sovereignty. They also did not want to alter the established practices of Native American treaty-making, and many did not like Jackson himself. Generally, those opposed to the bill constituted the emerging anti-Jackson party. Despite the debate, the Indian Removal Bill passed the Senate at the end of April and passed the House at the end of May.

Officially, the Indian Removal Act did not directly remove any Native American communities; it simply provided for a government apparatus that made it much easier to do so. The act allowed the President to exchange eastern Native American lands for unsettled western lands and grant the Native American nations involved full title to this new land. Officially, such exchanges would have take place through voluntary treaties with the Native Americans themselves. To expedite matters, the federal government would pay all the costs involved; it would reimburse the Native Americans for any structures they had built on their lands, and subsidize the new Native American settlements in the West.

This Indian Removal Act was Jackson's creature. He worked behind the scenes to get his friends and allies appointed to the proper Congressional committees, in order to produce a bill congruent with his desires. The new law now fully committed the United States government to a policy of Native American removal, a policy that Jackson and his allies would bring to life in the latter years of his presidency.

For more information, please visit the Andrew Jackson home page or Andrew Jackson key events.

Pierce Signs Kansas-Nebraska Act—May 30, 1854

On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was designed to solve the issue of expanding slavery into the territories. However, it failed miserably; the Kansas-Nebraska Act was one of the key political events that led to the American Civil War.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act organized the territories of Kansas and Nebraska on the basis of popular sovereignty, which allowed the two territories to decide for themselves whether to permit slavery when they applied for statehood. This act effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that outlawed slavery north of the latitude of 36 degrees 30 minutes in the former Louisiana Territory because it opened the possibility that Kansas and Nebraska (both above the 36º30' line) could become slave states. Northern anti-slavery politicians and activists were livid. Southerners assumed that the Kansas territory would become a slave state, while Nebraska would be a free state.

Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois designed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and pushed it through Congress. He hoped the act would settle the divisive issue of extending slavery into the territories by removing it from national politics and leaving it for the individual states and territories to decide. Douglas also believed that the Democratic Party could unify behind the banner of popular sovereignty-and that this would greatly aid his presidential aspirations.

In fact, the law did neither. It provoked violence between pro- and anti-slavery forces in Kansas, and it failed to unite the Democratic Party. Southern Democrats favored the bill, but Northern Democrats, sensing their constituents' unease with the extension of slavery, generally avoided taking a stand on it. The Kansas-Nebraska Act also deepened the serious sectional divides in the Whig Party, leading to its eventual destruction. Finally, the act intensified Northern anti-slavery sentiment, which aided the formation of the Republican Party. This political realignment was a major cause of the Civil War.

President Pierce personally lobbied Democrats to support Douglas's bill. As the tide of opposition rose in the North, Pierce used the Kansas-Nebraska Act as a test of party loyalty. He used his presidential powers to cajole, threaten, or promise federal patronage for support and, in the end, was able to direct the votes of many Northern Democrats. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the most important legislation of the Pierce presidency, but it was a costly victory. Many in the North believed Pierce catered to Southern interests who wanted to expand slavery. This led to a loss of Northern support for Pierce's foreign policy. President Pierce showed that he could not govern effectively or unite the party. The divisive debate surrounding the spread of slavery would not go away-as it had not in 1820 and 1850, and Pierce's presidency languished as a result.

For more information, please visit the Franklin Pierce home page or Franklin Pierce key events or go to more Events in Presidential History.

Marshall Plan Announced–June 5, 1947

On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced a plan to provide economic assistance to the devastated nations of Europe after World War II. He presented what became known as the Marshall Plan during a commencement speech at Harvard University. The administration of President Harry S. Truman hoped the plan would encourage both political and economic stability in Europe and help reduce the attraction of Communism to Europe's suffering populations.

In his speech, Secretary Marshall implied that funding would be available for all of Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union refused to participate. Administration officials recognized that Soviet rejection of aid would likely solidify the emerging division of the continent and were eager to pin the blame for that development on Moscow. Had the Soviets agreed to participate in the plan, its passage through Congress would have been much more difficult. The likelihood of Soviet participation, however, was slim. Marshall had made disbursal of American funds contingent upon European nations presenting a coordinated proposal to the United States, an approach designed to encourage greater cooperation among countries in Europe.

In July, representatives from sixteen European nations attended a conference in Paris, France, to draw up a proposal for U.S. aid. The Soviets had sent a delegation to an initial meeting, but it soon departed under orders from Moscow. And despite the interest expressed by Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania in the aid plan, no East European nation was a recipient of American funds. In August 1947, representatives from the European nations presented a proposal for more than $20 billion of aid over four years. The Truman administration trimmed the amount to $17.8 billion before sending it Congress as the European Recovery Plan (ERP). President Truman insisted on associating the plan with Secretary Marshall not only because he believed Marshall deserved the credit, but because, given his political difficulties with Congress, he wanted to distance himself from the plan. The Marshall Plan's enormous cost led to opposition in Congress, but Stalin's aggressive actions in Eastern Europe, particularly in Czechosvakia, helped secure the first appropriation of $6.8 million in April 1948. By the time the Marshall Plan had come to an end in 1952, it had provided more than $13 billion in aid to Western Europe.

Some historians have criticized the plan for increasing tension with the Soviet Union or as a program designed to create markets for American goods in Europe. Despite these negative connotations, the Marshall Plan provided financial and humanitarian aid which fostered economic growth and political stability for the peoples of Western Europe.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

Kennedy Gives American University AddressÐJune 10, 1963

On June 10, 1963, President John Kennedy gave a commencement address at American University. In it, he addressed relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and a nuclear test ban treaty.

In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, both Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev hoped their countries could move closer to peace. The idea of a nuclear test ban treaty originated in the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower, but the two sides never could agree on the details of a pact. At the end of 1962, Khrushchev wrote Kennedy of his desire to create such an agreement. Meanwhile, Kennedy's statements began to take a softer stance toward his Soviet adversaries.

The need for a nuclear test ban treaty was a critical component of Kennedy's speech at American University. This speech, however, called for more than simply a ban on atomic testing. Kennedy called for a real peace; "not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war." He expressed sympathy for the Soviets and their losses in World War II. Both nations shared, the President explained, a common interest in preserving the planet for future generations. Agreeing to a nuclear test ban would only be the first step toward the long-range goal of complete disarmament. After surviving one of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War, Kennedy envisioned an end to arms race.

Kennedy's speech led to some immediate results. Soon, a new teletype hot line was installed providing direct communication between the Kremlin and the White House. This system would end the miscommunication that proved so dangerous in the missile crises. The President also sent a delegation to Moscow to negotiate the long-awaited nuclear test ban treaty. While the resulting agreement met the demands of neither side, the "Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water" was a significant step in decreasing tensions between the superpowers. After coming on the verge of violent conflict in the missile crises, Kennedy and Khrushchev attempted to foster a new period of détente.

To read and listen to Kennedy's address at American University, click here.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Washington Becomes U.S. Capital–June 11, 1800

On June 11, 1800, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ceased to be the capital of the United States, as the new city of Washington in the District of Columbia became the country's official capital. The federal government moved its offices to Washington, D.C., in June. In November, President John Adams first slept in the unfinished Executive Mansion (now known as the White House) and Congress met for the first time in the U.S. Capitol building.

In 1790, Congress passed "An Act for Establishing the Temporary and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States," commonly known as the Residence Act. The act made Philadelphia the temporary capital for ten years and authorized the President to select a site for the nation's permanent capital along the Potomac River. As President, George Washington energetically promoted the development of his namesake city so it would be ready to receive the federal government in 1800, according to the terms of the Residence Act.

In 1791, President Washington asked the French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant to design the city. L'Enfant's plans included great public squares, extensive parks and gardens, a system of avenues radiating from the city's center, and public buildings located majestically along the Potomac. His dismissal from the project in 1792, combined with a lack of funding for construction, rendered the city woefully underdeveloped when the federal government arrived in 1800. (It was not until the twentieth century, in fact, that L'Enfant's designs for the city were gradually implemented.) At the dawn of the nineteenth century, only one wing of the U.S. Capitol building was complete, and the federal city consisted of less than 400 houses with a population of about 3,000. Roads were scarce, entertainment virtually nonexistent, and housing limited. Fewer than 300 federal personnel moved into the city. Congressmen frequently rented rooms in boarding houses two to a bed.

In November, President John Adams moved into the still incomplete White House, of which only the box-like center had been built. Life in the White House seemed only a slight improvement over congressmen's circumstances. John and Abigail Adams lacked an expense account to furnish the house and a staff to maintain it. Yet, they were expected to host social functions and official receptions. However, President Adams did not have to struggle under the burden for long. Just a few months after moving into the White House, he turned it over to Thomas Jefferson, who defeated him in the election of 1800.

Despite the initial hardships and inadequacies of the federal government's new home, a general optimism about the city prevailed. Unlike the Adamses, who were from Massachusetts, Jefferson knew the Potomac region well and had long supported its location for the nation's capital. His election, the "Revolution of 1800," along with the rapid progression of construction in Washington, breathed life into the fledgling capital city. Jefferson's election renewed enthusiasm for the federal government and provided impetus for the further development of Washington, D.C.

For more information, please visit the John Adams home page or John Adams key events.

Johnson Nominates Marshall to Supreme Court–June 13, 1967

On June 13, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. When President Johnson nominated Marshall, he remarked, "I believe he earned that appointment; he deserves the appointment. He is best qualified by training and by very valuable service to the country. I believe it is the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place."

Thurgood Marshall attended Howard University Law School and then went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), eventually becoming chief counsel for the civil rights organization. He became famous for his civil rights litigation with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was one of the lawyers who argued before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, which was decided in 1954 and ruled that segregated education for blacks and whites was inherently unequal.

In 1961, President John Kennedy appointed Marshall to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1965, at the request of President Johnson, Marshall resigned his judgeship to become the first black Solicitor General of the United States. In this position, Marshall argued before the Supreme Court. The President viewed this position as a way of bolstering Marshall's legal reputation before he appointed him to the Supreme Court.

If Marshall was compared to the radical groups emerging from the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s, he appeared quite conservative. As a lawyer, he valued upholding the law, and while he appreciated the attention that the protests of Martin Luther King, Jr., and others had attracted, he believed that permanent changes had to occur in the courts and the legislatures. Marshall was also a firm integrationist, believing that equality was best achieved by integrating society. Still, among white southerners the man who had argued the Brown case was too radical and had no place on the Supreme Court. President Johnson realized that this sentiment would make Marshall's confirmation difficult.

After significant delays, Marshall finally received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and faced a barrage of hostile questions from southern senators. Some tried to paint him as a radical or a Communist, while Strom Thurmond of South Carolina tested Marshall with obscure legal and historical queries. Despite this opposition, the Judiciary Committee voted Marshall's nomination to the full floor of the Senate. In the floor vote, Johnson used his influence to convince twenty southern senators not to vote on the matter. Their absence assured Marshall's confirmation.

On October 2, 1967, Marshall became the ninety-sixth justice of the Supreme Court. He was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. Marshall remained on the court for twenty-four years, providing an increasingly unaccompanied liberal voice on the law. Marshall's appointment to the court was a symbolic and significant action in moving the nation toward racial equality.

For more information, please visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson home page or Lyndon Baines Johnson key events.

Senate Approves Oregon TreatyÐJune 15, 1846

On June 15, 1846, the United States Senate approved the Oregon Treaty, which established the 49th parallel as the border between British and American claims to the Oregon territory. The treaty granted the United States clear title to present-day Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Montana, and granted Britain the territory above the 49th parallel and full control over Vancouver Island.

James K. Polk gained the presidency in 1844 in part on the Democratic Party's expansionist pledge to seize all of the Oregon territory for the United States. America had jointly occupied Oregon with Britain since 1818, when the two nations began negotiating over a final boundary in the territory. Both sides had remained unwilling to agree to a dividing line which did not include for them the valuable harbor of Vancouver Island: the United States desired the more northerly 49th parallel, while Britain wanted the Columbia River to be the border (which was far south of the 49th parallel).

Two issues complicated matters in the 1830s and 1840s. First, American settlers poured into the region. Second, Americans who espoused the doctrine of Manifest Destiny called for the United States to take all of the Oregon territory, which ran to the 54º 40' line. Politicians felt compelled to respond to a now pressing political issue. President Tyler called for the annexation of Oregon to its northern limit, and Polk expressed a similar hard-line stance in his Inaugural Address; Polk's words inflamed American passions and upset the British.

In July 1845, however, Polk proposed a compromise to the British, offering to establish the boundary at the 49th parallel while granting Britain full control of Vancouver Island. With war in Mexico appearing ever more likely, the President wanted to avoid a simultaneous war with Britain. The British rejected the initial offer, and Polk responded by intimating that he was willing to go to war over the issue. London, however, reconsidered the proposition a year later, sending Polk a treaty on the terms he had proposed. When it arrived in Washington, Polk forwarded the treaty to the Senate unsigned, refusing to commit himself to it politically until the Senate approved it.

The Oregon Treaty was a great success, finally granting the United States clear title to vast tracts of land in the Northwest. Moreover, it allowed both Britain and the United States access to the Pacific Ocean through the channel south of Vancouver Island and avoided a possible war. Polk took criticism from some for abandoning the "All-Oregon" position, but for most it was a welcome settlement of the affair. Polk had handled the matter with skill, and the treaty allowed him to shift his full attention to the ongoing war with Mexico.

For more information, please visit the James Knox Polk home page or James Knox Polk key events.

Congress Approves the First Alien and Sedition Act–June 18, 1798

On June 18, 1798, Congress approved the first of four acts that collectively became known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These four acts became the most bitterly contested domestic issue during the presidency of John Adams.

The Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four different pieces of legislation. The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement from five to fourteen years before citizenship could be granted; the Alien Act authorized the President to deport any alien he deemed dangerous to the security of the United States; and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the President to deport aliens of an enemy country or restrict their freedoms in times of war. The Sedition Act targeted Americans themselves by forbidding opposition to laws of the federal government and making it illegal to publish criticism of the government. Because opposition had not yet gained legitimacy in American politics, the Federalist-controlled presidency and Congress used the Sedition Act to try to limit the influence of the Democratic-Republicans.

Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in the summer of 1798 as tension between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans peaked. Federalists, led by President John Adams, sought a strong, orderly central government, and feared the chaos of the French Revolution. Democratic-Republicans accused Federalists of instituting a tyranny similar to the one they had struggled against in the American Revolution. Lauding the efforts of French revolutionaries, they believed that a minimal central government best served the people's interests.

As hostilities loomed between France and the United States, the three anti-alien laws targeted French and pro-French immigrants whom Federalists thought brought dangerous political ideas to America; moreover, Federalists believed, those recent arrivals would likely support the Democratic-Republican Party. Concerned citizens around the country petitioned President Adams to oppose the restrictive measures. Adams responded with a series of public addresses admonishing the people against factional divisions and foreign interference in American government. His administration vigorously enforced the legislation: under the Sedition Act, the most controversial of the four, several Democratic-Republican newspaper publishers were arrested, and ten were convicted for seditious libel before the acts expired in 1801. After the Democratic-Republicans took office in 1801, Federalists found themselves the victims of their own policies when the new administration of President Thomas Jefferson prosecuted several Federalist editors in state courts.

More than tools of partisan politicking, however, the Alien and Sedition Acts brought to the fore the issues of free speech and the balance of power between the state and federal governments. It also forced Americans to grapple with the fact that instead of classical republican harmony or unitary support for presidential leadership, dissent would thereafter characterize American politics.

For more information, please visit the John Adams home page or John Adams key events.

Rosenbergs Executed–June 19, 1953

On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed shortly before sundown after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. President Dwight Eisenhower refused to grant the Rosenbergs clemency. The Rosenberg case took place during a period of anti-Communist fervor in the United States; the Cold War had begun between the United States and the Soviet Union, and Senator Joseph McCarthy was holding hearings in the U.S. Senate to oust Communists who he believed had infiltrated the U.S. government.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were both born and raised in New York City and were members of the American Communist Party during the 1940s. In April 1951, they were convicted of passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union and sentenced to death. Their execution was postponed as they filed for appeal. In February 1952, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld their conviction. When the Supreme Court refused to hear their case, they petitioned President Harry Truman for clemency. Truman denied their petition, leading to numerous protests and countless telegrams and letters from around the world. Many claimed that the Rosenbergs were innocent, that they had not received a fair trial, or at the very least, they did not deserve to be punished by death.

When Dwight Eisenhower took office in January 1953, the fate of the Rosenbergs was still undecided. That spring, the Supreme Court again declined to hear the case. Eisenhower, with advice from his attorney general, refused to grant the couple clemency unless they admitted their guilt and implicated others. As he explained in his statement to the press, he felt the Rosenbergs had "received the benefit of every safeguard which American justice can provide." Eisenhower did not take the Rosenbergs' punishment lightly, but considering that there were "millions of dead whose deaths may be attributable to what these spies have done," he felt the punishment was appropriate. Protests ensued around the world to spare the couple, but to no avail.

There is still some debate about the Rosenberg case. Based on previously classified documents, most historians are convinced that at least Julius Rosenberg was a spy for the Soviet Union but there is less evidence that Ethel Rosenberg was one. Some scholars still question whether execution was appropriate punishment and argue that the couple could not have received a fair trial with the anti-Communist feeling in the United States during that time. And, given the political environment of the time, it is not surprising that Eisenhower refused to pardon the Rosenbergs.

For more information, please visit the Dwight David Eisenhower home page or Dwight David Eisenhower key events.

Soviets Begin Berlin Blockade–June 24, 1948

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union halted all transportation by road and rail into the areas of Berlin controlled by the United States, Britain, and France. The American and British forces immediately initiated an airlift of supplies to relieve the western-controlled portions of the city. After 321 days and 272,000 flights, the airlift succeeded when the Soviets reopened the borders on March 12, 1949.

After World War II, Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union had partitioned Germany and its capital city of Berlin. The city lay entirely within the Soviet zone of Eastern Germany but was still divided between the four allies. In June 1948, the Western powers introduced new currency into their occupation zones, initiating the formation of a self-governing Germany.

After the Soviets began the blockade of Berlin, President Harry S. Truman made the decision that the United States would "stay in Berlin" and not concede the city as part of the Soviet sphere of influence. He rejected, however, proposals to send a military convoy through the Soviet zone to Berlin, which would have most likely led to war. Instead, he chose to maintain the airlift. Some advisers doubted that an airlift would succeed in supplying the people of West Berlin with food and fuel, but Truman risked both his foreign policy objectives and his political future on supplying the city without initiating war. From the perspective of the Truman administration, losing Berlin would have undermined U.S. credibility around the world.

The crisis over Berlin demonstrated a high point in the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the airlift garnered wide public support in the United States, allowing Truman to emphasize his administration's anti-Soviet credentials during the 1948 presidential campaign. By this point, the Cold War had become a major issue both internationally and in the domestic political arena.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

Battle of Little Bighorn–June 25, 1876

On June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer led a detachment of the Seventh Cavalry to attack an encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne Native Americans led by Sitting Bull on the Little Bighorn River. Custer underestimated the size of the force he attacked and was killed along with all 266 men in his detachment in the ensuing battle.

George Armstrong Custer graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1861 and proved himself an excellent cavalry commander during the Civil War. In 1874, he announced to the public that the military expedition he had led into the Black Hills had discovered gold. The Black Hills were sacred Native American territory and had been protected from white incursion by an 1868 treaty (although expeditions of Custer's type were permitted). Custer's announcement predictably led to a rush into the area. President Ulysses S. Grant, after deciding that it would not be possible to restrain the overwhelming rush of fortune seekers to the region, pressured the Sioux to allow settlement. The affair soon led to renewed fighting between the U.S. military and the Sioux.

After Custer's debacle in the Battle of Little Bighorn, anti-Native American sentiment increased among the American people as the story of the Custer's "massacre" at the hands of aggressive Native Americans spread. Custer's widow Elizabeth did much to popularize a heroic image of her late husband, creating for him an almost mythic status, despite the fact that Custer's death was the result of an attack he himself had initiated. President Grant, who never had been fond of Custer, referred to the battle as "wholly unnecessary."

Custer's actions only exacerbated the federal government's worsening relations with Native Americans and therefore dealt a serious blow to the President. Grant had wanted to shift the federal government's Native American policy toward what he called the Peace Policy. This approach attempted to move Native Americans closer to white civilization (and ultimately U.S. citizenship) by housing them on reservations and helping them become farmers. Grant had also hoped to end outright conflict between the U.S. military and Native American, but he was ultimately unsuccessful in helping improve the lives of Native Americans through his policy.

For more information, please visit the Ulysses S. Grant home page or Ulysses S. Grant key events.

President John Tyler Weds–June 26, 1844

On June 26, 1844, President John Tyler married Julia Gardiner in a private ceremony at a New York City Episcopal church. It was the first time a President had wed while in office, and two days later the Tylers held a reception in the Blue Room of the White House to introduce the country to its new First Lady.

President Tyler's first wife, Letitia, died on September 10, 1842, becoming the first First Lady to die in the White House. She was already an invalid due to a stroke by the time she arrived in Washington, D. C., in 1841, and largely remained confined to the presidential mansion's second floor during her husband's term. Letitia Tyler made only one social appearance during her entire time in the capital. After her death, President Tyler and the nation mourned her passing.

But President Tyler's mourning ended just a few months later when he met Julia Gardiner in early 1843. Julia was the daughter of a prominent New York businessman, and she met the President while making the social rounds among Washington's political elite. Tyler found himself enraptured with the young lady and began to court her aggressively, proposing marriage early in their relationship. Julia at first declined, but eventually agreed.

Julia was thirty years younger than President Tyler, and the marriage instantly became the subject of intense gossip. Tyler's political opponents-Whigs and Democrats alike-seized upon the event as another opportunity to pummel the President. Yet the controversy did little to further damage Tyler's much-maligned reputation. He had already been passed over by the presidential nominating committees of both major parties the previous May, and the nation's political attention was fixed on the 1844 election between James K. Polk and Henry Clay. During the last eight months of his administration, Tyler and his new wife staged elaborate balls and receptions, while the public focused its attention on the 1844 presidential race.

For more information, please visit the John Tyler home page or John Tyler key events.

President James Garfield Shot–July 2, 1881

On July 2, 1881, President James Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau as he walked through the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad station with Secretary of State James Blaine. Wounded after only four months in office, the President died from his wounds on September 19, 1881, and Vice President Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as President.

President Garfield had never paid a great deal of attention to securing himself from possible assassination, likening the possibility of the event to the risk of being struck by lightning-all but impossible to prevent and thus pointless to worry about. Even after being shot, the President did not seem to be particularly concerned, telling bystanders who had seen the attack, "I don't think this is serious. I will live."

Guiteau, the assassin, was a deranged lawyer who fashioned himself an evangelist and had tried to make a career at it. He supported the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, Garfield's opposition, and had tried unsuccessfully to obtain a consular appointment in Europe from the President. Guiteau came to believe that "removal" of Garfield had become a "political necessity," due to the administration's refusal to give him the post and the fact that Garfield's assassination would place a Stalwart, Vice President Chester A. Arthur, in the White House.

After shooting Garfield, Guiteau stood by quietly and awaited apprehension. His trial began in the fall of 1881. Although his lawyers wanted him to plead insanity, Guiteau resisted. He was found guilty and executed on June 30, 1882. The Stalwarts became the target of considerable criticism following the assassination, with many arguing that they were responsible for creating an atmosphere of conflict that allowed for an individual such as Guiteau to emerge.

Had Garfield lived, he might have shifted the energies of the Republican Party toward problems that had arisen in the United States as a result of industrialization, instead of maintaining a focus on issues which lingered from the Civil War and Reconstruction. His death delayed the consolidation of party factions and the modernization of the platform. The assassination, however, helped accelerate civil service reforms. The image of Garfield's assassin as a "disappointed office seeker" motivated many to blame the inadequate civil service system for the President's murder and prompted the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883.

For more information, please visit the James Abram Garfield home page or James Abram Garfield key events.

McKinley Signs Hawaii Annexation Bill–July 7, 1898

On July 7, 1898, President William McKinley signed a bill that annexed the Hawaiian Islands, making them part of the United States.

American military victories in the Pacific during the Spanish-American War helped bring to a close almost a decade of uncertainty about the status of the Hawaiian Islands. Prominent American colonists had supported the overthrow of Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani in early 1891, but Democratic and anti-imperialist Republican opposition to annexation blocked the island chain's incorporation into the United States. When William McKinley assumed the presidency in 1897, he reversed the policy of his predecessor, Democrat Grover Cleveland, and advocated Hawaiian annexation. McKinley, however, was unable to push a new annexation treaty through Congress that year.

After American forces swung into action in the Pacific during the Spanish-American War, the island chain's strategic importance became apparent. Thereafter, McKinley played a more forceful role in advocating Hawaiian annexation. He pressured senators to approve annexation as the fulfillment of American manifest destiny, as a means to cement American presence in the Pacific, and as a vital support link for America's new claim on the Philippines. McKinley also worried that the growing Japanese community on the island would lead the islands into the hands of the increasingly active Japanese Empire.

An annexation resolution supported by the President made its way into the House of Representatives on May 4, 1898. The Senate passed the measure on July 6, and McKinley signed it one day later. The United States took formal possession of the islands on August 12, 1898. Hawaii's first territorial governor was posted in 1900.

The annexation of the Hawaiian Islands was one illustration of how the United States emerged on the world stage in new and unprecedented ways during the presidency of William McKinley. His aggressive policy on Hawaii, coupled with America's seizure of the Philippines, brought the United States squarely into the increasingly competitive realm of power politics in the Pacific.

For more information, please visit the William McKinley home page or William McKinley key events.

President Taylor Dies–July 9, 1850

On July 9, 1850, President Zachary Taylor died after a brief illness. He had attended a ceremony at the unfinished Washington Monument on July 4. For several hours, the President sat under the blazing sun, listening to various speakers, before he took a walk by the Potomac River and retired to the White House around 4:00pm. There he drank iced water and chilled milk and ate cherries and other fruits. Taylor did not feel well that evening, but conducted business the next day.

By July 6, however, Taylor's family became concerned as his health deteriorated. They summoned his physician, who diagnosed Taylor's ailment as cholera morbus, a term used in the nineteenth century for various intestinal afflictions. Taylor's condition continued to worsen, and he ate ice chips to keep himself hydrated until his body began to reject all fluids. The President realized he would not survive long, summoned his wife, and spoke his last words: "The storm, in passing, has swept away the trunk . . . I am about to die-I expect the summons soon-I have endeavored to discharge all my official duties faithfully-I regret nothing, but am sorry that I am about to leave my friends." Taylor then lost consciousness and died.

His funeral took place on July 13. Nearly 100,000 people stood along the funeral route to see the presidential hearse. And it was quite a sight. It was drawn by eight white horses accompanied by grooms dressed in white and wearing white turbans. Washington dignitaries, military units, the President's beloved horse "Old Whitey," and the President's family followed the hearst. Behind them, a line of military units, officials, and citizens stretched in procession for more than two miles. His final resting place was in Louisville, Kentucky, the site of the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery and Monument today.

Vice President Millard Fillmore, in accordance with the precedent set by John Tyler, took the oath of office the next day. Only the second man to ascend to the White House after the death of a President, Fillmore immediately set to the task of settling the sectional conflicts that were enveloping the nation. During his short term, Taylor had opposed and impeded the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Fillmore, however, openly supported the measure, helping Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Stephen Douglas to pass the compromise in September 1850. Tyler's untimely death, while tragic, helped secure the passage of the Compromise of 1850, granting the nation a short reprieve from sectional conflict.

For more information, please visit the Zachary Taylor home page or Zachary Taylor key events.

Jackson Vetoes Bank Bill—July 10, 1832

On July 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill that would have renewed the corporate charter for the Second Bank of the United States. It was one of the most definitive acts of his presidency.

The Second Bank of the United States was created in the aftermath of the War of 1812 and had been controversial throughout its life. Many people blamed the Bank for the Panic of 1819, and Westerners and Southerners felt that the Bank in general, and its lending policies in particular, favored Northern interests over their own. Although most bankers believed that the Bank of the United States had helped stabilize the national money supply and thus the overall banking and commercial environment during the 1820s, the Bank still had vociferous opponents, President Jackson foremost among them.

At the end of 1831, Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, supporters of the Bank, convinced the Bank's president, Nicholas Biddle, to submit an early petition for the renewal of the Bank's charter to Congress. (The Bank of the United States was chartered through 1836.) They calculated that Jackson would not dare issue a veto on the eve of the election; if he did, they would make an issue of it in the 1832 campaign.

The petition to recharter the Bank became an instant source of controversy in Congress. Although Jackson himself despised the Bank of the United States and had been an outspoken opponent since before he became President, many Jacksonians, especially from Eastern and Midwest states, supported the Bank. The recharter bill passed both houses of Congress. Although the bulk of Jackson's cabinet favored the recharter, Jackson vetoed the bill a week after Congress passed it.

Jackson explained his veto in a lengthy message, one of the most important state papers of his presidency. Attorney General Roger Taney and adviser Amos Kendall composed the bulk of the message, which emphasized a variety of reasons for the veto-some political, some ideological, some constitutional. Jackson's message labeled the Bank elitist and anti-republican. It also argued extensively that the Bank was unconstitutional and that it was neither "necessary" nor "proper" for the federal government to authorize and permit the existence of an institution so big and so powerful that only directly benefited a privileged few. Jackson thus challenged the rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States, which had held consistently that the Bank was constitutional.

Jackson's Bank veto was significant, since it firmly inserted the President into the legislative process. Jackson vetoed the Bank bill not only for constitutional reasons, but also for political reasons. Previous Presidents had used the veto sparingly, only when they felt a law was unconstitutional. Jackson did not acquiesce in the Supreme Court's ruling that the Bank was constitutional; he challenged it head on. He also pointed to many non-constitutional issues in his message, which was new. Jackson's rhetoric of celebrating the role of the small farmer, the working man, and the middling artisan was also significant, since it has come to define Jacksonian Democracy for many historians. It was also a source of Jackson's broad-based appeal, which secured his reelection later in 1832.

To read the full text of Jackson's veto message, click here.

For more information, please visit the Andrew Jackson home page or Andrew Jackson key events.

Burr Kills Hamilton in Duel–July 11, 1804

On July 11, 1804, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton met for duel, and Burr shot and fatally wounded Hamilton, who died the next day. The Burr-Hamilton duel stands as a vivid example that in the early republic partisan politics were also highly personal politics.

Hamilton and Burr had been political adversaries long before their famous duel. Hamilton, an arch-Federalist and President George Washington's secretary of the Treasury strongly distrusted his fellow New Yorker, and he worked against Federalist efforts to elect Burr over Thomas Jefferson, both Republicans, when they tied in the presidential election of 1800. Burr had served various positions in New York politics and then became Jefferson's vice president in 1801. Republicans felt he was unreliable, however, and dropped him in the next election.

In 1804, Burr was running for governor of New York, and Hamilton was leading the opposition to Burr's candidacy; he spoke out against him and questioned his integrity in public. For these slights, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Perceiving that not responding to the challenge would destroy his own honor and render him useless in future political service, Hamilton answered Burr. Although in this era duels were usually avoided by a series of negotiations through which both parties could restore their reputations, Burr took further offense at Hamilton's response. After about ten days of correspondence, Burr and Hamilton met on July 11, 1804, in New Jersey (New York had outlawed dueling).

Hamilton had declared the previous evening his intention to fire into the air; whether or not he shot at Burr remained a point of contention for years to follow, but Burr nonetheless escaped unscathed after fatally wounding Hamilton, who died the next day. After New York and New Jersey both issued warrants for his arrest, Burr went back to the District of Columbia and resumed his position as vice president, presiding over the Senate.

As public outrage grew, Burr fled to the west, where from 1805 to 1807 he participated in a vague but ambitious plan to separate the southwest from the United States. The Supreme Court found him not guilty of treason in 1807, and after five years in Europe, Burr returned to New York, where he practiced law in New York until his death in 1836.

For more information, please visit the Thomas Jefferson home page or Thomas Jefferson key events.

Carter Gives "Crisis of Confidence" Speech–July 15, 1979

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered what became known as his "Crisis of Confidence" or "malaise" speech to the American public on national television.

In the late 1970s, the United States faced a variety of challenges, including high inflation, rising interest and unemployment rates, and an energy crisis created by dependence on foreign oil and over consumption. In response, President Carter called together a gathering of American citizens at Camp David and spoke with them, as well as with others across the nation, to gain a sense of what ordinary citizens regarded as the main problems facing the country.

When Americans tuned in to watch the President on July 15, most expected a talk on the energy crisis and administration plans to address it. Carter, however, targeted broader issues. He began by acknowledging that the country faced a "fundamental threat to American democracy." The President identified the threat as a "crisis of confidence" that struck at the heart and soul of the national will. For Carter, the problem lay in the lack of respect Americans held for their public institutions and leaders. Restoring that faith and confidence, said Carter, was the "most important task" facing the nation.

Although the speech also contained substantial energy proposals -increased domestic production, the restriction of foreign oil imports, and an excess-profits tax on energy income to pay for new alternative energy development- much of this was lost in the rhetoric of malaise that colored the address. That rhetoric backfired on the President. Public perceptions of Carter as weak-in effect, a belief that Carter was suffering from the very crisis he spoke about-grew, as many Americans blamed his administration for the problems he lamented. A year later, Ronald Reagan campaigned for the presidency as a strong, vigorous alternative to Carter's weakened image, and he won a landslide victory in the process.

To watch, listen, or read the full text of Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" Speech, click here.

For more information, please visit the Jimmy Carter home page or Jimmy Carter key events.

Geneva Convention Begins–July 18, 1955

On July 18, 1955, the leaders of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France began their meetings at a Summit Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. This was the first meeting between the "Big Four" since the end of World War II. While few tangible accomplishments emerged from this summit, the meeting inaugurated a new, less hostile phase of the Cold War.

President Dwight Eisenhower and his advisers were hesitant about meeting with the Soviet Union. The death of Stalin in 1953 had done little to diminish the animosity between the nations. Accordingly, Washington developed a test of Soviet sincerity: if the USSR would sign a long-delayed peace treaty with Austria, Eisenhower would agree to attend a conference. Even after the Soviets passed this test, however, some members of the administration, such as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, feared the consequences of such a meeting. Dulles counseled Eisenhower to make few concessions and to avoid friendly social interactions with his Soviet counterparts. Eisenhower partially followed Dulles's advice. He made hard-line demands on the Soviets, calling for elections in Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany. Socially, however, Eisenhower was friendly when meeting with Soviet leaders. The President's approach led to feelings of good will, but little in the way of concrete agreements.

One of the major sticking points for an arms control agreement was the issue of inspection. Each side needed to confirm the removal of nuclear weapons through some type of examination. In order to bypass this impediment, Eisenhower proposed an "open skies" policy, which would allow nations to inspect military installations from the air. The Soviet representatives rejected this idea, correctly viewing the proposal as a way that the Americans could gain critical intelligence.

The "Spirit of Geneva" eased tensions between the Soviets and the United States, and Eisenhower returned home triumphant, even though the conference failed to produce agreements on arms control or other major international issues. The President had demonstrated that the United States was sincere in pursuing peace while remaining firm against the threats of the Soviet Union. According to a Gallup poll, Eisenhower's popularity reached 79 percent after the conference, the highest level of his presidency.

For more information, please visit the Dwight David Eisenhower home page or Dwight David Eisenhower key events.

United States v. Nixon Decided–July 24, 1974

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled in an 8-0 decision that President Richard Nixon had to turn over sixty-four tapes, which disclosed his knowledge and participation in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary. The conversations on the tapes implicated Nixon and led to his resignation, the first time in United States history a President had resigned.

The Watergate scandal began when five men were arrested for breaking into the office of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972. Initially it was unclear if there was any connection between the burglary and the Nixon administration but gradually it was revealed that the White House was involved.

Then on July 16, 1973, former White House aide Alexander P. Butterfield testified that since 1971 the White House routinely recorded conversations. The taping was undertaken ostensibly to provide a historical record of the Nixon Administration, but it soon emerged as a means to prove President Nixon's guilt or innocence.

When the existence of the tapes was revealed, the Senate Watergate Committee requested access to them. Unable to come to an agreement with Nixon on releasing the tapes, the Senate Committee called on the President to produce the tapes. Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox also issued a subpoena for the tapes as part of his investigation. President Nixon responded by refusing to release the tapes, claiming that his conversations were private and hence protected from forced disclosure by the doctrine of executive privilege-a concept which permits officers of the executive branch to maintain a level of privacy to promote open and vigorous debate. In his refusal, Nixon stated unequivocally that the tapes were "entirely consistent with what I have stated to be the truth."

This confrontation set the stage for the United States v. Nixon, in which the Court ruled unanimously that President Nixon must turn over the tapes. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote the decision, in which the Court upheld the doctrine of executive privilege but said it was generally limited to areas of national security or diplomatic affairs. The Court went on to say that that the President is not above the law and Nixon must turn over the tapes.

Soon after the Court's decision, Nixon released the tapes. The tapes revealed that the President had participated in a cover-up of the burglary as early as June 23, 1972, just days after it occurred. The release of the tapes eroded what was left of Nixon's support. Beginning July 27, the House of Representatives adopted three Articles of Impeachment against the President.

In a televised speech on the night of August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon announced his intention to resign at noon the next day. Although he conceded he had made some wrong judgments, he did not admit to any wrongdoing. Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as President the next day, remarking in his inaugural address, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."

Nixon's resignation marked the first such act by a President in U.S. history. Among its many implications, the resignation confirmed that no individual-regardless of rank or station-was above the law, and that there were real consequences for those who violated the law willfully. As for its political impact, the resignation chipped away at the aura of the presidency and the public's trust in government.

For more information, please visit the Richard Milhous Nixon home page or Richard Milhous Nixon key events.

Truman Orders Desegregation of Armed Forces–July 26, 1948

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order to desegregate the armed forces. Executive Order 9981 created the Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services.

There was great resistance to this order among Army officers. Army chief of staff Omar Bradley declared that "the Army is not out to make any social reform." It was Bradley's contention that the Army "will not put men of different races in the same companies." The armed forces did not seriously implement Truman's order until the Korean War began in 1950, and desegregation of the Army was not completed until 1954. Even then, however, the Army's officer corps remained predominantly white.

In 1946, Truman first attempted to create a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), which had originally formed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After this proposal failed, the President appointed a committee to advise him on civil rights. In February 1948, he demonstrated his support for the committee's proposals by sending a message to Congress calling for measures such as anti-lynching laws and legislation to end poll taxes and discrimination in interstate travel. He also pledged to issue executive orders to end discrimination in the armed forces and civil service.

Still, Truman remained cautious in supporting civil rights as there was considerable opposition within his own party. At the July 1948 Democratic Convention, liberals challenged the party's vague civil rights platform, replacing it with a more activist program. This led delegates from Alabama and Mississippi to walk out of the convention and form the States' Rights Democratic or "Dixiecrat" party. After the convention, Truman issued the executive orders desegregating the armed forces and the civil service, his strongest actions in support of civil rights.

There was good political reason for Truman to desegregate the armed forces: he needed black votes to win reelection in November. As the Dixiecrat revolt demonstrated, there were also political risks involved in his support of civil rights. Truman's actions, while minor in light of the broad-based oppression suffered by African Americans, amounted to an important symbolic endorsement of civil rights and helped secure the allegiance of black Americans to the Democratic Party-a process begun during the presidency of Truman's predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

Hoover Orders Bonus Army Dispersed–July 28, 1932

On July 28, 1932, President Herbert Hoover ordered the United States Army to remove a group of protesting veterans from federal buildings in Washington, D.C. The troops and the veterans clashed in a violent confrontation. The aggressive removal of the Bonus Army marchers damaged Hoover's popularity as he began a difficult reelection campaign.

During his administration, Hoover had provided significant programs in support of veterans. He established the Veterans Administration, providing an agency focused on veterans' issues. He supported significant benefits for housing and hospitalization, as well as support for the disabled. Hoover, however, refused to increase relief to able-bodied Americans, including veterans, as the Great Depression began.

Although Congress had passed a bill in 1924 to pay a bonus to World War I veterans, the bonus was not due to be paid out until 1945. In 1931, Congress passed a Bonus Loan bill, which allowed veterans to receive an advance on their bonus. Hoover vetoed the bill but Congress passed it over his veto. In 1932, as the Great Depression deepened, veterans' organizations began to lobby for an additional loan on the bonus.

In 1932, Hoover again refused to support the bonus. In May, a "Bonus Expeditionary Force" of eleven thousand veterans and their families arrived in Washington to display their dire economic needs and to agitate for the early payout of the bonus. However, Congress refused to authorize a second bonus loan. Hoover signed legislation providing $100,000 to transport the marchers back to their homes. Some chose to remain in Washington, blocking demolition of the federal buildings where they now resided. The District of Columbia police, unable to evict the marchers from the buildings, looked to the federal government for aid.

Hoover chose not to declare martial law over the city, but he did instruct Secretary of War Patrick Hurley to remove the marchers. Hurley, in turn, ordered Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur to evict the marchers from the city. MacArthur, with Major Dwight D. Eisenhower as his second in command, took control of the operation using troops, guns, and tear gas to drive the marchers from Washington. MacArthur exceeded his orders when he ordered the troops to cross the Anacostia River and drive the marchers from their main encampment. A fire broke out at the encampment, which was destroyed.

While the President clearly did not want brute force used against the marchers, he took full blame for the incident. The image of the Army attacking innocent bonus marchers haunted Hoover's reelection bid. Later, at the end of the campaign, the President attempted to gain support for the action, claiming that his was a government "that knows how to deal with a mob." For most Americans, however, the actions against the bonus marchers further detracted from an already unpopular President.

For more information, please visit the Herbert Clark Hoover home page or Herbert Clark Hoover key events.

President Harding Dies–August 2, 1923

On August 2, 1923, President Warren Harding died in San Francisco, California, while on a speaking tour. His death was most likely due to a heart attack.

In June 1923, the President set off on a cross-country journey to rally support for his "normalcy program" and to educate the public about the many accomplishments of the Republican Party in the first half of his term. Though tired--Harding had never really regained full strength after a bout with the flu in January--he made fourteen major addresses and countless informal stops and talks over two weeks. While scholars disagree over the extent to which the content of these speeches should be credited to Harding or to his advisers (especially Herbert Hoover), he seemed poised to take on a more assertive role as President in the late summer of 1923. With the simultaneous resurgence of the economy, it appeared that Harding's "Journey of Knowledge" would in fact revitalize the Republican Party and his own presidency.

It was not to be, however, as the grueling trip proved too much for the fifty-eight-year-old Harding whose health had been deteriorating for six months. He died in San Francisco in the early evening of August 2, as his wife, Florence, was reading to him. A popular President, his passing was a blow to the American public, and many people turned out to mourn Harding. Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President.

Harding's death erased any possibility that the President could defend himself and his administration against the scandals and charges of corruption that came to light after he died. His presidency is most often remembered for its corruption, lack of vision, and lackluster leadership.

For more information, please visit the Warren Gamaliel Harding home page or Warren Gamaliel Harding key events.

Hiroshima Bombed–August 6, 1945

On the morning of August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. A second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki three days later. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Japanese, primarily civilians, were killed in the two bombings. Following the second bombing, the Japanese requested an armistice agreeing to the Allied terms of surrender on August 15; the Empire of Japan formally surrendered in a ceremony on September 2. World War II was over, brought to a close with a weapon Truman had called "the most terrible bomb in the history of the world."

Truman first learned of the program to develop an atomic bomb, known as the Manhattan Project, shortly after becoming President in April 1945. He expressed his support for the program but continued with plans to invade Japan to force surrender. It was estimated that an Allied invasion of Japan would prolong the war for at least another year and cost an estimated 200,000 additional casualties.

While at the Potsdam Conference in Germany, the President received word of the successful test of the bomb, including details of the massive damage the detonation had wrought. Truman was told that the bomb could be ready to be dropped by early August. In a statement that became known as the Potsdam Declaration, the United States, Britain, and China called for Japan to surrender unconditionally or face "prompt and utter destruction." This was the only warning the Japanese received before the dropping of the first bomb.

Truman was at sea returning from Germany when he received news of the successful bombing of Hiroshima. The following morning, Truman announced the bombing to the American people and again warned Japan of the destruction they would face if they did not surrender. After the United States dropped the second bomb, Japan surrendered.

The use of the atomic bomb was extremely popular, and ending the war without losing additional America lives bolstered the President's popularity. Still, the effects of the atomic bomb left some Americans, including Truman, with a feeling of horror.

For more information, please visit the Harry S. Truman home page or Harry S. Truman key events.

Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania Bombed–August 7, 1998

The morning news on August 7, 1998, greeted Americans with a shocking report: a truck bomb had demolished the U.S. embassy in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. More than 200 people, twelve of them American citizens, had been killed. Minutes later, another truck bomb went off outside the American embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing eleven people. The combined attacks resulted in more than 5,000 injuries.

Investigators, working closely with officials in both embassy nations, ultimately picked up six operatives (and indicted several others) connected with Al Qaeda (the base), a loosely knit Islamic fundamentalist, anti-American organization headed by the wealthy former Saudi, Osama bin Laden. In August 1996, bin Laden issued a fatwa (Islamic decree) against the United States, demanding holy war and attacks on American troops. A year and a half later, bin Laden urged his followers to expand their sights to include all American throughout the world.

President Bill Clinton declared the embassy bombings "abhorrent" and "inhuman" and pledged to "get answers and justice." On August 20, the United States retaliated by firing cruise missile at suspected Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan. President Clinton also blocked all financial transactions between bin Laden and U.S. banks, companies, and citizens. In May 2001, the investigation of the embassy bombings yielded four life sentences for men involved, while two others had already confessed to the crimes and had begun serving their sentences.

In retrospect, it is clear that these attacks were precursors to the September 11 attacks in the United States. The embassy bombings confirmed to Americans the treachery of shadowy, able, and committed opponents who refused to distinguish between military and civilian personnel. They were yet another example of the frightening and uncertain dimensions of post-Cold War aggression.

For more information, please visit the Bill Clinton home page or Bill Clinton key events.

President Nixon Resigns–August 8, 1974

On August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon announced to a national television audience that he was resigning from the office of the presidency. Nixon's resignation came less than a month after the House Judiciary Committee voted for three articles of impeachment relating to Nixon's illegal involvement in the Watergate scandal and his use of government agencies to cover up that involvement. In the weeks prior his announcement, many loyal supporters had confidentially advised Nixon that he ought to consider resignation in order to spare the country the political trauma of an ineffective President during a long House impeachment and Senate trial.

President Nixon admitted to making mistakes, but not to the "high crimes and misdemeanors" alleged in the impeachment articles. Nixon decided to resign when he realized that he "no longer had a strong enough political base in Congress" to make it possible for him to complete his term in office. He thanked his friends for their support, and asked all Americans to back the new President, Gerald R. Ford, himself in office due to the resignation of former Vice President Spiro Agnew. As for his foes, the President remarked that was leaving office "with no bitterness toward those who have opposed me." Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, appointed after the dismissal of Archibald Cox, announced that his investigation would continue, possibly leading to the filing of criminal charges against the ex-President. On September 8, just a month after the resignation, President Ford granted Nixon a "full, free, and absolute pardon," ruling out any criminal prosecution of the nation's 37th President.

Nixon's resignation marked the first such act by a President in U.S. history. Among its many implications, the resignation reinforced the powers of the Congress and the Supreme Court to insist that the law be followed. It confirmed that no individual-regardless or rank or station-was above the law, and that there were real consequences for those who violated the law willfully. As for its political impact, the resignation seemed to chip away at the aura of the presidency, making the office seem less important and powerful for its having been tarnished during the Nixon years.

To watch, listen, or read President Nixon's address to the nation about his decision to resign, click here.

For more information, please visit the Richard Milhous Nixon home page or Richard Milhous Nixon key events.

Berlin Wall Started–August 13, 1961

On August 13, 1961, East Germany began constructing a wall between the two sections of Berlin. The city, surrounded by Soviet-supported East Germany, had remained divided between the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and France since the end of World War II. Refugees from East Germany and the eastern section of Berlin had been flooding into the western section of Berlin, creating an embarrassment for the Soviet and East German governments.

In June 1961, President John Kennedy met with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, Austria, but the conference failed to resolve the long-standing conflict over the status of Berlin. Khrushchev wanted the United States, Britain, and France to leave the western section of Berlin to Soviet-controlled East Germany since the city lay deep in the heart of East Germany. He threatened that he would disregard the Western Allies and make an unilateral treaty with East Germany if the status of Berlin was not resolved.

On July 25, Kennedy addressed the American people explaining the Soviet threat to West Berlin and the commitment of the United States to protect the city. The President appealed to Americans to make sacrifices to win this conflict and announced further increases in military spending. Despite these bellicose actions, Kennedy left open the possibility of negotiation, and he made no claims to the eastern sections of Berlin.

The Berlin Wall ended the movement of East German citizens into West Berlin. In an impromptu protest, thousands of Berliners gathered on both sides of the new barricade. Kennedy was under pressure to act, but privately expressed an unwillingness to go to war over East Germany's right to close its own boarders. He quickly sent General Lucius Clay and Vice President Lyndon Johnson as his personal ambassadors to Berlin to demonstrate the strength of Washington's commitment. Finally, Kennedy sent a force of 1,500 troops across East Germany into West Berlin. While largely symbolic, these actions demonstrated to the Soviets that the United States was committed to supporting West Berlin. With this demonstration of American solidarity with West Berlin, Khrushchev ended his threats of a separate East German treaty.

The construction of the wall provided the Cold War with a tangible incarnation of the Iron Curtain and marked the beginning of a de facto agreement between the superpowers. Both the United States and the Soviet Union allowed the city to remain divided and limited their action to protecting their sphere of Berlin. The resolution of the Berlin crises represented the end of an important point of conflict in the Cold War.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Roosevelt Signs Social Security Act–August 14, 1935

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, which established a Social Security Board to coordinate the payment of old-age benefits to Americans over the age of 65.

After the crash of the stock market in 1929, the United States sunk into the Great Depression. With high rates of poverty among the elderly, many people felt the government needed to do something to protect its citizens. In June 1934, President Roosevelt had created the Commission on Economic Security, which studied economic security, social insurance, and long-term relief programs. It then proposed a social security program that could help people who were retired, disabled, widowed, or unemployed. Its recommendations were to serve as the basis for legislation to be considered by Congress. The Commission formally presented its recommendations to the President in January 1935.

The act that Roosevelt signed included programs such as Old Age Assistance (Title I), Old Age Insurance (Title II), Unemployment Insurance (Title III), Aid to Dependent Children (Title IV), Grants for Maternal and Child Welfare (Title V) and Aid to the Blind (Title X). Taken together, these programs represented a significant commitment to developing a welfare state in the United States. Subsequent amendments to the original act added many benefits, including survivor benefits if a covered worker died prematurely, disability coverage and medical benefits.

The Social Security Act financed its programs through deductions from workers' paychecks, which actually stunted economic growth by muting consumer purchasing power. Moreover, the programs and benefits of the Social Security Act were not distributed evenly among all Americans. Agricultural workers (who were likely to be African Americans or Mexican Americans of both sexes) and domestic servants (often African American women) were not eligible for old-age insurance. Likewise, farm laborers were ineligible for unemployment insurance. And since state governments administered many of the Social Security programs, the size of benefits varied widely, especially between the North and the South. Still the act that Roosevelt signed in 1935 created a basis of social insurance that still exists to this day.

For more information, please visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt home page or Franklin Delano Roosevelt key events.

Panama Canal Opens–August 15, 1914

On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened to trans-oceanic traffic. Due to the outbreak of World War I earlier in the month, however, there was only modest commemoration and no official visit from President Woodrow Wilson. Only a few ships a day passed through the forty miles of locks in canal in its first few years of operation; after the World War I was over, this number increased to five thousand annually.

In 1903, the United States signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty with Panama, which gave the United States perpetual control of the canal for a price of $10 million and an annual payment of $250,000. Work on the Panama Canal began in 1904. The building of the canal was originally under the direction of John Stevens. However, President Theodore Roosevelt found Stevens lacking as the head of the project and replaced him with George Goethels, who led construction to its completion. Goethels undertook a "lock-and-lake" plan for the canal route, excavating land on either side of Gatun Lake and constructing massive locks to regulate water levels rather than dig across Panama at sea level.

Workers cleared 50 miles of land between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Using primarily the labor of blacks from the Caribbean, the American construction team excavated more than 232 million tons to create the canal path. The canal's three poured-concrete locks measured 1,000 feet long and took four years to complete. Although completed six months ahead of schedule, the project was incredibly costly in dollars and lives. The United States spent almost $400 million on construction. Nearly 30,000 workers labored ten-hour days for ten years. They toiled in dangerous conditions and beset with swarms of mosquitoes bearing malaria and yellow fever. More than 5,500 workers died during construction, including 4,500 black laborers.

Initial plans for a grand armada procession through the Panama Canal upon its opening in August 1914 were cancelled when war broke out in Europe on August 3. That day the cement boat Cristobal became the first ship to pass through the canal. But it was not opened to trans-oceanic traffic until the 15th. Once operational, it shortened the voyage from San Francisco to New York by more than 8,000 miles. The process of building the canal generated advances in U.S. technology and engineering skills. This project also converted the Panama Canal Zone into a major staging area for American military forces, making the United States the dominant military power in Central America.

For more information, please visit the Woodrow Wilson home page or Woodrow Wilson key events.

Nineteenth Amendment Ratified–August 18, 1920

On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified. The amendment gave women the right to vote.

Women activists in the United States had agitated for equal political rights since the mid-nineteenth century. Reformers in the Progressive Era succeeded in making suffrage a significant political issue, and four western states granted women the right to vote in state constitutions. However, business groups and conservative women's organizations opposed women's suffrage and blocked federal efforts.

During World War I, women contributed greatly to the war effort through their labor and volunteer efforts. Women activists capitalized on women's newfound economic prominence during the war to agitate further for suffrage. Activist organizations such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which had pursued women's suffrage since 1890, connected the issue of a lasting peace with the extension of voting rights to women. As NAWSA campaigned through established political channels, the National Woman's Party (NWP) engaged in acts of civil disobedience in Washington, DC. The NWP staged hunger strikes and daily protests in front of the White House throughout 1917. Activists from NWP called President Woodrow Wilson's fight for democracy in Europe hypocritical while he denied women their voting rights in the United States. The well-publicized protests of the NWP embarrassed Wilson throughout the year.

By 1917, the political wind for suffrage had shifted. Thirteen additional states had passed women's voting measures, and pressure was mounting on Congress to consider a national women's suffrage amendment. President Wilson came around to the idea of a constitutional amendment for women's suffrage in 1916 when he decided that women could form a crucial voting block that would support his progressive agenda. Britain granted women the vote in 1917, adding international pressure for congressional action. When the special session of Congress sat in April 1917, activists added voting rights to the legislative docket. After the measure bypassed the House Judiciary Committee, the women's suffrage amendment passed the House on January 10, 1918. President Wilson appeared in the Senate as the body debated a bill to advocate the passage of the amendment. The suffrage amendment fell two votes short of ratification in an October 1918 vote. Congress revisited the issue in a special session in May 1919. The amenndment passed the House on May 21 and the Senate on June 14, 1919.

After congressional approval, the suffrage amendment entered into a tenaciously contested battle for ratification in state legislatures. The amendment faced its greatest opposition in the South, where conservative Protestants of both genders resisted women's voting rights as a challenge to traditional values and the institution of white supremacy. States in the North and West provided the bulk of support for the amendment, but Southern support in a few states was still needed for ratification. After the thirty-fifth state ratified the amendment in early 1920, President Wilson leaned heavily on Tennessee governor Albert Roberts to call a special session of the state legislature that summer. With heavy local and national pressure bearing down on the legislature, the Tennessee legislature passed the amendment by two votes on August 18, 1920, securing its ratification as the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution.

For more information, please visit the Woodrow Wilson home page or Woodrow Wilson key events.

Clinton Signs "Welfare to Work" Bill–August 22, 1996

On August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, reflecting his campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it."

The act contained several provisions expressing the necessity of work, the primacy of states, and, ultimately, limited government provision. No longer entitled to cash assistance, families could only receive federal aid for a total of five years. States now would receive fixed block grants each year with substantial discretion over how to distribute them. The act also made many legal immigrants ineligible to receive public benefits and reduced spending on the Food Stamp Program and disability benefits for children. To make it easier for needy parents to work, the act increased funding for child-care. Single mothers got strengthened enforcement for child-support, and states were threatened with "participation-rate" requirements, meaning that unless a certain percentage of families receiving assistance were working or training each month, the federal government would slash the grants.

During the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton had campaigned with a promise to reform welfare. He believed that the support stemming from housing subsidies, food stamps, and cash grants to needy families had served to erode the values of independence and hard work. The government bore a dual responsibility, Clinton argued, to assist the truly needy while at the same time being frugal; moreover, he believed, it should help foster such positive character traits as thrift, autonomy, and self-respect. This "hand up rather than a hand out" resonated strongly with the American public, as well as with Republican congressional leaders and moderate Democrats.

Republicans were pleased with the spirit and letter of the act, although presidential candidate Senator Bob Dole thought GOP congressional support for any Clinton-approved measure might aid his opponent in the upcoming election. At the same time, some Republicans found expansion of the day-care credit hard to accept. Even among adamant liberals, the themes underpinning the act-work and responsibility-were largely uncontroversial. Still critics found the treatment of legal immigrants repugnant and the absolute five-year time limit unreflective of an often complex reality. Most of all, they faulted Clinton for failing to explain how a population with so much relative job inexperience, mental and physical disabilities, and poor educational training could find good jobs. But the "New Democrat," moderate positioning of Clinton once again appealed to voters, and it helped launch the President on the road to reelection later that year.

For more information, please visit the Bill Clinton home page or Bill Clinton key events.

British Troops Set Fire to White House–August 24, 1814

On August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops invaded Washington, D.C., and set the White House, the Capitol, and other federal buildings on fire. The city had been evacuated before the British arrived with President James Madison and his administration leaving the capital city to flee the invading soldiers.

During the war, British and American troops clashed up and down the East Coast, from Canada down to New Orleans. The war began after President Madison requested a declaration of war from Congress to protect American ships on the open seas and to try to stop the British practice of impressments, the seizure of U.S. sailors for service in Britain's Navy.

The first years of the war proved disastrous for the United States. By the fall of 1812, the British had defeated American forces in Detroit and in western New York; in fact much of the Northwest Territory had fallen to the British. The Americans began to have military success in the spring of 1813 when the U.S. Navy defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie and U.S. forces sacked the Canadian capital in York. The United States also won significant battles against Native Americans in Ontario and the Mississippi Territory.

Events swung back against the Americans in the late spring on 1814 as the British went on the offensive. British ships raided American ports from Georgia to Maine. After they landed in the Chesapeake Bay, British troops began to march towards Washington, D.C. They encountered little resistance along the way. James Monroe, who served as Madison's secretary of state and of defense, led a scouting party to report on the British advance. He sent word to President Madison that the British were marching toward Washington, D.C., and Madison and other government officials left the city for the countryside.

First Lady Dolley Madison resisted the calls to evacuate. When she finally left, she made sure that a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart was removed from the White House and stored safely. She also took several important cabinet documents with her when she departed. As the British troops headed toward to capital, Monroe stayed to help with the city's evacuation. Once the British troops entered the city, they torched the White House and most other federal buildings in retaliation for the burning of the Canadian Parliament buildings in York.

The United States was ultimately victorious in the War of 1812, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed by both countries in December 1814. Washington, D.C., was gradually rebuilt. It took three years to rebuild the White House, and in October 1817, President James Monroe moved back into the reconstructed White House.

For more information, please visit the James Madison home page or James Madison key events.

March on Washington–August 28, 1963

On August 28, 1963, about 250,000 people traveled to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate their support for civil rights legislation before Congress. The leaders of the major civil rights organizations led a nonviolent march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Before a large crowd and a national television audience, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. With a large turnout and peaceful demonstration, the civil rights leaders increased the pressure on Congress and President John Kennedy to pass meaningful civil rights legislation.

Before the summer of 1963, the Kennedy administration had disappointed many of those involved in the civil rights struggle. The President had often attempted to avoid conflict with Southern Democrats on issues regarding race. On June 11, 1963, after Governor George Wallace tried to block desegregation at the University of Alabama, Kennedy made his most aggressive statement on civil rights in an impromptu address to the nation, arguing on moral grounds for equal rights for all Americans. With a firm commitment to legislation for civil rights, President Kennedy met with African American leaders to gain their support. Despite Kennedy's opposition, many of the leaders at this meeting proposed a march on Washington to pressure Congress to pass a strong civil rights act.

The march created a moment of unity among the fractured civil rights organizations. They emphasized the peaceful and orderly nature of the march; there would be no civil disobedience. The focus of the day would be a rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial with singers and speakers, including John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Martin Luther King, Jr., was scheduled to speak last. He began speaking from the written text he had completed the night before, but soon drifted off onto a theme he had spoken of several times. "I have a dream," he declared, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." King continued to give his most famous address presenting a vision of racial equality and harmony for the nation.

After the march, the organizers met with President Kennedy. King, Wilkins, and others pressed the President for a more aggressive civil rights bill and discussed strategies to garner political support. Despite the success of the march, the civil rights bill moved slowly through Congress. However, the actions of King and other activists had an important effect on President Kennedy as his administration lobbied in support of the civil rights bill. After Kennedy was assassinated, President Lyndon Johnson continued to work for civil rights legislation. On July 2, 1964, he signed the Civil Rights Act, which ended segregation in public facilities.

To read and listen to the full text of President Kennedy's June 11, 1963 speech, click here.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Wilson Embarks on League of Nations Tour–September 3, 1919

On September 3, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson boarded a train to begin a transcontinental speaking tour to try to build support for the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. He gave his first speech in Columbus, Ohio, on September 4.

President Wilson had traveled to Europe in December 1918 to attend the Paris Peace Conference with representatives from Britain, France, and Italy. Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, and Wilson returned to the United States on July 8. Two days later, he submitted the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate for ratification. Senatorial approval of the treaty faced an uphill battle. A number of senators remained skeptical of the League of Nations Covenant contained with the treaty. To make matters more difficult for the President, Republicans had regained control of both houses of Congress in 1918.

Senate resistance to the treaty came from a variety of sources. So-called "irreconcilable" progressive senators like Idaho's William Borah and California's Hiram Johnson rejected the treaty as a mechanism to preserve the British Empire through the League of Nations. Midwestern progressives like George Norris and Robert LaFollette, with large German constituencies, recoiled against the treaty's punitive measures. Senator James Reed of Missouri complained that the equal representation that all nations enjoyed in the League's assembly placed control of the body in the hands of the racially unfit.

The most damning opposition to the treaty, however, came from Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lodge despised Wilson's idealism and attacked Article 10 of the League of Nations Covenant. Article 10 held members to a collective security agreement, and Lodge believed it was an indefensible infringement of American sovereignty. Lodge argued that the Senate should only ratify the treaty if it were modified to operate within the checks and balances system of the Constitution of the United States. He also insisted that implementing the collective security clause of the League Covenant required congressional approval as did declarations of war.

President Wilson headed out on his speaking tour against his doctors' wishes and the advice of some of his political advisers to try to win public support for the treaty and thus pressure senators to approve it. Over a period of three weeks, Wilson made forty addresses on the importance of the League of Nations, traveling to more than twenty-nine cities and covering a distance of almost 10,000 miles. The President rightly believed that the majority of the country supported both the peace treaty and the League of Nations but his speaking tour was unable to build any political momentum for ratification. Exhausted and worn out from his arduous journey, the President collapsed in Pueblo, Colorado, on September 25. He cut his tour short and headed back to Washington. Wilson suffered a serious stroke on Oct 2.

Wilson's Herculean efforts were not enough to make a dent in the considerable coalition of critics in the Senate. On November 19, the Senate rejected the treaty 38 to 53. Wilson's stroke prevented him from participating in a compromise treaty, and the Senate approved a separate peace treaty with Germany in July 1921. By not ratifying the Treaty of Versailles and rejecting the League of Nations Covenant, the Senate illustrated the strong feeling of isolationism that existed in the United States after World War I.

For more information, please visit the Woodrow Wilson home page or Woodrow Wilson key events.

Ford Pardons Nixon–September 8, 1974

On September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford granted a "full, free, and absolute pardon" to former President Richard Nixon.

When Ford took the oath of office just a month earlier, he took over the presidency from an embattled Richard Nixon, who had just resigned as the 37th President of the United States due to the myriad of political and legal problems surrounding his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Ford spoke to the nation on August 9, engaging in "a little straight talk among friends," and acknowledged the special circumstances of the occasion. Addressing the Watergate scandal directly, he declared that "our long national nightmare is over."

Yet one month later, the President confronted the specter of Richard Nixon, a likely criminal defendant in U.S. courts for his role in that same national nightmare. When President Ford addressed the nation on September 8, he used a Sunday morning broadcast to minimize the political impact of his message. He recounted the nature of the Watergate scandal that had polarized the country. He also considered the difficulties Nixon would face in receiving a fair public trial and the potential for delayed and elaborate litigation against a former President. More importantly, he believed that the immediate needs of the country demanded an end to the Watergate controversy. His duty to ensure "domestic tranquility" and to use every means to secure it, as well as his belief that Nixon had suffered the ultimate humiliation due to his resignation, led him to grant a "full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States."

Instead of bringing the nation together, however, the pardon reignited the firestorm surrounding Nixon. Ford's approval ratings dropped dramatically, and he would later admit that the pardon was his most difficult domestic decision. Nevertheless, the use of the pardon to forestall the prosecution of an unindicted, private citizen enhanced those powers delegated to the President under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution and reaffirmed the use of the presidential pardon, extending its reach beyond both legal and congressional challenge.

For more information, please visit the Gerald Rudolph Ford home page or Gerald Rudolph Ford key events.

Terrorist AttacksÐSeptember 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, the United States endured a deadly attack when terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed them. The hijackers intentionally flew the first three planes into important targets: both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. The fourth plane, which some speculated was headed for the White House, crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Passengers aboard the plane, talking on their cell phones, learned what the hijackers intended to do and with astonishing heroism tried to overtake the hijackers, saving the fourth target and sacrificing their lives.

Police and fire department personnel in New York City rushed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center after the planes crashed into them to begin rescuing victims from the burning towers. Their colleagues assisting matters outside-like all Americans-were shocked and horrified to see those towers collapse, killing hundreds of the rescue workers and thousands of people who had been trapped inside. Total casualties from September 11, 2001, were nearly 3,000 people.

President George W. Bush spoke passionately of our "disbelief, terrible sadness and…quiet, unyielding anger." He pledged that the government would bring the persons responsible for the hijacking to justice. It soon became clear that Al Qaeda, a loosely-knit radical Islamic organization, was responsible for the attacks. Al Qaeda's founder was former Saudi citizen and millionaire Osama bin Laden. After Afghanistan's ruling elite-the Taliban-refused to surrender bin Laden, who was a guest in their country, President Bush swiftly gathered international support for the use of military force in Afghanistan to shatter the strength of Al Qaeda.

September 11, 2001, is a date that no American is likely ever to forget. Many Americans spent the day glued to their televisions, as terrible images of lives lost and property destroyed marched across the screens. Mingled with those pictures were others, equally memorable: scenes of magnificent courage, sacrifice, and hope. As a defining moment in modern United States history, September 11, 2001 has justly been compared with December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The words of President Franklin Roosevelt more than half a century ago are most appropriate: it is a date that surely will live in infamy.

For more information, please visit the George Walker Bush home page or George Walker Bush key events.

President McKinley Dies–September 14, 1901

On September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died, eight days after he was shot by an assassin. He had served only six months of his second presidential term before his death.

After vacationing in Canton, Ohio, in the summer of 1901, President McKinley and his staff set off for the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. On September 5, McKinley delivered a speech to a crowd of nearly 50,000 on his policy goals for his second term; his particular focus was on the promotion of American foreign trade.

The next afternoon, the President attended a public reception at the Exposition's Temple of Music, accompanied by three secret service bodyguards. Despite pleas from his secretary that security was inadequate for such a setting, McKinley entered the hall at four o'clock and began greeting festival patrons. Minutes later, Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American anarchist, fired two shots at the President from close range as McKinley reached to shake the man's hand. One bullet lodged in McKinley's stomach while the other ricocheted off a button. As the crowd pounced on Czolgosz, McKinley pleaded that they not harm him. Czolgosz later confessed to shooting the President and was executed in October 1901.

President McKinley was taken away to a hospital in Buffalo where doctors failed to find the bullet in his abdomen. His wound became infected and developed gangrene, and his condition worsened over the course of the next week. McKinley died early in the morning of September 14, and that afternoon Vice President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo to take the presidential oath of office.

The nation entered a month of mourning following McKinley's funeral in Canton on September 19. The former President was warmly remembered at the time of his death, with his hometown erecting a monument to him in 1907. McKinley was the first President since James Garfield to be assassinated and, like Garfield, his legacy faded from public memory-all the more quickly, in fact, since he was succeeded by the ebullient, reform-minded Theodore Roosevelt.

For more information, please visit the William McKinley home page or William McKinley key events.

Camp David Accords Signed -September 17, 1978

On September 17, 1978, President Jimmy Carter oversaw an agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that called for Israel’s gradual withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Camp David Accords are often considered the most significant foreign policy achievement of Carter’s administration.

Tension in the Middle East had continued unabated since the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt. In November 1967, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242. The resolution called for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories acquired during the war and for termination of all claims or states of belligerency between all nations or states in the area. Recognition by Egypt of the right of Israel to peaceful existence and the return of lands acquired by the Six Days War remained preconditions for peace in the region. Following the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, the Security Council issued Resolution 338, calling on the parties to begin negotiations toward establishing a "just and durable peace."

President Carter decided to act after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat of Egypt had traveled to Jerusalem and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had returned from a reciprocal visit to Cairo. Carter invited the leaders to the United States to hammer out a peace treaty between the countries. They would also seek a framework for the resolution of the Palestinian crisis. The three met at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, from September 5 through September 17, 1978.

The Camp David Accords, signed by Carter, Begin, and Sadat, called for recognition of UN Security Council Resolution 242 and established the fundamental framework for peace in the region. The agreement called for:

• Mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area and the right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries;

• Negotiations between Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian representatives for the establishment of arrangements leading to an autonomous and self-governing authority for the West Bank and Gaza within five years;

• The negotiation of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel within three months that recognized the right of Israel to exist and the return of territory taken by Israel in previous conflicts.

The peace treaty was officially signed in March 1979. It was a major breakthrough, perhaps the most significant by an American President dealing with Middle East affairs, and established a precedent for future high-level negotiations over these issues.

To watch the video of President Carter's remarks after the Camp David Summit, click here.

For more information, please visit the Jimmy Carter home page or Jimmy Carter key events.

Fillmore Signs Fugitive Slave Act–September 18, 1850

On September 18, 1850, President Millard Fillmore signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act, which enacted strict provisions for returning runaway slaves to their owners.

The act was part of the Compromise of 1850, which was designed to ease sectional conflict between the North and South, but the inclusion of the Fugitive Slave Law made that nearly impossible. Southerners and their allies in Congress designed the Fugitive Slave Law to end Northern interference in the capture and return of fugitive slaves. The law decreed that runaway slaves apprehended anywhere in the United States had to be returned to their masters if new federally appointed commissioners decided that they were in fact fugitive slaves. It denied any due process to such slaves and allowed authorities to arrest African American suspects and return them to slave territory–whether the arrested person was an actual slave or not. Finally, it empowered federal marshals to enforce the law. The Fugitive Slave Law also cited severe penalties for noncompliance.

The Fugitive Slave Act ignited a firestorm of protest across the North from both activists and the general public. Many Northerners who had previously paid little attention to slavery became stanch opponents after the passage of the law. Most importantly, the act greatly increased sectional animosities and renewed interest in antislavery politics in the North in the 1850s.

Fillmore personally opposed slavery but signed the Fugitive Slave Law for two reasons. First, he believed the South would secede if its demands, including a fugitive slave law, were not met. Second, Fillmore believed he could use the Compromise to unite the Whig Party behind a single national platform. Fillmore, a Whig from New York, tried to press other Northern Whigs to support the Compromise and the Fugitive Slave Law. He worked to prevent Northern Whigs who opposed the Fugitive Slave Law from winning elections and used his patronage powers to appoint pro-Fugitive Slave Law political allies to federal office.

While Fillmore's support for the Compromise of 1850 helped stall the Southern secessionist movement, his efforts to unite the Whigs behind the Compromise failed, in large part because of the Fugitive Slave Law. Antislavery Whigs, who thought the law unjust, refused to support Fillmore for President in the 1852. The Fugitive Slave Law, moreover, only deepened existing, and eventually fatal, divides within the Whig Party over slavery.

For more information, please visit the Millard Fillmore home page or Millard Fillmore key events.

Washington's Farewell Address–September 19, 1796

On September 19, 1796, newspapers around the country published President George Washington’s Farewell Address. In his address, Washington summarized his presidential tenure, cautioned against political divisions, and advised future American leaders to minimize connections with foreign powers.

President Washington, after nearly eight years as the nation’s first President, determined that he would not accept a third term in office. By this time, political divisions between Alexander Hamilton on one side and James Madison and Thomas Jefferson on the other had hardened into proto-political parties. Whereas in 1789, at the time of Washington's inauguration, loyalty to country and Constitution equated with loyalty to the President, the rise of political parties had begun to separate the two. Washington, as a result, faced increasing criticism of his domestic and foreign policies during his second term. Upon deciding to retire, he offered his Farewell Address both as a defense of his presidency and a plea for the future of the federal government.

Washington released his farewell in the nation’s newspapers in September 1796; he never presented it in person before any assembly. The President opened with a tribute to the people of the United States and with an explanation that his time for retirement had come. He then emphasized the importance of union and the need to avoid sectional and factional divisions. He also warned the country against permanent alliances with foreign nations.

Both points responded to issues in his presidency. Washington felt betrayed by the partisan criticism of his leadership and equated lack of support for his administration with lack of commitment to the Constitution. His address thus sought to vindicate his leadership, as well as promote harmony in future governance. One policy that had been criticized by the Jefferson-led opposition involved relations with revolutionary France. Washington issued a proclamation of neutrality in 1793 upon the resumption of conflict between France and Britain. Jeffersonians argued this violated the French-American Treaty of 1778 whereby each nation pledged to assist the other. Washington feared involvement in European conflicts would jeopardize the stability of the fledgling United States, and in his farewell attempted to justify his neutrality policy.

Preliminary drafts of the Farewell Address revealed Washington’s bitterness over the political climate in 1796. Revisions by Alexander Hamilton softened many of the complaints and omitted the self-pitying passages. Even so, when placed in the context of the times, the farewell reads as a lament, an ambiguous end to the first President’s career. It illustrates Washington’s belief in the central importance of the presidency, yet at the same time demonstrates that as early as 1796, the emerging political system had begun to shape, constrain, and frustrate the executive.

To read President Washington’s Farewell Address, click here.

For more information, please visit the George Washington home page or George Washington key events.

Lewis and Clark Expedition Arrives Back in St. Louis–September 23, 1806

On September 23, 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived back in St. Louis two-and-a-half years after they began their expedition to explore the Louisiana Territory and the Pacific Northwest. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition, which is often considered one of the greatest exploratory quests in U.S. history.

Well before President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, Americans had been curious about the lands west of the Mississippi River. Jefferson saw the West as a great collection of scientific specimens and a vast expanse that enhanced American security, but he also shared the commercial interest of American traders looking for a viable route to the Pacific Ocean. Even before negotiations to purchase New Orleans had commenced, Jefferson planned an expedition to the Pacific Northwest.

In January 1803, the President asked Congress for a secret appropriation of $2,500 for the secretly planned exploration. Despite Spain’s displeasure at U.S. hints that it would trek into French and Spanish territory, Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead the expedition. Lewis, the President’s personal secretary, was merely 28 years old but had extensive knowledge of the West. He was commissioned an Army officer and given joint command with William Clark, also an Army officer. Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to find a path to the Pacific Ocean, preferably via water, learn the geography of the territory, explore trade with Native Americans, and return with samples of unknown species of flora and fauna. His instructions, drafted in June 1803 before the purchase of Louisiana but with knowledge the transaction would likely occur, were implemented the following year.

Lewis and Clark left St. Louis on the Missouri River in May 1804 with a company of nearly fifty men. The Corps of Discovery voyaged up the Missouri to North Dakota, where they spent the winter before pushing on over the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. When they returned to St. Louis in September 1806, they brought samples of plant and animal species Jefferson had requested and reports that Jefferson's purchase had been well worth the price.

For more information, please visit the Thomas Jefferson home page or Thomas Jefferson key events.

"Black Friday"–September 24, 1869

September 24, 1869, became known as "Black Friday" when a financial panic began in New York City after the price of gold crashed and caused financial ruin for many investors.

In 1869, the price of gold in the volatile New York market was determined primarily by how much of the metal the government sold per month. Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, two investors who controlled the Erie Railroad, recognized that it was possible to corner the gold market by either predicting or influencing the government's sales. Gould and Fisk began to work on a plot to purchase gold and drive up the price with the help of the government, and then sell their supplies for an immense profit before the inflated price crashed.

Fisk and Gould befriended President Ulysses S. Grant's brother-in-law and friend, Abel Corbin, hoping to influence treasury policy through his connections. Through Corbin, Gould and Fisk were able to meet with Grant on several occasions and tried to convince the President to increase the price of gold through reduced government sales, arguing that doing so would help improve depressed farm prices. While Grant was not convinced, Gould and Fisk mistakenly believed that the President would engage in the policy they recommended and began to purchase gold, slowly driving up the price.

Grant eventually became aware of their intentions and instructed Treasury Secretary George Boutwell to sell government gold reserves to lower the price and foil Gould and Fisk. On September 24, Fisk's continued purchases had driven the price of gold to $162 an ounce (Gould found out about Grant's discovery of the plan from Corbin and had quietly begun to sell) when Boutwell announced that the government would sell $4 million in gold. Within minutes, the price dropped to $133. Grant had been successful in preventing Gould and Fisk from cornering the market, but the affair had a devastating effect on the economy. Stock prices fell and trading diminished, brokerages went bankrupt, and prices for agricultural goods dropped sharply.

Grant received criticism for the affair, which had a particularly devastating effect on farmers as the prices of crops tumbled. Grant's meetings with Gould and Fisk prior to the affair also served to hurt the President's reputation. While Gould and Fisk were prevented from cornering the market through Grant's intervention, their excellent legal defense and connections with judges enabled them to emerge from the disaster without penalty and with their large fortunes intact.

For more information, please visit the Ulysses Simpson Grant home page or Ulysses Simpson Grant key events.

Meredith Arrives at University of Mississippi–September 30, 1962

On September 30, 1962, an African American college student, James Meredith, arrived at the University of Mississippi, escorted by federal marshals, to attend class. They were met by an angry crowd of students and other local whites who opposed Meredith's efforts to integrate “Old Miss.” The deadly riot that broke out forced President John F. Kennedy to intervene, and the episode helped change the President’s approach to civil rights.

Meredith applied for admissions to the all-white University of Mississippi in early 1962. After being rejected due to his race, Meredith sued the University in federal court. On September 13, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Meredith’s rejection from the University and ordered that he be immediately enrolled. Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi announced his opposition to the ruling and pledged that “Old Miss” would not be integrated. Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., the President and Attorney General Robert Kennedy discussed how they could enforce the decision of the court with as little conflict as possible.

Robert Kennedy remained in contact with Governor Ross throughout the crisis over Meredith’s admission. The Kennedy administration followed a federalist doctrine that local police forces should maintain law and order in these situations. They also believed that behind-the-scenes negotiations with Barnett could lead to a political compromise that would satisfy all parties involved. Reaching an agreement between Kennedy and Barnett proved difficult, however. The President wanted to avoid the imposition of military power that would remind southerners of Reconstruction, and the governor would only back down if he could blame the desegregation of Old Miss on the federal government. Despite these obstacles, the Kennedys believed Barnett had committed his state to maintaining order on the campus of Old Miss.

On Sunday, September 30, when Meredith arrived along with a small contingent of federal marshals, an angry crowd of students and other local whites met them. Soon, shots were fired, killing two men. Fearing more violence, the President refused to allow the marshals to fire their weapons. Finally, at 10 p.m. the administration ordered Army units stationed in Memphis, Tennessee, to the campus. Due to a series of errors, the Army did not arrive until 2:15 am the next day. Twenty-three-thousand soldiers then restored order to the Old Miss campus and the town of Oxford. Later that morning, James Meredith escorted by a military guard attended his first class at the University of Mississippi.

By the time Meredith became the first African American to graduate from Old Miss in 1963, he had become an important symbol of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and throughout the South. For the Kennedy administration, the incident provided several important lessons. First, it brought into question their respect for federalist doctrine. Their trust in local law enforcement had led to a deadly race riot. Second, they questioned the ability to solve these difficult issues through negotiations with politicians. Barnett demonstrated the ability of southern Democratic politicians to make certain commitments to the President, while taking a different stand with the people of his state. Without making any specific changes in policy, the desegregation of Old Miss led Kennedy to question his administration’s approach to civil rights.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Pan-American Conference Begins–October 2, 1889

On October 2, 1889, the first Pan-American Conference began in Washington, D.C. The conference was a meeting between the United States and various countries in Latin America. Its goal was to improve economic and political relations between participants.

Secretary of State James Blaine had first proposed a Pan-American Conference in 1881 during his brief tenure under President James Garfield. After Garfield's assassination and Blaine's subsequent resignation, President Chester Arthur's secretary of state, Frederick Frelinghuysen, cancelled the conference. After the cancellation, President Arthur appointed a commission to investigate the possibility of holding such a conference, and the commission's findings favored the scheduling of a new conference.

President Grover Cleveland and Secretary of State Thomas Bayard did not support the idea of a conference, but on May 10, 1888, Blaine's initial proposal was revived and the conference was scheduled. Blaine was again secretary of state when the conference took place on October 2, 1889, during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison. Harrison and Blaine hoped to reach agreements at the conference to create a customs union for free trade and establish a system for arbitration of international disputes.

Although the Pan-American Conference convened in Washington, D.C., the participants from eighteen countries quickly left the capital to tour the industrial centers of the United States. The negotiations began when the conference reconvened in Washington in November. Secretary of State Blaine did not give instructions to the U.S. delegation, making the discussions difficult. Many South and Central American nations did not trust the United States and thought the customs union was a plan unilaterally favorable to the Americans. In addition, the U.S. delegates had trouble negotiating the customs union for free trade due to the embarrassing fact that the Republican-controlled Congress was simultaneously working on legislation to strengthen tariffs.

The final agreement failed to establish the customs union; delegates instead settled for a clause that encouraged reciprocity agreements. The issue of arbitration was also not resolved because the Latin American countries viewed the U.S. proposals as a violation of sovereignty. A relatively weak system, signed by fewer than half of the delegations, was established that allowed nations to refuse any arbitration that they felt threatened independence. The conference did set up the International Bureau of American Republics, also known as the Pan-American Union, to hold additional meetings in the future. The conference ended with mixed results, and another Pan-American Conference was held in Mexico City in 1901.

For more information, please visit the Benjamin Harrison home page or Benjamin Harrison key events.

Battle of Mogadishu–October 3, 1993

On October 3, 1993, U.S. special forces stormed a compound in Mogadishu, Somalia, in order to capture aides to warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. Commanders intended the attack to be swift and precise, but the operation quickly became a nightmare. Hostile Somalis shot down two hovering combat helicopters. U.S. ground forces were assaulted as they tried to leave town and ambushed as they attempted to reach the crews of the downed helicopters. With exits to the city blocked, and an increasing number of killed and wounded, American soldiers were forced to hunker down and await reinforcements. In the end, eighteen U.S. troops died, and eighty-four were wounded. America was left with horrific images of soldiers' bodies being dragged through the streets and angry questions as to how such a disaster could have occurred.

The U.S. presence in Somalia dated from December 1992. Then-President George H.W. Bush envisioned that "Operation Restore Hope" would be limited to humanitarian assistance and would ideally conclude sometime in early 1993, time enough to have put Somalia on the road to recovery from famine and civil war. Nevertheless, the operation became more complex than anyone imagined. Leaders at the United Nations became convinced that Aidid, who had resisted political reform both prior to and following the recent introduction of UN personnel, was largely responsible for the harassment and killing of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian workers. In the end, they sought to remove him from scene.

When President Bill Clinton came into office, his administrative team sought to scale back the venture in Somalia. Calls from Congress and Pentagon officials, urging the President not to expand "Operation Restore Hope," contributed further to a more circumscribed approach. Defense Secretary Les Aspin thus rejected requests from local commanders for more troops and vehicles, confident that U.S. forces would not attempt operations exceeding existing capabilities.

The Battle of Mogadishu, however, led President Clinton not just to draw down but to end the U.S. presence in Somalia. Clinton's actions generated criticism from those who thought he should have carried through and captured Aidid-that he had simultaneously dishonored the soldiers' deaths and harmed American military credibility. The affair contributed to the perception that the President lacked foreign affairs expertise. Many became skeptical of the idea that the United States could or should serve as a post-Cold War, peacekeeping nation-builder, particularly under the direction of the United Nations. Regardless, the Battle of Mogadishu-both its causes and its effects-highlighted the complexities of the post-Cold War American military mission.

For more information, please visit the Bill Clinton home page or Bill Clinton key events.

Operation Enduring Freedom Begins–October 7, 2001

On October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the United States had begun military action in Afghanistan. The military operation was code-named Enduring Freedom.

"On my order, U.S. forces have begun strikes on terrorist camps of Al Qaeda and the military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan," Bush said in a somber, televised address from the White House Treaty Room. The air assaults, he said, were joined by Britain, with assorted intelligence efforts and logistical support coming from several other nations, including France, Germany, Australia, and Canada.

The United States had turned its attention to Afghanistan shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks because the Taliban regime had provided sanctuary to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for the attacks. The United States demanded that the Taliban surrender Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. When the Taliban refused, the United States together with allies launched an attack against the Taliban.

Apparently anticipating a U.S. attack, Al Qaeda had, a few days before the attacks, assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of an anti-Taliban rebel force known as the Northern Alliance. It was widely believed that without Massoud, the Northern Alliance would fracture as a fighting force. Instead, the Northern Alliance fought against the Taliban, bolstered by U.S. warplanes and U.S. Special Forces. First it ousted the Taliban from the city of Mazar Al-Sharif on the northern frontier and then from the capital city of Kabul. By mid-March 2002, the Taliban had been removed from power, and the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan was severely damaged.

A fledgling democracy was installed in Afghanistan, but even before that country was truly pacified, the Bush administration had turned its attention to Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein. With U.S. attention diverted, Afghanistan was left in a precarious state, threatened by instability, violence, and a possible Taliban resurgence.

For more information, please visit the George Walker Bush home page or George Walker Bush key events.

Cleveland Signs Chinese Exclusion Act–October 8, 1888

On October 8, 1888, President Grover Cleveland signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which restricted Chinese immigration to the United States. The law prohibited Chinese immigrants who returned to China from coming back to the United States. President Chester Arthur passed the first bill limiting Chinese immigration in 1882, and the federal government did not eradicate barriers to Chinese immigration until 1943.

During the 1880s, racial tension on the West Coast between whites and Chinese laborers put significant pressure on the U.S. government to place restrictions on Chinese immigration. This pressure resulted in an outright ban on immigrant Chinese laborers in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. But this ban was not enough to quell the growing anti-Chinese sentiment, which erupted in riots in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Tacoma and Seattle, Washington in 1885. In 1887, Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard began negotiations with China to produce a treaty banning the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States. The treaty he produced in 1888 created a new twenty-year ban on the immigration of Chinese laborers, prohibited Chinese residents of the United States from reentry if they returned to China, and paid an indemnity to China as compensation for Chinese immigrants killed in the riots of 1885.

President Grover Cleveland welcomed immigrants who he thought would be willing to adopt Western culture and assimilate into American society, but he had little tolerance for those who he believed would not. While Cleveland had wanted to ensure that Chinese immigrants were safe from attack, he grew more and more supportive of a ban on Chinese immigration as he came to believe that the differences between Chinese and American culture were too great, and anti-Chinese sentiment in America too strong, to permit assimilation. The Senate did not ratify the 1888 treaty, due to unwillingness to appropriate funds for the indemnity and a desire among many to block the 20,000 Chinese U.S. residents who had gone to visit China from returning to America. In addition, the Chinese government had become reluctant to finalize the treaty, wanting to reduce the length of the immigration ban and reconsider the reentry agreement.

Cleveland, possibly motivated by the coming election, encouraged Congressman William L. Scott to propose a bill to prohibit the return of Chinese immigrants who went back to China. The bill quickly passed through Congress. Cleveland, referring to attempts to assimilate Chinese immigrants into American society as "unwise, impolitic, and injurious to both nations," signed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1888 into law.

For more information, please visit the Grover Cleveland home page or Grover Cleveland key events.

John Brown's Raid–October 16, 1859

On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown and twenty-one men attempted to raid the federal armory and arsenal in Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). Their plan was to capture the armory and arsenal and recruit slaves to rise and join them. Once Brown and his men armed the slaves with guns from the arsenal, they hoped to head south to free more slaves and eventually destroy slavery.

At the start of their attack, Brown and his men cut telegraph wires and seized federal property. They captured two masters and ten slaves, and briefly detained a Baltimore and Ohio train and inadvertently killed the black baggage master. The conductor reported the raid to authorities in Washington, D.C. By dawn on October 17, Brown and his raiders were holed up inside an engine house with the local militia, angry townspeople, and farmers laying siege to the building. No slaves had escaped to join them.

President James Buchanan dispatched federal troops led by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart to control the mob of citizens and local militia and capture those responsible for the raid. The next morning, Stuart and his men stormed the engine house and ended the fighting. By the time Brown and seven of his men were captured, five had escaped, and nine of his men were dead, including two of his sons. On the other side, seven people were dead, and ten were wounded.

Lee handed Brown and his remaining men over to Virginia to face charges of treason. Democratic presses, both in the North and South, blamed abolitionists and Republicans for the uprising but many people in the North cheered Brown. Brown was convicted of treason against Virginia on October 31 and hanged at Charlestown, Virginia, on December 2. Northern abolitionists made a martyr out of him, which shocked white Southerners who saw his actions as proof that the North meant to end slavery by any means necessary, even through murder.

In his annual message to Congress, in December 1859, President Buchanan declared that the raid on Harper's Ferry symbolized "an incurable disease in the public mind." That "disease," he predicted, might end up "in an open war by the North to abolish slavery in the South." Buchanan added that he did not share Southerners' agitation over John Brown but gave no reassurances.

Buchanan, ever conciliatory, tried not to alienate anyone–either secessionist or unionist–but pleased no one. By refusing to take a firm stand on either side of the slavery issue, Buchanan failed to resolve the question, leaving his nation's gravest crisis to his successor. Indeed, Buchanan's passivity is considered by many historians to have been a prime contributing factor in the coming of the Civil War.

For more information, please visit the James Buchanan home page or James Buchanan key events.

The XYZ Affair–October 18, 1797

On October 18, 1797, three Americans who were sent to France by President John Adams to represent a U.S. peace commission, were received coolly and then asked to pay a bribe in order to speak with French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice Talleyrand. This episode became known as the "XYZ Affair," after the French agents who met with the American delegation. The incident affected U.S. relations with France and damaged the Democratic-Republican Party because of its traditional pro-French stance.

When France broke diplomatic ties with the United States in 1796, incoming President John Adams organized a delegation to negotiate with the French government. Charles Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry arrived in Paris in October 1797 with instructions to normalize diplomatic relations and ensure French privateers would no longer harass American shipping.

The American delegation encountered open hostility, and the French minister of foreign relations, Charles Maurice Talleyrand, refused to meet with them. On various occasions, four agents, later called W, X, Y, and Z by President Adams, contacted the Americans. They demanded an apology for insulting remarks made by Adams and wanted loans to the French government along with some $25,000 in bribes for French officials in return for talks with Talleyrand. Further, they implied war would result if the Americans did not meet the demands. Pinckney and Marshall refused to negotiate under such circumstances. Gerry, who sympathized with the French, urged patience. He remained in Paris until the fall of 1798, although Marshall and Pinckney left in the early months of the year.

When President Adams received news of the failed mission in March 1798, he called for restraint. Initially giving Congress only a partial account of events, he favored continued attempts to negotiate, but also urged Congress to strengthen the country's defenses. Many, such as Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, called for an immediate declaration of war, and war fever grew steadily throughout 1798. Federalists denounced opposition to strong government action as unpatriotic and labeled Gerry treasonous for remaining in France. After President Adams turned over to Congress all of the delegation's correspondence on the failed negotiations, Democratic-Republicans, traditionally supporters of France, found themselves on shaky ground. Unsuccessfully trying to separate patriotism from support for a particular administration, they were seen as public enemies.

The issues with France remained unresolved. Congress activated the tiny, new navy in 1798, and fought an undeclared naval war with France for two years. Of longer-term significance, Federalists used the anti-Democratic-Republican fervor to try to solidify their leadership. The Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in 1798 by the Federalist Congress, essentially outlawed French immigrants and criticism of the government. This step backward in Democratic-Republican's attempts to establish the idea of loyal opposition caused opposition leaders to turn to state governments as bulwarks against unrestrained federal power.

For more information, please visit the John Adams home page or John Adams key events.

Kennedy Announces Cuban Missile Crisis–October 22, 1962

On October 22, 1962, President John Kennedy announced in a nationally televised address that the United States had discovered the Soviet Union was building "offensive missile sites" on the island of Cuba. The President warned that the purpose of the Soviet missiles in Cuba could be "none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere" and that he would protect the United States from such a threat no matter what the cost. He explained the U.S. Navy would impose a "quarantine" or naval blockade around Cuba with the support of the Organization of American States.

The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 14, 1962, when a U-2 surveillance mission flying over Cuba photographed the construction of launch sites for medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles. These missiles, once operational, could deliver nuclear warheads to much of the United States. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy informed the President of the discovery the morning of October 16. Kennedy quickly called a meeting of his top military and diplomatic advisers as well as his most trusted confidants like Theodore Sorensen and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. This group became known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council or ExComm.

Members of ExComm agreed that the Soviets must remove the missiles from Cuba, however, they disagreed about the best approach to ensure the missiles' removal. After much discussion, the President chose to use a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent further shipments of Soviet weapons from entering Cuba, but because international law considered a "blockade" an act of war, the Kennedy administration chose to use the term "quarantine" instead. Over the next few days, the world waited in anxious anticipation as Soviet ships approached the American blockade. On the morning of Wednesday, October 24, conflict appeared imminent as twenty-five Soviet ships neared the quarantine. At 10 a.m., however, the six vessels nearest the boundary all turned back.

Despite the initial success of the quarantine, the crises continued without resolution. Finally, on October 26, lines of communication opened with the Soviets, but the White House received confusing messages. Meanwhile, the downing an American U-2 surveillance plane over Cuba exacerbated the crisis, placing Kennedy under increasing pressure from his military advisors to order an air strike on Cuba. The President realized he must act quickly to find a diplomatic solution.

Responding to the communication from Moscow, the White House drafted a letter to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev explaining that once the Soviets removed the missiles from Cuba, the United States would end its quarantine and would promise not to invade Cuba. In a secret conversation with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, Robert Kennedy pledged that, in an addition to the terms in the letter, the United States would also remove American ballistic nuclear missiles from Turkey. On October 28, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved when the Soviets accepted the U.S. compromise. On November 20, Kennedy ended the naval blockade of Cuba after the Soviet Union had dismantled and removed the weapons from Cuba. In one of the most dramatic crises of the Cold War, Kennedy and Khrushchev avoided violent conflict.

To read and listen to the full text of President Kennedy's Address on the Buildup of Arms in Cuba, click here.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Bombing of Lebanon Barracks–October 23, 1983

On October 23, 1983, suicide bombers crashed a truck bearing more than 2,000 pounds of explosives through protective barricades at U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, Beirut. Since the attack took place early on a Sunday morning, it found most of the troops asleep in their beds. The explosion devastated the compound, collapsing the floors of the building on top of each other, killing 241 U.S. servicemen.

President Ronald Reagan had sent American troops to Lebanon earlier in 1983, hoping to stabilize a country ravaged by years of civil war. Their mission was to support a government friendly to U.S. interests and to Israel, and to help end the cycle of violence. The United States was supposed to play the part of an "honest broker" between competing interests.

Hezbollah, the militant Islamic group, claimed responsibility for the bombing. The ability of the United States to remain detached and play the role of honest broker became more difficult after the attack. American military ships shelled Lebanese positions, and the United States was drawn into supporting certain factions against others in the Lebanese civil war. The surviving Marines were withdrawn to U.S. vessels waiting offshore, and just two years after the bombing, President Reagan withdrew all U.S. military forces from the area at the request of the Lebanese government. The experience in Lebanon was devastating one for the President, and it altered his administration's policy in the Middle East; he never again sent ground troops into Lebanon or any other place in the Middle East.

For more information, please visit the Ronald Reagan home page or Ronald Reagan key events.

Proclamation to Occupy West Florida–October 27, 1810

On October 27, 1810, President James Madison issued a proclamation that authorized the U.S. occupation of West Florida, which included land from the Perdido River west along the Gulf Coast to the Mississippi River. Although the President issued the proclamation in October, he did not inform Congress until his annual message in December.

Many Americans, including former President Thomas Jefferson and Madison himself, thought that West Florida was included as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase itself implied that West Florida might in fact be a part of the deal, and Jefferson pressed his claim against Spain. Much to his chagrin, in 1804 France insisted West Florida had not been part of the purchase. Spain refused to negotiate with the United States, and as war continued between France and Britain, Spain allied with France. Both France and Britain harassed American shipping, and Madison speculated that Britain might capture Florida to use as a base to attack the United States in the event that the United States joined the war.

Then, in late September, Americans in West Florida seized control of the area, proclaimed an independent republic, and offered it to the United States. Madison did not support the rebels' actions and continued to reason that West Florida already belonged to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. So he issued his proclamation in October to annex West Florida to prevent the territory from falling into British hands and appointed William C.C. Claiborne, governor of the Orleans territory, to take control of the area.

Federalists, opponents of Madison's Republican Party, claimed the occupation was unconstitutional, but Congress voted in January along party lines to approve Madison's action. The episode raised hopes for those who wanted to annex East Florida, as the United States would eventually do in 1819 with the Adams-Onís Treaty.

To read the full text of President Madison's Proclamation of the Occupation of West Florida, click here.

To read the full text of President Madison's Second Annual Message to Congress, in which he informs Congress of the Proclamation, click here.

For more information, please visit the James Madison home page or James Madison key events.

Coolidge Wins Election–November 4, 1924

On November 4, 1924, Calvin Coolidge was elected President of the United States. Vice President Coolidge had assumed the office of the presidency the year before after President Warren Harding died. But Coolidge then had to convince the American public to elect him President in his own right.

Coolidge had little time to enjoy his new job as President before he had to begin campaigning to keep the position. Indeed, at the time of Harding's death in August 1923, the President was just nearing the end of his two-month trip across the country designed to repair his and his party's image before the 1924 presidential campaign. Initially, winning the election seemed a daunting task for Coolidge, who four years earlier had gained the Republican vice presidential nomination only after party delegates clashed over more favored candidates. Although a man of few words, Coolidge was an astute politician who by the time he became vice president in 1920 had served as an elected official for more than two decades from city councilman to governor of Massachusetts. More importantly, he remained extremely popular with the American public during this time. Coolidge epitomized the honest, hard-working, and business-minded attitude that promised to streamline government and rid Washington of the corruption and scandals bred during Harding's administration.

Coolidge's campaign differed little from the "Return to Normalcy" heralded by Harding four years earlier. On the two most controversial issues, Prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan, Coolidge said little. His platform of lower taxes and smaller government resonated with the American people. Coolidge also used the new medium of radio very effectively in what was an otherwise uneventful campaign. Virtually inventing the press conference, Coolidge held 520 during his five and a half years in office, cultivating a genial relationship with the press with his dry wit and wry humor. By November 1924, he was the favorite, and his easy victory - 382 electoral votes (15.7 million popular votes) to Democrat John Davis's 136 (8.4 million) and Progressive Robert La Follette's 13 (4.8 million) - surprised few. Four years later, weary of the office, Coolidge famously declined nomination for a second elected term by calling a press conference, but taking no questions from reporters. He simply handed out strips of paper to those present that read, in classic Coolidge style, "I do not choose to run for President in nineteen twenty-eight."

For more information, please visit the Calvin Coolidge home page or Calvin Coolidge key events.

Election of 1912: November 5, 1912

On November 5, 1912, President William Taft was defeated by Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the presidential election of 1912. The three-way race between Taft, Wilson, and former President Theodore Roosevelt illustrated the rise of progressivism in presidential politics. Although Roosevelt's Progressive Party had one of the strongest third-party showings in American history, he and Taft divided the Republican Party vote, and Wilson easily won the election.

Before President Theodore Roosevelt left office in 1909, he hand-picked William Taft as his successor and worked to get him elected. But once Taft became President, Roosevelt became increasingly disenchanted with his successor. He felt Taft was not progressive enough, turning his back on environmental conservation and targeting so-called good trusts. Enraged by his protégée's tenure, Roosevelt decided to challenge him for the Republican nomination in 1912.

The Republicans met in Chicago in June 1912, hopelessly split between the Roosevelt progressives and the supporters of President Taft. Roosevelt came to the convention having won a series of preferential primaries that put him ahead of the President in the race for party delegates. Taft, however, controlled the convention floor, and his backers managed to exclude most of the Roosevelt delegates by not recognizing their credentials. These tactics enraged the former President, who then refused to allow himself to be nominated, paving the way for Taft to win on the first ballot.

Roosevelt and his supporters bolted the Republican Party and reconvened in Chicago two weeks later to form the Progressive Party. Roosevelt became the Progressive Party candidate for President, and Governor Hiram Johnson of California joined the ticket as Roosevelt's running mate. Roosevelt electrified the convention with a dramatic speech in which he announced that he would "stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord" and declared that he felt "as strong as a Bull Moose," thus giving the new party its popular name.

At the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore at the end of June, Speaker of the House James "Champ" Clark entered as the favorite to gain the party's nomination after a strong showing in the primaries against New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson. Democrats engaged in an intense struggle over the nomination, however, prompted by William Jennings Bryan's criticism that Clark's machine base was too close to big business. Wilson secured the nomination on the forty-sixth ballot of the convention. His selection over the more moderate, less charismatic Clark ensured the Democrats a vibrant, progressive-minded candidate to challenge the vim of Roosevelt and overshadow Taft. Democrats nominated Thomas R. Marshall of Indiana for the vice presidency.

Unlike many proceeding campaigns, which boiled down to contests of personality or character, the election of 1912 remained essentially a campaign of ideas. Wilson and Roosevelt emphasized their progressive ideologies on the campaign trail. Wilson devised the "New Freedom" appellation for his campaign, emphasizing a return to individualism in industrial enterprise encouraged by the end of tariff protection, the breaking up of Wall Street's control of financial markets, and vigorous antitrust prosecution. Wilson believed federal power should be used to break up all concentrations of wealth and privilege, disagreeing with Roosevelt that monopolies could serve a common good through their efficiency.

Roosevelt built his "New Nationalism" campaign on the back of ideas he had been advocating since his return to public life in 1910, including strengthening federal regulatory control over interstate commerce, corporate conglomeration, and labor conditions. President Taft emphasized how his brand of conservatism offered practical solutions to tangible problems facing Americans. He chided the idealism of his opponents as dangerous to the constitutional system. Socialist Eugene V. Debs joined the triumvirate with his campaign more focused on socialist education for American voters than success. Debs urged the public ownership of transportation and communication networks, progressive income and corporate taxes, and a rigorous worker protection laws.

With the Republican Party badly split between its conservative and progressive wings, neither Taft nor Roosevelt rightfully expected victory in November. The election yielded the Democratic Party its greatest victory since before the Civil War as it gained both houses of Congress and the presidency. The popular vote was more an endorsement of progressivism than of Wilson as he and Roosevelt combined for nearly 70 percent of the ballots cast. Wilson failed to win a majority of the popular vote, earning 41 percent of the popular vote to Roosevelt's 27 percent. Taft finished with 23 percent of the vote, and Debs made a considerable showing with 6 percent. Taft won only two states in the Electoral College: Vermont and Utah. Roosevelt carried progressive strongholds California, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Michigan, but could not contend with Wilson's enormous success in his home region of the South and his wins in key Northern states such as New York and Wisconsin. Wilson carried 435 of 531 votes in the Electoral College to become the nation's twenty-eighth President.

For more information, please visit the William Howard Taft home page or William Howard Taft key events.

Cleveland Loses Re-election–November 6, 1888

On November 6, 1888, President Grover Cleveland was defeated in his bid for re-election by the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison. Although President Cleveland won the popular vote, Harrison won the Electoral College and thus the presidency.

The Republicans entered the election of 1888 with a well-organized and effective campaign structure. Their candidate, Benjamin Harrison, was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. He was a former Civil War general and Indiana senator who ran an energetic campaign and exhausted himself delivering more than eighty speeches in sixteen weeks. The Democratic campaign was far less organized, and President Cleveland put forth little effort. Much of the public speaking in the Democratic campaign was left to the nominee for vice president, Allen G. Thurman, who was in poor health.

The central issue in the 1888 campaign was the tariff. Benjamin Harrison advocated the Republican position in support of a high protectionist tariff, while Cleveland pushed for tariff reform. Poor campaigning dashed Cleveland's hopes of educating the public on the importance of tariff reform. Another significant issue was the treatment of Civil War veterans. Harrison argued for better treatment of veterans by the government and criticized Cleveland's veto of Civil War pension legislation.

Two of the major events in the election took place towards the end of the campaign. Buying votes was a relatively common practice in Indiana, and the treasurer of the Republican National Committee, W. W. Dudley, was accused of writing a letter to Republican field workers encouraging them to drive up the prices of votes to exhaust Democratic funds. A mail clerk found the letter and had it published, although the damage this did to Harrison's campaign is debatable. The second event was the publishing of the "Murchison Letter." Republican George Osgoodby wrote a letter, under the name Charles F. Murchison, to the British ambassador, Lord Lionel Sackville-West. In it, Murchison claimed to be a former British citizen who came to the United States and wanted advice on the 1888 election. The minister responded by endorsing Grover Cleveland; at a time when Anglophobia was on the rise, the news that Britain considered Cleveland a friend may have cost him a number of votes in the crucial state of New York, although the effect of the letter on the election is not certain.

In the end, Cleveland won the popular vote by a margin of more than 4,000 votes, but Harrison won the Electoral College vote 233 to 168, and thus the presidency. The next presidential election in 1892 was a rematch, and Cleveland defeated Harrison and reclaimed the presidency. He thus became the only President to serve nonconsecutive terms, winning the office once again after losing as the incumbent.

For more information, please visit the Grover Cleveland home page or Grover Cleveland key events.

Berlin Wall Falls–November 9, 1989

On November 9, 1989, East Germany fully opened its borders, including the imposing gate at the Berlin Wall. Thousands of Germans, from both East and West Germany, climbed over the wall and began to dismantle it with shovels and hammers. The jubilant scene illustrated the great changes taking place with the ending of the Cold War.

Since 1961, the Berlin Wall had stood as a symbolic barrier between the East and West, between communism and democracy: its fall reflected changing international relations. This episode, although memorable, was not the first or last in the relatively swift collapse of communism. Earlier in 1989, Hungary and Austria had opened their border. By spring of 1990, liberal political actors had wrested the governments of Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, and Romania from the hands of communist leaders.

The Soviet Union itself, for decades the most powerful adversary of the United States, had been undergoing fundamental political changes throughout the 1980s, shaking its communist foundations. Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev had worked to change the Soviet Union through the doctrines of perestoika (restructuring) and glasnost (opening). He had also worked with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush to thaw the Cold War.

By December 1991, the Soviet Union had dissolved and Gorbachev had resigned; the Commonwealth of Independent States had replaced the Soviet Union. Many conservative commentators have praised Reagan and Bush for substantially contributing to the fall of communism. These observers say that the tremendous military build-up of the 1980s forced the Soviet Union to spend scanty resources to keep up, which ultimately produced the instability that spelled its end. Others claim that internal developments in the Soviet Union-such as its unsuccessful war with Afghanistan and autonomous rebellions from within-are more to blame: high U.S. spending, they claim, only sapped resources from important domestic programs and meaningful diplomatic conversation.

It is unlikely that this debate will soon be resolved, but the basic triumph of democracy seems inarguable. President George H. W. Bush embraced the geopolitical upheaval cautiously, and he was criticized for failing to give the moment adequate meaning and communicating its import to the American public. However, the President responded cautiously to try to avoid a backlash by hard-liners in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, a stance that well-informed observers applauded.

The dismantling of the Berlin Wall was a poignant illustration of the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War. The world was then faced with restructuring the geopolitical balance that had been in place for more than forty years.

For more information, please visit the George Herbert Walker Bush home page or George Herbert Walker Bush key events.

U.S. Concludes Treaty with China–November 17, 1880

On November 17, 1880, the United States signed a treaty with China that gave the United States power to "regulate, limit, or suspend" but not completely prohibit Chinese immigration. The treaty also included a clause banning the opium trade and granted China trading privileges with the United States.

In 1868, the United States and China had signed the Burlingame Treaty, which secured unrestricted Chinese immigration to America. The United States had welcomed Chinese immigrants when the West Coast badly needed workers, and the labor those immigrants provided played a major role in the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. During the 1870s, however, economic woes and the Great Railroad Strike in 1877 had greatly agitated anti-Chinese sentiment in the West, and pressure on Congress to restrict Chinese immigration made the issue a bipartisan one.

Congress passed an exclusion act in 1878 that was designed to limit Chinese immigration by prohibiting any ships from carrying more than fifteen Chinese immigrants to the United States. Considering the law to be a violation of the Burlingame Treaty, President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed the measure. The President recognized, however, that support for immigration restrictions was considerable. Hayes later sent John T. Swift, W. H. Trescot, and James B. Angell to China to negotiate a new treaty.

China was under significant pressure at the time. Local reformers and European powers occupied the Chinese government's attention. In negotiations with the United States, the Chinese only objected to a complete prohibition of immigration. The treaty instead gave the United States the right to limit, but not completely prohibit, immigration. China also obtained a clause in the treaty that prohibited the opium trade.

President Hayes was no longer in office when the new treaty was ratified in1881. However, the agreement proved inadequate to satisfy West Coast demands. Pressure from the West Coast and labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor resulted in the passage of a Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 stipulating a twenty-year ban on immigration. After President Chester Arthur vetoed the measure, Congress passed a ten-year ban that received his approval.

For more information, please visit the Rutherford Birchard Hayes home page or Rutherford Birchard Hayes key events.

Jay Treaty Signed–November 19, 1794

On November 19, 1794, American statesman John Jay signed the Amity, Commerce, and Navigation Treaty with Britain. The treaty, now known as Jay's Treaty, was designed to resolve issues between the United States and Britain. Although the treaty left some important issues unresolved and its ratification divided politicians in the young federal government, it successfully allowed the United States to avoid war with its more powerful adversary, Britain.

In the 1790s, the United States was struggling to assert both its political and economic independence, and the new nation encountered difficulties in foreign relations when its two primary trading partners, Britain and France, went to war yet again. President George Washington sought to follow a policy of strict neutrality, allowing American merchants and ships to trade with both countries while aiding neither in their war efforts. Britain, however, confiscated many American ships and their cargoes, arguing that they aided the French war effort. British naval vessels also frequently impressed American sailors, forcing them to work on British ships. Britain, in addition, still barred American ships from participating in the lucrative West Indian trade, a policy it formulated during the American Revolution. The United States was also upset by Britain's refusal to evacuate its forts in the Great Lakes area, although it had agreed to do so in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

These British actions outraged many Americans. Attempting to keep the United States out of war, President Washington worked for a diplomatic solution. He sent John Jay, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to England in 1794 to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the issues. Jay concluded a treaty in which Britain promised to leave its forts in the Great Lakes region, agreed to arbitration for disputes over the Canadian border (one of the first instances of arbitration in diplomatic history), and gave American ships limited trading rights with British possessions in the East and West Indies. The treaty left unresolved, however, the issues of impressments and American neutrality.

Jay's Treaty still needed to earn Senate ratification - and a tough battle loomed. The ratification process, in which Federalists supported and Democrat-Republicans opposed the treaty, became bogged down in partisan differences, destroying what little remained of the consensus President Washington had tried to instill in the federal government. As a piece of diplomacy, Jay's Treaty was imperfect but still a success. The treaty did not secure everything the Americans wanted because it failed to deal with the impressment problem and American neutrality, and because it seemed to acquiesce to British supremacy on the seas. The treaty, however, did put off direct conflict between America and its much stronger rival, and it won the United States important territorial and trade concessions - no small feat for a new nation confronting a global power.

For more information, please visit the George Washington home page or George Washington key events.

Dayton Peace Accords Reached–November 21, 1995

On November 21, 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords were initialed in Dayton, Ohio; they were formally signed in Paris, France, on December 14, 1995. The agreement was reached between the warring nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia. It sought to end one of the worst European conflicts since World War II, a four-year struggle of hardship and atrocities that had claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people, and made refugees of more than two million.

President Bill Clinton's Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke led the negotiations and worked with the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia to reach acceptable terms. The details of the accords were cast in seductively simple and hopeful terms. Bosnia would remain a single state and would be granted international recognition. While its capital of Sarajevo avoided partitioning, the nation now consisted of two divided segments: the Bosnian Croat Federation, inhabiting 51 percent of the territory, and the Bosnian Serb Republic, occupying the remaining 49 percent. The accords also sought to create within Bosnia the institutions of a modern liberal democracy, including a central government composed of a constitutional court, a national parliament, and a presidency, with the latter two being filled by internationally supervised free elections. Military forces were to be substantially restrained, with protections for human rights coming from an independent body and an internationally-trained civilian police. President Clinton sent a peacekeeping force of 20,000 American troops (part of a larger NATO deployment) into the region to enforce a cease-fire that was to be followed by free elections.

While few would say that the Dayton Accords were not an important step toward peace in the former Yugoslavia, violence continued to haunt the region, especially in the neighboring province of Kosovo. Domestically, Republicans attacked President Clinton for keeping U.S. peacekeepers-forces that many Republicans labeled derisively as "nation-builders"-in the area long past the initial proposal of one year. Some fellow Democrats also attacked Clinton for failing to act with similar decisiveness and sympathy in the even more deadly conflict in the African nation of Rwanda.

For more information, please visit the Bill Clinton home page or Bill Clinton key events.

Kennedy Assassinated–November 22, 1963

On November 22, 1963, President John Kennedy was shot and killed while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

The President and First Lady had gone to Texas in an attempt to bolster Democratic support for his presidency in the South. While the President and First Lady were riding in a motorcade with Texas governor John Connally and his wife, the open limousine turned into Dealey Plaza and gunshots rang out. Kennedy, shot in the neck and the head, was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital. A short time later, President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead. With a blood-stained Jacquelyn Kennedy at his side, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States.

The search for Kennedy's assassin began immediately. The police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald in a nearby movie theater. Witnesses had identified shots coming from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald worked. Oswald, however, was never tried for the crime. Two days later, Jack Ruby, a Dallas businessman and nightclub owner, shot Oswald dead in the basement of the Dallas police station as he was being transfered to a jail. This strange turn of events quickly cast doubt about who had perpetrated the assassination. President Johnson appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to head a commission to investigate the incident. In less than a year, the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald, working alone, was guilty of the act. Many Americans remain unsatisfied with this simple explanation for such a horrific event.

Kennedy's death proved to be a political asset for the legislatively astute Johnson. "Let us continue," Johnson told Congress and the American people echoing Kennedy's inaugural address. Framing his programs as a way of fulfilling Kennedy's legacy, Johnson passed the most significant civil rights legislation in American history. Still, for a whole generation of Americans, Kennedy's death would symbolize an end of a time of innocence and the beginning of a turbulent period in American history.

For more information, please visit the John Fitzgerald Kennedy home page or John Fitzgerald Kennedy key events.

Harding Signs Sheppard-Towner Act–November 23, 1921

On November 23, 1921, President Warren Harding signed the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act, which contributed matching federal funds to states to establish and run prenatal and child health care centers. Although it was not a strong act, it was still a significant move by the federal government toward providing public health care to mothers and infants.

Reformers had sought similar legislation since 1917, but it was not until 1921 that a number of factors combined to push it through. In 1912, President William Taft established the Children's Bureau, which began a nationwide investigation of maternal and infant mortality rates. The agency soon discovered that nearly 80 percent of U.S. women did not receive proper prenatal care-a fact starkly illustrated during World War I when thousands of men failed to pass their physicals due to afflictions stemming from inadequate medical care as children. Indeed, while the Bureau found a correlation between economic level and mortality rates, the mortality rates at all income levels were much higher in the United States than in other industrialized nations.

While the Bureau's findings clearly demonstrated the existence of a severe problem, there was little agreement on how to solve it. The few existing state-run child welfare clinics had proven effective at reducing infant mortality and bettering overall health, and many groups sought to duplicate this model on a national scale. Others, most notably the American Medical Association (AMA), were hesitant to accept a widening of federal involvement in medical care. The AMA was wary of government encroachment on their autonomy as medical professionals and criticized the act as neo-socialist. These reservations succeeded in blocking the passage of such legislation as early as 1918.

With the enactment of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 granting women the right to vote, however, political power shifted dramatically. Women had long been the leading voices of reform in various areas of social welfare, especially in regards to child and maternal health care. President Harding responded to this newly created constituency by actively supporting the passage of Sheppard-Towner as well as appointing women to high posts within his administration. The legislation itself proved to be temporary, however. Underfinanced from the beginning, the AMA-led campaign against Sheppard-Towner finally succeeded in 1929 when Congress did not renew its funding.

For more information, please visit the Warren Gamaliel Harding home page or Warren Gamaliel Harding key events.

Roosevelt Attends the Tehran Conference–November 28, 1943

On November 28, President Franklin Roosevelt attended the first day of a conference in Tehran, Iran, with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It was the first meeting of the three leaders together.

At the Tehran Conference, the three leaders discussed World War II and post-war plans. They decided on the Allied invasion into Europe to open a second European front, and Stalin agreed to launch a major offensive on Eastern front at the same time. They also discussed the Pacific Theater of the war, and Stalin pledged that Russia would join the fight against Japan once the war against Germany was completed. The leaders also touched on the status of Poland and the Baltic nations.

The conference ran until December 1, 1943. At the end of the meetings, the "Big Three," as they became known, issued a joint declaration. In it, they pledged their support to one another and noted that they had reached an agreement for the military operations against Germany. They concluded the declaration by stating: "We came here with hope and determination. We leave here, friends in fact, in spirit, and in purpose."

To read the Tehran Declaration, issued on December 1, 1943, click here.

For more information, please visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt home page or Franklin Delano Roosevelt key events.

Monroe Doctrine Announced–December 2, 1823

On December 2, 1823, President James Monroe formally articulated a foreign policy position that became known as the "Monroe Doctrine." Although it only occupied three paragraphs in the President's annual address to Congress, the Monroe Doctrine was one of the most influential foreign policy statements made by an American President and it remained a touchstone of American foreign policy into the twentieth century.

During much of Monroe's administration, Spanish colonies in Latin America had broken free from the colonial power. When rumors began to circulate that Spain was going to try to reclaim her colonies with the help of her allies, the United States grew alarmed. By November 1823, President Monroe had decided that the United States needed to issue a unilateral declaration in response to the prospect of the Spanish monarchy attempting to recover its colonial empire in the Americas. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams was primarily responsible for the ideas and content concerning foreign policy in Monroe's annual address.

The Monroe Doctrine contained several important, and previously unarticulated, ideas. Monroe first reiterated the traditional U.S. policy of neutrality with regard to European wars and conflicts. He then made it clear that the Americas were not open to recolonization nor were they to be the site of future European colonization. Finally he argued that the Western Hemisphere was a distinct political sphere from that on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The New World was a realm of republicanism, the Old World a realm of monarchy. Political affinities meant that the Americas had a separate and distinct set of interests from Europe. The European powers should not attempt to impose their form of government in the Americas, and the United States would, in turn, not involve itself in European politics. Furthermore, Monroe's message argued, the European powers should not attempt to turn American republics to serve their interests. These were known, respectively, as the principles of "non-interference" and "non-extension" - Europe should not interfere in American government (and vice versa), nor should it attempt to extend its alliances and "balance of power" politics into the Americas.

The principles of the Monroe Doctrine met with a positive reception in Congress and with the general population. While popular at the time, the Monroe Doctrine acquired greater significance with the passage of time. Presidents invoked the Monroe Doctrine in order to justify a number of actions, whether to limit the influence of a European power in Latin America, or to attempt to affect political outcomes within the Latin American states themselves. This has been true of nineteenth-century Presidents, such as James Polk, and twentieth-century Presidents, notably Theodore Roosevelt. Although conceived as a response to a contemporary crisis, the Monroe Doctrine, reinterpreted by subsequent generations, proved to be a durable statement of the ideology and principles underlying American foreign policy.

To read the full text of President Monroe's Seventh Annual Message to Congress, click here.

For more information, please visit the James Monroe home page or James Monroe key events.

U.S. Capital Moves to Philadelphia–December 6, 1790

On December 6, 1790, the United States Capital officially moved from New York City to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The capital remained in Philadelphia until 1800 when it permanently settled in Washington, D.C.

The United States government spent its first year (1789-1790) under the Constitution in the city of New York. During much of the preceding confederation period (1776-1787), however, Congress had resided in Philadelphia. Upon the formation of a new national government under the Constitution, the city campaigned vigorously for the federal government to return. While Congress chose to establish the nation's capital along the Potomac River in the District of Columbia, it also rewarded Philadelphia; it chose the Pennsylvania city to house the federal government until 1800 while its offices in Washington were under construction.

Arriving in time for the December 1790 session, Congress moved into Philadelphia's county courthouse, Congress Hall. These quarters quickly proved too small, and in 1793 the building had to be enlarged. The Supreme Court met in the mayor's courtroom in Philadelphia's city hall, and President George Washington moved into the former home of a local politician. As part of its improvement program, Pennsylvania offered to build Washington a presidential mansion. Washington, however, feared the city would use the residence in a bid to keep the capital in Philadelphia permanently. He also worried that living in grandeur would send the wrong message to Americans and the world about the nature of the new American republic. When Pennsylvania built the mansion anyway, Washington refused to live in it.

The initial adjustment period proved somewhat chaotic as legislators searched for housing in a city rapidly filling with tailors, barbers, shoemakers, and other entrepreneurs who hoped to capitalize on the presence of the federal government. Prices rose accordingly with the increased demand for goods and services, and many congressmen bemoaned the higher cost of living. The profusion of balls, dinners, dances, public lectures, musical performances, and theater spurred by the federal presence created a rich cultural environment. President Washington's weekly reception for politicians and foreign diplomats and Martha Washington's Friday evening soirées commanded the highest priority in the city's social scene. Washington's careful cultivation of public esteem and deference in Philadelphia enhanced his image as a national symbol and fostered the growth of American nationalism. In an era when most Americans looked to Congress as the primary branch of government, Washington's public persona in Philadelphia helped to elevate the stature of the presidency and solidify its importance in the American political system.

For more information, please visit the George Washington home page or George Washington key events.

Pearl Harbor Attacked–December 7, 1941

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack against the United States at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. After the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States quickly entered World War II, declaring war against Japan the next day.

After Japan attacked China in 1937, the United States worked with other Western nations to try to contain and isolate Japan economically and politically although it had not yet entered World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt thought this strategy would let him deal with what he saw as the more pressing German problem. He also knew that it would be difficult for the United States to prepare for and fight wars simultaneously in Asia and Europe.

The strategy, however, turned out to have significant drawbacks. By isolating Japan, the United States and its allies exacerbated Japan's fears of being denied access to the resources it needed to prosecute its war in China. By the summer of 1941, Japan's leaders felt increasingly hemmed in by a coalition of America, Britain, China, and the Dutch (the ABCD powers) and adopted overtly aggressive foreign and military policies. The Japanese planned the Pearl Harbor attack in the hopes of destroying the U.S. Naval Fleet in the Pacific to prevent it from hindering Japanese advances in Asia.

The attack on Pearl Harbor began shortly before 8 o'clock in the morning on December 7 when Japanese planes and submarines began bombing the naval base. The attack lasted little more than two hours, and the Japanese sunk or badly damaged eight battleships, thirteen other naval vessels, and more than 150 planes. The attack killed 2,400 soldiers, sailors, and civilians, and wounded nearly 1,200 others.

The next day, President Roosevelt appeared before a special joint session of Congress. He called December 7 "a date which will live in infamy," and asked for a declaration of war against Japan, which Congress supported. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States had finally entered World War II as a participant, following several years as an interested and active bystander. The country would never be the same.

To read President Roosevelt's Address to Congress Requesting a Declaration of War on December 8, 1941, click here.

For more information, please visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt home page or Franklin Delano Roosevelt key events.

Clinton Signs NAFTA–December 8, 1993

On December 8, 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which eliminated nearly every trade barrier between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, creating the world's largest free trade zone. The House of Representatives approved NAFTA on November 17, 1993, by a vote of 234 to 200. Remarkably the agreement's supporters included 132 Republicans and only 102 Democrats. That unusual combination reflected the challenges President Clinton faced in convincing Congress that the controversial piece of legislation would truly benefit all Americans.

President George H.W. Bush was NAFTA's original sponsor, signing the deal on December 17, 1992. The trade agreement ended tariffs between Mexico, America, and the United States, and set a 15-year timetable for the elimination of most other impediments to international investment and commerce between the three nations. Like many Republicans, President Bush believed that open economic borders between nations would benefit all concerned. Ideally, as production rose to meet the new demand for American exports, jobs, wages, and the economy as a whole would improve. However, securing Congressional approval fell to the newly elected President Bill Clinton. It was not an easy task.

Labor leaders were skeptical of NAFTA's promises. They believed that American corporations would flee the United States in order to profit from much lower Mexican labor costs and the new absence of tariffs. Presidential candidate Ross Perot spoke to those concerns when he famously predicted a giant "sucking sound" as U.S. jobs were lost to America's southern neighbor. The fears of labor—traditionally one of the strongest components of the Democratic coalition—helped explain why passage of NAFTA proved so difficult.

President Clinton and key members of his administration worked tirelessly to assuage the fears of key House Democrats. The President inserted limits on agricultural imports to minimize the negative effects of competition on produce. He also created a North American Development Bank in order to assist development along the Mexican border and show sympathy with the concerns of Hispanic Representatives. Clinton was willing to risk alienating American labor to some degree because he was convinced that long-term prosperity depended on free trade between nations, and because he felt that his administration needed an important, visible early win to generate momentum and credibility. NAFTA amounted to an administration victory, but many still regarded it as a net loss for American labor and the environment, which they claimed suffered in the absence of adequate Mexican regulations.

For more information, please visit the Bill Clinton home page or Bill Clinton key events.

Jackson Issues Nullification Proclamation–December 10, 1832

On December 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued the Nullification Proclamation, which stated that states and municipalities are forbidden from nullifying federal laws. He also threatened to enforce the proclamation with the use of federal arms. Although congressional compromise soon defused the situation, Jackson's proclamation made it clear that he believed the federal government was the supreme power in the United States and he was willing to use the military to ensure its supremacy.

The debate over the issue of nullification actually began before Andrew Jackson took office. The passage of highly protectionist Tariff of 1828 upset many South Carolinians. They felt that tariffs on foreign manufactured goods, designed to protect the United States' infant manufacturing sector, hurt them disproportionately, since they sold their cotton on the world market and could more profitably buy manufactured goods from abroad. Since only a small number of states in the lower South shared the South Carolina viewpoint, there was little prospect of repealing the offending tariff.

Believing the tariff to be unconstitutional, South Carolinians articulated a route by which they themselves could declare a law unconstitutional. The view was put forward in an essay entitled, "An Exposition and Protest," which was written by John C. Calhoun, but published anonymously. The essay argued that since the federal Constitution was a compact between the states, the states had the ability to declare laws unconstitutional. If a state did this, Calhoun argued, then the proper course of action was for the federal government to reconsider the law. Under Calhoun's plan, a nullified law would have to be re-approved by a two-thirds vote in Congress and a three-fourths vote in the state legislatures, then the nullifying state would have the option of acquiescing or seceding. Few beyond South Carolina found the arguments in the "Exposition and Protest" persuasive.

The question lay dormant until 1832. Congress passed another tariff, this one also protectionist in nature. Although Calhoun was vice president, he could not prevent Andrew Jackson from signing the bill into law. When the Democratic Party replaced Calhoun with Martin Van Buren as the vice-presidential candidate for the 1832 election, Calhoun felt that he had nothing to lose by challenging the law. Calhoun resigned as vice president, and the South Carolina legislature promptly chose him to be a senator. The legislature also called for the selection of a state constitutional convention. Meeting in November 1832, the state convention ruled the 1828 and 1832 federal tariffs to be unconstitutional and promptly nullified them. The convention also ruled that effective February 1, 1833, the federal government would no longer be able to collect the tariff revenues within the borders of South Carolina. South Carolina's actions shocked the United States as a whole and infuriated President Jackson. While Jackson was a fervent supporter of state sovereignty, he felt that South Carolina was taking the states' rights position to extremes and undermining the structure of the federal Union and the Constitution itself. Jackson issued a proclamation on December 10, 1832 disavowing the doctrine of nullification. He declared that the Constitution created a single government for all Americans and that secession was illegal. He regarded as treason any act of violence designed to aid and abet secession. Jackson also proposed that Congress pass a Force Bill, which would allow him as President to collect the tariff by force, if necessary.

While Jackson spoiled for a fight, leaders in Congress attempted to work out a compromise. New York Congressman Gulian Verpalnck proposed a reduced tariff, but it failed to win majority support. Senator Henry Clay then proposed what became known as the "Compromise Tariff." This tariff would maintain protection, but its rates would decrease every year, until the protective tariff itself was totally eliminated by 1842. This proposal was acceptable to a majority in Congress and to South Carolina. Congress passed both the Compromise Tariff and the Force Bill, and Jackson signed them both into law on March 2, 1833. South Carolina rescinded its nullification of the tariffs (but then nullified the Force Bill as an act of principle), and the crisis was over.

The Nullification Crisis is interesting to historians for several reasons. It provides evidence into the nature of Andrew Jackson's political and constitutional thinking. While Jackson believed in a strict construction of the Constitution and in states' rights, he believed that when the Constitution had delegated power to the federal government, the federal government had to be supreme. Jackson also valued the Union and was not willing to see it compromised or to let it disintegrate. The Nullification Crisis also revealed the depths of alienation which existed among the cotton planters of the Deep South as early as the 1830s. This alienation did not go away, nor did the desire to seek to formulate a constitutional construction that could alleviate planter grievances - namely, economic domination by northern commercial interests and the fear that the federal government might tamper with the institution of slavery. In many ways, the Nullification Crisis was a rehearsal for the political and constitutional crisis of the 1850s that would culminate in the American Civil War.

For more information, please visit the Andrew Jackson home page or Andrew Jackson key events.

Great White Fleet Sails–December 16, 1907

On December 16, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt assembled the entire class of sixteen American battleships in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and launched them on a training cruise around the world. Labeled the "Great White Fleet," in reference to the ships' new coat of white paint, the fleet visited Japan and China, passed through the Suez Canal, and called at several Mediterranean ports. Roosevelt scheduled the fleet to return to Hampton Roads on February 22, 1909, ten days before he left office. The President intended the voyage to be the glorious capstone to his administration's accomplishments.

As President, Roosevelt had built the U.S. Navy into one of the largest in the world, by convincing Congress to add battleships to the fleet and increase the number of enlisted men. He had many reasons for sending the fleet on a worldwide tour. Roosevelt wanted to allow the Navy to gain the experience of an international tour and to draw attention to his naval program. He hoped the impressive show of naval strength and prowess would rally congressional support. He also wanted to impress other countries around the world with U.S. naval power. American relations with Japan had soured greatly in 1906 after the San Francisco public school board voted to segregate Japanese immigrant children; at the same time, Californian politicians lobbied for Washington to restrict Japanese entry into the country. Roosevelt hoped the Great White Fleet's arrival in Japan would signify his desire for continued friendly relations, and yet he also sought to remind the Japanese of America's ascendant naval might. Japanese crowds cheered the fleet upon its arrival in Tokyo Harbor.

The Great White Fleet also announced to the world the growing global reach of American military power, especially its new and modern navy. In this way, Roosevelt used the fleet to represent what he saw as America's arrival as a great nation on the world stage. A devotee of naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, who equated international power with naval might, Roosevelt supported new battleship construction, the modernization of ship armaments, and the adoption of new marksmanship techniques. In doing so, he greatly expanded the reach of American power-a process his predecessor, President William McKinley, began in earnest.

For more information, please visit the Theodore Roosevelt home page or Theodore Roosevelt key events.

House Impeaches Clinton–December 19, 1998

On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The House of Representatives, which is responsible for instigating impeachment proceedings, originally considered four articles of impeachment, but declined to charge the President with one count of perjury and abuse of power. That impeachment proceeded on two grounds rather than four did not testify to a bastion of GOP support in the House, for Republican Representatives had staunchly refused a Democratic plea simply to censure the President for reprehensible behavior. Clinton had wait through two agonizing months as the Senate received the case from the House, took testimony, and debated whether or not he could continue as President.

The nation, too, was engaged in a furious debate over impeachment. Republicans and their conservative supporters felt that they were taking a stand for morality and integrity. The President's predicament flowed from an affair with the former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and his efforts to conceal the moral lapse from lawyers in the Paula Jones case, the public, and apparently even his family. The presidency was not only a position of legal and military leadership, Clinton's adversaries argued, it was a uniquely visible symbol of America, and as such carried weighty responsibilities of moral leadership. Democrats and their liberal supporters argued that impeachment was intended to remove Presidents who clearly abused their power as Presidents, for misdeeds like treason or using office to harm opponents. They alleged that Republicans were bent on a destructive and hypocritical "sexual McCarthyism," policing what people did in private intimate relations, although some prominent Republican and conservative leaders had themselves committed affairs.

The Senate acquitted President Clinton on February 12, 1999. Afterwards, Clinton apologized to the nation for the ordeal and hoped that the country could return to the business at hand. Answering a reporter, who asked whether Clinton could in his heart forgive and forget the actions of those who had tried to remove him from office, the President offered a conciliatory response: "I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it."

For more information, please visit the Bill Clinton home page or Bill Clinton key events.

South Carolina Secedes–December 20, 1860

On December 20, 1860, a secession convention called by the South Carolina legislature voted unanimously, 169-0, to secede from the United States. After the election of Abraham Lincoln on November 6, 1860, South Carolinians perceived a threat to their slave system that Congressional compromise could not pacify. One South Carolina writer observed, "the Secessionist Party of 1860 is literally and emphatically the State itself."

The secession movement in South Carolina was explosive. Leaders mobilized citizens and held torch light processions. Fiery speeches by prominent Carolinians complemented the fireworks and rockets that were set off. While many Unionists in the upper South attempted compromise, South Carolina politicians fanned the flames of "popular excitement" over secession. On November 10, South Carolina senator James Chesnut resigned, followed by Senator James H. Hammond. Governor William H. Gist called for ten thousand volunteers to form a militia. Some South Carolinians were hesitant that the Palmetto State was acting too swiftly and might be isolated. It soon became clear that six other Southern states, including Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, would each hold secession conventions. Few who supported secession in South Carolina hesitated to act. Francis W. Pickens, who became South Carolina's new governor in December, announced the state's secession on December 24.

In his annual message to Congress, President James Buchanan repudiated any state's right to secede but blamed the South Carolina secession movement on the "long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery." Buchanan tried diplomacy to keep South Carolina from seceding. The two sides could not reach an agreement. On December 26, Buchanan ordered Major Robert Anderson to move from Fort Moultrie to the more isolated Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. South Carolina forces moved into Moultrie and other federal installations. On January 5, 1861, Carolinians fired on a ship sent to re-supply Fort Sumter, but Buchanan refused to respond with force. Buchanan deferred to Congress, which refused to authorize military action. The President gratefully acquiesced. Unless attacked or starved, he would leave the Fort Sumter situation to President-elect Abraham Lincoln.

Many Southerners in Buchanan's cabinet resigned, and his administration was thrown into disarray. Hasty cabinet replacements were no help, and the administration fell apart. Buchanan's indecisiveness and willingness to compromise with the secessionists appalled Northerners, and South Carolina's example encouraged more states to rise. When Buchanan took office, there were thirty-two states in the Union; when he left there were only twenty-five.

For more information, please visit the James Buchanan home page or James Buchanan key events.

Federal Reserve Act Signed–December 23, 1913

On December 23, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law. The act created a Federal Reserve System, comprised of a Federal Reserve Board, twelve regional reserve banks, and the underpinnings of a smooth central banking system. It was the most comprehensive overhaul of the nation's banking system since the Civil War and represented one of the crowning achievements of President Wilson's New Freedom program. It helped to safeguard America's financial institutions, the American economy, and the supply of U.S. currency, and it created a new system that allowed a level of governmental control of the monetary supply that was unprecedented in American history. The Federal Reserve Act still provides the framework for regulating the nation's banks, credit, and money supply even today.

Wilson began to craft his monetary system soon after his election in 1912. He met with House Banking Committee Chairman E.C. Glass in December to discuss a variety of banking system plans emerging in Congress. Glass, a conservative Democrat from Virginia, favored a decentralized private system. Wilson remained wary of such a proposal and convinced Glass to consider drafting a plan that included privately controlled regional reserve banks that answered to a central government board with a minority representation for private bankers. Glass's plan contrasted with a competing Senate bill, drafted by progressive Oklahoma senator Robert Owen, which erected a system of reserve banks under direct governmental control. Progressives rallied to Owen's proposal and recoiled from Glass's privatization scheme as a system that would leave Americans at the mercy of Wall Street.

Wilson conferred with Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo and adviser Louis Brandeis on the proposals making their way through Congress. In a meeting on June 11, 1913, Brandeis pushed the President to support governmental control of the banking and currency systpem of the nation as progressives had proposed. He also convinced the President to leave private bankers off the proposed Federal Reserve Board. After his meeting with Brandeis, Wilson urged Glass to revise his bill. The President addressed Congress on June 22 to push forward banking reform, which he claimed must remain a government responsibility. After a bruising six-month debate in Congress, the progressives' version of the Federal Reserve Act passed Congress on December 19, and Wilson signed it December 23, 1913.

The Federal Reserve Act established a system of twelve districts that each housed a Reserve bank. It also required national banks to join the federal system and contribute six percent of their capital to the system. State banks and trust companies could also join the system. Federal Reserve banks issued notes to member banks with the amount of currency issued regulated by a central Federal Reserve Board in Washington, DC. This board was comprised of the secretary of the treasury, the comptroller of currency, and six other presidential appointees. The act allowed a more flexible system of currency distribution that could respond to economic conditions unique to a given region or that impacted the entire nation. The flexibility of the system benefited both farm and business interests.

For more information, please visit the Woodrow Wilson home page or Woodrow Wilson key events.

Gadsden Purchase Treaty Signed–December 30, 1853

On December 30, 1853, the Gadsden Purchase Treaty was signed, giving the United States approximately 45,000 square miles of northern Mexico. President Franklin Pierce and his Secretary of State Jefferson Davis wanted the land - which now comprises New Mexico and a quarter of southern Arizona - for a proposed southern transcontinental railroad. Pierce appointed South Carolinian railroad promoter James Gadsden as American minister to Mexico and charged him with negotiating a treaty with President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of Mexico. After a few false starts, Gadsden and Santa Anna agreed on a treaty in which the United States would purchase 55,000 square miles for $15 million dollars. In addition, the treaty resolved outstanding differences between the two nations regarding the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican War.

The Gadsden Purchase aroused significant opposition at home, especially during the debate over Senate ratification. Antislavery politicians charged that the treaty was actually an effort to expand slavery. Railroad promoters seeking a northern transcontinental railroad objected to the purchase for it seemed to insure the demise of their favored project. These protests were to no avail, however. On April 25, 1854, the Senate ratified the treaty but reduced the land grant and cut the payment to $10 million dollars. In June, the House passed an appropriations bill, and the treaty went into effect.

The Gadsden Purchase was an important but limited victory for President Pierce. His administration obtained a sizable amount of land without war and settled international problems resulting from the Mexican War. Pierce's southern allies acquired the land they needed to build a southern railroad route to the Pacific. However, Pierce's victory came at a price. As the treaty's ratification debate demonstrated, the Gadsden Purchase inflamed sectional tensions over the expansion of slavery. This issue was a recurring problem for the Pierce Administration - and one it failed to solve.

For more information, please visit the Franklin Pierce home page or Franklin Pierce key events.

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