January In American History: Part 1

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On January 29, 2020, a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Boston, Massachusetts was removed. Designed by Thomas Ball, the statue depicts a freed slave kneeling at Lincoln’s feet, as Lincoln holds the Emancipation Proclamation in one hand. According to the Washington Post, a petition with over 12,000 signatures was collected, calling for the statue’s removal. While the statue may be understandably controversial to some, it should be noted that expenses for the monument were paid for by former slaves.

Unveiled in 1876, eleven years after the bloodiest conflict on American soil, the statue is very symbolic. While even Frederick Douglass held certain doubts about the monument – as he believed Ulysses S. Grant deserved credit for enacting suffrage rights for African-Americans – it is clear that the statue is emblematic of what the Declaration of Independence and Constitution truly represent.

Unfortunately, we appear to be living in a time when history is respected less and less. One can only imagine what the former slaves who helped fund the monument would say, could they see the emblem of their freedom being removed. It seems that we too often forget that history is meant to serve as a reminder of how far we have come. The journey is often difficult, and reminders can sometimes be painful, but all events must be remembered. The former slaves who helped fund the Lincoln statue understood this. Only two nations on Earth – the US and Haiti – have fought wars to decide the fate of slavery on their soil.

The month of January is filled with historical events, including some related to the end of slavery in America. January marks the month in which President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Read on to discover more about this event, as well as many others for the first half of this month!

January 1, 1863

President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Though Lincoln’s original goal at the outset of the Civil War was the preservation of the union, he soon saw the complete abolition of slavery as a means of achieving that goal. As the war’s early years progressed, he began to envision a new birth of freedom for the country. Lincoln would turn the tide of the war to not just restoration of the union, but freedom for African-American slaves. Though the proclamation did not take immediate effect, as it only pertained to slavery in Confederate states, the document paved the way for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which Lincoln pushed for as the war neared its end.

January 2, 1942

The United States FBI obtains the conviction of 33 members of a German spy ring. Known as the Duquesne Spy Ring, each of the members conducted their own mission of espionage against the United States. One member worked on an airline to inform the Germans when Allied ships crossed the Atlantic. Another sent letters that contained technical data on industry and the military. Headed by Frederick Joubert Duquesne, this was the largest case of espionage in US history. The 33 members were sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison. Of those accused, 19 pleaded guilty after being investigated by the FBI. The other 14 were taken before a jury trial in New York City.

January 3, 1777

The Battle of Princeton, New Jersey is fought. The previous week, George Washington and Continental forces crossed the Delaware River during the early morning hours on Christmas Day. They then secured a victory at Trenton, capturing roughly 900 Hessian mercenaries. At Princeton, the Continental Army attacked the British forces of Charles Mawhood and Charles Cornwallis, winning a victory and boosting American morale.

January 4, 1944

Operation Carpetbagger begins. Under the command of General “Wild Bill” Donovan, US and British forces provided supplies and ammunition to Resistance fighters in France, Italy, and the Low Countries via airdrop. The flights were conducted on moonlit nights for better protection of the operators and Resistance fighters. Orchestrated by members of the OSS, the operators have been recognized as the ancestors of today’s Air Force Special Operations.

January 5, 1933

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge begins. Located in San Francisco, California, it is considered one of the wonders of the modern world. Designed by Irving Morrow, the bridge is an American icon and is recognized worldwide. Construction was completed on April 19, 1937. At the time of its completion, it was the tallest bridge in the world. In 1987, it was designated a California Historical Landmark, and in 1999, it became a San Francisco designated landmark.

January 7, 1942

The Siege of Bataan Peninsula begins. This was the first Allied assault against the Japanese Empire following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, US and Filipino troops fought to prevent Japanese forces from occupying the Philippines. The outcome was a Japanese victory, resulting in the temporary Japanese occupation of the Philippines and the devastating Bataan Death March. Towards the end of World War II, following an American victory in the Philippines, MacArthur would return to the region to supervise its reconstruction.

January 8, 1815

The Battle of New Orleans is fought. Though the War of 1812 had received a formal end via the Treaty of Ghent by this point, word had not reached American and British troops in southern Louisiana. Commanded by General Andrew Jackson, US forces won a major victory against the British, securing an effective end to the war’s fighting. Before the fight, Jackson had struck a deal with notorious pirate Jean Lafitte, granting him more manpower. This is largely where Jackson gained fame as a successful military commander, and he would go on to be admired for his leadership by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Jackson later served as one of the most controversial presidents in US history from 1829-1837.

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January 9, 1776

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense,” is published. Born in Norfolk, England, Paine was a leading figure during the Era of Enlightenment. His pamphlet became a sensation, and it challenged the American people to fight for an egalitarian government. A Classical Liberal, Paine occasionally engaged in debate with his Conservative counterpart, Edmund Burke, and was sometimes frowned upon for his criticism of Christianity. Regarding Common Sense, John Adams stated, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

January 10, 1920

The Treaty of Versailles goes into effect. Originally signed on June 28, 1919, over 20 countries provided signatories. The treaty placed much of the blame for World War I on Germany, and in return, crippled their economy, plunging them into a depression. Likewise, the German Empire was transformed into the Weimar Republic. It is widely believed that the Treaty of Versailles inadvertently lead to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The effects of the “War to End All Wars,” as it was occasionally called, would actually later bring about the most destructive conflict in human history.

January 11, 1755 or 1757

Alexander Hamilton is born in Charlestown, Saint Kitts and Nevis. During the American Revolution, Hamilton served under George Washington, and later, became the first Secretary of the Treasury. A member of the Federalist Party, he wrote a large portion of the Federalist Papers, co-authored the US Constitution, and oversaw the establishment of the First National Bank. On July 11, 1804, Hamilton was mortally wounded in a duel with Thomas Jefferson’s vice president, Aaron Burr. Hamilton fired above Burr’s head, while Burr shot Hamilton just above the hip. Hamilton passed away the next day. On January 20, 2015, a Broadway musical debuted which portrays the major events in Hamilton’s life.

January 12, 1932

Hattie Caraway becomes the first female elected to the US Senate. Born on February 1 near Bakerville, Tennessee, she represented Arkansas in the Senate as a member of the Democratic Party. Caraway later won her reelection bid. She stated to reporters, “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job.”

January 13, 1966

Robert C. Weaver is appointed to become the first African-American cabinet member. A member of the Democratic Party, Weaver was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and served on the H.U.D. from 1966-1968. Likewise, he also served as a member of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Bowery Savings Bank, NAACP, and other organizations. Weaver passed away on July 17, 1997.

January 14, 1943

The Casablanca Conference begins. At the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, Morocco, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss unconditional surrender for Axis forces, as well as procedure and policy. Also present were Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud, representing Free French forces. Due to the Siege of Stalingrad by Nazi Germany, Joseph Stalin chose not to attend. Two outcomes of the conference were the decision to begin an Allied invasion of Italy and Churchill’s pledge to offer more British troops to the Pacific Theater.

January 15, 1943

The Pentagon is dedicated in Arlington, Virginia. Designed by George Bergstrom, it is the headquarters for the US Department of Defense, and is located across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. The Pentagon is also the world’s largest office building. It was struck by American Airlines Flight 77 on September 11, 2001, exactly 60 years following the start of the building’s construction, killing 189 people. The Pentagon is a National Historic Landmark and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Part II of American history in January coming soon!

Garrett Smith
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