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February 16, 1959
Fidel Castro becomes Premier of Cuba. During the Cuban Revolution from 1953-1959, Castro’s forces fought and eventually overthrew the administration of Fulgencio Batista, who held diplomatic relations with the US. From there, Castro established a Communist government, which began with the abolition of the democratic process and the overthrow of wealthy business owners. His regime formed a strong relationship with the Soviet Union, which increased tension between the United States and Communist nations. Tension between Cuba and the US heightened with the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. During the 1970s and 1980s, Castro sent troops to assist Communist forces in Angola and Grenada. He ruled Cuba until 2011 and passed away on November 25, 2016.
February 17, 1864
The HL Hunley becomes the first submarine to sink a ship. Constructed in Mobile, Alabama and funded by Horace L. Hunley, it was a Confederate submarine, operated by a hand-cranked propeller. The American Civil War is often considered to be the dawn of modern warfare as it introduced many new concepts not seen before on the battlefield. These included the submarine, ironclad ship, repeating rifle, Gatling gun, and others. After finding its target, the USS Housatonic that was in Charleston Harbor, the Hunley attacked, intent on breaking through the Union blockade. Although it sank the Housatonic, the Hunley was too close to the blast radius, sinking itself in the process and killing all eight crewmen, resulting in a pyrrhic victory for Confederate forces.
February 19, 1942
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066. This authorized the incarceration of Japanese-Americans and thousands were relocated to internment camps. This has long been considered one of the most controversial executive orders in US history. One man, Fred Korematsu, refused to relocate and took the issue to the US Supreme Court. After being heard, the Supreme Court ruled that the order was within Roosevelt’s executive authority as a war measure, and that Korematsu must relocate to a camp. “On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which provided a $20,000 reparation to all surviving Japanese-Americans who were interned.” Ten years later, President Bill Clinton awarded Fred Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
February 20, 1792
President George Washington signs the Postal Service Act, establishing the US Post Office. Headquartered in Washington D.C., it was headed by the Postmaster General, who happened to be Benjamin Franklin. In 1829, President Andrew Jackson gave the organization a boost in prestige by inviting his postmaster general to serve as a member of his Cabinet. The organization dissolved in 1971 following the introduction of the Postal Reorganization Act just one year prior. It was replaced with the US Postal Service.
February 22, 1732
George Washington is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Gaining a military reputation during the French and Indian War, it was here that he fought in the first battle of the conflict, as well as other notable operations, including the Braddock Expedition. At the start of the American Revolution, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from May 10 – June 15, 1775, and then as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army from 1775-1783. During this time, he experienced much loss, but became renowned for his courage and leadership. He served as the nation’s first president from 1789-1797, and unaffiliated himself with political parties, in an effort to preserve national unity. Washington was unanimously elected president and has been referred to as the “Father of the Country.” He passed away on December 14, 1799.
February 23, 1945
The American flag is raised on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. This soon became one of the most iconic photographs of all time, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Photography. The Battle of Iwo Jima began on February 19, 1945, and lasted five weeks. “Over 30,000 US Marines fought in the battle against a Japanese force numbering roughly 22,000.” Six Marines partook in the original flag-raising. The Stars and Stripes waving above the island provided hope that the deadliest conflict in history could be nearing its end. In 1954, the Marine Corps Memorial, featuring the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, was dedicated in Arlington, Virginia.
February 24, 1803
The US Supreme Court establishes Judicial Review in Marbury v. Madison. The issue began when President John Adams, just two days before the end of his term in 1801, appointed several dozen Federalist judges and justices of the peace. The Senate confirmed the judges, but a few of them were not commissioned by the start of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. One of them – William Marbury – filed a lawsuit. Jefferson stated that the judges should have been appointed sooner, and his Secretary of State – James Madison – challenged Marbury in court. This was the first major decision by the US Supreme Court, and has been considered one of the most important, as the court ruled that they had the power to declare a law unconstitutional. The court ruled that Madison was wrong in failing to deliver Marbury’s commission, but that a Writ of Mandamus was the only way it could be resolved, though they stated they could not issue it.
February 25, 1870
Hiram Rhodes Revels becomes the first African-American US Senator. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Revels was a member of the Republican Party, and represented Mississippi in the US House of Representatives from 1870-1871. “During the Civil War, he helped organize two Black regiments, and fought at the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863.” Revels was also a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and preached throughout the Midwest. In 1845, he was arrested in Missouri for preaching to African-Americans. Prior to serving in the US Senate, he served in the Mississippi State Senate. Revels passed away on January 16, 1901.
February 27, 1860
Abraham Lincoln delivers his Cooper Union Address in New York City. Many historians claim that this is the oration which won Lincoln the presidency. During the speech, Lincoln expressed his belief that slavery should not be allowed to expand westward, which echoed the sentiment of the Founding Fathers. In 1787, the founders passed the Northwest Ordinance, which prohibited slavery in the newly-acquired Northwest Territories, although the law did contain a fugitive slave clause. When Southern Democrats accused Lincoln of being a destructive revolutionary, while asserting that they were the true conservatives, Lincoln addressed them by stating, “But you say you are conservative – eminently conservative – while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to and contend with the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by ‘our fathers who framed the government under which we live.’” While you, with one accord, reject, scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new.”
February 28, 1991
The Gulf War comes to an end. “Beginning on August 2, 1990, this conflict consisted of the largest Allied coalition since World War II.” When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait to annex the country for oil fields, many nations united, leaving Hussein and his forces virtually alone. Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, which initiated the American phase of the war. On February 28, the conflict ended in a resounding Coalition victory, with Hussein’s army crushed and forced to retreat. The Gulf War was the first conflict to be featured on live television during combat.
Stay tuned for more history by the month!