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September 1, 1939
Nazi Germany invades Poland, starting World War II. In 1933, Adolf Hitler assumed power as German Chancellor. From there, he transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich – an authoritarian, National Socialist regime. For the next few years, Nazi Germany aggressively pushed through Europe, while the Japanese Empire made their way into China and through Southeast Asia. From 1939-1941, the “Axis of Darkness” that consisted of Germany, Italy, the USSR, and Japan, engulfed the Old World. In 1941, however, the tide of the war turned with Hitler betraying the Soviet Union and Japan attacking the US naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Six years after the Invasion of Poland, almost to the day, the war saw its end in the Pacific.
September 2, 1945
The Japanese Empire surrenders to Allied forces, ending World War II. Aboard the USS Missouri, General Douglas MacArthur and Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mamoru Shigemitsu ushered an end to the deadliest conflict in human history. Over 60-million lives were lost as a result of the Second World War. Following the Japanese surrender, Emperor Hirohito was stripped of his power and Japan was no longer allowed to have their own official military. Investigations into war crimes were conducted, resulting in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (the Pacific equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials). Hirohito himself was never tried, but his former prime minister and orchestrator of the Attack on Pearl Harbor – Hideki Tojo – was sentenced to death and executed on December 23, 1948. General MacArthur was tasked with supervising reconstruction of the Pacific and the Far East Tribunal concluded on November 12, 1948.
September 3, 1838
Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery. Born in Cordova, Maryland, Douglass later became one of the most influential orators and activists in American history. A member of the Republican Party, he served as an advisor to several presidents, Ambassador to Haiti, and teacher of the New Testament. In 1872, he became the first African-American nominee for Vice President under Victoria Woodhull of the Reform Party. Woodhull was the first female presidential candidate in US history. Douglass was involved with various aspects of reform throughout his life, and sought to uphold constitutional rights for all individuals, regardless of race or gender. He passed away on February 20, 1895. May we never forget his timeless words: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
September 4, 1957
The Little Rock Crisis begins. Looking to overturn the unconstitutional, segregationist policies of the Arkansas school system, a group of African-American students attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School. Three years earlier, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation violated the 14th Amendment, and declared that schools across the nation must be integrated. The “Little Rock Nine,” as the student group was called, were blocked from entering the school by the Arkansas National Guard, summoned by Governor Orval Faubus. On September 24, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock Central High to enforce the school’s desegregation.
September 5, 1774
The First Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Assembling at Carpenters’ Hall, the delegates met to discuss the Intolerable Acts, and drafted a petition for King George to withdraw them. John Adams, John Jay, and Patrick Henry were among the delegates present. A Plan of Union was eventually adopted, which proposed that the colonists declare independence from Britain and seek a new government. Six months later, Patrick Henry delivered his Liberty or Death speech, which is often said to be the oration that persuaded the founders to call for independence.
September 6, 1626
The Puritans establish the settlement of Salem. Located on Massachusetts Bay, this was one of the earliest seaports in American history. Founded by Roger Conant, the area was named after the Biblical town of Shalem. In 1629, John Winthrop was elected Governor of Salem, and not long after, the Great Puritan Migration began, in which thousands of Puritans fled England to settle either in Massachusetts Bay or the Caribbean. From 1692-1693, Salem was the site of the infamous Witch Trials. Numerous individuals were accused of practicing witchcraft, which led to the execution of 25 people, with a few others dying in prison. Various theories have surfaced as to what turned the inhabitants of Salem against their fellow men and women, and the trials mark one of the worst cases of mass hysteria in early American history. During the American Revolution, Salem became a prominent hub for privateers.
September 8, 1565
The city of St. Augustine is founded. Located in northeastern Florida, it is the oldest city in the contiguous United States. Founded by Spanish colonials, it was named after Saint Augustine of Hippo, a bishop from Roman North Africa. Saint Augustine is credited with being a major influence of both Western Christianity and Western Philosophy, and he helped spread the traditional Christian doctrine regarding the belief of original sin and the grace of Christ. For over 200 years, the city of St. Augustine served as the capital of Florida, until it was moved to Tallahassee in 1824. Florida was admitted into the union as a state on March 3, 1845.
September 9, 1850
The Compromise of 1850 takes effect. In exchange for assuming $10 million of Texas’s pre-annexation debt, a portion of the territory of Texas was given federal control. This territory contained parts of what later became the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. As part of the compromise, slavery was allowed by Popular Sovereignty in several western territories. This was a concept championed largely by Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas, which promoted the idea that people within certain states or territories should decide the fate of slavery in that area. As another condition, California was admitted as a free state. A fugitive slave clause was also passed, which stated that fugitive slaves must be returned to their masters if captured. The compromise is often said to have prevented the Civil War from happening sooner, and much credit is given to Henry Clay, a Whig Senator from Kentucky.
September 10, 1813
The Battle of Lake Erie is fought. Just off the lake shore of Ohio, US forces managed to defeat six British vessels. In doing so, they eventually recovered the city of Detroit, Michigan, and broke the Indian Confederation of Tecumseh. During the outbreak of the War of 1812, British forces secured Lake Erie, which gave them control of the Detroit River. During the battle, Captain James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake stated, “Don’t give up the ship.” The statement was sewn onto a flag and flown the day before the battle. American troops were reinforced with volunteer soldiers from Major General and future President William H. Harrison’s unit. This was the largest battle of the War of 1812.
September 11, 2001
Most people remember where they were on the events of that tragic day, 20 years ago. Across America, people from all walks of life set out for work and school on what was supposed to be an ordinary day. At 8:46 am, the first airplane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Nearly 20 minutes later, a second plane hit the South Tower, and at 9:37 am, a third plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. At 10:03 am, a fourth and final plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was the only plane to have not reached its intended target, thought by many to have been the White House, having been subdued by the passengers of Flight 93. Both of the twin towers collapsed and the Pentagon’s west side was severely damaged. On September 14, standing in the remains of the twin towers at Ground Zero, President George W. Bush addressed the mourning nation. With one arm wrapped around a firefighter, he stated, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” Our hearts go out to the victims of 9/11 and their families. They will never be forgotten.
September 11, 2012
The American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya is attacked by radical Islamic militants. On February 15, 2011, the First Libyan Civil War began. Under the command of Mustafa Jalil, NATO-supported rebel forces sought to overthrow the socialist, totalitarian regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Several radical insurgent groups rose to prominence during this time, including Ansar al-Sharia. On September 11, 2012, the militia began their attack against the compound. Four high-ranking individuals from the United States government were killed as a result of the attack: Christopher Stevens, an American diplomat; Sean Smith, a US Foreign Service Contractor; and Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both CIA contractors. Survivors recalled the compound pleading with officials to send reinforcements, which were not delivered at the time of their request. As a result of the attack, lengthy investigations were conducted, leading to an 11-hour testimony before Congress by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 2014, Ansar al-Sharia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured and incarcerated.
September 12, 1962
President John F. Kennedy delivers his “We Choose to go to the Moon” speech. Standing at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, Kennedy used this oration to promote the Apollo Program. Four years earlier, President Eisenhower signed NASA into creation, and part of Kennedy’s “New Frontier” program consisted of the intention of sending Americans into space. The Space Race between the US and USSR had been waged for several years, with the Soviets launching the world’s first satellite into space. One of the most memorable excerpts from Kennedy’s speech reads: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
September 14, 1984
Joseph Kittinger becomes the first person to fly a gas balloon solo across the Atlantic. Starting in Maine, Kittinger landed in Montenotte, Italy just 86 hours later. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Kittinger also participated in Project Excelsior in 1960. During this, he set the world record for highest skydive from a height greater than 19 miles. A colonel in the US Air Force, Kittinger won two Purple Hearts, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 24 Air Medals, among others.
September 15, 1857
William H. Taft is born in Cincinnati, Ohio. At age 17, he attended Yale University, during which he became a heavyweight wrestler and a member of a secret student society named the Skull and Bones. Following his graduation, Taft was appointed US Solicitor General, and was also appointed as a judge to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. From 1901-1903, he served as Governor-General of the Philippines, and then as Provisional Governor of Cuba from September 29 – October 13, 1906. He also served as US Secretary of War from 1904-1908, during which he was mentored by Theodore Roosevelt (a relationship that would later be strained following Taft’s presidency). A member of the Republican Party, Taft served as President from 1909-1913. During this time, he appealed to conservatives and progressives alike within the party. Taft oversaw construction of the Panama Canal, pushed for land conservation, and upheld the Sherman Antitrust Act. He also saw the reorganization of the State Department to include seats for Latin America and the Far East. Following his presidency, Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. He passed away on March 8, 1930.
September 15, 1944
The Battle of Peleliu begins. Located within the Palau Islands of Southeast Asia, Peleliu was an important target for American soldiers during World War II. With a foundation made mostly of coral, the island was controlled by Japanese forces, who established numerous fortifications in preparation for an Allied attack. What followed was the largest amphibious assault of the conflict in the Pacific Theater. For two months, over 47,000 US soldiers fought a relentless Japanese army. On November 27, 1944, Peleliu was captured by the US. This battle is often regarded as the worst battles of the war, as well as one of the most difficult (the latter due to the mountainous, rocky terrain of the island. Following the battle, eight American soldiers were given the Medal of Honor.
Stay tuned for more American history in September, coming soon!