This Month in History: December

Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America’s shore:
Piercing the souls of warlike men, who rise in silent night,
Washington, Franklin, Paine & Warren, Gates, Hancock & Green;
Meet on the coast glowing with blood from Albion’s fiery Prince.

So wrote the English visionary poet William Blake in his America, a Prophecy, first published in 1793, 17 years after America won its independence.

  • December 1

    Why was the 1824 election called the Corrupt Bargain?

    John Quincy AdamsDecember 1, 1824 — Today, the debate began to decide the outcome of a deadlock between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in the US House of Representatives.

    For the first time no candidate ran as a Federalist, while five significant candidates competed as Democratic-Republicans including William Crawford, who was the secretary of the treasury, Andrew Jackson, a hero of the War of 1812, and John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president and Monroe’ secretary of state.

    The winner in the all-important Electoral College was Andrew Jackson, with 99 votes. Adams secured 84 votes. Meanwhile Crawford trailed well behind with 41 votes.

    Although Jackson seemed to have won a narrow victory, receiving 43 percent of the popular vote vs. 30 percent for Adams, he would not be seated as the country’s 6th president. Because nobody had received a majority of votes in the electoral college, the House of Representatives had to choose between the top two candidates.

    Adams wins, of course, and the election is denounced immediately as a “Corrupt Bargain” by supporters of Jackson. To Jacksonians the Adams-Clay alliance symbolized a corrupt system where elite insiders pursued their own interests without heeding the will of the people.

    Sources: gilderlehrman.org, ushistory.org, wikipedia/electionof1824,

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  • December 2

    What did the Monroe Doctrine state?

    James_Monroe_White_House_portrait_1819December 2, 1823 — President James Monroe declared his “Monroe Doctrine” today in 1823, which stated that efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring US intervention.

    It also noted that the US would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.

    Issues at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved or were at the point of gaining independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires — the US and Great Britain wanted to guarantee that no European power would move in.

    Historians explain that by the end of the 19th century, Monroe’s declaration was seen as a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets. It would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and many others.

    Sources: csmh.pbworks.com, wikipedia/MonroeDoctrine,

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  • December 3

    What was the name of Frederick Douglass’ newspaper?

    s99.2p1December 3, 1847 — Today, abolitionist Frederick Douglass published the first issue of his anti-slavery newspaper, the “North Star.”

    Its title was a reference to the directions given to runaway slaves trying to reach the Northern states and Canada: Follow the North Star. And its slogan was: “Right is of no Sex, Truth is of no Color, God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”

    Published weekly, the North Star was four pages long and sold by subscription for $2 per year to more than 4,000 readers in the US, Europe, and the West Indies. The first of its four pages focused on current events concerning abolitionist issues.

    Douglass was said to have founded the paper after reading “The Liberator,” a weekly newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison, which was founded on moral principles.

    In June 1851, it merged with Gerrit Smith’s Liberty Party Paper (based in Syracuse, New York) to form the Frederick Douglass’ Paper.

    Sources: historynet.com, loc.gov, wikipedia/NorthStar,

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  • December 4

    Where, and when, did the Whig party hold its first national convention?

    440px-William_Henry_Harrison_daguerreotype_editDecember 4, 1836 — For the first time in its history, the Whig party held a national convention today to determine its presidential candidate.

    The meetings opened in Harrisburg, PA. It was almost a full year before the general election, and the three leading candidates were war hero William Henry Harrison (who was also the most successful of Martin Van Buren’s opponents in the 1836 election); War of 1812 hero General Winfield Scott (who had been active in skirmishes with the British in 1837 and 1838); and former Speaker of the House Henry Clay (the Whigs’ congressional leader).

    The nomination went to Harrison with 148 votes. Clay got 90; Scott received 16.

    He was the 9th president for only a month, however — from March 4, 1841 to his death on April 4, 1841. John Tyler, his vice president, became the 10th president, (1841–1845).

    Sources: wikipedia/1839WhigNationalConvention,

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  • December 5

    Who won the 2nd quadrennial presidential election?

    Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonDecember 5, 1792 — George Washington is re-elected as the President of the United States today.

    The election process lasted just more than a month — from Friday, November 2 to Wednesday, December 5, 1792. As in the first presidential election, Washington was considered to have run unopposed, but electoral rules of the time required each presidential elector to cast two votes without distinguishing which was for president and which for vice president.

    The recipient of the most votes would then become president, and the runner-up vice president. Incumbent Vice President John Adams received 77 votes and was also re-elected (Washington received 132 votes, or one from each elector).

    This election was the first in which each of the original 13 states appointed electors (in addition to newly added states of Kentucky and Vermont).

    It was also the only presidential election that was not held exactly four years after the previous election, although part of the previous election was technically held four years prior. The second inauguration was on March 4, 1793 at the Senate Chamber Congress Hall in Philadelphia.

    Sources: wikipedia,

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  • December 6

    Who established the US observatory today?

    U.S._Naval_Observatory-sealDecember 6, 1825 — President John Quincy Adams signed the bill for the creation of a national US observatory today.

    The observatory’s primary mission was to care for the United States Navy’s marine chronometers, charts, and other navigational equipment. It calibrated ships’ chronometers by timing the transit of stars across the meridian. Initially located downtown at 38.89510°N 77.05145°W in Foggy Bottom (near the Lincoln Memorial), the observatory moved in 1893 to its present location on a 2000-foot circle of land atop Observatory Hill overlooking Massachusetts Avenue.

    Placed under the command of Lieutenant Louis M. Goldsborough, with an annual budget of $330, its primary function was the restoration, repair, and rating of navigational instruments. It was made into a national observatory in 1842 via a federal law and a Congressional appropriation of $25,000.

    Lieutenant James Melville Gilliss was put in charge of “obtaining the instruments needed and books.” He visited the principal observatories of Europe with the mission to purchase telescopes and scientific devices and books.

    The first superintendent was Navy Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, who created the world’s first vulcanized time ball. Its specifications, by Charles Goodyear, was the first time ball was placed into service in 1845 so Maury could keep accurate time by the stars and planets.

    Sources: wikipedia/United_States_Naval_Observatory,

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  • December 7

    Which president was known as “The Little Magician?”

    Martin_Van_Buren_by_Mathew_Brady_c1855-58December 7, 1836 — Martin Van Buren is elected the 8th President of the United States today.

    The first President from the State of New York, and the first President born after the United States had won its independence from England, he ran for President three times but only won the first time.

    His many enemies called him “The Little Magician” because of his wily and shrewd political maneuvering. He never attained the popularity of some Presidents, but he held the distinction of holding the offices of US Senator, Governor of New York, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President of the United States, all in 12 years.

    He was also a main founder of the Democratic Party.

    Sources: sheppardsoftware.com, nps.gov, wikipedia/Martin_Van_Buren,

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  • December 7

    Could Pearl Harbor happen again?

    December 7, 1941 — Today marks the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor — a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base in what was then the Territory of Hawaii that led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

    Here’s what happened:

    • The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time.
    • The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers.
    • All eight US Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona (BB-39) were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war.
    • The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one mine-layer: 188 US aircraft were destroyed, 2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,178 others were wounded.
    • Important base installations such as the power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section), were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 64 servicemen killed. One Japanese sailor, Kazuo Sakamaki, was captured.

    The following day, Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Domestic support for non-interventionism, which had been fading since the fall of France in 1940, disappeared. Clandestine support of the United Kingdom (e.g., the Neutrality Patrol) was replaced by active alliance. Subsequent operations by the United States prompted Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to declare war on the United States on Dec. 11; the United States reciprocated the same day.

    There were numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action by Japan. However, the lack of any formal warning, particularly while negotiations were still apparently ongoing, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” Because the attack happened without a declaration of war and without explicit warning, the attack on Pearl Harbor was judged by the Tokyo Trials to be a war crime.

    Pearl Harbor Day: On Aug. 23, 1994, the US Congress, by Pub.L. 103–308, designated Dec. 7 of each year as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Today it is observed annually to remember and honor the 2,403 Americans who were killed in the surprise attack.

    Could Pearl Harbor happen again? Check out this article by IntellectualTakeout.com writer Annie Holmqvist for her perspective. 

    Sources: wikipedia/AttackonPearlHarbor, PearlHarborRemembranceDay,

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  • December 8

    How many voyages did Captain James Cook take? And what killed him?

    ship19411December 8, 1777 — Captain James Cook (Nov. 7, 1728-Feb. 14, 1779) left the Society Islands today.

    The British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

    Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. In three voyages, he sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe  and displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.

    But in 1779, Cook was killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.

    Sources: captaincooksociety.com, captcook-ne.co.uk, wikipedia/James_Cook,

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  • December 9

    Who established New York’s first daily newspaper?

    minervaDecember 9, 1793 — Noah Webster established New York’s first daily newspaper, the American Minerva. 

    It aimed to contain “the earliest intelligence, collected from the most authentic sources,” and it’s full of those long s letterforms (ſ) that look like lowercase fs and were by then not long for this world.

    Webster, a Federalist who wanted to discourage the French influence in the US, made his first “address to the public” that covered nearly the entire front page.

    The American Minerva ran for 744 issues between 1793 and 1796. It was bought out and eventually became the New York Sun, which was published until 1950.

    Sources: theparisreview.org, wikipedia/Noah_Webster,

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  • December 10

    Which state was the first to grant women the right to vote?

    votes-for-womenDecember 10, 1869 — Women’s suffrage, the right to vote, was granted in the Wyoming Territory  today. Here’s a timeline of the movement from 1777 to 1869.

    1777: Women lose the right to vote in New York.

    1780: Women lose the right to vote in Massachusetts.

    1784: Women lose the right to vote in New Hampshire.

    1787: The US Constitutional Convention places voting qualifications in the hands of the states. Women in all states except New Jersey lose the right to vote.

    1790: The state of New Jersey grants the vote to “all free inhabitants,” including women.

    1807: Women lose the right to vote in New Jersey, the last state to revoke the right.

    1848: The Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, is held in Seneca Falls, NY. Women’s suffrage is proposed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and agreed to after an impassioned argument from Frederick Douglass.

    1853: On the occasion of the World’s Fair in New York City, suffragists hold a meeting in the Broadway Tabernacle.

    1861-1865: During the American Civil War, most suffragists focus on the war effort and suffrage activity is minimal.

    1867: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone address a subcommittee of the New York State Constitutional Convention requesting that the revised constitution include woman suffrage. Their efforts fail.

    1867: Kansas holds a state referendum on whether to enfranchise women and/or black males. Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton traverse the state speaking in favor of women suffrage. Both women and black male suffrage is voted down.

    1867: The American Equal Rights Association, working for suffrage for both women and African Americans, is formed at the initiative of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

    1869: The territory of Wyoming is the first to grant unrestricted suffrage to women.

    Sources: suffragist.com, thelizlibrary.org, archives.gov,

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  • December 11

    How many Mayflower pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock today in 1620?

    locplymouthrock1December 11, 1620 — Today on Plymouth Rock, 102 Mayflower pilgrims first step foot on the shore of what is now known as Massachusetts. They were originally bound for Virginia to live north of Jamestown under the same charter granted to citizens of Jamestown. But bad weather left them lost at sea before happening on Cape Cod.

    The Mayflower was anchored just off shore when William Bradford, John Carver, and their crew from the Plymouth Colony saw a big rock in Plymouth Harbor. Before they set ashore, however, the Pilgrims had an important question to answer. Since they were not landing within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company — they had no charter to govern them. Who would rule their society?

    In the landmark Mayflower Compact of 1620, the Pilgrims decided that they would rule themselves, based on majority rule of the townsmen. This independent attitude set up a tradition of self-rule that would later lead to town meetings and elected legislatures in New England. Like the Virginia House of Burgesses established the previous year, Plymouth colony began to lay the foundation for democracy in the American colonies.

    What was it like to live on the Mayflower? When the weather was good, the passengers could enjoy hot food cooked on deck. When there was high wind or storms, they lived on salted beef, a dried biscuit called “hard tack,” other dried vegetables, and beer. The nearest thing to resemble a bathroom was a bucket.

    Their voyage took about two months, and the passengers enjoyed a happier experience than most trans-Atlantic trips. One death was suffered and one child was born. The child was named Oceanus after the watery depths beneath them.

    Sources: americasbesthistory.com, ushistory.org, awesomestories.com, wikipedia/Plymouth_Colony,

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  • December 12

    Who gave Beethoven his first lesson in music composition?

    BeethovenDecember 12, 1792 — In Vienna, Ludwig Von Beethoven (right, then 22) received his first lesson in music composition from Franz Joseph Haydn today.

    Historians believe that Beethoven was first introduced to Haydn in late 1790, when the latter was traveling to London and stopped in Bonn around Christmas time. A year and a half later, they met in Bonn on Haydn’s return trip from London to Vienna, and it is likely that arrangements were made at that time for Beethoven to study with the old master.

    It was a tumultuous time. Rumors of war were spilling out of France, and soon after his arrival in Vienna, Beethoven learned that his father had died. Mozart had also recently died.

    Beethoven responded to the widespread feeling that he was a successor to the recently deceased Mozart by studying that master’s work and writing works with a distinctly Mozartean flavor.

    Sources: classicfm.com, britannica.com, wikipedia/Ludwig_van_Beethoven,

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  • December 13

    Hey all you music fans: When, and where, did the first music store open in the US?

    gwmusic4December 13, 1759 — The first music store in America opened today in Philadelphia by Michael Hillegas. In 1757, the first public concert took place in town. And historians tell us that as early as 1730 music lessons began to be advertised in what would become “the city of brotherly love.”

    Of course, strict Calvinists and Quakers were opposed to the enjoyment and playing of music, which they considered a worldly amusement and therefore it was unholy. In 1716, Quakers in Philadelphia advised members of the Society of Friends “against going to or being in any way concerned in plays, games, lotteries, music and dancing.'”

    So an entire shop that sold music — including ballads, carols, folk songs, hymns, and ribald songs performed in taverns — was a dramatic shift in beliefs and behaviors. Among the shop’s collection was secular music.

    Sources: musicandhistory.com, digitalhistory.uh.edu, "Daily Life in Colonial America",

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  • December 14

    Where did the first state road run?

    Ky_1793December 14, 1793 — The first state road is authorized today, running from Frankfort, KY to Cincinnati.

    Russell Dyche, in “Laurel County Kentucky,” explains that the original settlers’ route to Kentucky was over the Wilderness Road in the Virginia and Tennessee mountains, part of it blazed by Daniel Boone.

    By 1795, Kentucky had appropriated $2,000 to extend this road from Crab Orchard to Cumberland Gap. The Wilderness Road was not used for nearly a century but is now a part of U.S. Route 25.

    The Wilderness Road offered something new. Emigrants could bring their wagons and more of their household goods when they moved from eastern states through Virginia to their new Kentucky home. The few people living along the route, and more especially the people in the settlements who were wanting more emigrants and travelers, were happy about it.

    Sources: ancestry.com,

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  • December 15

    Disaster at the US Patent Office: What happened today in 1836?

    Blodget's_Hotel,_built_1793.tifDecember 15, 1836 — The U.S. Patent Office, then located at the Blodgett’s Hotel in Washington, D.C., was consumed by fire today — making itthe first of several disastrous fires the organization has had in its history.

    Historians explain that an initial investigation considered the possibility of arson due to suspected corruption in the Post Office, which shared the same building, but it was later ruled out. The cause was ultimately determined to be accidental. This event is considered to be a turning point in the history of the Patent Office.

    Local fire suppression efforts were incapable of preventing the damage due to lack of fire personnel and old equipment. Many patent documents and models from the preceding three decades were irretrievably lost.

    As a result of the fire, Congress and the newly legally revamped Patent Office changed the way it handled its recordkeeping, assigning numbers to patents and requiring multiple copies of supporting documentation.

    In the 46 years prior to the fire, the United States government had issued about 10,000 patents. Congress acted to restore those records that could be reconstructed from private files and reproduce models, which were deemed the most valuable and interesting.

    Patents whose records were not restored were cancelled. There were a total of 2,845 patents restored. Today, there are more than 50 million paper patent documents stored at USPTO, and available to the public.

    Sources: uspto.gov, wikipedia/1836_U.S._Patent_Office_fire,

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  • December 16

    How many of chests of tea were tossed overboard in Boston tonight in 1773?

    BostonTeaPartyDecember 16, 1773 — Tonight, Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and began tossing 342 chests of tea overboard.

    This dramatic act will result in the passage of the Coercive Acts in 1774, which pushed the Americans and British closer to war.

    The drama started eight months earlier, on April 27,  1773, when the British Parliament passed the Tea Act. That bill — designed to save the faltering East India Company from bankruptcy by greatly lowering the tea tax it paid to the British government — granted it a de facto monopoly on the American tea trade.

    Because all legal tea entered the colonies through England, allowing the East India Company to pay lower taxes in Britain also allowed it to sell tea more cheaply in the colonies. Even untaxed Dutch tea, which entered the colonies illegally through smuggling, was more expensive the East India tea, after the act took effect.

    British Prime Minister Frederick Lord North initiated the legislation, thought it impossible that the colonists would protest cheap tea. Not only did many of the settlers rightly realize the act was just a reprise of the hated Townshend duties, but the establishment of special channels of distributions and sales left many shopkeepers cut out of the deal infuriated.

    Sources: .history.com, masshist.org, famousdaily.com, wikipedia/TownshendActs,

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  • December 17

    Where was the Aztec calendar rediscovered today in 1790?

    Page178-The_Aztec_Calendar_StoneDecember 17, 1790 — The Aztec calendar stone — known as the Sun Stone, or Stone of the Five Eras — was rediscovered today during repairs on the Mexico City Cathedral.

    The Aztecs had determined the Earth’s orbit lasted 365.2420 days. This number is slightly closer to the true value (365.2422) than the 365.2425 figured by the Gregorian version in 1582.

    Shortly after the Spanish Conquest, the monolithic sculpture was buried in the Zócalo, which was the main square of Mexico City. The late post-classic Mexica sculpture is perhaps the most famous work of Aztec sculpture. Measuring 11.75 feet in diameter and 3.22 feet thick, it weighs about 24 tons.

    Believed at first to be a native take on the typical calendar, anthropologists have revised original theories to give the Sun Stone a special ritual significance.

    According to mapsofworld: The Aztecs, unlike their European counterparts using the Julian calendar or its later Gregorian update, kept track of time with separate cycles for agriculture and religious purposes. These two systems overlapped once every 18,980 days (52 years) creating a unique opportunity to engage the people in sustaining the sun for generations to come.

    In order to symbolically restart the sun’s burning core, priests would cut open the chest of a chosen victim and light a fire in the gaping wound. Far more than just a means to mark the time between New Fire festivals, the Sun Stone is now regarded as the resting place for the sacrifice.

    Sources: aztec-history.com, mapsofworld.com, wikipedia/Aztec_calendar,

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  • December 18

    Where was George Washington’s body interred today?

    Washington's_tomb_Mount_VernonDecember 18, 1799 — George Washington’s body was interred at Mount Vernon today.

    According to historians: He died in his bedchamber on the premises four days earlier. His last will outlined his desire to be buried at home. Washington additionally made provisions for a new brick tomb to be constructed after his death, which would replace the original yet quickly deteriorating family burial vault. In 1831, Washington’s body was transferred to the new tomb, along with the remains of Martha Washington and other family members.

    On December 12, 1799, Washington spent several hours inspecting his plantation on horseback, in snow, hail, and freezing rain, then reportedly ate his supper without changing from his wet clothes. The next day, he awoke with a severe sore throat and became increasingly hoarse as the day progressed, yet still rode out in the heavy snow. Around 3 a.m. that Saturday, he is said to have awoken with severe difficulty breathing and almost completely unable to speak or swallow.

    Three physicians were sent for, including Washington’s personal physician, Dr. James Craik, along with Dr. Gustavus Brown and Dr. Elisha Dick. They began the common practice of the day, bloodletting, and removed half or more of his total blood content in just a few hours. Recognizing that the bloodletting and other treatments were failing, Dr. Dick proposed performing an emergency tracheotomy, but the other two doctors disapproved.

    Washington died at home around 10 p.m. on Saturday, December 14, 1799. He was 67. In his journal, Lear recorded Washington’s last words as being “‘Tis well.”

    Sources: mountvernon.org, wikipedia/George_Washington,

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  • December 19

    How many copies of “A Christmas Carol” are bought when it is published today in 1843?

    Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843December 19, 1843 — “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is published today, selling 6,000 copies the first day.

    The idea to write the book is said to have come to him in October of 1843. “His wife was due to have a baby in January, and he thought he’d pay for her medical care and a trip abroad by writing a short book that could be sold at Christmas,” according to charlesdickenschristmascarol.com.

    In a six-week rush, and published at his own expense, the book became one of many public and private efforts by Dickens to bring about social reform.

    “His disgust with the blinkered conceit of the privileged classes was genuine and lifelong,” according to todayinliterature. “In this letter he rails at the ‘sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, over-fed, apoplectic, snorting cattle’ with whom he was forced to eat a charity dinner; in that, he predicts dire consequences for their ‘stupendous ignorance of what is passing out of doors.'”

    Some in the upper classes were like-minded; some went as far as they dared to mock Dickens and the “cult of benevolence” with which they associated him. They dubbed him “Mr. Popular Sentiment,” and scoffed at the naive politics of his novels, calling them the “gospel of geniality.’

    After A Christmas Carol sold out the first day, Dickens is said to have had high hopes that his blow for the poor might also do something for his own poverty. By May of 1844, it was in its seventh edition. Unfortunately, high production costs ate up most of his expected profit, and then legal fees to contest a pirated edition of the book left him in debt.

    Sources: charlesdickenschristmascarol.com, todayinliterature.com,

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  • December 20

    Who first called NYC’s Broadway, “The Great White Way?”

    manhattan301December 20, 1880 — A stretch of Broadway between Union Square and Madison Square was illuminated tonight by Brush arc lamps, making it among the first electrically lighted streets in the United States.

    It wasn’t until February 3, 1902 that reporter Shep Friedman — a columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph — published an article with the headline: “Found on the Great White Way.” That has been the namesake ever since.

    Of course, the tradition of theater on Broadway began nearly 150 years earlier when in 1732, the whole of New York theatrical activity was taking place in an empty space near the intersection of Maiden Lane and Pearl Street. It eventually moved to other undocumented empty spaces and lots around the city — and by the middle of the 18th century, New York theater had finally become an institution.

    Sources: talkinbroadway.com, untappedcities.com, greatwhiteway.com, wikipedia/Broadway,

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  • December 21

    Who was the first US Secretary of State?

    440px-John_Jay_(Gilbert_Stuart_portrait)December 21, 1784 — John Jay became the first US Secretary of State today. The American statesman and diplomat was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a signer of the Treaty of Paris and the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs — until the office was changed to “Secretary of State.”

    During this time in office, Jay, along with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, began working on a series of periodicals which would eventually be known as The Federalist Papers. Jay wrote the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and sixty-fourth articles.

    Born into a wealthy family of merchants and government officials in New York City, Jay was later the first Chief Justice of the United States (1789–95), and the Governor of the State of New York (1795–1801), where he became the state’s leading opponent of slavery.

    Sources: diplomacy.state.gov, constitutionfacts.com, wikipedia/John_Ja,

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  • December 22

    What was the goal of the Embargo Act of 1807?

    OgrabmeDecember 22, 1807 — The Embargo Act of 1807 was signed today. Sponsored by President Thomas Jefferson and enacted by Congress, it was a general embargo that made any and all exports from the United States illegal.

    Historians explain that the goal was to force Britain and France to respect American rights during the Napoleonic Wars. “They were engaged in a major war; the U.S. wanted to remain neutral and trade with both sides, but neither side wanted the other to have the American supplies. The American goal was to use economic coercion to avoid war and to punish Britain.”

    The policy was highly unpopular with shipping interests, and historians have judged it a failure. It was repealed as Jefferson left office in 1809.

    Sourceswikipediamonticello.orgmillercenterenglishinformerinfrance

  • December 23

    Who wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls?”

    December 23, 1776 — Today, Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” for The American Crisis, a pamphlet series published during the American Revolution from 1776 to 1783.

    “Throughout most of his life, his writings inspired passion, but also brought him great criticism,” shares ushistory.org. “He communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States.”

    Paine was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly. But his radical views on religion would destroy his success, and by the end of his life, only a handful of people attended his funeral.

    More about Thomas Paine: Born in Thetford, England on January 29, 1737, Paine’s father was a corseter, who had grand visions for his son’s future. But by the age of 12, Thomas failed out of school. The young Paine began apprenticing for his father, but didn’t take to that profession either. By 1768, he found himself as an excise (tax) officer in England. Thomas was discharged from his post twice in four years.

    • In 1774, he met Benjamin Franklin in London, who helped him emigrate to Philadelphia. His career turned to journalism, which raised his profile. Two years later, he published Common Sense, a defense for American independence from England. Paine then published the pamplet series, The American Crisis (1776-83), which helped inspire the formation of the US Army.

    • In 1791-92, he wrote The Rights of Man in response to criticism of the French Revolution. This work caused Paine to be labeled an outlaw in England for his anti-monarchist views. He would have been arrested, but he fled for France to join the National Convention.

    • By 1793, he was imprisoned in France for not endorsing the execution of Louis XVI. During his imprisonment, he wrote and distributed the first part of what was to become his most famous work at the time, the anti-church text, The Age of Reason (1794-96).

    • Paine was freed in 1794. He narrowly escaped execution due to the efforts of James Monroe, then U.S. Minister to France. He remained there until 1802 when he returned to America on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson. He discovered that his contributions to the American Revolution had been all but eradicated due to his religious views.

    • Derided by the public and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72 in New York City.

    Sources: ushistory.org, indiana.edu,

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  • December 24

    What sparked the 1851 fire that devastated the collection at the US Library of Congress?

    background_3December 24, 1851 — As Americans celebrated Christmas Eve tonight, fire ripped through the US Library of Congress in Washington, DC, destroying 35,000 volumes. A faulty chimney flue set off the  blaze, which took two-thirds of the collection, including most of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library that had been sold to the institution in 1815.

    Initially established in 1800 when President John Adams approved legislation that appropriated $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress” — the first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801. They were stored in the U.S. Capitol. Twelve years later, the British army invaded the city of Washington and burned the Capitol, including the 3,000-volume Library of Congress. Jefferson responded to that loss by selling his personal library of 6,487 volumes — the largest and finest in the country — to Congress to “recommence” the library.

    After the fire of 1851, architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter presented a plan to repair and enlarge the Library room using fireproof materials throughout. The elegantly restored Library room was opened on August 23, 1853. Called by the press the “largest iron room in the world,” it was encircled by galleries and filled the west central front of the Capitol. A month before the opening, Pres. Franklin Pierce inspected the new Library in the company of British scientist Sir Charles Lyell, who pronounced it “the most beautiful room in the world.”

    Sources: loc.gov/fire, history.com,

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  • December 25

    Who performed the first abdominal surgery in the US?

    440px-Ephraim_McDowellDecember 25, 1809 — Physician Ephraim McDowell (November 11, 1771 – June 25, 1830) performed the first abdominal surgery in the US today – removing a 22.5-pound ovarian tumor.

    Born in Rockbridge County, VA, the American physician and pioneer surgeon has been called “the father of ovariotomy,” as well as founding father of abdominal surgery — thanks to a December 13, 1809, McDowell house call to see Jane Todd Crawford in Green County, Kentucky.

    Her physicians thought that Crawford was beyond term pregnant, but McDowell diagnosed an ovarian tumor. After a 60-mile horseback ride to his home in Danville, Crawford underwent the surgery on Christmas morning. Performed without the benefit of anesthetic, it took 25 minutes to perform the surgery. Crawford made an uncomplicated recovery, and lived another 32 years.

    McDowell did not publish a description of his procedure until 1817, after he had performed two more such operations.

    Sources: mcdowellhouse.com, wikipedia/Ephraim_McDowell,

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  • December 25

    What was George Washington’s plan when he crossed the Delaware River tonight?

    Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851December 25–26, 1776 — George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River  occurred tonight during the American Revolutionary War. It was the first move in a surprise attack organized by Washington against the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey.

    Planned in partial secrecy, Washington led a column of Continental Army troops across the icy Delaware River in a logistically challenging and dangerous operation. Other planned crossings in support of the operation were either called off or ineffective, but this did not prevent Washington from surprising and defeating the troops of Johann Rall quartered in Trenton. The army crossed the river back to Pennsylvania, this time laden with prisoners and military stores taken as a result of the battle.

    Washington’s army then crossed the river a third time at the end of the year, under conditions made more difficult by the uncertain thickness of the ice on the river.

    On January 2, 1777 — Washington and his troops defeated British reinforcements under Lord Cornwallis at Trenton, and defeated his rear guard at Princeton on January 3, before retreating to winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey.

    The unincorporated communities of Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania and Washington Crossing, New Jersey are named in honor of this event.

    Sources: wikipedia/Crossing_of_the_Delaware_River,

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  • December 26

    How did General George Washington win the first major US victory at Trenton?

    Battle_of_Trenton_by_Charles_McBarronDecember 26, 1776 — At approximately 8 a.m. this morning, General George Washington’s Continental Army reached the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey, and descended on the Hessian forces guarding the city.

    Historians explain: “Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were groggy from the previous evening’s Christmas festivities and had underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York.”

    The troops of the Continental Army quickly overwhelmed the German defenses, and by 9:30 a.m.Trenton was completely surrounded.

    Sources: thestarshollowgazette.com,

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  • December 27

    What was the world’s first public railway to use a steam locomotive?

    Tracts_vol_57_p252_1821_Plan_of_intended_Stockton_and_Darlington_RailwayDecember 27, 1825 — The world’s first public railway using a steam locomotive was completed in England today by the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR).

    Operated in north-east England from 1825-1863, it was the first line to connect collieries (a coal mine and the buildings and equipment associated with it) near Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington. The line was soon extended to a new port and town at Middlesbrough.

    While coal waggons were hauled by steam locomotives from the start, passengers were carried in coaches drawn by horses until carriages hauled by steam locomotives were introduced in 1833.

    Sources: spartacus-educational.com, historyextra.com, wikipedia/StocktonDarlingtonRailway,

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  • December 28

    Who published “Poor Richard’s Almanack” today?

     Poor Richard's AlmanacDecember 28, 1732 — Benjamin Franklin began publishing “Poor Richard’s Almanack” today.

    The publisher of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Gazette adopted the pseudonym of “Poor Richard” or “Richard Saunders” for his annual publication, which became a bestseller through 1758. Print runs reached 10,000 per year.

    The American inventor, statesman, and publisher used a mixture of seasonal weather forecasts, practical household hints, and puzzles. Franklin also published some of the witty phrases coined in the work survive in the contemporary American vernacular.

    Four years earlier, in 1729, Franklin became the official printer of currency for the colony of Pennsylvania. By 1748, he was more interested in inventions and science than publishing. He then left for London representing Pennsylvania in its dispute with England, and later spent time in France. He returned to America in March 1775, with war on the horizon. He served on the Second Continental Congress and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. Franlink died in Philadelphia in 1790.

    Sources: almanac.com, history.com, wikipedia/PoorRichard,

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  • December 29

    What is the Treaty of New Echota?

    Cherokeenation1830mapDecember 29, 1835 — The Treaty of New Echota is signed today, ceding all the lands of the Cherokee east of the Mississippi River to the US.

    Although the treaty was not approved by the Cherokee National Council nor signed by Principal Chief John Ross, it was amended and ratified by the U.S. Senate in March 1836.

    It became the legal basis for the forcible removal known as the Trail of Tears — the forced relocation 1836-1839 of the Cherokee Nation from their lands in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).

    As a result, an estimated 4,000 Cherokee died.

    Sources: wikipedia/CherokeeRemoval, wikipedia/TreatyofNewEchota,

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  • December 30

    Why do US banks stop payments on gold today in 1861?

    HD_WallSt1866c.previewDecember 30, 1861 — US banks suspended specie payments today, halting payments in gold or silver coins for paper currency called notes or bills). As a result, Americans could no longer convert bank notes into coins.

    Government responded by passing the Legal Tender Act (1862), issuing $150 million in national notes called greenbacks. However, bank notes (paper bills issued by state banks) accounted for most of the currency in circulation.

    The following year, Congress passed the National Bank Act of 1863, which was designed to create a national banking system, float federal war loans, and establish a national currency. The goal was to help resolve the financial crisis that emerged during the early days of the American Civil War (1861–1865). The fight with the South was expensive and no effective tax program had been drawn up to finance it.

    Sources: tightropeforum.com, coindatabase.com, wikipedia/SilverStandard,

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  • December 31

    What did the “Wizard of Menlo Park” demonstrate today in 1879?

    1885-2December 31, 1879 — Thomas Edison (aka: “The Wizard of Menlo Park”) worked his magic today when he privately demonstrated incandescent light. He was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention.

    The American inventor and businessman developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.

    The year before, Edison had formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City with several financiers, including J. P. Morgan and the members of the Vanderbilt family.

    Sources: menloparkmuseum.org, wikipedia/ThomasEdison,

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