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.


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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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Sam Houston elected as president of Texas

Year
1836
Month Day
September 05

On September 5, 1836, Sam Houston is elected as president of the Republic of Texas, which earned its independence from Mexico in a successful military rebellion.

Born in Virginia in 1793, Houston moved with his family to rural Tennessee after his father’s death; as a teenager, he ran away and lived for several years with the Cherokee tribe. Houston served in the War of 1812 and was later appointed by the U.S. government to manage the removal of the Cherokee from Tennessee to a reservation in Arkansas Territory. He practiced law in Nashville and from 1823 to1827 served as a U.S. congressman before being elected governor of Tennessee in 1827.

A brief, failed marriage led Houston to resign from office and live again with the Cherokee. Officially adopted by the tribe, he traveled to Washington to protest governmental treatment of Native Americans. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson sent him to Texas (then a Mexican province) to negotiate treaties with local Native Americans for protection of border traders. Houston arrived in Texas during a time of rising tensions between U.S. settlers and Mexican authorities, and soon emerged as a leader among the settlers. In 1835, Texans formed a provisional government, which issued a declaration of independence from Mexico the following year. At that time, Houston was appointed military commander of the Texas army.

Though the rebellion suffered a crushing blow at the Alamo in early 1836, Houston was soon able to turn his army’s fortunes around. On April 21, he led some 800 Texans in a surprise defeat of 1,500 Mexican soldiers under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the San Jacinto River. Santa Anna was captured and brought to Houston, where he was forced to sign an armistice that would grant Texas its freedom. After receiving medical treatment for his war wounds in New Orleans, Houston returned to win election as president of the Republic of Texas on September 5. In victory, Houston declared that “Texas will again lift its head and stand among the nations….It ought to do so, for no country upon the globe can compare with it in natural advantages.”

READ MORE: Why Mexico Won the Alamo but Lost the Mexican-American War

Houston served as the republic’s president until 1838, then again from 1841 to 1844. Despite plans for retirement, Houston helped Texas win admission to the United States in 1845 and was elected as one of the state’s first two senators. He served three terms in the Senate and ran successfully for Texas’ governorship in 1859. As the Civil War loomed, Houston argued unsuccessfully against secession, and was deposed from office in March 1861 after refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. He died of pneumonia in 1863.

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Emiliano Zapata born

Year
1879
Month Day
August 08

Emiliano Zapata, a leader of peasants and indigenous people during the Mexican Revolution, is born in Anenecuilco, Mexico.

Born a peasant, Zapata was forced into the Mexican army in 1908 following his attempt to recover village lands taken over by a rancher. After the revolution began in 1910, he raised an army of peasants in the southern state of Morelos under the slogan “Land and Liberty.” Demanding simple agrarian reforms, Zapata and his guerrilla farmers opposed the central Mexican government under Francisco Madero, later under Victoriano Huerta, and finally under Venustiano Carranza. Zapata and his followers never gained control of the central Mexican government, but they redistributed land and aided poor farmers within the territory under their control. On April 10, 1919, Zapata was ambushed and shot to death in Morelos by government forces.

Zapata’s influence has endured long after his death, and his agrarian reform movement, known as zapatismo, remains important to many Mexicans today. In 1994, a guerrilla group calling itself the Zapata Army of National Liberation launched a peasant uprising in the southern state of Chiapas.

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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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Mormons settle Salt Lake Valley

Year
1847
Month Day
July 24

After 17 months and many miles of travel, Brigham Young leads 148 pioneers into Utah’s Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Gazing over the parched earth of the remote location, Young declared, “This is the place,” and the pioneers began preparations for the thousands of followers of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons) who would soon come. Seeking religious and political freedom, the Latter-day Saints began planning their great migration from the east after the murder of Joseph Smith, the Christian sect’s founder and first leader.

Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, in 1805. In 1827, he declared that he had been visited by a Christian angel named Moroni, who showed him an ancient Hebrew text that had been lost for 1,500 years. The holy text, supposedly engraved on gold plates by a Native American prophet named Mormon in the fifth century A.D., told the story of Israelite peoples who had lived in America in ancient times. During the next few years, Smith dictated an English translation of this text to his wife and other scribes, and in 1830 The Book of Mormon was published. In the same year, Smith founded the Church of Christ—later known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–in Fayette, New York.

The religion rapidly gained converts, and Smith set up communities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. However, the Christian sect was also heavily criticized for its unorthodox practices, which included polygamy. In 1844, the threat of mob violence prompted Smith to call out a militia in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois. He was charged with treason by Illinois authorities and imprisoned with his brother Hyrum in the Carthage city jail. On June 27, 1844, a mob with blackened faces stormed in and murdered the brothers.

Two years later, Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, led an exodus of persecuted Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo along the western wagon trails in search of a sanctuary in “a place on this earth that nobody else wants.” The expedition, more than 10,000 pioneers strong, set up camp in present-day western Iowa while Young led a vanguard company across the Rocky Mountains to investigate Utah’s Great Salt Lake Valley, an arid and isolated spot devoid of human presence. On July 22, 1847, most of the party reached the Great Salt Lake, but Young, delayed by illness, did not arrive until July 24. Upon viewing the land, he immediately confirmed the valley to be the new homeland of the Latter-day Saints. Within days, Young and his companions began building the future Salt Lake City at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.

Later that year, Young rejoined the main body of pioneers in Iowa, who named him president and prophet of the church. Having formally inherited the authority of Joseph Smith, he led thousands of more followers to the Great Salt Lake in 1848. Other large waves of pioneers followed. By 1852, 16,000 Latter-day Saints had come to the valley, some in wagons and some dragging handcarts. After early difficulties, Salt Lake City began to flourish. By 1869, 80,000 had made the trek to their promised land.

In 1850, President Millard Fillmore named Brigham Young the first governor of the U.S. territory of Utah, and the territory enjoyed relative autonomy for several years. Relations became strained, however, when reports reached Washington that LDS leaders were disregarding federal law and had publicly sanctioned the practice of polygamy. In 1857, President James Buchanan removed Young, who had 20 wives, from his position as governor and sent U.S. Army troops to Utah to establish federal authority. Young died in Salt Lake City in 1877 and was succeeded by John Taylor as president of the church.

Tensions between the territory of Utah and the federal government continued until Wilford Woodruff, the new president of the church, issued his Manifesto in 1890, renouncing the traditional practice of polygamy and reducing the domination of the church over Utah communities. Six years later, the territory of Utah entered the Union as the 45th state.

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