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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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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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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President Harrison welcomes Alice Sanger as first female staffer


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Year
1890
Month Day
January 02

President Benjamin Harrison welcomes Alice Sanger as the first female White House staffer on January 2, 1890.

During an otherwise uneventful presidency remarkable only for allowing Congress a free-for-all in spending public funds, Alice Sanger’s appointment may have been an olive branch to the growing women’s suffrage movement that had gathered momentum during Harrison’s presidency. 

In 1890, two of the most influential organizations involved in the women’s suffrage movement, the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association, combined forces and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA represented a coalition of women’s suffrage activists, social reformers and temperance advocates. Their demands included stronger female property rights, employment and educational opportunities for women, improved divorce and child custody laws and reproductive freedom.

Whether or not Sanger actively supported women’s suffrage has been lost in the historical record, however, Harrison’s appointment of Sanger indicated a cautious step toward strengthening female representation in government.

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George Washington dies


Updated:
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Year
1799
Month Day
December 14

George Washington, the American revolutionary leader and first president of the United States, dies of acute laryngitis at his estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia. He was 67 years old.

George Washington was born in 1732 to a farm family in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His first direct military experience came as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia colonial militia in 1754, when he led a small expedition against the French in the Ohio River valley on behalf of the governor of Virginia. Two years later, Washington took command of the defenses of the western Virginian frontier during the French and Indian War. After the war’s fighting moved elsewhere, he resigned from his military post, returned to a planter’s life, and took a seat in Virginia’s House of Burgesses.

During the next two decades, Washington openly opposed the escalating British taxation and repression of the American colonies. In 1774, he represented Virginia at the Continental Congress. After the American Revolution erupted in 1775, Washington was nominated to be commander in chief of the newly established Continental Army. Some in the Continental Congress opposed his appointment, thinking other candidates were better equipped for the post, but he was ultimately chosen because as a Virginian his leadership helped bind the Southern colonies more closely to the rebellion in New England.

With his inexperienced and poorly equipped army of civilian soldiers, General Washington led an effective war of harassment against British forces in America while encouraging the intervention of the French into the conflict on behalf of the colonists. On October 19, 1781, with the surrender of British General Charles Lord Cornwallis’ massive British army at Yorktown, Virginia, General Washington had defeated one of the most powerful nations on earth.

After the war, the victorious general retired to his estate at Mount Vernon, but in 1787 he heeded his nation’s call and returned to politics to preside over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The drafters created the office of president with him in mind, and in February 1789 Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States.

As president, Washington sought to unite the nation and protect the interests of the new republic at home and abroad. Of his presidency, he said, “I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent.” He successfully implemented executive authority, making good use of brilliant politicians such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in his cabinet, and quieted fears of presidential tyranny. In 1792, he was unanimously reelected but four years later refused a third term.

In 1797, he finally began a long-awaited retirement at his estate in Virginia. He died two years later. His friend Henry Lee provided a famous eulogy for the father of the United States: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

READ MORE: George Washington’s Final Years—And Sudden, Agonizing Death 

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Donald Trump is inaugurated


Year
2017
Month Day
January 20

In the culmination of his extraordinary rise to power over a tumultuous election year, Donald John Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, D.C.

From the time he kicked off his presidential campaign in June 2015 at his namesake Trump Tower in New York City, Trump seemed an unlikely candidate for the nation’s highest office.

But with his brash promises to crack down on immigration, bring back jobs for working class Americans and overturn the political establishment, the endlessly controversial real estate mogul and reality TV personality triumphed amid a crowded Republican primary field. He then pulled off an upset victory over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the general election in November 2016.

On a rainy Inauguration Day, a crowd of supporters—many of them wearing Trump’s distinctive red “Make America Great Again” caps—gathered to watch the inaugural ceremonies, held on the West Front of the Capitol Building.

Though crowd experts estimated that between 300,000 and 600,000 people attended Trump’s inauguration (around a third of the crowd on hand for the 2009 inauguration of his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama), the White House and Trump himself disputed that assessment, claiming the media deliberately underestimated the crowd total.

After Associate Justice Clarence Thomas swore in Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed “America the Beautiful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the presidential oath of office to Trump.

For his swearing-in, Trump placed his hand on two Bibles held by his wife, Melania Trump, a Slovenian native who became the first foreign-born U.S. first lady since Louisa Adams, the British-born wife of John Quincy Adams. One was Trump’s personal Bible, which his mother had given him when he was a child; the other was the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration in 1861, and again by Obama in 2009 and 2013.

At 70, Trump became the oldest man to assume the presidency, and the first to have no previous record of government or military experience. In his inaugural address, which at some 16 minutes was the shortest since Jimmy Carter’s in 1977, he stuck close to the dark, ominous message he relied on during the campaign, referring to grim images of inner-city poverty and “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” across the national landscape. “The American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he intoned, in one of the most striking lines of the 1,433-word address.

Calling himself the protector of the “forgotten men and women” in America, Trump struck a clear populist note in his speech, reportedly drawing inspiration from the inaugural address given by Andrew Jackson in 1829. Like Trump, Jackson had triumphed thanks to a populist movement among Americans who embraced his anti-establishment, anti-elite message.

Trump also sounded a nationalistic tone in his address, repeatedly using the term “America first” to refer to the economic policies his administration planned to implement. Worried observers of the speech noted that “America First” was also the name of the movement founded by Charles Lindbergh in the 1940s, which worked to keep the United States from going to war against Nazi Germany.

After the inaugural ceremony, President Trump attended a traditional inaugural luncheon held in National Statuary Hall in the Capitol, then followed the inaugural parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. The new president and first lady ended their evening by attending three official inaugural balls.

On the following day, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the nation’s capital and cities around the country for the Women’s March, a mass protest—believed to be the largest in U.S. history—of the Trump administration. In all, more than 2.5 million people reportedly joined the protest. 

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Barack Obama is inaugurated


Year
2009
Month Day
January 20

On a freezing day in Washington, D.C., Barack Hussein Obama is sworn in as the 44th U.S. president. The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, Obama had become the first African American to win election to the nation’s highest office the previous November.

As the junior U.S. senator from Illinois, he won a tight Democratic primary battle over Senator Hillary Clinton of New York before triumphing over Arizona Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate, in the general election. Against a backdrop of the nation’s devastating economic collapse during the start of the Great Recession, Obama’s message of hope and optimism—as embodied by his campaign slogan, “Yes We Can”—struck an inspirational chord with a nation seeking change.

As Inauguration Day dawned, crowds of people thronged the National Mall, stretching from the Capitol Building to beyond the Washington Monument. According to an official estimate made later by the District of Columbia, some 1.8 million people witnessed Obama’s inauguration, surpassing the previous record of 1.2 million, set by the inaugural crowd of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

The ceremonies ran behind schedule, and it wasn’t until just before noon that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. administered the presidential oath of office to the president-elect. While being sworn in, Obama placed his hand on a Bible held by his wife, Michelle—the same Bible used by President Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural.

Obama opened his inaugural address, which lasted some 20 minutes, by recognizing the challenges facing the nation at the outset of his administration—the worsening economic crisis, ongoing war against radical extremism and terrorism, costly health care, failing schools and a general loss of confidence in America’s promise.

In the face of these obstacles, he offered a message of cautious yet confident optimism. “The challenges we face are real,” Obama declared. “They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America, they will be met.”

Obama referred only briefly to the historic nature of his presidency in his speech, saying near the end that part of America’s greatness was the fact that “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Instead, he emphasized the theme of civic responsibility that another youthful Democratic president—John F. Kennedy—used to such great effect nearly 50 years earlier, calling on the American people to embrace the challenges they faced in such a difficult period: “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize grandly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. That is the price and promise of citizenship.”

After the inauguration, Obama attended the traditional inaugural luncheon in Statuary Hall, the original chamber of the House of Representatives. He and Michelle then traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House as part of the 15,000-person inaugural parade, and would attend no fewer than 10 official inaugural balls that evening.

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