28-04-2006, 02:10 PM
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1773 Parliament passes the Tea Act
The British Parliament passes the Tea Act, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and thus granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny.
When three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the so-called Boston Tea Party with about 60 members of the radical Sons of Liberty. On December 16, 1773, the Patriots boarded the British ships disguised as Mohawk Indians and dumped the tea chests, valued at 18,000, into the water.
Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in the following year. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.
1805 To the shores of Tripoli
After marching 500 miles from Egypt, U.S. agent William Eaton leads a small force of U.S. Marines and Berber mercenaries against the Tripolitan port city of Derna. The Marines and Berbers were on a mission to depose Yusuf Karamanli, the ruling pasha of Tripoli, who had seized power from his brother, Hamet Karamanli, a pasha who was sympathetic to the United States.
The First Barbary War had begun four years earlier, when U.S. President Thomas Jefferson ordered U.S. Navy vessels to the Mediterranean Sea in protest of continuing raids against U.S. ships by pirates from the Barbary states--Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripolitania. American sailors were often abducted along with the captured booty and ransomed back to the United States at an exorbitant price. After two years of minor confrontations, sustained action began in June 1803, when a small U.S. expeditionary force attacked Tripoli harbor in present-day Libya.
In April 1805, a major American victory came during the Derna campaign, which was undertaken by U.S. land forces in North Africa. Supported by the heavy guns of the USS Argus and the USS Hornet, Marines and Arab mercenaries under William Eaton captured Derna and deposed Yusuf Karamanli. Lieutenant Presley O' Bannon, commanding the Marines, performed so heroically in the battle that Hamet Karamanli presented him with an elaborately designed sword that now serves as the pattern for the swords carried by Marine officers. The phrase "to the shores of Tripoli," from the official song of the U.S. Marine Corps, also has its origins in the Derna campaign.
1865 Tragedy on the Mississippi
Days after the end of the Civil War, the worst maritime disaster in American history occurs when the steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,100 passengers, explodes and sinks in the Mississippi River, killing all but 400 of those aboard. The Mississippi, with its dikes and levees damaged by four years of war, stood at flood stage, and most of those who died were drowned in the surging river. All but 100 of those killed were Union veterans, and most were Yankee survivors of Andersonville and other brutal Confederate prisoner of war camps.
Many mourned the loss of these men, who survived the deplorable conditions at the Confederate camps only to die during their long-awaited trip home. The Sultana, overloaded with passengers, exploded just north of Memphis, Tennessee, in the early morning hours. The cause of the blast was determined to be a boiler malfunction.
1994 South Africa holds first multiracial elections
More than 22 million South Africans turn out to cast ballots in the country's first multiracial parliamentary elections. An overwhelming majority chose anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela to head a new coalition government that included his African National Congress Party, former President F.W. de Klerk's National Party, and Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. In May, Mandela was inaugurated as president, becoming South Africa's first black head of state.
In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg's youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid--South Africa's institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Mandela helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.
In 1961, he was arrested for treason, and although acquitted he was arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1964 on charges of sabotage. In June 1964, he was convicted along with several other ANC leaders and sentenced to life in prison.
Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison. Confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes. However, Mandela's resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. He was later moved to another location, where he lived under house arrest.
In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South Africa's president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.
Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country's first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa's president, a position he held until 1999.
28-04-2006, 02:20 PM
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1936 UAW gets independence
The UAW, or United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, gained autonomy from the AFL, becoming the first democratic, independent labor union concerned with the rights of unskilled and semi-skilled laborers. The AFL was seen as America's most powerful labor organization, but it was essentially an institution concerned with guaranteeing the rights of skilled workers. As such, it fought for salary stratification on the basis of skill. The AFL's skilled laborers cared little for the plight of the many thousands of unskilled workers who worked in Detroits automotive industry. Organized labor in general had been made possible through legislation resulting form the New Deal. In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act--also called the Wagner Act after New York Senator Robert Wagner--which guaranteed the rights of laborers to bargain collectively with their employers and which created the National Labor Relations Board to act as a quasi-judicial tribunal that could argue its decisions in federal court. These rights, however, were impossible to implement for unskilled laborers as large company's continued to discriminate heavily against union sympathizers on the grounds that they were Communists. Nevertheless, the constitutional guarantee of rights was a crucial step which emboldened the AFL to expand its activities. The AFL's craft structure provided no means by which unskilled laborers could obtain bargaining leverage with their employers. UAW members campaigned for autonomy from the overbearing and exclusionary AFL, a right they were provisionally granted in August of 1935. The AFL allowed the autoworkers a national union charter. Unfortunately, AFL President William Green caved in to the demands of national craft union leaders, and the charter he granted the UAW did not even allow the autoworkers to elect their own leaders. Disgruntled auto unionists, angered at the election of an AFL loyalist who knew little about cars, convened in South Bend, Indiana on this day in 1936 and voted to cast off their AFL affiliation. The newly independent UAW instead affiliated itself with the CIO. Considered a renegade institution by the AFL, John Lewis' CIO had been created to foster organization of industrial workers in mass-production industries. The UAW was officially free and democratically controlled, but the strain caused by their difficult birth had left them with only 30,000 loyal members. Their greatest challenge was yet to come in increasing its membership and organizing to the degree that it could exert force as a collective bargaining entity. Under the lead of Wyndham Mortimer, a Cleveland auto worker who was considered a Communist agitator, the UAW began to organize a drive in Flint, Michigan aimed at securing rights for General Motors' (GM) workers. On New Year's Eve of 1936, the famed sit-down strike at GM's Fisher Body Plant became the center stage for all unskilled labor struggles. GM moved to legally block the strike and evict the workers from its facilities; but unlike strikes of the previous era, the state government under the direction of Governor Frank Murphy protected the rights of the workers to bargain collectively. The governor's attention may have been accountable to concurrent Senate hearings on the abusive tactics used by GM on its laborers. The workers invoked the Wagner Act, and GM was forced to settle with the UAW, recognizing the union and signing a contract. The event was the first victory by unskilled laborers in America's largest industry.
28-04-2006, 02:21 PM
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This Day In History | Civil War
1865 Sultana Disaster
The steamboat Sultana explodes on the Mississippi River near Memphis, killing 1,700 passengers including many discharged Union soldiers.
The Sultana was launched from Cincinnati in 1863. The boat was 260 feet long and had an authorized capacity of 376 passengers and crew. It was soon employed to carry troops and supplies along the lower Mississippi River.
The Sultana left New Orleans on April 21 with 100 passengers. It stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, for repair of a leaky boiler. R. G. Taylor, the boilermaker on the ship, advised Captain J. Cass Mason that two sheets on the boiler had to be replaced, but Mason order Taylor to simply patch the plates until the ship reached St. Louis. Mason was part owner of the riverboat, and he and the other owners were anxious to pick up discharged Union prisoners at Vicksburg. The federal government promised to pay $5 for each enlisted man and $10 for each officer delivered to the North. Such a contract could pay huge dividends, and Mason convinced local military authorities to pick up the entire contingent despite the presence of two other steamboats at Vicksburg.
When the Sultana left Vicksburg, it carried 2,100 troops and 200 civilians, more than six times its capacity. On the evening of April 26, the ship stopped at Memphis before cruising across the river to pick up coal in Arkansas. As it steamed up the river above Memphis, a thunderous explosion tore through the boat. Metal and steam from the boilers killed hundreds, and hundreds more were thrown from the boat into the chilly waters of the river. The Mississippi was already at flood stage, and the "Sultana" had only one lifeboat and a few life preservers. Only 600 people survived the explosion. A board of inquiry later determined the cause to be insufficient water in the boiler--overcrowding was not listed as a cause. The Sultana accident is still the largest maritime disaster in U.S. history.
1978 Afghan president is overthrown and murdered
Afghanistan President Sardar Mohammed Daoud is overthrown and murdered in a coup led by procommunist rebels. The brutal action marked the beginning of political upheaval in Afghanistan that resulted in intervention by Soviet troops less than two years later.
Daoud had ruled Afghanistan since coming to power in a coup in 1973. His relations with the neighboring Soviet Union had grown progressively worse since that time as he pursued a campaign against Afghan communists. The murder of a leading Afghan Communist Party leader in early April 1978 may have encouraged the communists to launch their successful campaign against the Daoud regime later that month. In the political chaos that followed the death of Daoud, Nur Mohammed Taraki, head of the Afghan Communist Party, took over the presidency. In December 1978, Afghanistan signed a 20-year "friendship treaty" with the Soviet Union, by which increasing amounts of Russian military and economic assistance flowed into the country. None of this, however, could stabilize the Taraki government. His dictatorial style and his decision to turn Afghanistan into a one-party state alienated many people in the heavily Moslem country. In September 1979, Taraki was himself overthrown and murdered. Three months later, Soviet troops crossed into Afghanistan and installed a government acceptable to the Russians, and a war between Afghan rebels and Soviet troops erupted. The conflict lasted until Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew the Soviet forces in 1988.
In the years following the Soviet intervention, Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefield. The United States responded quickly and harshly to the Soviet action by freezing arms talks, cutting wheat sales to Russia, and boycotting the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow. Tension increased after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. The United States provided arms and other assistance to what Reagan referred to as the "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan. For the Soviets, the Afghanistan intervention was a disaster, draining both Soviet finances and manpower. In the United States, commentators were quick to label the battle in Afghanistan "Russia's Vietnam."
28-04-2006, 02:25 PM
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1954 White Christmas debuts
White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, debuts on this day. The film, which opened at Radio City Music Hall, was Paramount's first wide-screen film, made with a process called VistaVision. Wide-screen technology had existed since the 1920s but was not pursued aggressively by Hollywood until the 1950s, when television began to compete with cinemas for viewers. The wide-screen format offered audiences an experience not available on television, and movie studios began exploiting the format.
Though designed to thwart competition from TV, the rise of the wide-screen format actually helped destabilize Hollywood's entrenched studio system. From the 1920s to the 1950s, studios were able to control costs by centralizing production. Studios kept actors, writers, and technical talent on the payroll, creating movie factories where studios could crank out dozens of features very rapidly. But the new wide-screen films were much more expensive to make, cutting into profits. At the same time, the Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that studios could no longer operate as virtual monopolies, dominating the production, distribution, and exhibition of pictures through their control of movie theater chains. This ruling also damaged profits for the studios. Companies began to make fewer movies and promote fewer stars, and the power of those stars increased as they became free agents, no longer contracted to a given studio.
1937 A Star Is Born opens
The original version of A Star Is Born debuts on this day in 1937. The movie, made by David O. Selznick, starred Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Examining the doomed marriage between a fading Hollywood star and his rising starlet wife, the film was remade twice--with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954 and with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976.
1986 Video pirate disrupts HBO signals
A video pirate manages to override the satellite transmission of an HBO movie on this day in 1986. He interrupted the show with a message stating he did not intend to pay for his HBO service.
28-04-2006, 02:27 PM
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1667 John Milton sells the copyright to Paradise Lost
Blind poet John Milton sells the copyright to his masterpiece Paradise Lost (1667) for a mere 10 pounds.
Milton was born and raised the indulged son of a prosperous London businessman. He excelled at languages in grammar school and at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he took a bachelor's and a master's, which he completed in 1632. He then decided to continue his own education, spending six years reading every major work of literature in several languages. He published an elegy for a college classmate, Lycidas, in 1637 and went abroad in 1638 to continue his studies.
In 1642, Milton married 17-year-old Mary Powell, who left him just weeks later. Milton wrote a series of pamphlets arguing for the institution of divorce based on incompatibility. The idea, however mild it seems today, was scandalous at the time, and Milton experienced a vehement backlash for his writing.
Milton's wife returned to him in 1645, and the pair had three daughters. However, he continued espousing controversial views. He supported the execution of Charles I, he railed against the control of the church by bishops, and he upheld the institution of Cromwell's commonwealth, for which he became secretary of foreign languages.
In 1651, he lost his sight but fulfilled his government duties with the help of assistants, including poet Andrew Marvell. His wife died the following year. He remarried in 1656, but his second wife died in childbirth. Four years later, the commonwealth was overturned, and Milton was thrown in jail, saved only by the intervention of friends. The blind man lost his position and property.
He remarried in 1663. Blind, impoverished, and jobless, he began to dictate his poem Paradise Lost to his family. When the poem was ready for publication, he sold it for 10 pounds. Once printed, the poem was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of the English language. In 1671, he wrote Paradise Regained, followed by Samson Agonistes. He died in 1674.