July in American History: Part I

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July 1, 1898
The Battle of San Juan Hill is fought. Following the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, the US declared war on Spain. On July 1, several regiments under the command of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt led an attack on two hills controlled by Spanish forces. Roosevelt’s main regiment, the Rough Riders, along with the Buffalo Soldiers, gained recognition from the battle. The Rough Riders were mainly comprised of volunteer soldiers, many of whom Roosevelt met during his time spent out west. The Buffalo Soldiers, a famed regiment of African-Americans, were often tasked with protecting western settlers from Native renegades. Not long after the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Spanish-American War ended, resulting in an American victory. Theodore Roosevelt went on to serve as Vice President and then as President from 1901-1909.

July 2, 1964
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the US Constitution had guaranteed civil rights to African-Americans, many states still used local laws to discriminate. Following the signing of the 1960 Civil Rights Act by President Eisenhower, states still used local laws to discriminate in public areas. The signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act reaffirmed rights for African-Americans and officially prohibited segregation in both the public and private sector. The following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed, verifying that all citizens, regardless of race, are legally allowed to vote in public elections. Since 1965, there have been various extensions of this act, signed in the years 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006.

July 3, 1863
The Battle of Gettysburg comes to an end. This marked the turning point of the Civil War. Following General Robert E. Lee’s resounding victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia just two months prior, Lee decided to take the fight to the North. On July 1, 1863, a small scuffle between Union and Confederate troops began near the town of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania, starting the battle. The first day consisted of a minor Confederate victory, while Union forces were reinforced with the arrival of General John Buford’s cavalry. Major General John Reynolds was killed on this day, dealing a blow to the Union. On the second day, Confederate troops launched an attack on Little Round Top, only to be met with heavy resistance from Union soldiers under the command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. With his troops running low on ammunition, Chamberlain made a bold decision, and ordered his men to bayonet-charge downhill. This action proved successful, resulting in the day ending with a Union victory. Chamberlain was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. On day three, the tide of the entire war was turned in favor of the Union. Under the order of General Lee, Confederate Generals George Pickett and James Pettigrew were commanded to attack the Union position, fortified behind a rock wall and across an open field. Known as Pickett’s Charge, the assault proved disastrous, with nearly all participating Confederate soldiers being killed or captured. Union troops secured a major victory, and in just under two years, the war ended. On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, in which he gave tribute to the brave soldiers who gave their lives in dedication to preserving the union.

July 4 – Independence Day
On June 11, 1776, Continental Congress appointed the Committee of Five to draft a certain document. This document would show that they were officially severing their ties with the largest and most powerful empire in the world at the time, in order to secure the natural, God-given rights that they felt were being violated. The Committee consisted of five men of distinction: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, though many more individuals would eventually sign the document and serve their new country in various ways. Unlike millions of previous documents worldwide, this one was different in that it affirmed all individuals to be endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some of the signers of this declaration would lose their lives securing the new nation’s freedom. Some would lose wives and children. Many of them would play important roles in both the conflict and in politics, during and after the war. On July 4, 1776, Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. May those who fought to secure our blessed and great nation never be forgotten.

July 4, 1872
Calvin Coolidge is born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. After graduating from Amherst College in 1895, he soon became an attorney. He also served in several local positions, including justice of the peace. Coolidge’s resume was impressive, consisting of him serving Massachusetts in the state’s House of Representatives from 1907-1909; Mayor of Northampton from 1910-1912; State Senate from 1912-1915; President of the State Senate from 1914-1915; Lieutenant Governor from 1916-1919; and Governor from 1919-1921. During his time as Governor of Massachusetts, he gained recognition from his handling of the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Following this, he served as Vice President from 1921-1923. A member of the Republican Party, Coolidge ascended to the presidency following the passing of Warren G. Harding, and his term lasted from 1923-1929. As Chief Executive, he proved himself to be a small-government conservative. Coolidge supported a non-interventionist foreign policy, pushed for Congress to make lynching a federal crime, and signed the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. He passed away on January 5, 1933.

July 5, 1775
Continental Congress adopts the Olive Branch Petition. Later signed on July 8, this document was the Colonies’ final attempt at securing peace with the British Empire, hoping to avoid open conflict. While peace with Britain seemed hopeful to some, others, such as John Adams, believed the petition to be pointless and maintained that war was inevitable. When the petition reached King George, he refused to read it. By August of that year, the American Colonies were officially declared to be in rebellion. Patrick Henry stated in his Liberty or Death speech, “We have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on.”

July 5, 1852
Frederick Douglass delivers his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech. Spoken in Rochester, New York, this oration is often mistakenly believed to be an anti-American speech. In reality, it is quite the opposite. At the start, Douglass states, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…There is not a nation on Earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.” He also said, “You can bear your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a three-penny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the Black laborers of your country.” As the speech progresses, however, Douglass changes his tone. He casts positivity for the Founding Fathers, stating what radicals believed of them to be “a slander upon their memory.” Likewise, he called the Declaration of Independence the “nation’s ringbolt.” While Democrats and radical Republicans alike believed the Constitution to be a slaveholding document, Douglass disagreed. He stated, “Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes…Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.” As Douglass continues, he remarks that he does not despair of America, but rather, that he believes America will overcome slavery, its greatest evil at the time.

July 5, 1926
President Calvin Coolidge delivers his “Inspiration of the Declaration” speech. For several previous decades, the Progressive political movement had grown, with prominent supporters across the spectrum. Some of these figureheads included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jane Adams, and William Jennings Bryan. With their ideological support expanding and growing significantly, Progressives called for various reforms, including a “living Constitution” (one that would change as society needs it to), direct democracy, and a federal income tax. Standing in opposition to the Progressive movement was Calvin Coolidge, a small-government Conservative and strict Constitutionalist. On July 5, 1926, President Coolidge stood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the nation’s founding. For Coolidge, the Constitution was meant to remain as the founders saw it: a document meant to withstand time, not evolve with it. Affirming the doctrine of natural rights, he stated, “It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.”

July 6, 1946
George W. Bush is born in New Haven, Connecticut. At a young age, he relocated to Texas with his parents. He graduated from Yale University in 1968, and then from Harvard Business School in 1975. Between 1968 and 1972, he flew warplanes for the Texas and Alabama Air National Guards. He later co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team and worked in the oil industry. Bush became involved in the political arena beginning in 1978, working on his father’s presidential campaigns. A member of the Republican Party, he served as Governor of Texas from 1995-2000. Bush served as President from 2001-2009, winning the 2000 Election by only five electoral votes. During his time as president, he was faced with the attacks of September 11, 2001, and as a result, initiated the War in Afghanistan, Iraq War, and War on Terrorism. He also signed the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as the controversial Patriot Act. Following his presidency, Bush has remained somewhat active in politics. His father, George H. W. Bush, served as President from 1989-1993, and his brother, John “Jeb” Bush, ran for President in 2016.

July 7, 1981
Sandra Day O’Connor is appointed as the first female US Supreme Court justice. A member of the Republican Party, she was appointed by President Reagan, and served on the Supreme Court from 1981-2006. Born in El Paso, Texas, O’Connor also served as the first female Senate Majority Leader in the Arizona State Senate, and served there from 1973-1975. After being nominated for the Supreme Court, she was unanimously confirmed. On August 12, 2009, President Obama awarded O’Connor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

July 8, 1776
John Nixon delivers the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Standing at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, church bells rang when Nixon finished reading the document. At this point, the American Revolution had been waged for a year. A final peace attempt, in the form of the Olive Branch Petition, had been submitted to King George, only to be turned away without being read upon arrival. The war lasted officially until 1783, though the fighting ended two years prior. A financier, John Nixon served in the American Revolution as a militia officer. He was eventually promoted to Colonel and served under George Washington at the Battle of Princeton.

July 9, 1755
The Braddock Expedition is defeated at the Battle of the Monongahela. Beginning in 1754, Britain and France engaged in a widespread conflict in an attempt for empire expansion. Under the command of General Edward Braddock, British troops attempted to capture Fort Duquesne, located within the area that later became present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A young George Washington was also present, rising to military prominence during this time. On July 9, 1755, the expedition was ambushed by French and Native forces, resulting in Braddock’s death. Also known as “Braddock’s Defeat,” this has been referred to as one of the most disastrous British defeats of the 18th century.

July 10, 1966
The Chicago Freedom Movement holds a rally at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., the Chicago Freedom Movement was organized in response to unfair housing, income inequality, and inequality being displayed within the city’s criminal justice system. At one point, King stated, “Never before have I seen, even in Mississippi or Alabama, mobs of racists as vicious as here in Chicago.” Operation Breadbasket, led partly by Democratic activist and future presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, was organized to help improve African-American education across the country. The actions of the Chicago Freedom Movement helped establish the Fair Housing Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968.

July 11, 1767
John Quincy Adams is born in Braintree, Massachusetts. Due to his father, John Adams, being a European diplomat, much of Quincy Adams’ childhood was spent in Europe. Upon returning to the States, he became an attorney like his father and practiced law in Boston. Continuing to follow in his father’s footsteps, Adams became a European diplomat, serving as US Minister to the Netherlands from 1794-1797, Prussia from 1797-1801, Russia from 1809-1814, and Britain from 1815-1817. From 1817-1825, he served as James Monroe’s Secretary of State. Originally a Federalist, Adams joined the Democratic-Republican Party from 1809-1828, and later became affiliated with the National Republican, Anti-Masonic, and Whig parties. He served as President from 1825-1829, during which time he sought a series of federally-funded projects, known as Internal Improvements. After serving as Chief Executive, Adams represented Massachusetts in the US House of Representatives from 1831-1848. During his later years, he became increasingly critical of slavery, and helped repeal the Gag Rule, allowing for congressional discussions on abolition. He passed away on February 23, 1848.

July 11, 1804
Alexander Hamilton is mortally wounded in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. In the midst of a bitter political rivalry between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, Hamilton often spoke ill of Burr and campaigned against him. Deciding not to have his integrity ruined, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, which Hamilton eventually – but reluctantly – accepted. On July 11, 1804, the two parties met near Weehawken, New Jersey. When the duel began, Hamilton – conducting what he thought was a gentleman’s move – fired above Burr’s head. Burr, in response, shot Hamilton in the stomach, fatally wounding him. Hamilton was taken back to New York City, where he died the following day. In 1808, philosopher Jeremy Bentham referred to Burr as “little better than a murderer.”

July 13, 1863
The New York City Draft Riots begin. Following the passing of military conscription by Congress, many working-class men in New York City were outraged. Consisting mainly of Irish immigrants, the uprising eventually turned into a race riot, with Irish workers attacking African-Americans. To suppress the riots, President Lincoln issued troops from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Roughly 120 people were killed, while an estimated 2,000 more were injured. Many African-Americans were beaten and killed, while numerous homes, businesses, and churches were destroyed, as was an orphanage for African-American children. This is regarded as the largest and most violent race riot in US history.

July 14, 1913
Gerald Ford is born in Omaha, Nebraska. Born Leslie King Jr., at around two weeks old, his mother took him with her to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was raised. (He was later renamed after his stepfather when his mother remarried, having divorced her abusive first husband.) In 1941, Ford graduated from Yale University, and opened a law practice in Grand Rapids. Following the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the US Navy, and served from 1942-1946. A member of the Republican Party, Ford represented Michigan in the US House of Representatives from 1949-1973. Upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he was appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson to the Warren Commission. From 1965-1973, he served as House Minority Leader. Ford assumed the presidency following the resignation of Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate Scandal, and his term lasted from 1974-1977. During this time, he signed the Helsinki Accords in a move towards detente with the Soviet Union, saw the end of the Vietnam War, and in a controversial move, pardoned Nixon. Ford is currently the only president to assume the office without being either elected or re-elected. He passed away on December 26, 2006.

July 15, 1979
President Jimmy Carter delivers his Malaise speech. Officially titled “Energy and the National Goals – A Crisis of Confidence,” Carter used this oration to address accusations that he was no longer looking out for the common man. In 1973, oil shortages began, contributing to the energy crisis. Carter assured the American people that the nation would endure, and that he had developed a plan in the form of six “points” to help resolve the energy crisis. Some of these consisted of import quotas on foreign oil, large amounts of funds to be spent on alternative fuel sources, and the creation of an energy mobilization board. Carter maintained that energy conservation was an American’s duty as an act of patriotism, and that each gallon of oil saved meant “more freedom, more confidence,” and “that much more control over our own lives.”

Stay tuned for Part II of July in American History, coming soon!

Garrett Smith
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