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October 16, 1859
John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry begins. This is considered to be one of the final triggering events of the Civil War. Prior to Harpers Ferry, Brown had been a participant in the Midwestern border conflict, known as Bleeding Kansas. During this, violent clashes were fought by anti-slavery Jayhawks and pro-slavery Border Ruffians, in an effort to establish Kansas as either free or slave territory. It was here that Brown led a massacre of pro-slavery settlers. Three years later, Brown led a militia to Harpers Ferry, located at the junction of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers in the mountains of what is now West Virginia. A free Black man – Heyward Shepherd – was the first casualty of the incident, killed by Brown’s forces. Most of Brown’s men were captured or killed by US Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown himself surrendered after being trapped in an engine house. He was executed on December 2, 1859.
October 17, 1777
The Saratoga Campaign comes to an end. Fought along the Hudson River in New York and Vermont, this battle proved to be a turning point for the American Revolution. Early in the conflict, British forces secured several victories, which led to a decrease in American morale. With a victory at Saratoga, however, some of this morale was restored, and as a result of the battle, France entered the conflict on behalf of the American Colonies. Benedict Arnold, the General who later betrayed Continental forces and joined the British Army, played a significant role in this battle.
October 18, 1867
The United States purchases Alaska from the Russian Empire. While it was occasionally referred to as “Seward’s Folly” by its opposition, the acquisition of the territory began with negotiations on behalf of US Secretary of State William Seward and Russian Minister Eduard de Stoeckl. Once the treaty was ratified by US Congress, it was signed by President Andrew Johnson. Alaska was granted statehood in 1959 and is currently the largest state in the union. Notable historical events that have occurred within Alaska include the Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899), Great Serum Run to Nome (1925), Aleutian Islands Campaign during World War II (1942-1943), and the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill (1989).
October 19, 1781
The Siege of Yorktown comes to an end. With Washington’s Continental soldiers on one side and the Marquis de Lafayette’s French forces on the other, British General Charles Cornwallis sent Charles O’Hara to surrender. Fought on the coast of southeastern Virginia, this was the final primary battle of the American Revolution on US soil. The war itself, however, did not officially end until 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
October 20, 1803
US Congress ratifies the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Territory originally consisted of a range that expanded 15 states and two Canadian provinces. Beginning in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson faced opposition from the Federalist Party, who believed it to be unconstitutional to acquire new territories. Members from Jefferson’s own Democratic-Republican Party also believed adding new territories to the nation to be unconstitutional. Jefferson, however, believed the action to be within his constitutional limits, and the purchase was completed.
October 21, 1921
Warren G. Harding becomes the first sitting US president to deliver a speech against lynching in the Deep South. Lynchings in the southern United States had become increasingly common since the Reconstruction Era. They were primarily aimed at African-Americans, many of whom were accused of a crime, but not given a trial. A member of the Republican Party, Harding delivered his speech in Birmingham, Alabama.
October 22, 1962
President John F. Kennedy informs the nation that Soviet missiles have been discovered in Cuba. This is often considered to be the height of the Cold War. Prior to this, several major incidents had occurred that pushed the world closer to another widespread conflict. The Berlin Blockade, Bay of Pigs Invasion, construction of the Berlin Wall, and the placement of US missiles in Turkey had all pushed the United States and the Soviet Union closer to war. In 1961, US missiles were placed in Italy and Turkey. Then, with the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba via recon surveillance the following year, the world stood at the brink of war for two weeks. The crisis ended when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made the decision to withdraw the missiles from Cuba.
October 23, 1850
The first national US Women’s Rights Convention is held in Worcester, Massachusetts. Gaining much support from abolitionists and from women and men alike, a series of speeches were delivered. These included the topics of equal wages, women’s property rights, and women’s’ suffrage. During the Civil War, female activists, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth C. Stanton, rallied support for abolition of slavery. Roughly 60 years following the Civil War, women in the US were given the constitutional right to vote, with the addition of the 19th Amendment.
October 24, 1901
Annie Taylor becomes the first person to survive a plunge down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Born in Auburn, New York, Taylor eventually became a teacher, and found herself opening a dance school in Bay City, Michigan. Unable to find much work, she later moved to San Antonio, Texas, and then to Mexico City. Struggling financially, Taylor returned to the US and decided to risk riding down Niagara Falls. Located on the border of New York and Ontario, this cluster of three waterfalls tops at over 160 feet high. On October 24, 1901, Taylor climbed into a barrel and was sent over the falls. She was found to be alive and was almost completely unharmed. She later earned the nickname, “Queen of the Mist.” Since then, there have been numerous attempts by individuals to plunge over the falls, many of which have resulted in death. One of these was a Greek waiter, George Statakis. On July 5, 1930, Statakis attempted to traverse the falls, but his barrel became trapped. He was stuck for more than 14 hours and suffocated.
October 24, 1947
Walt Disney testifies before the US House Un-American Activities Committee. During the “Red Scare,” many Hollywood actors and actresses were suspected of being communists or communist sympathizers. Some celebrities, including Lucille Ball and Humphrey Bogart, were among the accused. Others, such as Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, chose to testify. Beginning in 1947, Disney named several of his former employees, believing them to have been influenced by Communism and attempting to spread the ideology throughout the film industry. Another major figure associated with this era is Joseph McCarthy, a Republican US Senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy gained fame after alleging that Communists had infiltrated the American government.
October 25, 1944
The largest naval battle in world history occurs in Leyte Gulf. Fought in and around the Philippines, this battle experienced nearly every concept of naval warfare, excluding the use of mines. The operation was led by Admiral William Halsey of Task Force 38. Consisting of American and Australian troops, the Allies won a significant victory, crippling Japanese naval capabilities. Following World War II, General Douglas MacArthur – the commander of Allied forces in the Pacific – returned to the Philippines to supervise reconstruction of the region.
October 26, 1881
The Shootout at O.K. Corral occurs. Around 3:00 PM, the Earp brothers – Wyatt, Virgil, James, and Morgan – and Doc Holiday engaged in a 30-second gunflight with a cowboy gang in Tombstone, Arizona. This was the result of growing tension between the law officers and cowboys, which included various political and economic factors. William Claiborne, Joseph Ike and William Clanton, and Thomas and Frank McLaury claimed they had repeatedly warned the Earp brothers not to interfere in their illegal, private activities, to which the Earps denied. The gunfight resulted in the deaths of William Clanton and both McLaury brothers. The Shootout at O.K. Corral has often been regarded as the most famous gunfight of the American Old West.
October 27, 1858
Theodore Roosevelt is born in New York City, New York. A statesman, soldier, conservationist, writer, and historian, “Teddy” (a name he often despised) was very adventurous. He conducted safaris and hunting trips, during which became a renowned outdoorsman, and he later established numerous national parks. His fame began when he led the Rough Riders on a charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions. Originally a member of the Republican Party, Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1897-1898, Governor of New York from 1899-1900, and Vice President from March – September of 1901. He became President upon the assassination of William McKinley and served from 1901-1909. He was, thus far, the youngest person to assume the office. Following his presidency, Roosevelt founded the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, supporting a more Left-leaning platform before returning to the GOP in 1916, though he remained Progressive. Teddy bears are named after him and his face is featured on Mount Rushmore. He passed away on January 6, 1919. Theodore’s cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, served the longest term of any US President, from 1933-1945.
October 28, 1886
The Statue of Liberty is dedicated in New York Harbor. Standing 151 feet tall, the statue was designated a national monument in 1924. Constructed in France, the monument was dedicated as a gift of friendship, and was constructed of copper and iron. While being shipped to the US, it was broken down into more than 350 pieces. The statue represents Libertas, a goddess of liberty in Roman mythology. Since its establishment, it has served as a beacon of hope to all legal immigrants to the United States. President Grover Cleveland spoke at the dedication.
October 29, 1929
The US Stock Market crashes, starting the Great Depression. Known as Black Tuesday, this was the most devastating stock market crash in US history. It followed the September London Stock Exchange Crash, and in turn, affected Western industrialized nations for roughly 12 years. Nearly 15-million people were affected by the crash and left unemployed. Two presidents – Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt – used two different methods to approach the crisis. Hoover believed that further government intervention would prolong the depression, while Roosevelt insisted on the implementation of a “New Deal,” which consisted of large amounts of spending on numerous domestic programs.
October 30, 1735
John Adams is born in Braintree, Massachusetts. Originally an attorney, Adams defended the British soldiers accused of murder during the Boston Massacre. Later, he became one of the largest supporters of independence during the American Revolution. He was present when Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and following the war, he served as an ambassador to Britain, concurrent to the Constitutional Convention. During the Revolution, he served as an ambassador to France. A member of the Federalist Party, Adams served as President from 1797-1801. During this time, he signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws, implemented during the Quasi War with France, allowed the President to deport certain immigrants, as well as to imprison anyone deemed guilty of using anti-American speech or actions. Adams was also the first president to reside in the White House (known then as the Executive Mansion). He passed away on July 4, 1826, just hours apart from Jefferson. His son, John Quincy Adams, served as President from 1825-1829. His wife, Abigail Adams, is often considered a US Founder.
October 31, 1941
Mount Rushmore is completed. Featuring the faces of four presidents, the mountain has become an American cultural icon. According to the National Park Service, each of the featured presidents is a symbol for something unique about the nation. George Washington, often called the “Father of the Country,” represents the birth of America. Thomas Jefferson, who doubled the size of the country through the Louisiana Purchase, represents the growth of America. Theodore Roosevelt, who helped pave the way for the working class in the early 20th century, represents the development of America. Abraham Lincoln, who held the union together and abolished slavery, represents the preservation of America.