Day By Day

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "National Nut Day". There is absolutely no reason to believe that it refers to you. Really! So quit acting that way. I mean it! Stop that!

On this day in 741 AD, Charles "The Hammer" Martel, hero of the Battle of Tours dies. He served as Mayor of the Palace under the Merovingian Kings of the Franks and was, at his death, the de facto ruler of France. He was one of the greatest military leaders of all time. During his life he revolutionized western warfare, conquered much of Western Europe, began the Reconquista, and established the foundation for the Carolingian Empire. His son was Pepin the Short, his grandson Charlemagne. Quite a legacy!

And on this day in 1746 the "College of New Jersey" was founded. We know it better as Princeton University. Currently it is 0-2 in league competition and 1-4 overall. Heck of a job, Tigers.

And on this day in 1836 Sam Houston, one of the most fascinating figures in our early history, was sworn in as the first President of the Republic of Texas.

Born in Virginia, Houston as a boy had moved to Tennessee and lived for a while among the Cherokee. Later he returned to White society and was in the process of setting himself up as a schoolteacher in Tennessee [despite being basically uneducated himself] when the War of 1812 broke out. He signed up to fight the British, served under Andrew Jackson, and at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was wounded three times. Jackson was impressed and later hired Houston as an Indian agent overseeing the removal of the Cherokees from Tennessee to Arkansas. Houston's sympathies lay too much with the Indians and he didn't last long in that position. He then studied for and passed the bar, then ran successfully for Congress and in 1827 was elected Governor of Tennessee. His future seemed bright, but then he met a woman.

After a mysterious affair with a young woman Houston was forced into marriage. Then within a matter of weeks his wife left him. He then resigned his governorship, went back to live with the Cherokee, opened a trading post, was adopted into the tribe, and married an Indian woman [which technically made him a bigamist since his estranged wife and he were not divorced]. From there it was downhill. He took to drink, got involved in some questionable business deals, was arrested for assaulting one of his business partners, was convicted in civil court and fled the country for Mexico rather than pay the fine. His future seemed dark, but once again he pulled off a stunning reversal.

His Indian wife refused to accompany him so he left her behind. In Texas he got involved with the independence movement and when the revolution broke out he was given a military command and within a year became Commander in Chief of the Texican forces. After independence he was elected President of Texas twice, finally divorced his first wife and, at the age of 47 married a 21 year old woman. Third time was a charm. They had eight children.

After Texas was annexed in 1835 Houston was elected Senator and returned to Washington in triumph. Then in 1857 as sectional tensions rose he returned to Texas determined to keep it from leaving the Union. He was elected Governor in 1859 [the only person to have been elected governor of two different States] and worked to keep the State from seceding. He failed and in 1861, after Texas joined the Confederacy, was removed from office. After that he retired and devoted himself to Masonic activities. He was in poor health at that point and two years later he contracted pneumonia and died.

Quite a career, one that stands as testament to the extreme fluidity of early American society and to the amazing range of opportunities it afforded ambitious individuals. Sam Houston was a remarkable man living in a remarkable country.

And this day in 1844 followers of William Miller, a religious leader, gathered together to welcome the second coming of Jesus Christ. He didn't show up.

And on this day in 1918 the Spanish Influenza epidemic was raging. Both Baltimore and Washington ran out of coffins in which to bury the dead. Before it had run its course more than half a million people died in the United States. Globally mortality estimates range between 50 and 100 million people. The "Spanish Lady" probably killed more people than the "Black Death" of the Fourteenth Century.

And on this day in 1962 the Kennedy administration was blundering its way through the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a result of some spectacularly stupid covert activities engineered by the White House Fidel Castro, fearing yet another invasion, had invited the Soviets to send troops and missiles to his country. We had learned of the missile deployment as early as September and had hard proof of their existence early in October, but the adminstration dithered. Finally on the 22nd Kennedy went on TV to tell the American people about the missile threat, ordered a blockade of Cuba [technically an act of war] and placed the American military world-wide on high alert [DEFCON 3 -- we would go to DEFCON 2, for the only time in our history, on the following day]. I was living in Florida at the time and remember how scary it was to look up several times a day to see military jets flying over [to be continued].