Dominican Republic declares independence as a sovereign state


Year
1844
Month Day
February 27

On February 27, 1844, revolutionary fervor boiled over on the eastern side of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Finally coming into the open after years of covert planning, a group known as La Trinitaria seized the fortress of Puerta del Conde in the city of Santo Domingo, and beginning the Dominican War of Independence.

Much of what is now the Dominican Republic had been de facto autonomous in the early 1800s, with the Spanish occupied by Napoleon’s invasion and the Haitians to the west fighting off their French colonizers. Heavily influenced and encouraged by Haiti, which had achieved independence in 1804, Dominicans declared independence as the Republic of Spanish Haiti in 1821. Despite being nominally free, however, the less-wealthy and less-densely populated half of the island came under the control of Haiti and entered into formal union with its neighbor in 1822.

Though Haiti had been only the second European colony in the Americas to achieve independence, and its revolution constituted one of the largest and most important slave revolts in all of history, Dominica suffered under Haitian rule. Though the two were nominally united, the western half of the island was clearly where the political influence lay, and the crippling debts imposed on Haiti by the French and other powers had a profoundly negative effect on the island’s economy as a whole. In 1838, three educated and “enlightened” Dominicans named Juan Pablo Duarte, Ramón Matías Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez founded a resistance organization. They named the organization La Trinitaria due to their decision to divide it into three smaller cells, each of which would operate with almost no knowledge of what the other cells were doing. In this highly secretive way, La Trinitaria set about gathering support from the general populace, even managing to covertly convert two regiments of the Haitian army.

Finally, on February 27, 1844, they were forced to make a move. Though Duarte was away on the mainland seeking support from the recently-liberated peoples of Colombia and Venezuela, La Trinitaria received a tip that the Haitian government had been made aware of their activities. Seizing the moment, they gathered roughly 100 men and stormed Puerta del Conde, forcing the Haitian army out of Santo Domingo. Sánchez fired a cannon shot from the fort and raised the blue, red, and white flag of the Dominican Republic, which still flies over the country today.

The Haitians pillaged the countryside as they retreated West, and fighting continued throughout the spring. Over the next few years and even into the next decade, the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic were periodically at war, each invading the other in response to previous invasions. The storming of the Puerta del Conde, however, represented a turning point in the history of a nation that had long been subjugated, first to the Spanish and then to its Haitian neighbors. 

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African American men gain the right to vote in Washington, D.C.


Publish date:
Year
1867
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 1867, African American men gain the right to vote in the District of Columbia despite the veto of its most powerful resident, President Andrew Johnson. The Republican-controlled senate overrode Johnson by a vote of 29-10 three years before a constitutional amendment granted the right to vote to all men regardless of race.

At the time, citizens of D.C. voted for a local council, but had no representation in Congress and no say in presidential elections. Congress was the final authority on many matters for the District, including voting rights—to this day, the capital city’s budget is the only municipal budget in the country subject to congressional approval. At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Republican Party dominated the legislature, which had been reduced in size and drained of Democrats due to the secession of Southern states. Johnson, however, was not a Republican but rather a Unionist Democrat whom Lincoln had chosen as his running mate during the Civil War in the hopes of appealing to Southern Unionists.

As evidenced by his veto, Johnson valued reconciliation with the former Confederacy over racial equality. He also opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which made freed slaves citizens. Johnson’s opposition to the Republicans’ views on Reconstruction would define his presidency and lead to his becoming the first president ever to be impeached. Though he was unable to stop Congress from granting voting rights to the African Americans of D.C., he spent much of his presidency vetoing the bills of the so-called Radical Reconstructionists.

African American men in D.C.—with some exceptions, including those on welfare—gained the right to vote three years before the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed that right for all American men, regardless of race. As citizens of D.C., however, they did not gain the right to vote in federal elections until 1961. Today, the nation’s capital stands on equal footing with the states in the Electoral College, but its congressional representation remains limited to a single, non-voting member of the House of Representatives. Many official license plates in the district carry the phrase “Taxation without representation,” a nod to the irony that the capital of the United States has roughly the amount of influence in the legislative process as it did before the Revolutionary War.

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France gives the Statue of Liberty to the United States

Year
1884
Month Day
July 04

In a ceremony held in Paris on July 4, 1884, the completed Statue of Liberty is formally presented to the U.S. ambassador as a commemoration of the friendship between France and the United States.

The idea for the statue was born in 1865, when the French historian and abolitionist Édouard de Laboulaye proposed a monument to commemorate the upcoming centennial of U.S. independence (1876), the perseverance of American democracy and the liberation of the nation’s slaves. By 1870, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi had come up with sketches of a giant figure of a robed woman holding a torch—possibly based on a statue he had previously proposed for the opening of the Suez Canal.

READ MORE: Statue of Liberty: The Making of an Icon

Bartholdi traveled to the United States in the early 1870s to drum up enthusiasm and raise funds for a proposed Franco-American monument to be located on Bedloe’s Island, in New York’s harbor. Upon his return to France, he and Laboulaye created the Franco-American Union, which raised some 600,000 francs from the French people.

Work on the statue, formally called “Liberty Enlightening the World,” began in France in 1875. A year later, the completed torch and left forearm went on display in Philadelphia and New York to help with U.S. fundraising for the building of the statue’s giant pedestal.

Constructed of hammered copper sheets formed over a steel framework perfected by engineer Gustave Eiffel (who joined the project in 1879), the completed Statue of Liberty stood just over 151 feet high and weighed 225 tons when it was completed in 1884. After the July 4 presentation to Ambassador Levi Morton in Paris that year, the statue was disassembled and shipped to New York City, where it would be painstakingly reconstructed.

Meanwhile, publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World had stepped in to help raise funds for the pedestal’s construction, raising more than $100,000 in donations by mid-1885. In October 1886, the pedestal on Bedloe’s Island was completed, and the Statue of Liberty was formally dedicated in a ceremony presided over by President Grover Cleveland.

Six years later, the inspection station on neighboring Ellis Island opened, welcoming more than 12 million immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1954. Above them, the Statue of Liberty brandished her torch, embodying the most famous words from Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem “The New Colossus,” written to raise funds for the pedestal and later inscribed on a plaque at its base: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

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The Battle of the Alamo comes to an end


Year
1836
Month Day
March 06

On March 6, 1836, after 13 days of intermittent fighting, the Battle of the Alamo comes to a gruesome end, capping off a pivotal moment in the Texas Revolution. Mexican forces were victorious in recapturing the fort, and nearly all of the roughly 200 Texan defenders—including legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett—died.

Thirteen days earlier, on February 23, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered a siege of the Alamo Mission (near present-day San Antonio), which had been occupied by rebel Texas forces since December. An army of over 1,000 Mexican soldiers began descending on the makeshift fort and setting up artillery.

Over the next two weeks, the two armies traded gunfire, but there were few casualties. Despite being clearly outnumbered, Alamo co-commanders James Bowie and William Travis insisted on remaining in place. The volunteer soldiers defending the Alamo included doctors and farmers, as well as Tennessee frontiersman and Congressman Davy Crockett, who fought in the Tennessee militia.

The final attack came before dawn on March 6. Mexican troops breached the north wall and flooded into the compound, awakening many of the Texans inside. The fighting lasted 90 minutes, some of it hand-to-hand combat. Bowie and Travis were killed, as was Crockett, although reports differ as to exactly how and when. Several Texans reportedly surrendered, but Santa Anna ordered all prisoners be executed. Only a handful survived, mostly women and children. Historians estimate several hundred Mexicans died.

After the battle, the Mexican army marched east. Meanwhile, commander of the Texas forces, Sam Houston had been building and developing his army in Harris County. “Remember the Alamo!” became their rallying cry as an urgent reminder to avenge their earlier defeat. On April 21, Texas and Mexico fought again at the Battle of San Jacinto. Texas was victorious this time, and won independence from Mexico, bringing the Texas Revolution to an end.

The defense of the Alamo remains a symbol of resistance to oppression and revolutionary spirit. The battle has been immortalized in several TV series and films, including 1960’s The Alamo, starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett. 

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Washington Monument dedicated


Year
1885
Month Day
February 21

The Washington Monument, built in honor of America’s revolutionary hero and first president, is dedicated in Washington, D.C.

The 555-foot-high marble obelisk was first proposed in 1783, and Pierre L’Enfant left room for it in his designs for the new U.S. capital. After George Washington’s death in 1799, plans for a memorial for the “father of the country” were discussed, but none were adopted until 1832–the centennial of Washington’s birth. Architect Robert Mills’ hollow Egyptian obelisk design was accepted for the monument, and on July 4, 1848, the cornerstone was laid. Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the American Civil War. Finally, in 1876, Congress, inspired by the American centennial, passed legislation appropriating $200,000 for completion of the monument.

In February 1885, the Washington Monument was formally dedicated, and three years later it was opened to the public, who were permitted to climb to the top of the monument by stairs or elevator. The monument was the tallest structure in the world when completed and remains today, by District of Columbia law, the tallest building in the nation’s capital.

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Daredevil crosses Niagara Falls on tightrope

Year
1859
Month Day
June 30

Jean Francois Gravelet, a Frenchman known professionally as Charles Blondin, becomes the first daredevil to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The feat, which was performed 160 feet above the Niagara gorge just down river from the Falls, was witnessed by some 5,000 spectators. Wearing pink tights and a yellow tunic, Blondin crossed a cable about two inches in diameter and 1,100-feet long with only a balancing pole to protect him from plunging into the dangerous rapids below.

READ MORE: A Daredevil History of Niagara Falls 

It was the first in a series of famous Niagara tightrope walks performed by “The Great Blondin” from 1859 to 1860. These “ascensions,” as he advertised them, always had different theatrical variations, including doing tightrope walks blindfolded, in a sack, with his manager on his back, sitting down midway to cook an omelet, and pushing a wheelbarrow across while dressed as an ape. In 1861, he performed at the Crystal Palace in London, turning somersaults on stilts on a rope stretched 170 feet above the ground. He died in 1897.

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French defeated in Spain, ending the Peninsular War

Year
1813
Month Day
June 21

At Vitoria, Spain, a massive allied British, Portuguese, and Spanish force under British General Arthur Wellesley routs the French, effectively ending the Peninsular War.

On February 16, 1808, under the pretext of sending reinforcements to the French army occupying Portugal, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain. Thus began the Peninsular War, an important phase of the Napoleonic Wars that was fought between France and much of Europe between 1792 and 1815. During the first few weeks after their 1808 invasion of Spain, French forces captured Pamplona and Barcelona and on March 19 forced King Charles IV of Spain to abdicate. Four days later, the French entered Madrid under Joachim Murat. In early May, Madrid revolted, and on June 15 Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, was proclaimed the new king of Spain, leading to a general anti-French revolt across the Iberian Peninsula.

In August, a British expeditionary force under Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, landed on the Portuguese coast to expel the French from the Iberian Peninsula. By mid-1809, the French were driven from Portugal, but Spain proved more elusive. Thus began a long series of seesaw campaigns between the French and British in Spain, where the British were aided by small bands of Spanish irregulars known as guerrillas.

Finally, on June 21, 1813, 80,000 allied troops under Wellesley routed the 66,000-man army of Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jourdan at Vitoria, 175 miles northeast of Madrid. By October, the Iberian Peninsula was liberated, and Wellesley launched an invasion of France. The allies had penetrated France as far as Toulouse when news of Napoleon’s abdication reached them in April 1814, ending the Peninsular War.

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English scientist James Smithson establishes the Smithsonian Institution

Year
1829
Month Day
June 27

In Genoa, Italy, English scientist James Smithson dies after a long illness, leaving behind a will with a peculiar footnote. In the event that his only nephew died without any heirs, Smithson decreed that the whole of his estate would go to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Smithson’s curious bequest to a country that he had never visited aroused significant attention on both sides of the Atlantic.

Smithson had been a fellow of the venerable Royal Society of London from the age of 22, publishing numerous scientific papers on mineral composition, geology, and chemistry. In 1802, he overturned popular scientific opinion by proving that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, and one type of zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.

Six years after his death, his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, indeed died without children, and on July 1, 1836, the U.S. Congress authorized acceptance of Smithson’s gift. President Andrew Jackson sent diplomat Richard Rush to England to negotiate for transfer of the funds, and two years later Rush set sail for home with 11 boxes containing a total of 104,960 gold sovereigns, eight shillings, and seven pence, as well as Smithson’s mineral collection, library, scientific notes, and personal effects. After the gold was melted down, it amounted to a fortune worth well over $500,000. After considering a series of recommendations, including the creation of a national university, a public library, or an astronomical observatory, Congress agreed that the bequest would support the creation of a museum, a library, and a program of research, publication, and collection in the sciences, arts, and history. On August 10, 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution was signed into law by President James K. Polk.

Today, the Smithsonian is composed of 19 museums including the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, nine research centers throughout the United States and the world and the national zoo. Besides the original Smithsonian Institution Building, popularly known as the “Castle,” visitors to Washington, D.C., tour the National Museum of Natural History, which houses the natural science collections, the National Zoological Park, and the National Portrait Gallery. The National Museum of American History houses the original Star-Spangled Banner and other artifacts of U.S. history. The National Air and Space Museum has the distinction of being the most visited museum in the world, exhibiting marvels of aviation and space history such as the Wright brothers’ plane and Freedom 7, the space capsule that took the first American into space.

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Texas declares independence


Year
1836
Month Day
March 02

During the Texas Revolution, a convention of American Texans meets at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declares the independence of Texas from Mexico. The delegates chose David Burnet as provisional president and confirmed Sam Houston as the commander in chief of all Texan forces. The Texans also adopted a constitution that protected the free practice of slavery, which had been prohibited by Mexican law. Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s siege of the Alamo continued, and the fort’s 185 or so American defenders waited for the final Mexican assault.

In 1820, Moses Austin, a U.S. citizen, asked the Spanish government in Mexico for permission to settle in sparsely populated Texas. Land was granted, but Austin died soon thereafter, so his son, Stephen F. Austin, took over the project. In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and Austin negotiated a contract with the new Mexican government that allowed him to lead some 300 families to the Brazos River. Under the terms of the agreement, the settlers were to be Catholics, but Austin mainly brought Protestants from the southern United States. Other U.S. settlers arrived in succeeding years, and the Americans soon outnumbered the resident Mexicans. In 1826, a conflict between Mexican and American settlers led to the Fredonian Rebellion, and in 1830 the Mexican government took measures to stop the influx of Americans. In 1833, Austin, who sought statehood for Texas in the Mexican federation, was imprisoned after calling on settlers to declare it without the consent of the Mexican congress. He was released in 1835.

In 1834, Santa Anna, a soldier and politician, became dictator of Mexico and sought to crush rebellions in Texas and other areas. In October 1835, Anglo residents of Gonzales, 50 miles east of San Antonio, responded to Santa Anna’s demand that they return a cannon loaned for defense against Indian attack by discharging it against the Mexican troops sent to reclaim it. The Mexicans were routed in what is regarded as the first battle of the Texas Revolution. The American settlers set up a provisional state government, and a Texan army under Sam Houston won a series of minor battles in the fall of 1835.

In December, Texas volunteers commanded by Ben Milam drove Mexican troops out of San Antonio and settled in around the Alamo, a mission compound adapted to military purposes around 1800. In January 1836, Santa Anna concentrated a force of several thousand men south of the Rio Grande, and Sam Houston ordered the Alamo abandoned. Colonel James Bowie, who arrived at the Alamo on January 19, realized that the fort’s captured cannons could not be removed before Santa Anna’s arrival, so he remained entrenched with his men. By delaying Santa Anna’s forces, he also reasoned, Houston would have more time to raise an army large enough to repulse the Mexicans. On February 2, Bowie and his 30 or so men were joined by a small cavalry company under Colonel William Travis, bringing the total number of Alamo defenders to about 140. One week later, the frontiersman Davy Crockett arrived in command of 14 Tennessee Mounted Volunteers.

On February 23, Santa Anna and some 3,000 Mexican troops besieged the Alamo, and the former mission was bombarded with cannon and rifle fire for 12 days. On February 24, in the chaos of the siege, Colonel Travis smuggled out a letter that read: “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World…. I shall never surrender or retreat…. Victory or Death!” On March 1, the last Texan reinforcements from nearby Gonzales broke through the enemy’s lines and into the Alamo, bringing the total defenders to approximately 185. On March 2, Texas’ revolutionary government formally declared its independence from Mexico.

In the early morning of March 6, Santa Anna ordered his troops to storm the Alamo. Travis’ artillery decimated the first and then the second Mexican charge, but in just over an hour the Texans were overwhelmed, and the Alamo was taken. Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners be taken, and all the Texan and American defenders were killed in brutal hand-to-hand fighting. The only survivors of the Alamo were a handful of civilians, mostly women and children. Several hundred of Santa Anna’s men died during the siege and storming of the Alamo.

Six weeks later, a large Texan army under Sam Houston surprised Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto. Shouting “Remember the Alamo!” the Texans defeated the Mexicans and captured Santa Anna. The Mexican dictator was forced to recognize Texas’ independence and withdrew his forces south of the Rio Grande.

Texas sought annexation by the United States, but both Mexico and antislavery forces in the United States opposed its admission into the Union. For nearly a decade, Texas existed as an independent republic, and Houston was Texas’ first elected president. In 1845, Texas joined the Union as the 28th state, leading to the outbreak of the Mexican-American War.

READ MORE: The First Shots of the Texas Revolution

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Wisconsin enters the Union

Year
1848
Month Day
May 29

Following approval of statehood by the territory’s citizens, Wisconsin enters the Union as the 30th state.

In 1634, French explorer Jean Nicolet landed at Green Bay, becoming the first European to visit the lake-heavy northern region that would later become Wisconsin. In 1763, at the conclusion of the French and Indian Wars, the region, a major center of the American fur trade, passed into British control. Two decades later, at the end of the American Revolution, the region came under U.S. rule and was governed as part of the Northwest Territory. However, British fur traders continued to dominate Wisconsin from across the Canadian border, and it was not until the end of the War of 1812 that the region fell firmly under American control.

In the first decades of the 19th century, settlers began arriving via the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to exploit Wisconsin’s agricultural potential, and in 1832 the Black Hawk War ended Native American resistance to white settlement. In 1836, after several decades of governance as part of other territories, Wisconsin was made a separate entity, with Madison, located midway between Milwaukee and the western centers of population, marked as the territorial capital. By 1840, population in Wisconsin had risen above 130,000, but the people voted against statehood four times, fearing the higher taxes that would come with a stronger central government. Finally, in 1848, Wisconsin citizens, envious of the prosperity that federal programs brought to neighboring Midwestern states, voted to approve statehood. Wisconsin entered the Union the next May.

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