Day By Day

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This Day In History

It's only unofficial, but who cares about that? Today is National Brandied Fruit Day. So get yourself some fruit, some brandy..., ok, a lot of brandy..., and get marinated.

On this day in 1818 the Anglo-American Convention of 1818 was signed. It settled a lot of long-standing issues between the UK and the USA over fishing rights, boundary disputes [between the USA and Canada] and the status of the far Western territories.

People forget that for a century after independence our greatest international foe was Britain and much of our foreign and military policy was aimed at keeping the Brits from expanding their influence in North America. In 1812-1815 open warfare had broken out, in large part because of friction between Canada and the USA. This treaty was an attempt to find a long-term solution to this perennial set of problems. It set the northern boundary of the United States at the 49th Parallel running between the Lake of the Woods and the Rockies. By its terms Britain and the US would jointly administer and settle the territory we called Oregon [they called it Columbia]. The US gave up claims to southern Alberta [the last major territorial concession by the US] and the Brits gave up claims to Ruperts Land south of the Parallel. And lest we forget, the Brits agreed to compensate American slaveholders for slaves that had been freed during the War of 1812.

Commentators often suggest that this convention solved the major border problems between the US and Canada for all time, but it didn't. The main theater of conflict just shifted westward to the Oregon territory.

And on this day in 1947 HUAC [the House Committee on Un-American Activities] began hearings on the influence of communists in Hollywood. There is an enormous amount of mythology surrounding this committee and its investigations.

First of all, it was not a Republican creation. Through the 1930s bipartisan House committees had looked into both Communist and German influence in America. In 1938 a special investigating committee was set up under the chairmanship of Rep. Martin Dies, Jr. [D, Texas]. At first it mostly investigated Nazis and other German immigrants, then the KKK, but committee member John Rankin [D, Mississippi] protested, arguing that the Klan was "an old American institution". It then shifted its focus to investigate Communist infiltration of New Deal agencies and non-governmental Communist "Popular Front" organizations that were proliferating in immigrant communities on both coasts. As it turned out, even the committee itself was not immune to infiltration. Samuel Dickstein [D, New York], the committee Vice-Chairman, was named in NKVD documents as a Soviet agent. You don't get any more Anti-American than that.

In 1945 the Committee was reconstituted as a standing committee under the chairmanship of Edward J. Hart [D, New Jersey]. It launched a number of investigations into Communist infiltrataion of American institutions, including government agencies. The most famous of these was an investigation, spearheaded by a young California representative, Richard Nixon [R], that resulted in the prosecution of Alger Hiss, a high ranking State Department official. The investigation made Nixon famous and jump-started his rise to national office. In 1947 the committee scheduled nine days of hearings on Communist influence in Hollywood. Several leading figures in the film industry were called to testify. Ten of the witnesses who were called before the committee refused to answer any questions put to them and were cited for "contempt of Congress". These were the much lionized "Hollywood Ten". Hollywood lefties have ever since treated them as martyrs. At no time did Joseph McCarthy have any direct involvement with the committee. McCarthy, after all, was a Senator and this was a House committee.

And on this date in 1973 President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor [and Kennedy acolyte] Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. This was branded by the press as the "Saturday Night Massacre" and was an important development in the Watergate scandals. It led directly to numerous calls from Democrat leaders for Nixon's impeachment. It would not be long before he would return to private life.