History Monday #82

Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye

Normally when an organism goes the way of the dodo it’s a sad day in history. However, today’s #HistoryMonday features an organism that nobody will miss thanks to its dangerous effects on humans for centuries until it met its own mortality.

Scientists reading news of the eradication of the smallpox virus

On this day in 1979, a commission of scientists issued a statement of their findings that smallpox had been eradicated. The disease’s last naturally occurring case was diagnosed just two years earlier, which prompted the scientists’ announcement.

Smallpox or some form of the disease existed for much of human history extending from BCE to the Common Era. The virus is caused by one of two variants, Variola major or Variola minior. The virus was responsible for nearly a 30 percent risk of fatality for those infected. Smallpox is the only infectious disease afflicting humans that has officially been eradicated.

Prevention of the disease began late in the 16th Century in China which utilized inoculation. This technique would eventually spread to the West during the 18th Century and is credited for the Continental Army’s survival during the harsh winter at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. Inoculation involves usage of a weak strain of the virus being introduced to patients to trigger the immune system to create antibodies and establish immunity to the disease.

Eventually, vaccines that used a similar disease that affected cattle but was safe for humans helped the eradication of the Smallpox virus. By using this vaccine along with many other vaccines in the middle of the 20th Century by government intervention, many dangerous diseases have been kept in check.

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The use of mass vaccination from the smallpox virus led to modern societies developing a near-natural immunity to the virus. Yet, tribes who have resisted outside contact would likely be susceptible to the virus as observed during the Colonial period in the Americas and Oceania.

Smallpox was at least a passive actor in helping Europeans to conquer Native American populations in the Americas as there is anecdotal and scientific evidence that the Native tribes had no prior history with the virus.

Historical accounts differ, but intentional use of smallpox scabs and infected materials being used by Europeans against native peoples has given the idea of using remaining strains of the disease as modes of biological warfare. After the last few cases of smallpox were discovered, the World Health Organization (WHO) ordered the remaining supplies of the virus be stored at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) of Russia. The WHO has attempted to install safeguards to keep the virus from being used for military purposes. Although some anti-biological warfare advocates suggest that all remaining strains be destroyed so nobody can use it for evil.

Other scientists working in epidemiology have demonstrated that similar viruses can be modified to affect humans like the smallpox virus but did so as part of an effort to research the history of the virus and create new vaccines.

Anti-vaccination efforts by concerned parents are also a concern if the disease’s is reactivated as well. If nefarious agents find ways to use the virus or a similar specimen as a biological weapon unvaccinated children and adults would be susceptible. This is why the supervision and restrictions from the WHO or CDC are important in keeping the virus in check.

Should the WHO destroy all the remaining smallpox strains?

History Monday #44

Hi-Ho-the-dairy-o the POTUS stands alone

“Andrew Jackson, in the main foyer of his White House had a big block of cheese.” This statement uttered by Leo McGarry in Season 1 of The West Wing promises a new initiative the White House would be pursuing, but it’s also a good lead-in to today’s #HistoryMonday.
 
Supporters of Pres. Andrew Jackson eating from a large wheel of cheese during an inauguration open house
 
On this day in 1829, Pres. Andrew Jackson during his inauguration continued a tradition begun by Pres. Thomas Jefferson and hosted an open house at the White House. After his swearing-in ceremony and address to Congress, President Jackson returned to the White House to welcome an enthusiastic crowd of more than 20,000 supporters. To mark the occasion, a large wheel of cheese was delivered to the White House. A large wheel of cheese was previously sent to the White House during Pres. Jefferson’s inauguration. Pres. Jackson and his supporters enjoyed competition, so the wheel of cheese at Pres. Jackson’s inauguration dwarfed the cheese of Pres. Jefferson. Besides the cheese, several large tubs of whiskey, wine, and cider were present. Not surprisingly, the cheese was consumed by all the guests in two hours.
 
Pres. Jackson could be termed a populist president who aligned himself to the whims of the people. The rise of the Populist Party would be in its heyday some sixty to seventy years after Pres. Jackson. Following a populist strategy, Pres. Jackson encouraged visitors to the White House, opening his doors to those who wanted to bend his ear about their concerns.
 
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This practice of an open house at the White House after presidential inaugurations stopped in the late 19th Century due to concerns over assassination attempts. Pres. Jackson’s inauguration open house was notorious thanks to guests destroying the furnishings and serving ware but harming the President is even worse.
 
The end of the open house celebration opened the door for the inauguration parade as well as the inauguration balls that include only invited guests who have passed several layers of security clearance to come in contact with the president.
 
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, The West Wing honored this practice in Season 1. They would again continue the practice during Season 2. Both episodes included the senior staff members meeting with special interest groups and individuals who may get overlooked by politicians. These two episodes served as the basis for Pres. Obama’s own Big Block of Cheese Day in 2014 and 2015. Senior officials for Pres. Obama allowed users on various social media platforms to ask them pertinent questions that may have previously been overlooked. So for as much as I take issue with Pres. Obama’s practices, as a fan of The West Wing I will give him credit for this.
 
Have you ever heard of Big Block of Cheese Day?

History Monday #43

In addition to my birthday, it’s also an important day in Black History Month

Today is a bonus for historical events on this day for #HistoryMonday. First, from a purely self-indulgent point of view I was born on this day 34 years ago. Of course, I view this as significant but I know other far-reaching events are more worthy of mention. As part of Black History Month, it is worth celebrating Hiram Rhodes Revels on this day.
 
In Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi, is sworn into the U.S. Senate, becoming the first African American Senator to serve in the Congress. Sen. Revels was sworn in two days after Mississippi was readmitted to statehood in the Union after Secession.
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Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels
On January 20, 1870, the Mississippi legislature elected Revels to fill the Senate seat once held by Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. The swearing in ceremony was the last step in the election process.
 
Revels attended Beech Grove Quaker Seminary in Indiana and Darke County Seminary in Ohio in 1844. Although his education was incomplete, he was ordained into the African Methodist Episcopal Church, at Allen Chapel, Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1845. Worth mentioning, the Church still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I first remember learning about Revels and his connection to Allen Chapel while in African-American Studies class at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Props to Rev. Terry Clark and his approach to teaching African-American Studies.
 
Revels was appointed to preach to congregations after his stint in Terre Haute. Revels made stops in Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee as a pastor. Revels was arrested and imprisoned in Missouri in 1854, “for preaching to negroes.”
 
Revels spent much of the Civil War helping form African American army regiments for the Union cause. He also plied his trade as a chaplain for the Union army given his theological training. After the War ended, Revels was assigned to Mississippi and became active in Reconstruction-era Southern politics.
 
Revels served one year in the Senate and accepted a position as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University), a historically black college located in Mississippi.
 
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Sen. Revels along with other African-Americans during the Reconstruction Era were able to make progress in the House and Senate but never came close to proportional representation compared to the percentage of African-American population determined by census records. African-Americans elected to Congress in the South during the early days of the Ku Klux Klan and poll taxes was still counter to the culture. A few years after Sen. Revels left for Alcorn State University, Blanche Bruce became the first African-American Senator to serve a full term. Sen. Bruce was also from Mississippi. While many of us may consider The Magnolia State as lagging in terms of race relations, at one point it was a leader in positive race relations.
 
Even in modern times, only 10 African-Americans have served in the Senate—6 Democrat & 4 Republican. Included in this list of Senators is Pres. Obama and 2020 Presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. The House has had some more success than the Senate with 153 members.
Have you ever heard about Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels?

History Monday #25

Today in 1812, Southern Indiana falls victim to hostility from local Native Americans.

It’s time for #HistoryMonday once again, and today’s topic makes me nostalgic for my 4th and 8th grade social studies classes. For those unfamiliar, Indiana Department of Education requires that students in those grades study Indiana history as part of the social studies curriculum. Admittedly, I don’t remember learning about today’s event though.

On this day in 1812, several Native Americans comprised mostly of the Shawnee tribe attacked settlers in the Indiana Territory at a town known as Pigeon Roost. The town consisted of several houses near the current town of Underwood in Clark County. The town was named for its prevalence of passenger pigeons. This extinct species of pigeon is also the basis for the naming of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

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The settlers of Pigeon Roost were technically living in land not legally available until the passage of the Northwest Ordinance. Early American politicians didn’t enforce the legality of the settlement but warned that without official deeds there wouldn’t be guarantee of safety from unfriendly Native Americans and their British allies.

The war party killed many members of the Elias Payne family, and then moved on to kill members of the Collings family. William Collings is alleged to have killed four of the Native American raiders before escaping to the Zebulon Colling’s blockhouse. Mrs. John Biggs, sister of William Collings managed to escape the raiders too, but unfortunately lost a young child who suffocated after Mrs. Biggs stuffed a shawl around his mouth to muffle his whimpers to prevent the raiders from discovering the family’s whereabouts.

As news of the massacre spread, a militia from Charlestown was dispatched to deal with the Native American raiders. The war party escaped before the militia reached their position. Members of the Indiana Rangers, a mounted militia responsible for protecting white settlers from Native American attacks eventually met up with the war party near Bartholomew County and clashed with the war party, sending the Native Americans back to their homes. The Rangers did suffer a casualty, John Zink.

The leader of the raid was believed to be a Shawnee, Missilemotaw.  He claimed to be a confidant of notorious chief Tecumseh, who waged many more raids and battles with Indiana settlers in the pre-statehood era.

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As far as the impact of what this raid means today, there have been no Native American attacks lately. It’s worth noting that the Pigeon Roost Massacre was the first Indian attack in Indiana during the War of 1812. Missilemotaw confessed upon his capture that the Pigeon Roost Massacre was aided by British forces who hoped to cripple the young United States in the War of 1812.

Today, there exists a memorial placed near the site in 1904. The memorial is an obelisk [Washington Monument-style shape] carved from Bedford limestone and stands 44’ tall. It is dedicated to the memory of the 2 dozen settlers who perished in the massacre. Some 25 years after the memorial was dedicated, Indiana declared the area a state historic site. In 2004, Indiana placed a historical marker along US Route 31 near the site to help tourists find the memorial.

There is also a replica cabin and picnic shelter built in the area. The picnic shelter is host to an annual picnic of the surviving descendants on the Sunday following Labor Day. So, if you’re inclined or can prove your ancestry try to show up and enjoy the food and fellowship.

History Monday #13

On this day in 1787, delegates from the first 13 states began to arrive for what would become a significant gathering.

Time for another installment of History Monday. I’m particularly excited about today’s topic, hopefully it’ll be exciting for you too.

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On this day, 231 years ago delegates from the fledgling United States of America began gathering at a convention in Philadelphia to discuss what might be done to more effectively govern the young nation going forward.

Obviously, this was no easy task. Hardly any delegate would have any illusion that the effort would be easy or imagine where they might end up. Eventually when the full quorum of all the delegates arrived on May 25, the convention would have their answer.

The United States had been able for at least 2-3 years with minimal issues after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 that ended the American Revolution. The United States was able to exist independently as a nation with the organizing document we know as the Articles of Confederation. This agreement provided for the states to cooperate in faith with one another and hopefully avoid legal disputes between the individual states.

The convention had been scheduled eight months prior at a meeting of leaders in Annapolis.  Incidents that precipitated both this pre-meeting in Annapolis and the eventual Constitutional Convention include a dispute between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River, Rhode Island taxing postal carriers on the Boston Post Road, and the Shays’ Rebellion. The Articles of Confederation were assembled during the Continental Congress during the midst of the Revolution and weren’t prepared for the intra-state disputes since the states were sharing the common goal of defeating the British and not necessarily thinking about their own individual interests. Also, among the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation was the requirement that any change to the Articles was only possible through unanimous consent by all the states. So, any state quarrelling with another could effectively veto the proposed change and continue doing whatever they wanted.

The Convention did eventually compose what we know as the U.S. Constitution and provided for a federal government that could step in and be arbiter between intra-state issues, a means for the federal government to be financially solvent, and the possibility to amend the document as necessary without obstruction from any one state. We also recognize there’s more benefits and instructions that the Constitution provides for, but I want to give just a brief overview and the foci of the issues immediately at hand when the Convention was planned and assembled.

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We enjoy the benefits of the Constitutional Convention today. We had a federal government that is ideally only as powerful as fundamentally needed. Now, this is where official history teachers would point out, that power began to be expanded in the Executive Branch by Pres. Andrew Jackson, almost as reaction to Pres. Jackson’s power grab, the Legislative Branch began to grapple for greater power, and achieved the biggest victory in 1913 with ratification of the 16th and 17th Amendments that allowed for an expansion of taxation and the direct election of Senators. The Judicial Branch is still fairly moderate in its power, although thanks to the Progressive Era of the early 20th Century, the Supreme Court has become much more activist rather than interpretive as outlined in the Constitution.

Also, worth noting as it relates to the Supreme Court, Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis D. Brandeis provided framework for the judicial activism by arguing the Constitution is a living document. The biggest proponent of this belief was Pres. Woodrow Wilson, a card-carrying Progressive. Justice Thurgood Marshall also presented a speech on the concept in 1987. The argument is that the Supreme Court should understand the Constitution by the spirit of the law and what’s pragmatic for the current setting when the case is being argued. Opponents argue that while the letter of the law may provide problems for the current case being argued, it’s worth remaining much closer to the original intent and spirit of the law and how it relates to other sections of the Constitution.

Hopefully we can continue to enjoy the benefits of the document organized at that convention that began some two centuries ago. It’s important that we live in this constitutional republic with our fellow citizens in unity as much as possible.

As the Convention came to a close and Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin without missing a beat answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” As we go forward, may we continue to prove Franklin’s words true.

History Monday #9

An historical announcement was made on this date in 1959.

Time for History Monday again. Today’s event had political, scientific, and anthropological effects that would be realized a decade later. As usual, this event along with many others is found on https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/. For history buffs like me, be sure to check out the site and subscribe to the daily digest of historical events.

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LtoR; Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, Donald “Deke” Slayton, John Glenn, and L. Gordon Cooper

Today’s event introduced seven people whose names would be splashed all over U.S. headlines for the task they’d be undertaking. Today in 1959, the “Mercury Seven” were introduced by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). These seven men had been culled from a larger group of thirty-plus candidates.

The slate of these seven men chosen for the newly-minted position of astronaut include some names that we recognize easily and some that sadly are lost in near-obscurity. The big names — John Glenn, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and Alan Shepherd immediately connect us to their individual achievements. The other four men who were part of the Mercury Project include:  Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr.,   Walter Schirra Jr., and Donald Slayton. Of course, as a good Hoosier I recognize Gus Grissom’s name immediately. I’ve been to Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana enough times to know about Grissom and his connection to his hometown.

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Mercury Project Logo using the astronomical symbol for the planet Mercury, with the numeral 7 inside it

NASA had spent time since the starting gun of the Space Race in 1957 saw the USSR launch the first satellite into orbit. The Mercury Project was the United States’ effort to launch a human into space orbiting earth. Even with the introduction of the Mercury Project, the USSR was still able to usurp acclaim from the United States by launching Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. The U.S. was able to catch up and launched astronaut Alan Shepard into space on a suborbital flight. In 1962, John Glenn orbited the earth. The USSR continued to trade punches with the Americans in the Space Race throughout the decade until finally succumbing to the American achievements in 1969 with the Moon Landing.

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So, what’s the impact today? NASA has become more obscure than in the height of the Space Race. We’ve seen the Space Shuttle become retired, and more cooperation between the former combatants in the Space Race and the larger conflict The Cold War. Most space travel has been to the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, techno-entrepreneur Elon Musk has created SpaceX and launched commercial rockets in recent years. It’s almost a bittersweet existence for NASA and astronauts now. I’ll admit, I’m speculating since I wasn’t alive during the Space Race, but my interpretation is that Americans were enamored and awestruck by NASA. Included in this, are the newscasts covering the astronauts, the missions, and unfortunately their fatalities. Also, toymakers marketed products of rockets, astronauts, and another related spacecraft. Probably, the last time I can remember everyone paying attention with bated breath about an interstellar event was John Glenn’s inclusion as part of Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998 at the age of seventy-seven.

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This is not to say that NASA is completely irrelevant today, but it’s influence has waned [space pun] in the last few decades. There’s still plenty of visitors to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama, and Johnson Space Center in Houston every year. I proudly admit that I’ve been to the Kennedy Space Center and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on different vacations. I’d like for space exploration become something aspirational again. Maybe with SpaceX that can happen. I’m reminded of the episode of “The West Wing” when NASA is lobbying Josh Lyman to appropriate funding for a manned excursion to Mars. Josh rebuffs the initial request but is persuaded that space travel is something people want to believe in again. It actually surprises me that those who feel the planet is overpopulated haven’t pushed for more space travel to build overflow facilities either on satellites or other planets. Most of our parents and grandparents predicted by now we already would have well-built colonies on the moon, orbiting satellites, or nearby planets. It is surprising that we have not conquered the next frontier and sent individual astronauts to Mars. Maybe if Pres. Trump was told he could build a Trump Interplanetary Palace on the planet it’d get done. We’ve seen the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program seven years ago, twenty-five years since the end of the Space Race, and over sixty years since its inception. I think it’s time for a renewed sense of awe and infatuation with space travel.

What about it, do you miss the Space Race?

History Monday #4

How a snowball fight led to a deadly shooting.

 

Time for another installment of History Monday. As usual, we look at a significant event that happened on this day in history. All these events can be found at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ .  Today’s event is likely one we’ve all learned about in US History class — The Boston Massacre.

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The Boston Massacre took place on March 5 in 1770. Oddly enough, this was also a Monday just like today. Tensions had been boiling between British soldiers who had been dispatched by royal command to enforce the taxation policies approved by Parliament. If it’s been a few years since history class, these taxes were approved and enacted as means to pay off war debts from the French-Indian War. The soldiers had been assigned to Boston two years earlier. Along with the taxation that was approved without consent from colonial representatives, the colonial citizens grew angry at their motherland and its government overreach. This anger had seen a skirmish on Friday the 2nd as the soldiers were assumed to be taking work from locals. Although the tempers had a chance to die down over the weekend, they flared again that night of the fifth. A crowd of colonists instigated a new fracas. As there was fresh snow on the ground, the colonists made snowballs and hurled them at the soldiers along with rocks. In addition to the physical barrage, they hurled insults at the soldiers, daring them to fire. Sadly, Private Hugh Montgomery stumbled, causing an accidental discharge of his rifle. Five other soldiers hearing the rifle, began firing at or near the crowd. As the soldiers’ firing stopped, 5 colonists were casualties of the incident. According to popular lore, the first casualty was a sailor of mixed race named Crispus Attucks. Along with Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick and James Caldwell also succumbed to the injuries immediately or very shortly after.

This incident led to trial in the United States in a colonial court as a show of good faith in the colonial justice system. Revolutionary citizens would likely not accept a trial in Britain as they were already hostile to anything proceeding from Britain. John Adams, a Patriot and Revolution sympathizer was chosen as defense counsel for the soldiers and argued that the soldiers were in an unenviable position with an angry mob and were subject to assault and battery by the colonists which should allow them to defend themselves with the use of their weapons. The trial ended in December of that same year and resulted in only 2 guilty counts of manslaughter. The reason for the guilty counts were these soldiers fired directly into the crowd, while the other 4 only fired warning shots.

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Now to today, what impact is there from this event? First and foremost, it’s one of the tentpole events of what we learn about the American Revolution during US History classes. Secondarily, many schools throughout America are named in memorial of Crispus Attucks, especially in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

The not so obvious and tertiary impact is the innate sense of classic liberalism in the American citizenry. That’s basically a $15 way of saying, Americans don’t like government being pushy. This event, along with the Boston Tea party are hallmarks of civilians resisting unfair government. The Revolutionary War was a natural response by the citizens to solve their problems with the government by military means. Today, Americans are still by and large opposed to government interference. Many conservative and libertarian people resent the taxes imposed on them by the government. Perhaps thankfully, this resentment and anger has not led to severe actions on the part of the conservative/libertarian groups, such as attacking legislators and governors with snowballs and rocks. To the government’s credit, there hasn’t been any intimidation or occupation by soldiers to give the outraged citizens a cause for violence. Of course, as the Third Amendment prohibits quartering of soldiers (compulsory lodging of soldiers in private homes or hotels) it makes it easier for the government and citizens to have a more civil disagreement.

 

Thanks, James Madison and the 3rd Amendment for helping us keep the peace and not cause another Boston Massacre.