A House Divided

Today in History, June 16, 1858:

Illinois “circuit” lawyer Abraham Lincoln, running to be the Senator from that state, gives a speech at the capitol of Springfield and gains the Republican nomination.

One of his most famous speeches, the “House Divided” speech did not gain him the job of US Senator from Illinois, that would go to his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.

However, published nationally, it did launch him onto the national stage, along with his series of debates against Douglas, which would gain him the Presidency two years later.

The speech was prophetic, as Lincoln told his listeners that after recent events, the nation could no longer expect to be half free and half slave, but must be all one or the other.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

The 1862 Homestead Act

Today in History, May 20, 1862:

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which would give 160 acres of western lands to anyone who would farm it successfully for 5 years and build a residence upon it (often a sod building).

The Act would encourage vastly expanded settlement of the west; bad news for Native Americans, good news for those newer Americans wanting to improve their lot in life.

Congress had attempted to pass similar acts in 1852, 1854, and 1859, but each time the attempts were shot down by Southern Democrats who were afraid that if the west were populated it would result in more “free” states, which would result in more votes against slavery.

Once the Republican Lincoln was elected, and the Civil War began, the Southern Democrats were no longer part of the equation.

The Republicans soon passed the Homestead Act and the settlement of the west began in earnest. By the end of the war 15,000 settlers (some of which were merely pawns for land speculators) had accepted their lands. Eventually 80 Million acres would be settled.

Brown v Board of Education

Today in History, May 17, 1954:

In 1898 the Supreme Court had ruled in Plessy v Ferguson that keeping blacks people and white people separate on railroad cars was constitutional, as “separate but equal” did not violate the 14th Amendment.

This was quickly perverted to all public facilities being segregated.

In the 1954 Decision of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas the Supreme Court Ruled that 3rd grader Linda Brown could attend a white school, and that segregation was illegal.

Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall led the team that won the case.

“Black Jack” Pershing

Today in History, March 16, 1916:

Misconceptions. US General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing leads a force south across the border with Mexico to assist in the chase of Mexican rebel Pancho Villa.

I knew this. I also knew that Pershing served as the commanding US General during WWI. What I didn’t know? He was born during the Civil War, was a leading cadet during his time at West Point…leading the contingent at the funeral of Ulysses S. Grant.

He fought Apaches and Sioux during his career.

He served in the 10th US Cavalry, the famous “Buffalo Soldiers”, or the original African-American soldiers (we had a Buffalo Soldier that came to the City Hall cafeteria routinely before his passing…what an honor).

The surprise for me was that I thought “Black Jack” was because he was seen as a pirate or a gambler…instead the cadets he supervised while a strict instructor at West Point hated him, and because he served in an African-American command, they called him “N****R Jack”….later amended to “Black Jack”…and it stuck.

He served in that same regiment as they charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, then served in the Philippines. Roosevelt took a liking to him, appreciating his abilities, and made him an envoy to Tokyo in 1905…so he served as an observer to the Russo-Japanese War, then received his generalship by appointment by TR.

In 1915 Pershing was commanding the Presidio in San Francisco when his regiment was reassigned to Ft. Bliss, Texas because of the problems with Mexico.

After a year there, he sent for his family to join him…only to find out that his wife and three daughters had died in a house fire at the Presidio…leaving only his young son to join him.

After his exploits in Mexico, along with young George S. Patton, he would become the commanding General of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during WWI, becoming the mentor to the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley and many others. What a life!

1st African-American Senator Confirmed

Today in History, February 25, 1870:

On a strict party line vote (we’ve heard that a lot lately) of 48 Republicans for and 8 Democrats against, Methodist minister Hiram Rhodes of Mississippi is confirmed as the first African-American US Senator, the first African-American member of Congress.

Rhodes had been a minister, had helped raise the first two black regiments to fight in the Civil War, had been a veteran of the Battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi.

Ironically he had served in Lincolnton, North Carolina as a barber with his brother, and served in a seminary in UNION county, Indiana.

Democrats had attempted to use the 1857 Dredd Scott decision, A ridiculous Supreme Court decision that decided black people were not citizens, as a basis for preventing Rhodes from attaining the Senate seat.

The Star of the West

Today in History, January 9, 1861:

The Star of West is fired upon.

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, a known Republican abolitionist, South Carolina had seceded from the Union in December, 1860. The other Southern states had not yet seceded, the Confederacy not yet formed.

The commander of Ft. Sumter in Charleston (SC) Harbor asked for supplies and more men.

President Buchanan’s administration (Lincoln was not yet in office) dispatched the civilian ship Star of the West to resupply the island fortress.

As the ship entered Charleston Harbor cadets at the Citadel fired upon her and she turned about to escape, continuing to take fire. She suffered only light damage.

Despite this attack, when Lincoln assumed the office of President, other states having seceded, he stated that the North would not fire the first shot…that war would only occur if the states that had seceded fired the first shot.

At the same time he refused to give up Federal forts in the south.

In April Confederate General PGT Beauregard would order an attack on Ft. Sumter, beginning the Civil War. Some historians consider the attack upon the Star of the West to be the beginning of the Civil War, but the attack on Ft. Sumter is generally considered to be the initiation of hostilities.

Bud Wilkinson’s Winning Streak…Owed to 3 Feet and a Few Seconds

TODAY IN HISTORY, JANUARY 2, 1956:

The University of Oklahoma Sooners win at the Orange Bowl.

30 games into a historic 47 game winning streak, legendary OU football coach Bud Wilkinson led his team to victory at the Orange Bowl. Wilkinson set the standard for the program.

All of that very nearly never happened.

Wilkinson had been part of several football victories in Minnesota during the thirties.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Bud did what many American heroes did, he put his life on hold and joined up. In his case, it was the U.S. Navy.

So it was that Bud became a member of yet another legendary team. The crew of the USS Enterprise had earned 20 Battle Stars during the war.

On May 14, 1945, Lieutenant Charles “Bud” Wilkinson was the Hangar Deck Officer. The Big E was maneuvering violently to avoid an onslaught of Kamikaze planes off the coast of Japan. Finally one of the suicide planes got through, and crashed into the flight deck just aft of the forward aircraft elevator. The explosion sent a large part of the 15 ton elevator 400 feet into the sky. Fourteen men were killed, 60 wounded.

The hangar deck was devastated, 25 aircraft aboard were destroyed.

Lt. Wilkinson happened to be standing on the opposite side of a girder from the blast…by Bud’s reckoning, had he been three feet closer to the explosion, he would have been killed. (Barrett Tillman, “Enterprise”, 2012)

How many Bud Wilkinsons did we lose? And how many owe their success in life to a matter of seconds which saved the coach’s life that day?

Bud Wilkinson would begin his OU odyssey two years later, leading the program from 1947 to 1963.

Texas!

Today in History, December 29, 1845:

The United States annexes the Republic of Texas, the only US state to have been an independent nation.

The Republic had gained quite a bit of debt in it’s short life, and part of the bargain was for the Republic to relinquish parts of modern day Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming to the US in exchange for ten million dollars in bonds.

As a sovereign nation, the new state of Texas gained rights most other territories and states did not, which is why Texas has profited from her oil rights on land and off her shores.

Life’s Amazing Turns…Jean Baptiste Charbonneau

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.

Clark had a foster son, the son of an Indian woman 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 arranged for 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 wilds 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.

The Blackbird Takes Flight

Today in History, December 22, 1964:

The SR-71 “Blackbird” reconnaissance aircraft has it’s first test flight from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

The remarkable first “stealth” aircraft’s defense against missiles fired at it…was to simply outrun the assault from it’s ceiling of 70,000 feet at Mach 3…2,200 miles per hour. The skin of the aircraft was designed to expand with the heat of the speed.