Zimmermann Telegram presented to U.S. ambassador


Year
1917
Month Day
February 24

During World War I, British authorities give Walter H. Page, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, a copy of the “Zimmermann Telegram,” a coded message from Arthur Zimmermann, the German foreign secretary, to Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to Mexico. In the telegram, intercepted and deciphered by British intelligence in late January, Zimmermann stated that in the event of war with the United States, Mexico should be asked to enter the conflict as a German ally. In return, Germany promised to restore to Mexico the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

After receiving the telegram, Page promptly sent a copy to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who in early March allowed the U.S. State Department to publish the note. The press initially treated the telegram as a hoax, but Arthur Zimmermann himself confirmed its authenticity. The Zimmermann Telegram helped turn U.S. public opinion, already severely strained by repeated German attacks on U.S. ships, firmly against Germany. On April 2, President Wilson, who had initially sought a peaceful resolution to end World War I, urged the immediate U.S. entrance into the war. Four days later, Congress formally declared war against Germany.

Source

Supreme Court defends right to satirize public figures


Year
1988
Month Day
February 24

The U.S. Supreme Court votes 8-0 to overturn the $200,000 settlement awarded to the Reverend Jerry Falwell for his emotional distress at being parodied in Hustler, a pornographic magazine.

In 1983, Hustler ran a piece parodying Falwell’s first sexual experience as a drunken, incestuous, childhood encounter with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell, an important religious conservative and founder of the Moral Majority political advocacy group, sued Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt, for libel. Falwell won the case, but Flynt appealed, leading to the Supreme Court’s hearing the case because of its constitutional implications. 

In February 1988, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling that, although in poor taste, Hustler‘s parody fell within the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and the press.

Source

Tet Offensive halted


Year
1968
Month Day
February 24

On February 24, 1968, the Tet Offensive ends as U.S. and South Vietnamese troops recapture the ancient capital of Hue from communist forces. Although scattered fighting continued across South Vietnam for another week, the battle for Hue was the last major engagement of the offensive, which saw communist attacks on all of South Vietnam’s major cities. In the aftermath of Tet, public opinion in the United States decisively turned against the Vietnam War.

As 1968 began–the third year of U.S. ground-troop fighting in Vietnam–U.S. military leadership was still confident that a favorable peace agreement would soon be forced on the North Vietnamese and their allies in South Vietnam, the Viet Cong. Despite growing calls at home for an immediate U.S. withdrawal, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration planned to keep the pressure on the communists through increased bombing and other attrition strategies. General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. operations in Vietnam, claimed to see clearly “the light at the end of the tunnel,” and Johnson hoped that soon the shell-shocked communists would stumble out of the jungle to the bargaining table.

However, on January 30, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched their massive Tet Offensive all across South Vietnam. It was the first day of Tet–Vietnam’s lunar new year and most important holiday–and many South Vietnamese soldiers, expecting an unofficial truce, had gone home. The Viet Cong were known for guerrilla tactics and had never launched an offensive on this scale; consequently, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were caught completely by surprise.

In the first day of the offensive, tens of thousands of Viet Cong soldiers, supported by North Vietnamese forces, overran the five largest cities of South Vietnam, scores of smaller cities and towns, and a number of U.S. and South Vietnamese bases. The Viet Cong struck at Saigon–South Vietnam’s capital–and even attacked, and for several hours held, the U.S. embassy there. The action was caught by U.S. television news crews, which also recorded the brutal impromptu street execution of a Viet Cong rebel by a South Vietnamese military official.

As the U.S. and South Vietnamese fought to regain control of Saigon, the cities of Hue, Dalat, Kontum, and Quangtri fell to the communists. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces recaptured most of these cities within a few days, but Hue was fiercely contested by the communist soldiers occupying it. After 26 days of costly house-to-house fighting, the South Vietnamese flag was raised again above Hue on February 24, and the Tet Offensive came to an end. During the communist occupation of Hue, numerous South Vietnamese government officials and civilians were massacred, and many civilians died in U.S. bombing attacks that preceded the liberation of the city.

In many respects, the Tet Offensive was a military disaster for the communists: They suffered 10 times more casualties than their enemy and failed to control any of the areas captured in the opening days of the offensive. They had hoped that the offensive would ignite a popular uprising against South Vietnam’s government and the presence of U.S. troops. This did not occur. In addition, the Viet Cong, which had come out into the open for the first time in the war, were all but wiped out. However, because the Tet Offensive crushed U.S. hopes for an imminent end to the conflict, it dealt a fatal blow to the U.S. military mission in Vietnam.

In Tet’s aftermath, President Johnson came under fire on all sides for his Vietnam policy. General Westmoreland requested 200,000 more troops to overwhelm the communists, and a national uproar ensued after this request was disclosed, forcing Johnson to recall Westmoreland to Washington. On March 31, Johnson announced that the United States would begin de-escalation in Vietnam, halt the bombing of North Vietnam, and seek a peace agreement to end the conflict. In the same speech, he also announced that he would not seek reelection to the presidency, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating the national division over Vietnam.

Source

Juan Perón elected in Argentina


Year
1946
Month Day
February 24

Juan Domingo Perón, the controversial former vice president of Argentina, is elected president.

In 1943, as an army officer, he joined a military coup against Argentina’s ineffectual civilian government. Appointed secretary of labor, his influence grew and in 1944 he also became vice president and minister of war. In October 1945, Perón was ousted from his positions by a coup of constitutionally minded civilians and officers and imprisoned, but appeals from workers and his charismatic mistress, Eva Duarte, soon forced his release. The night of his release, October 17, he addressed a crowd of some 300,000 people from the balcony of the presidential palace, and promised to lead the people to victory in the coming presidential election. Four days later, Perón, a widower, married Eva Duarte, or “Evita,” as she became affectionately known.

As president, Perón constructed an impressive populist alliance, and his vision of self-sufficiency for Argentina won him wide support. However, he also became increasingly authoritarian, jailing political opponents and restricting freedom of the press. In 1952, his greatest political resource, Evita, died, and support for him dissolved. Three years later, he was ousted in a military coup. In 1973, after 18 years of exile, he returned to Argentina and won the presidency again. His third wife, Isabel de Martinez Perón, was elected as vice president and in 1974 succeeded him upon his death.

Source

President Andrew Johnson impeached


Year
1868
Month Day
February 24

The U.S. House of Representatives votes 11 articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson, nine of which cite Johnson’s removal of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The House vote made President Johnson the first president to be impeached in U.S. history.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Andrew Johnson, a senator from Tennessee, was the only U.S. senator from a seceding state who remained loyal to the Union. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee, and in 1864 he was elected vice president of the United States. Sworn in as president after Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, President Johnson enacted a lenient Reconstruction policy for the defeated South, including almost total amnesty to ex-Confederates, a program of rapid restoration of U.S.-state status for the seceded states, and the approval of new, local Southern governments, which were able to legislate “Black Codes” that preserved the system of slavery in all but its name.

READ MORE: How Many U.S. Presidents Have Faced Impeachment?

The Republican-dominated Congress greatly opposed Johnson’s Reconstruction program and in March 1867 passed the Tenure of Office Act over the president’s veto. The bill prohibited the president from removing officials confirmed by the Senate without senatorial approval and was designed to shield members of Johnson’s Cabinet like Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had been a leading Republican radical in the Lincoln administration. In the fall of 1867, President Johnson attempted to test the constitutionality of the act by replacing Stanton with General Ulysses S. Grant. However, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule on the case, and Grant turned the office back to Stanton after the Senate passed a measure in protest of the dismissal.

On February 21, 1868, Johnson decided to rid himself of Stanton once and for all and appointed General Lorenzo Thomas, an individual far less favorable to the Congress than Grant, as secretary of war. Stanton refused to yield, barricading himself in his office, and the House of Representatives, which had already discussed impeachment after Johnson’s first dismissal of Stanton, initiated formal impeachment proceedings against the president. On February 24, Johnson was impeached, and on March 13 his impeachment trial began in the Senate under the direction of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. The trial ended on May 26 with Johnson’s opponents narrowly failing to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to convict him.

READ MORE: What Happens in a Senate Impeachment Trial?

Source

Gulf War ground offensive begins


Year
1991
Month Day
February 24

After six weeks of intensive bombing against Iraq and its armed forces, U.S.-led coalition forces launch a ground invasion of Kuwait and Iraq.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, its tiny oil-rich neighbor, and within hours had occupied most strategic positions in the country. One week later, Operation Desert Shield, the American defense of Saudi Arabia, began as U.S. forces massed in the Persian Gulf. Three months later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq if it failed to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991.

At 4:30 p.m. EST on January 16, 1991, Operation Desert Storm, a massive U.S.-led offensive against Iraq, began as the first fighter aircraft were launched from Saudi Arabia and off U.S. and British aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. All evening, aircraft from the U.S.-led military coalition pounded targets in and around Baghdad as the world watched the events transpire in television footage transmitted live via satellite from Baghdad and elsewhere.

Operation Desert Storm was conducted by an international coalition under the command of U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf and featured forces from 32 nations, including Britain, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. During the next six weeks, the allied force engaged in a massive air war against Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure, encountering little effective resistance from the Iraqi air force. Iraqi ground forces were also helpless during this stage of the war, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s only significant retaliatory measure was the launching of SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saddam hoped that the missile attacks would provoke Israel, and thus other Arab nations, to enter the conflict; however, at the request of the United States, Israel remained out of the war.

On February 24, a massive coalition ground offensive began, and Iraq’s outdated and poorly supplied armed forces were rapidly overwhelmed. By the end of the day, the Iraqi army had effectively folded, 10,000 of its troops were held as prisoners, and a U.S. air base had been established deep inside Iraq. After less than four days, Kuwait was liberated, and a majority of Iraq’s armed forces had either been destroyed or had surrendered or retreated to Iraq. On February 28, U.S. President George Bush declared a cease-fire, and Iraq pledged to honor future coalition and U.N. peace terms. One hundred and twenty-five American soldiers were killed in the Persian Gulf War, with another 21 regarded as missing in action.

Source

Alamo defenders call for help


Year
1836
Month Day
February 24

On February 24, 1836, in San Antonio, Texas, Colonel William Travis issues a call for help on behalf of the Texan troops defending the Alamo, an old Spanish mission and fortress under attack by the Mexican army.

A native of Alabama, Travis moved to the Mexican state of Texas in 1831. He soon became a leader of the growing movement to overthrow the Mexican government and establish an independent Texan republic. When the Texas revolution began in 1835, Travis became a lieutenant-colonel in the revolutionary army and was given command of troops in the recently captured city of San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio). On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican force commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana arrived suddenly in San Antonio. Travis and his troops took shelter in the Alamo, where they were soon joined by a volunteer force led by Colonel James Bowie.

Though Santa Ana’s 5,000 troops heavily outnumbered the several hundred Texans, Travis and his men determined not to give up. On February 24, they answered Santa Ana’s call for surrender with a bold shot from the Alamo’s cannon. Furious, the Mexican general ordered his forces to launch a siege. Travis immediately recognized his disadvantage and sent out several messages via couriers asking for reinforcements. Addressing one of the pleas to “The People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” Travis signed off with the now-famous phrase “Victory or Death.”

Only 32 men from the nearby town of Gonzales responded to Travis’ call for help, and beginning at 5:30 a.m. on March 6, Mexican forces stormed the Alamo through a gap in the fort’s outer wall, killing Travis, Bowie, the legendary Davy Crockett and 190 of their men. Despite the loss of the fort, the Texan troops managed to inflict huge losses on their enemy, killing at least 600 of Santa Ana’s men.

The defense of the Alamo became a powerful symbol for the Texas revolution, helping the rebels turn the tide in their favor. At the crucial Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 910 Texan soldiers commanded by Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana’s army of 1,250 men, spurred on by cries of “Remember the Alamo!” The next day, after Texan forces captured Santa Ana himself, the general issued orders for all Mexican troops to pull back behind the Rio Grande River. On May 14, 1836, Texas officially became an independent republic.

Source

John Quincy Adams begins arguments in Amistad case


Year
1840
Month Day
February 24

On February 24, 1840, former President John Quincy Adams begins to argue the Amistad case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A practicing lawyer and member of the House of Representatives, John Quincy Adams was the son of America’s second president, founding father and avowed abolitionist John Adams. Although John Quincy Adams publicly downplayed his abolitionist stance, he too viewed the practice as contrary to the nation’s core principles of freedom and equality. After serving one term as president between 1825 and 1829, Adams was elected to the House of Representatives, in which he served until his death in 1848. During his tenure, he succeeded in repealing a rule that prevented any debate about slavery on the House floor.

In 1839, a Spanish slave ship named La Amistad appeared off the coast of New York. The “slaves” aboard it, who were free Africans kidnapped in Africa and originally bound for sale in Cuba, had rebelled, killing the Spanish ship’s captain and cook. The African mutineers then promised to spare the lives of the ship’s crew and their captors if they took them back to Africa. The crew agreed, but then duped the slaves by sailing up the coast to New York, where they were taken into custody by the U.S. Navy.

A complicated series of trials ensued regarding the ownership and outcome of the ship and its human cargo. The capture of the Amistad occurred in an era in which debate over the institution of slavery, its legality within the United States and its role in the American economy became more intense. Although the federal government had ruled the slave trade between the U.S. and other countries illegal in 1808, the “peculiar institution” persisted in the South and some northeastern states.

The Navy captains who commandeered the Amistad off the coast of New York turned the ship in to authorities in Connecticut. In Connecticut at this time, slavery was still technically legal, a fact that further complicated the case. Abolitionists filed a suit on behalf of the Africans against the slave captors for assault, kidnapping and false imprisonment. Spain, backed by a 1795 anti-piracy treaty with the U.S., also claimed rights to the Amistad and her cargo. President Martin Van Buren, personally neutral on the issue of slavery and concerned about his popularity in southern states, supported Spain’s claim.

After two district courts ruled in favor of the abolitionists, President Van Buren immediately instructed the U.S. attorney general to appeal. Abolitionists hired Adams, who some referred to as “Old Man Eloquent,” to argue for the Africans’ freedom in the Supreme Court.

In a seven-hour argument that lasted two days, Adams attacked Van Buren’s abuse of executive power. His case deflated the U.S. attorney’s argument that the treaty with Spain should override U.S. principles of individual rights. In appeasing a foreign nation, Adams argued that the president committed the “utter injustice [of interfering] in a suit between parties for their individual rights.” In a dramatic moment, Adams faced the judges, pointed to a copy of the Declaration of Independence hanging on the courtroom wall, and said “[I know] no law, statute or constitution, no code, no treaty, except that law…which [is] forever before the eyes of your Honors.”

Adams’ skillful arguments convinced the court to rule in favor of returning the Africans to their native country, but later, President Tyler refused to allocate federal funds to send the Africans back to Africa. Instead, the abolitionists had to raise money to pay for the expense.

READ MORE: Amistad Case – Date, Facts & Significance

Source

Marbury v. Madison establishes judicial review


Year
1803
Month Day
February 24

On February 24, 1803, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, decides the landmark case of William Marbury versus James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States and confirms the legal principle of judicial review—the ability of the Supreme Court to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional—in the new nation.

The court ruled that the new president, Thomas Jefferson, via his secretary of state, James Madison, was wrong to prevent William Marbury from taking office as justice of the peace for Washington County in the District of Columbia. However, it also ruled that the court had no jurisdiction in the case and could not force Jefferson and Madison to seat Marbury. The Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court jurisdiction, but the Marshall court ruled the Act of 1789 to be an unconstitutional extension of judiciary power into the realm of the executive.

In writing the decision, John Marshall argued that acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution are not law and therefore are non-binding to the courts, and that the judiciary’s first responsibility is always to uphold the Constitution. If two laws conflict, Marshall wrote, the court bears responsibility for deciding which law applies in any given case. Thus, Marbury never received his job.

Jefferson and Madison objected to Marbury’s appointment and those of all the so-called “midnight judges” appointed by the previous president, John Adams, after Jefferson was elected but mere hours before he took office. To further aggravate the new Democratic-Republican administration, many of these Federalist judges–although Marbury was not one of them–were taking the bench in new courts formed by the Judiciary Act, which the lame-duck Federalist Congress passed on February 13, 1801, less than a month before Jefferson’s inauguration on March 4.

As part of the “Revolution of 1800,” President Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican followers launched a series of attacks against the Federalist-controlled courts. The new Democratic-Republican-controlled Congress easily eliminated most of the midnight judges by repealing the Judiciary Act in 1802. They impeached Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase, but acquitted him amidst inner-party squabbles. The Chase acquittal coupled with Marshall’s impeccably argued decision put an end to the Jeffersonian attack.

Source