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June 16, 1858
Abraham Lincoln delivers his “House Divided” speech. Spoken at the Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois, this became one of Lincoln’s most renowned speeches, and was considered politically polarizing at the time. Drawing attention to the increasingly-controversial issue of slavery, Lincoln remarked that the nation was at a breaking point regarding the institution, and that a time was coming when the country would have to choose between whether it would be completely free or completely slaveholding. Drawing on biblical imagery, his most memorable excerpt reads, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I do not believe the union can endure permanently both half slave and half free. I do not expect the union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” When Lincoln was elected to the presidency in 1860, the call for secession by southern Democrats began. South Carolina was the first, and in their secession declaration, the state expressed anger towards Lincoln for declaring that the government must one day become either all slave or all free. Mississippi’s secession declaration accused abolitionists of inciting insurrection by promoting social and political equality among African-Americans. Texas stated that African-Americans could only be considered “tolerable” or “beneficial” while under the condition of slavery. Most southern states issued secession declarations, with some of them criticizing both Lincoln and the Founding Fathers for seeking to restrict slavery’s expansion.
June 17, 1775
The Battle of Bunker Hill is fought. In April 1775, British troops laid siege to Boston, Massachusetts, following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. With the American Revolution having officially begun, both Continental and British soldiers fought desperately to control the city. The night before the battle, militia Colonel William Prescott led a force of over 1,000 men to Bunker and Breed’s Hills, located on the outskirts of Boston. By morning, the British caught wind of the colonial position, and the fight began. It was here that Colonel Prescott reportedly told his men, “Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” This was one of the largest battles during the opening phase of the American Revolution. Although colonial troops were forced to retreat, the battle resulted in a Pyrrhic victory for the British, meaning that they were the victors, but gained nothing as a result.
June 17, 1885
The Statue of Liberty arrives in New York Harbor. Constructed in France, the statue was said to be a gift of friendship. Made out of copper and iron, it was broken down into 350 pieces for its transfer to the states. It was later reassembled and dedicated by President Grover Cleveland the following year. The statue symbolizes Libertas, a liberty goddess in Roman mythology. On the statue’s head is a crown with spikes representing the world’s continents and oceans. Standing 305 feet tall, the statue remains one of the most recognizable monuments in the world, and serves as a beacon to all legal immigrants seeking the promise of a better life in the United States.
June 18, 1812
The United States declare war on the British Empire, starting the War of 1812. Following the American Revolution, tension between the states and Britain remained high. British sailors began capturing and taunting Americans on the high seas. The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, which occurred off the coast of Virginia, resulted in four dead Americans. Later, the Little Belt Affair ended with 11 British casualties. On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed the declaration of war, beginning the conflict. Fighting alongside the British were various Native tribes, whom the British used to stir havoc among US settlers in the Midwest. Fighting alongside American soldiers were also several Native tribes, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek. The War was officially declared over on February 17, 1815. The War of 1812 was the only conflict of the Napoleonic Wars fought on American soil.
June 19, 1865
Slaves in Galveston, Texas are informed of their freedom by Union soldiers. Celebrated as Juneteenth, this was the first official declaration of abolition in the United States after the Civil War. Standing at Ashton Villa, General Gordon Granger read aloud the order, which declared equality between former slaves and their masters, while calling for their relationship to be reminiscent of an employee and employer. Two years following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in America were finally granted their long-awaited freedom. Juneteenth is recognized nationwide, and since 1865, has been celebrated in almost all 50 states. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed into law the recognition of Juneteenth as a federally-observed holiday.
June 21, 1964
The Freedom Summer Murders occur. Three Civil Rights workers – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner – were kidnapped by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County, Mississippi. From there, they were driven to a different location and shot. All three men were involved in the Congress for Racial Equality and they had been working for the Freedom Summer Campaign. Their bodies were discovered around six weeks later and their murders fueled support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both of which were signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in their respective years. In 1967, seven men were charged with the murders, but received only minor sentences. In 2005, another conspirator – Edgar R. Killen – was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Killen died while serving his sentence on January 11, 2018.
June 22, 1970
President Richard Nixon signs an extension of the Voting Rights Act, lowering the voting age to 18. First signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, the original Act enforced the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that all citizens – regardless of race or previous servitude status – have the right to vote in political elections. For roughly 100 years, African-Americans in many locations across the country, especially in the Deep South, were prevented from exercising their right to vote, despite the passage of the 15th Amendment. The Voting Rights Act provided support for the amendment and reiterated the right of all citizens to vote. Until 1970, the legal voting age in most states was 21 years. Nixon’s signing of the VRA extension federally lowered the voting age to 18 years. Following this, other extensions of the VRA were signed in the years 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006.
June 24, 1948
The Berlin Blockade begins. This is considered by many historians to be the start of the Cold War and was its first major international crisis. Following the defeat of the Axis powers and the dissolution of the British Empire at the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were left as the two remaining superpowers. Europe was divided, with the US and its allies claiming the West, while the USSR and its Eastern Bloc nations claimed the East. Germany, divided by East and West, became a hotspot for hostility between the two superpowers. The Berlin Blockade began when Soviet forces blocked Western access to East Germany. As a result, the Berlin Airlift was conducted, during which various Western nations provided food and supplies to the besieged citizens. The blockade ended on May 12, 1949.
June 25, 1876
The Battle of Little Bighorn begins. Following the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the US government broke a treaty with the Sioux tribe, and allowed its citizens to settle in the territory. Many Natives, including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, were outraged. On June 25, 1876, Native warriors under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse engaged federal troops under the command of General George A. Custer, a veteran of the Civil War, on the plains of southeastern Montana near the Little Bighorn River. Occasionally referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand,” nearly all US soldiers were killed, resulting in a resounding victory for the Sioux. On June 3, 1948, construction of a memorial in dedication to Crazy Horse began near the town of Custer, South Dakota. Several Native veterans from the Battle of Little Bighorn were present for the start of the monument’s construction. Because the monument receives no assistance from federal funding, it is far from completion, but when finished, will reportedly be larger than Mount Rushmore.
June 25, 1950
North Korea invades South Korea, starting the Korean War. Following World War II and the collapse of the Japanese Empire, Korea became divided by North and South at the 38th Parallel. North Korea became a Communist, authoritarian regime, while South Korea embraced a democratic mindset. When the war broke out, North Korea was supported by Chinese troops, while simultaneously receiving assistance from Soviet advisors. South Korea was backed by UN forces, with many coming from the US and Britain. On June 29, 1950, President Harry Truman ordered a naval blockade of the Korean Peninsula, entering the United States into the conflict. The war ended in 1953, resulting in a hostile stalemate that exists to this day, and accomplishing little. On an interesting side note, the Korean War was the first conflict in which American soldiers were entered into without an official declaration of war from Congress, as the Constitution requests. As of June 2021, no conflict since World War II has seen US troops entered via a declaration of war.
June 26, 1963
President John F. Kennedy delivers his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. With the end of World War II, Germany was divided into two countries, with the US claiming the West and the Soviet Union taking the East. In 1961, the Soviets quickly constructed the Berlin Wall, further separating the East from the West and cutting off access for many of Germany’s citizens. Kennedy, hoping to restore unity, aimed his speech not only at the Soviet Union, but those who supported Communism. One of his most memorable excerpts reads: “Two-thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘Civis Romanus sum (I am a Roman citizen).’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a citizen of Berlin)!’ All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”
June 30, 2019
Donald Trump becomes the first sitting US president to visit North Korea. The end of the Korean War in 1953 resulted in a hostile stalemate, with soldiers from both sides deployed at the DMZ to maintain constant surveillance. Prior to 2019, various presidents had visited the DMZ, including Clinton in 1993, Bush in 2002, and Obama in 2012. On June 11, 2018, President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met in Sentosa, Singapore, in a diplomatic meeting that was the first of its kind. Then, on June 30, 2019, Trump became the first sitting US president to cross the DMZ and enter North Korea. The nation itself, however, continues to be a tyrannical Communist regime, with major human rights violations.