Day By Day

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

This Day in History

Today is "National Fritters Day", so get yourself some dough, some fruit filling, and some grease and fry away. Then fritter away a bit of time enjoying the fruits of your labor. Yum!

On this day in 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I of France in Notre Dame Cathedral. At that moment the first of France's many experiments in republicanism came to an end. There is a popular legend to the effect that during the ceremony Napoleon snatched the imperial crown out of the hands of Pope Pius VII in order to avoid any hint of subordination to papal authority. These are untrue -- the details of the ceremony had been worked out in advance. In practical terms Napoleon's coronation changed little. As First Consul Napoleon was already in effect the ruler of France but his assumption of the imperial title was an attempt to block any attempt to restore the Bourbon dynasty to the throne of France. The Bonaparte succession was now written into the constitution of France.

One year later Napoleon celebrated the first anniversary of his rule by beating the stuffing out of the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz in the "Battle of Three Emperors".

And on this day in 1823 President James Monroe, on the advice of his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams [who actually wrote the text], proclaimed the "Monroe Doctrine". It was a policy statement to the effect that any further attempts on the part of European powers to extend their political influence in the Americas would be viewed by the United States as an act of aggression requiring American intervention. The proclamation was specifically a response to attempts by the Russian government in 1821 to establish a monopoly over trade with the Pacific Northwest. More generally it was an attempt to pre-empt any attempt by European powers to gain control over newly-independent states in Latin America.

Monroe's proclamation was nothing if not audacious. It had no legitimacy in international law and the United States lacked any means for enforcing it. For the most part the Great Powers simply ignored it. The one exception was Britain which already had a lucrative trade and with Latin America and wanted to keep potential competitors out of the region. So, for their own reasons, the British navy tacitly enforced the American proscription. This was but one of many pre-emptive actions undertaken by the U. S. government. Despite what ill-informed pundits might claim the United States has always asserted the right to undertake pre-emptive actions, both military and diplomatic, anywhere in the world to protect what it perceived to be its long-term interests.

Entering the Building:

Pedro II van Alcantara [1825]. At the age of five he became Emperor of Brazil and ruled for fifty eight years until he was deposed by a military coup in 1889. His long rule provided Brazil with a reference point for national sentiment that persisted long after his deposition and death. Even at the time of the coup that removed him he remained broadly popular and in public opinion polls today still is considered to be the greatest figure in Brazilian history.

Gen. Alexander Haig, Jr. [1924]. Born in Bala Cynwyd and a graduate of Lower Merion High school, he became White House chief of staff under presidents Nixon and Ford. After that he served as NATO Supreme Commander and as Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. After Reagan was shot he famously proclaimed "I'm in control here." He wasn't.

Leaving the Building:

The Marquis de Sade [1814] -- no comment.

John Brown [1859] -- Abolitionist fanatic and domestic terrorist who sought to provoke a race war in Americs. In 1856 he led a group of Kansas abolitionists who slaughtered five pro-slavery men in the Pottowatomie massacre. Three years later he led a raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia during which seven men were killed and ten more injured. His intention was to arm the slaves and lead them in rebellion. He captured the arsenal, but the spontaneous uprising he envisioned never took place. He was captured, tried for treason, and hanged in Charles Town. His trial and execution became national sensations and the passions aroused during them contributed significantly to raising sectional tensions in the months leading up to the Civil War.

Henry Clay Frick [1919] -- Born in West Overton in Westmoreland County, Frick pioneered the use of "coked coal" in the production of steel. By 1880 his company controlled 80% of the coal output of Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter he merged his company with the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1892 Frick was serving as chairman of the company during the Homestead Strike that ended in a riot in which nine strikers were killed. In retaliation anarchists attempted to assassinate Frick. During the attempt he was shot twice and stabbed four times, but survived. He eventually died of a heart attack in 1919 and was buried in the Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

And last, but certainly not least, Pirates Manager Danny Murtaugh passed away in 1976 at the age of fifty-nine. At least he did not live to see the depths to which the franchise has fallen in recent years.