Teddy Roosevelt’s trip to San Francisco is captured on film

Year
1903
Month Day
May 12

On May 12, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt’s trip to San Francisco is captured on moving-picture film, making him the first president to have an official activity recorded in that medium.

READ MORE: 7 Little-Known Legacies of Teddy Roosevelt 

A cameraman named H.J. Miles filmed the president while riding in a parade in his honor. The resulting short move was titled The President’s Carriage and was later played on “nickelodeons” in arcades across America. The film showed Roosevelt riding in a carriage and escorted by the Ninth U.S. Cavalry Regiment, which was unusual for the time, according to the Library of Congress and contemporary newspapers, because it was an all-black company.

Roosevelt was the first president to take advantage of the impact motion pictures could have on the presidency. The photogenic president encouraged filmmakers to document his official duties and post-presidential personal activities until his death in 1919. He purposely played directly to the camera with huge gestures and thundering speeches. The Library of Congress holds much of the original film footage, including that of his second inaugural ceremony in 1905, a visit to Panama in 1906 and an African safari in 1909. Roosevelt appeared on camera with many notable people of his time, including European kings and queens, as well as Hopi Indians and Masai warriors in Africa. In 1912, Roosevelt’s unsuccessful campaign for president on the Progressive ticket was also captured on film. Later that year, Roosevelt again made two presidential “firsts.” On October 11, 1910, he became the first (former) president to not only fly in an airplane but also to be filmed while flying in an airplane.

Even Roosevelt’s funeral in Oyster Bay, New York, in 1919 was memorialized on camera. The filmmaker documented the procession and memorial service, and included shots of Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower apologizes to African diplomat

Year
1957
Month Day
October 10

In the conclusion to an extremely embarrassing situation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower offers his apologies to Ghanian Finance Minister, Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, who had been refused service at a restaurant in Dover, Delaware. It was one of the first of many such incidents in which African diplomats were confronted with racial segregation in the United States. While the matter might appear rather small relative to other events in the Cold War, the continued racial slights to African (and Asian) diplomats during the 1950s and 1960s were of utmost concern to U.S. officials. During those decades the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for the “hearts and minds” of hundreds of millions of people of color in Asia and Africa.

Racial discrimination in America–particularly when it was directed at representatives from those regions–was, as one U.S. official put it, the nation’s “Achilles’ heel.” Matters continued to deteriorate during the early 1960s, when dozens of diplomats from new nations in Africa and Asia faced housing discrimination in Washington, D.C., as well as a series of confrontations in restaurants, barbershops, and other places of business in and around the area. It was clear that American civil rights had become an international issue.

READ MORE: Segregation in America 

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President George W. Bush signs No Child Left Behind Act into law


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Year
2002
Month Day
January 08

On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act into law. The sweeping update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 created new standards and goals for the nation’s public schools and implemented tough corrective measures for schools that failed to meet them. Today, it is largely regarded as a failed experiment.

NCLB passed both houses of Congress easily and with bipartisan support. Future Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican, and longtime Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy were among its sponsors. The bill aimed to address what both parties agreed was an unacceptable drop in standards in America’s public schools. The new law mandated that states create measures of Adequate Yearly Progress based on standardized tests. Schools that did not meet AYP requirements were subject to increasingly harsher actions by the state, such as giving students the options to transfer after 2 years of missing AYP goals or even the wholesale restructuring of a school after 5 years.

While some schools did see improvements in test scores, the results were uneven and often negative. Teachers complained that standardized testing cut into class time and forced them to “teach to the test” rather than to their students’ needs. Many felt that requiring all schools statewide to achieve the same goals unfairly punished both schools that were already performing well and schools in underserved areas. Others argued in principle against threatening underperforming schools with corrective measures, while some accused Republicans of using the law to turn private schools over to charter school companies or private businesses.

In 2015, NCLB was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which retained parts of the old law but attempted to make it less punitive to underperforming schools. Today, NCLB is often cited as an overly harsh approach to education reform, while many Americans simply remember it as the reason they had to take so many standardized tests. 

READ MORE: In Early 1800s American Classrooms, Students Governed Themselves

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President George H.W. Bush vomits on the Prime Minister of Japan


Publish date:
Year
1992
Month Day
January 08

One of the most widely ridiculed and memorable gaffes in the history of the United States Presidency occurred in Japan on the evening of January 8, 1992, when President George H.W. Bush vomits on the Prime Minister of Japan.

Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was hosting a dinner for the president in honor of his state visit. Bush, who was 67 at the time, appeared to be in fine health, playing doubles tennis with the Emperor of Japan and his son that morning. During the dinner, however, Bush suddenly fell ill. He leaned forward, then fell to his side, vomiting into the lap of his host, the Prime Minister. Bush then fainted as his wife Barbara, his aides, and members of the Secret Service swiftly attended him. He was revived within moments, and was able to leave the dinner under his own power, apologizing for the incident.

Doctors later stated that the president has suffered acute gastroenteritis and felt fine after taking an anti-nausea drug. He resumed his normal schedule the following afternoon. Nonetheless, the incident and the blurry video of Bush’s collapse received enormous attention in his home country. Saturday Night Live spoofed the incident, comparing it to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Though he refused to make hay of it publicly, Bush’s challenger, Bill Clinton, likely benefitted from the incident. Clinton’s relative youth and vitality were key to his public image, and Bush’s very public illness only served to reinforce the differences between the two men.

Bush lost his re-election bid the following November, although he would live to see his son, George W. Bush, serve two terms as president. Even today, the time Bush vomited on the Japanese prime minister holds a special place in the annals of American presidential goofs. It also entered the Japanese lexicon—the colloquial phrase bushuru, which roughly translates to “to pull a Bush,” became a popular slang term for vomiting in the wake of the incident.

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Election results between Al Gore and George Bush too close to call

Year
2000
Month Day
November 07

This date in 2000 was a pivotal moment in U.S. history, as the presidential election results in a statistical tie between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush. The results in Florida were unclear by the end of election night and resulted in a recount and a Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, which ended the dispute in favor of Bush a month later. The election exposed several flaws and controversial elements of the American electoral process and was the fourth of five U.S. presidential elections in which the winner lost the popular vote.

Gore was the sitting Vice President to then-president Bill Clinton, while Bush was the Governor of Texas and son of former president George H.W. Bush. In the national popular vote, Gore received 48.4 percent while Bush received 47.9, losing by over 540,000 votes. U.S. presidents, however, are chosen by the Electoral College, a system in which “electoral votes” are assigned to states based on their population and then awarded as a lump sum to the winner of the popular vote in that state—currently, it takes 270 electoral votes to win. By the end of Election Night, 2000, Gore’s tally stood at 250 and Bush’s stood at 246 with Oregon, Wisconsin and Florida too close to call.

READ MORE: Why Was the Electoral College Created?

Oregon and Wisconsin went to Gore in the following days, but Florida’s 25 electoral votes made it the key to victory for both candidates. The initial result there put Bush in front, but it was close enough to trigger an automatic recount. The ensuing saga involved multiple legal battles, recounts and calls for further recounts, and numerous debates about the methods used to record votes. On December 12, the Supreme Court ordered an end to the Florida recount and Gore conceded to Bush.

Many have suggested that the perceived partisan nature of Court’s decision—every justice who sided with Bush had been appointed by a Republican—damaged the public’s faith in the judicial system. The 2000 election was the first since the 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon that did not yield a clear result on election night or the following morning. It was the first time since 1888 that the winning candidate had lost the popular vote, although the next such election came only 16 years later when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. Both elections led to calls for the abolition of the Electoral College in favor of a simpler “one person, one vote” system, but there has been no serious push to enact such a reform.

READ MORE: How the 2000 Election Came Down to a Supreme Court Decision

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Future President Ronald Reagan serves in film unit


Year
1943
Month Day
January 27

On January 27, 1943, future President Ronald Reagan, an Army Air Corps first lieutenant during World War II, is on an active-duty assignment with the Army’s First Motion Picture Unit.

Technically, Reagan was a unit public relations officer, however Warner Brothers Studios and the American Army Air Corps had tapped him the previous year to star in a motion picture called Air Force. To allow filming to go forward, Reagan was transferred from his cavalry unit to the Air Corps’ motion-picture unit in early January 1943.

Housed in the old Hal Roach studios, the First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) produced military training, morale and propaganda films to aid the war effort. FMPU released Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series and a documentary of the bomber Memphis Belle, the crew of which completed a standard-setting 35 bombing missions in Europe. The films were screened on domestic training grounds and in troop camps overseas as well as in U.S. movie theaters.

Air Force, which was later renamed Beyond the Line of Duty, conveyed the true story of the heroic feats of aviator Shorty Wheliss and his crew and featured narration by Lt. Ronald Reagan. The documentary, intended to promote investment in war bonds, won an Academy Award in 1943 for best short subject. Reagan went on to narrate or star in three more shorts for FMPU including For God and Country,Cadet Classification, and the The Rear Gunner. Reagan also appeared as Johnny Jones in the 1943 full-length musical film This is the Army.

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Fire destroys Thomas Jefferson library


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Year
1851
Month Day
December 24

On this day in 1851, a fire sweeps through the Library of Congress and destroys two-thirds of Thomas Jefferson’s personal literary collection.

Jefferson, who died in 1826, had offered to sell his personal library to Congress after the Congressional library, along with the rest of the Capitol and the White House, was burned by the British in 1814, during the War of 1812. His collection of 6,487 volumes of books and newspapers fetched $23,950 and, in addition to providing an invaluable archive to the nation, the fee helped pay off some of Jefferson’s personal debts. According to the Library of Congress, Jefferson also offered to arrange and number all the books himself. He called his collection, which contained a vast assortment of scientific works, an “interesting treasure” that he hoped would have a “national impact.”

Jefferson was a voracious reader who claimed that he could not live without books. His servants often found him sitting on the floor of his library at Monticello surrounded by as many as 20 open books and newspapers at a time. He studied a variety of subjects, including paleontology, mechanics, classical literature, natural history, agriculture, math, chemistry, philosophy and, of course, politics.

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President Harding publicly condemns lynching

Year
1921
Month Day
October 21

On October 21, 1921, President Warren G. Harding delivers a speech in Alabama in which he condemns lynchings—extrajudicial murders (usually hangings) committed primarily by white supremacists against Black Americans in the Deep South.

Although his administration was much maligned for scandal and corruption, Harding was a progressive Republican politician who advocated full civil rights for African Americans and suffrage for women. He supported the Dyer Anti-lynching Bill in 1920. As a presidential candidate that year, he gained support for his views on women’s suffrage, but faced intense opposition on civil rights for African Americans. The 1920s was a period of intense racism in the American South, characterized by frequent lynchings. In fact, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) reported that, in 1920, lynching claimed, on average, the lives of two African Americans every week.

READ MORE: Emmett Till and 4 Black Americans Whose Killings Provoked Outrage and Activism

During the 1920 presidential campaign, Harding’s ethnicity became a subject of debate and was used by his opponents to cast him in a negative light. Opponents claimed that one of Harding’s great-great-grandfathers was a native of the West Indies. Harding rebuffed the rumors, saying he was from white “pioneer stock” and persisted in his support of anti-lynching laws. Although the anti-lynching bill made it through the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate. Several other attempts to pass similar laws in the first half of the 20th century failed. In fact, civil rights for Black Americans were not encoded into law until Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Harding’s public denunciation of lynching would appear insincere if one were to believe allegations that he had actually been inducted into the Ku Klux Klan while in office. In 1987, historian Wyn Wade published The Fiery Cross, in which a former Ku Klux Klan member claimed to have witnessed Harding’s initiation into the Klan on the White House lawn. Scholars have since pored over Harding’s papers, but have found no evidence to support this allegation.

READ MORE: The Long Battle Towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964 

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FDR orders “enemy aliens” to register


Year
1942
Month Day
January 14

On January 14, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues Presidential Proclamation No. 2537, requiring aliens from World War II-enemy countries—Italy, Germany and Japan—to register with the United States Department of Justice. Registered persons were then issued a Certificate of Identification for Aliens of Enemy Nationality. A follow-up to the Alien Registration Act of 1940, Proclamation No. 2537 facilitated the beginning of full-scale internment of Japanese Americans the following month.

While most Americans expected the U.S. to enter the war, presumably in Europe or the Philippines, the nation was shocked to hear of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In the wake of the bombing, the West Coast appeared particularly vulnerable to another Japanese military offensive. A large population of Japanese Americans inhabited the western states and American military analysts feared some would conduct acts of sabotage on west-coast defense and agricultural industries.

Official relations between the governments of Japan and the United States had soured in the 1930s when Japan began its military conquest of Chinese territory. China, weakened by a civil war between nationalists and communists, represented an important strategic relationship for both the U.S. and Japan. Japan desperately needed China’s raw materials in order to continue its program of modernization. The U.S. needed a democratic Chinese government to counter both Japanese military expansion in the Pacific and the spread of communism in Asia. Liberal Japanese resented American anti-Japanese policies, particularly in California, where exclusionary laws were passed to prevent Japanese Americans from competing with U.S. citizens in the agricultural industry. In spite of these tensions, a 1941 federal report requested by Roosevelt indicated that more than 90 percent of Japanese Americans were considered loyal citizens. Nevertheless, under increasing pressure from agricultural associations, military advisors and influential California politicians, Roosevelt agreed to begin the necessary steps for possible internment of the Japanese-American population.

Ostensibly issued in the interest of national security, Proclamation No. 2537 permitted the arrest, detention and internment of enemy aliens who violated restricted areas, such as ports, water treatment plants or even areas prone to brush fires, for the duration of the war. A month later, a reluctant but resigned Roosevelt signed the War Department’s blanket Executive Order 9066, which authorized the physical removal of all Japanese Americans into internment camps.

READ MORE: Life in WWII Japanese Internment Camps

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President Nixon refuses to hand over tapes


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Year
1974
Month Day
January 04

President Richard Nixon refuses to hand over tape recordings and documents that had been subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate Committee. Marking the beginning of the end of his Presidency, Nixon would resign from office in disgrace eight months later.

READ MORE: 7 Revealing Nixon Quotes From His Secret Tapes

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