Jean Baptiste Charbonneau – Our Decisions Affect Our Children…

Today in History, December 23, 1829:

Prince Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg leaves St. Louis and heads up the Missouri River. This was actually the second exploration of the American wilderness by the scientifically inclined German prince.

But a side note is what I find fascinating… Several years earlier, in 1822, the Prince had undertaken his first expedition into the west. To do so he needed the permission of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, William Clark of “Lewis and Clark” fame, who had originally explored the West.

Clark had a foster son, the son of an Indian girl who had greatly assisted the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Sacagawea. Her son, Clark’s foster son, was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

Clark was so impressed with the Prince that when the Prince completed his first expedition in 1822, he allowed Jean (age 16) to accompany the Prince to Europe.

The young Jean was the Prince’s constant companion as they toured Europe and North Africa. Jean learned French, German and Spanish and became quite cosmopolitan. The trip back to the wild of America in 1829 was taken in order to bring Jean back to his home with Clark.

An interesting story, and what I take from it is the impact of decisions we make on our fate and the fate of those around us. Sacagawea could have led out her life quietly; but she made a decision that led her son on an odyssey she likely could never have imagined.

Raison D’être – Sam Finishes His Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885: Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

Gladness and Joy

Today in History, September 3, 1838:

A young slave named Frederick Douglass manages, on his third attempt, to escape slavery by hiding aboard a train headed north.

The future abolitionist leader, author, statesman, marshal, and presidential confidant, after a dangerous trip through several states, finds himself in New York City.

“I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity.

There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer.

A new world had opened upon me.

If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life.

It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe.

In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’

Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted;

but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Casus Belli

Today in History, August 31, 1939:

Casus Belli: : an event or action that justifies or allegedly justifies a war or conflict

“I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn’t matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth.”

— Adolph Hitler.

The Gleiwitz incident, an assault on a German radio station near the border with Poland, as part of Operation Himmler, takes place.

The assault was conducted by GERMAN SS troops, posing as Polish troops, upon a German radio station. The ruse went so far as to leave Polish prisoners, captured previously, dead at the station as “proof” of the assault.

The next day, already prepared, German troops invaded Poland in “response” to the atrocity.

Thus began the conflict which would cost millions of military and civilian peoples of many nations their lives. In a real sense, WWII had been raging in Asia and through limited German actions already, but September 1, 1939 is considered the beginning.

The victors will not be asked whether they told the truth. Unfortunately this is usually accurate, similar to “to the victor go the spoils” and “the victors write the history books.”

Either contemporaries are actually trusting, or to fearful the wolf will turn on them, to act.

We should remember our history. We are MERELY human, and always shall be. It is arrogance to believe we will not achieve the same mistakes.

“I Have a Dream Today”

Today in History, August 28, 1963:

“I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream . . .”

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr speaks before a crowd of 250,000 civil rights advocates (of several races), standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, paying his respects to the man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and calling for an end to racial division in America. He was the 16th of 18 speakers, but this became his day in history.

The event was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, organized as a mass public demonstration in support of Civil Rights Legislation proposed by President John F. Kennedy earlier that year.

Dr. King’s speech became a landmark in our history as he tied everything from the Constitution to the Emancipation Proclamation together to point out the injustice still prevalent at that time, and to share his vision of a time when the color of one’s skin would be unimportant.

We have come a long way since that summer day in ’63. I believe that extremists on both ends of the spectrum, deaf to Dr. King’s message, are the only hindrance to the final realization of his dream. At the same time I share his faith that we will get there.

The Lincoln – Douglas Debates & Abolition

Today in History, August 21, 1858:

The first of seven debates between two candidates for an Illinois Senate seat begins.

Now famous as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, former Congressman Lincoln, a former Whig and member of the infant Republican Party, tried for incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ Senate seat.

The primary focus of the debates was Lincoln’s desire to curtail the spread of slavery to midwest and western states, and Douglas’ belief that each state should be able to decide for itself.

It is “debatable” who won the debates, but Lincoln lost the election.

Yet the debates launched this little known lawyer onto the national stage. Two years later he would face Douglas and others for the Presidency and would win.

It is important to note that while Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart, he was not yet arguing for complete abolition, only restrictions on slavery. Each of the debates lasted for hours. Here is one telling quote from Lincoln,

“This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

Lincoln did not have all of the answers. He had little choice but to play politics and compromise to achieve his goals. I personally do not see how an analysis of his speeches, writings, and actions can lead to any conclusion other than he was an abolitionist.

Mount Rushmore

Today in History, August 10, 1927:

The Memorial at Mt. Rushmore is dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge.

The memorial wouldn’t be declared complete until October 31, 1941, seven months after the man in charge of it’s carving, Gutzon Borglum, had died. His son Lincoln finished the project.

President Washington was chosen for obvious reasons, having led the battles that created our nation;

President Jefferson was chosen due to his instrumental work in creating our Declaration of Independence, which has inspired Democracy around the world;

President Lincoln was chosen for leading the nation through the Civil War, preserving the Union and abolishing slavery;

Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for leading the nation through the industrial revolution of the late 19th century, seeing to the construction of the Panama Canal.

An interesting aside…Mt. Rushmore is named for a young NYC attorney who visited the area in 1884 to check land ownership for some eastern investors. He was impressed with the mountain and asked prospectors what it was called…they replied that it had no name, but since he had asked, they would call it Rushmore Peak…and so it was.

An Emergency…”Temporary” Tax

Today in History, August 5, 1861:

“This bill is a most unpleasant one. But we perceive no way in which we can avoid it and sustain the government. The rebels, who are now destroying or attempting to destroy this Government, have thrust upon the country many disagreeable things.”

— Thaddeus Stevens, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means speaking on the Revenue Act of 1861, the nation’s first income tax, which was signed into law by President Lincoln on this date.

The law also provided for certain property taxes and levies on imports, which Lincoln feared would be impeded in the Southern ports by seceding states.

The tax was by intent and design temporary, meant to fund the fight to restore the Union in the Civil War. Changes would be made in 1862, and the law would be repealed in 1871.

But the dye had been cast, and the 16th Amendment of 1909/1913 would bring the ever increasing tax back for good.

The Six Flags Phenomenon

TODAY IN HISTORY, AUGUST 1, 1961:

The first Six Flags Over Texas amusement park opens in Arlington, Texas.

A park with an amazing assortment of rides, games and shows, designed with history themes, Six Flags was wildly successful. There were over 17 million visitors in its first decade.

I remember a beautiful 20 something “dance hall girl” in a sun dress flirting with and singing just to me…my sisters gave me a hard time about it. I think I was about four!

Do you know what the Six Flags which flew over Texas were?

The Ship That Would Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Today in History, July 31, 1948:

The USS Nevada was the first “dreadnaught” or battleship, to use oil rather than coal for fuel, the first to use the later standard 3 main gun turrets.

Commissioned in 1914, she would serve in WWI and WWII. At Pearl Harbor, she was the only battleship on “battleship row” to get underway. Her executive officer, who was in charge in the Captain’s absence, made the wise decision to beach her at Hospital Point, as she had taken six bombs and a torpedo; had he continued his attempt to gain the sea, the massive ship could have sunk in the channel leading to the harbor, trapping other ships either in or out of Pearl Harbor.

She would be repaired and would serve in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, at Normandy and Okinawa.

One of these photos shows her with the only remaining battleship to have served in both WWI and WWII, the USS Texas (visit her in Houston).

The obsolete warrior would be used for atomic testing at Bikini Atoll, being the subject of two atomic bomb tests.

She still would not quit, and had to be sunk with aerial torpedoes. Her only sister ship was not so fortunate. The USS Oklahoma capsized at Pearl Harbor, then sank while being towed back to the states for repair.

Just this year, the Nevada was located 65 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor on the ocean floor.