December’s Historical Recap by Garrett Smith

Reflecting on America’s significant historical events for the month of December

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History is made every day. Though all events impact our future and how we reflect on the past, there are, of course, many events that leave lasting impacts, and they should be reflected on by all Americans. I am going to make it a goal, at the end of each month, to educate Americans on significant events that occurred throughout that month in U.S. history. These events will be in order by day of the month, rather than chronologically.

December 1, 1955

Rosa Parks, one of the most well-renowned heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, refuses to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, challenging the state’s segregation laws. Parks was arrested, and what followed were the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, which defined a major turning point for civil rights. These boycotts were led by many other notable American heroes, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Rosa Parks has long been admired for her actions, and she was awarded with numerous medals, doctorates, and other badges of honor. She passed away on October 24, 2005.

December 2

December 2, 1859

One of the most polarizing figures in American history – John Brown – is executed for his raid on Harper’s Ferry, located in what is now West Virginia. Brown first gained attention during the border war known as “Bleeding Kansas,” during which anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces shed blood over the debate of whether or not to allow slavery in the newly-acquired Kansas Territory. Following the Sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces, Brown took part in the Pottawatomie Massacre, in which five pro-slavery settlers were killed. After being captured by U.S. Marines under the command of Robert E. Lee, Brown was tried and sentenced to death. He continues to be labeled a terrorist by some, and a martyr by others.

December 3

December 3, 1989

At a conference in Malta, President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announce that the Cold War may soon be coming to an end. Though the Cold War would not end for another two years, the Soviet Union was certainly in its dying stages, as just earlier that year, the Berlin Wall began to topple.

December 5, 1933

Known as “Repeal Day,” this marks the anniversary of the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited both the sale and possession of alcoholic beverages. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, and earlier that year, the Cullen-Harrison Act, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, paved the way for the 21st Amendment.

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December 6, 1884

The Washington Monument is completed in Washington, D.C. Conceptualized by Robert Mills, construction of the memorial began in 1848, but was halted from 1854-1877, due to lack of funding and the intervention of the Civil War. It remains one of America’s most iconic monuments, constructed of marble. A monument in remembrance of George Washington was announced as early as the turn of the 19th century, but was opposed by the Democratic-Republicans, who were politically dominant at the time.

December 7, 1941

Described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “A date which will live in infamy,” Japanese forces delivered a surprise attack on American troops stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Over 2,000 Americans were killed, and several American battleships were destroyed. Following the attack, President Roosevelt declared, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

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December 8, 1941

Following the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signs a declaration of war against the Japanese Empire. This was the event that propelled the United States into World War II. Following the declaration of war against Japan, Nazi Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Just before declaring war, Roosevelt delivered his Infamy Speech, during which he stated his famous “Day of Infamy” quote. Britain declared war on Japan just before the United States had, following the Japanese attacks on British colonies in the South Pacific.

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December 10, 1906

President Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. During his presidency, “Teddy” peace between various nations, and he won the award for his role in mediating the Russo-Japanese War. Though Teddy was fond of war, he had the heart of a true peacemaker, and he also helped resolve a dispute between France and Germany over interests in Morocco, as well as a trade dispute between the U.S. and Mexico. Though he helped resolve several wars, he was a proponent of U.S. intervention in World War I from the start, and even insisted on leading the Rough Riders into battle, to which his request was denied.

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December 13, 2003

During Operation Red Dawn, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is captured by U.S. forces. This operation was launched following the acquisition of intelligence that showed two likely hideouts for Hussein. After searching both sites with no success, one soldier kicked a piece of flooring to the side, which revealed a spider hole. Hussein crawled out and was disarmed, offering virtually no resistance. He would go on to be tried for crimes against humanity, in which he was found guilty and executed on December 30, 2006.

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December 15, 1791

The United States Bill of Rights is ratified by U.S. Congress. Following bitter debates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, James Madison drafted and introduced the Bill of Rights, which consist of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Rather than give the people various rights, the Bill of Rights do the exact opposite; they state that the people already have those rights, which the government cannot take away.

December 16, 1773

The Boston Tea Party occurs following the passing of the Tea Act by British Parliament, which created a tea monopoly in the American colonies. The Sons of Liberty, lead primarily by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, some of whom were dressed as Mohawk Natives (to signify that they now identified as true Americans, rather than British subjects), stormed British ships in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. They proceeded to throw crates of tea into the harbor, to which the British government responded harshly. This is considered one of the final triggering events of the American Revolution.

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December 17, 1903

American dreamers Orville and Wilbur Wright, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, make the first controlled airplane flight with their “Wright Flier.” Often deemed the pioneers of aviation, the Wright brothers flew their airplane four times on this day, and earned the state of North Carolina its famous phrase, “First in flight.”

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December 19, 1777

At Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, George Washington’s Continental Army begins their winter encampment. Often romanticized in portraits, in reality, conditions here were very harsh. Washington reported seeing one man clothed in only a blanket. Due to disease and malnutrition, nearly 2,000 soldiers died.

December 20, 1989

The U.S. Invasion of Panama, known officially as Operation Just Cause, begins. President George H.W. Bush ordered troops to Panama following several years of tension between the U.S. and Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega. On December 16 of that year, a stationed U.S. Marine was killed by the Panamanian Defense Force, and Noriega declared that a state of war existed between Panama and the U.S. The operation ended in just over a month, resulting in Noriega’s capture.

December 21, 1620

William Bradford and the Mayflower pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock. These were the first English settlers to reach the American continent, who flew from the hostile political climate of England, and they also wished to escape the church-dominated state. This is the event that sparked the observance of Thanksgiving, which George Washington declared as a day of observance and Abraham Lincoln declared as a federal holiday.

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December 25, 1776

Let it first be known that I, as a Christian and a conservative, celebrate Christmas first and foremost over any other event in December. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ came into this world, born of a virgin, to show us how to live and to die for all of our sins. I understand, however, that not everyone celebrates this event, and I full-heartedly respect that opinion. One other famous event that occurred on the night of the 25th, however, was George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. This event has been portrayed famously, and it has become one of the most renowned moments in early American history.

December 26, 1991

The Soviet Union dissolves, officially ending the Cold War. Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, declared his office as dissolved and handed all executive power to Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation. One of the final events that brought an end to the Cold War was the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed on July 31, 1991, by Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H. W. Bush.

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December 29, 1890

As with the good events in American history, we must also remember the bad, so that we may never repeat them, and those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. On this day in 1890, federal troops near Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, engaged Spotted Elk’s band of Lakota. One elderly man was performing a Ghost Dance, which was misunderstood by U.S. troops. At the same time, a deaf tribesman refused to surrender his rifle, claiming he had payed a large price for it. At one point, his rifle is fired, and federal troops open fire on the Lakota. Between 150 and 300 members of the Lakota tribe were killed. The Wounded Knee Massacre has been constantly reflected upon, and it certainly shows that even good nations are capable of horrific actions.

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December 30, 1853

The United States purchases western land from Mexico to begin construction of railroads in the southwest. Known as the Gadsden Purchase, the area acquired covers over 29,000 miles in southern Arizona and New Mexico. It was signed by President Franklin Pierce and Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. This was part of the United States’ vision of westward expansion, known as “Manifest Destiny.”

All of these events in American history deserve to be remembered. From the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock to the Boston Tea Party; from George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas to Theodore Roosevelt winning the Nobel Peace Prize; from the declaration of war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor to the capture of Saddam Hussein, each of these events has been extensively remembered, and will continue to be. May we start the new year knowing that what we do and how we act will affect generations to come.

Twitter: @GWsmith1993

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