Reflecting on America’s historic events for the month of January.
Most people begin the year with a New Year’s Resolution. For some, this means an adjustment of attitude or diet. For me, however, this means educating all Americans on the historic events that occur throughout each month. January is filled with significant events in American history, and many people are unfamiliar with most of them. Let’s take a brief look at these events, and as with December, they will be in order by day of the month, rather than chronologically.
January 1, 1863
As the Civil War nears its halfway mark, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Though Lincoln’s original goal at the outset of the Civil War was solely the preservation of the union, he soon saw the complete abolition of slavery as a means of achieving that goal. After signing the proclamation, he began to develop a new vision for the country – one that would ensure a “new birth of freedom,” as he described it. This would turn the tide of the war to not just restoration of the union, but also freedom for several million slaves. Though the proclamation did not take immediate effect, as it only affected slavery in Confederate territory, the document paved the way for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which Lincoln pushed for as the war neared its end.
January 2, 1942
The F.B.I. obtains the conviction of 33 members of a German spy ring, known as the Duquesne Spy Ring. Headed by Frederick Joubert Duquesne, each member within the spy ring conducted their own mission of espionage against the United States. One member worked on an airline to inform the Germans when Allied ships crossed the Atlantic; another opened a restaurant to obtain information from customers; etc. This marked the largest case of espionage in American history. The 33 members were sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison.
January 4, 1944
Operation Carpetbagger begins. Led by General “Wild Bill” Donovan, this was a mission to provide supplies and ammunition to Resistance fighters in France, Italy, and the Low Countries. All flights were made on moonlit nights to avoid detection by German forces. The operators have been recognized as the ancestors of today’s Air Force Special Operations.
January 5, 1933
Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge begins. Located in San Francisco, California, it is considered one of the wonders of the modern world. Designed by Irving Morrow, construction was completed on April 19, 1937. In 1987, the bridge was labeled a California Historical Landmark, and in 1999, it became a San Francisco Designated Landmark.
January 7, 1942
The Siege of Bataan Peninsula begins. This was the first Allied assault on the Japanese Empire following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, American and Filipino troops fought to stop Japanese forces from occupying the Philippines. The result was a Japanese victory, resulting in the temporary Japanese occupation of the Philippines and the Bataan Death March, during which thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were killed. Toward the end of World War II, following a U.S. victory in the Philippines, MacArthur would return to see American occupation of the region.
January 8, 1815
The Battle of New Orleans is fought. Often seen as one of the most significant battles in early American history, this battle actually occurred after many hardships for Americans, such as the British capture of Washington D.C. and the burning of the White House. This was the battle that secured Andrew Jackson’s reputation as a courageous military commander, as he led American troops to a major victory over British forces. Andrew Jackson would later go on to become president from 1829-1837, and today, he is often regarded as one of our most controversial leaders
January 10, 1776
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, is published. Paine was one of the leading voices during the Era of Enlightenment, and his work encouraged the American colonists to separate from the British Empire and fight for an egalitarian government. Common Sense became a sensation, and Paine later released other notable pieces, including The Rights of Man. A Classical Liberal, much like Thomas Jefferson, one of Paine’s most memorable quotes still rings encouragement to those who fear that their nation may be in a period of trial: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
January 14, 1784
Known as Ratification Day, this marks the anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolution. This also marks one of the first moments in American history in which we see two political factions form in opposition to each other due to dissenting views on how the treaty should be handled. The Articles of Confederation claimed that nine states were needed to enter into a treaty. The first faction, led by the future-federalists, believed that they could ratify the treaty with only seven states, as ratification did not equal entering. The second faction, led by Thomas Jefferson, believed that all nine states were needed for ratification. A compromise was later enacted, however, and the treaty was signed with seven participating states.
January 15, 1943
The Pentagon is dedicated in Arlington, Virginia. Designed by George Bergstrom and located across the Potomac River from Washington D.C., it is the headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense. The Pentagon is also the world’s largest office building. It was struck by American Airlines Flight 77 on September 11, 2001, exactly 60 years following the start of the building’s construction, killing 189 people. The Pentagon is a National Historic Landmark and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
January 17, 1991 Operation Desert Storm begins. Under the command of President George H. W. Bush, the largest Allied coalition since World War II readies to the defense of Kuwait. The primary coalition forces consisted of the United States, Kuwait, Britain, France, and Saudi Arabia, but many other nations lended support, including China and even the dying Soviet Union. The operation ended on February 28, 1991, bringing an end to the Gulf War and crushing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army.
January 20 – Inauguration Day
Following the addition of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to be inaugurated on January 20. Below, I will list all presidential inauguration dates (years) that have occurred since.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1937, 1941, 1945
Harry Truman – 1949
Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1953, 1957
John F. Kennedy – 1961
Lyndon B. Johnson – 1965
Richard Nixon – 1969, 1973
Jimmy Carter – 1977
Ronald Reagan – 1981, 1985
George H. W. Bush – 1989
Bill Clinton – 1993, 1997
George W. Bush – 2001, 2005
Barack Obama – 2009, 2013
Donald Trump – 2017
January 21 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday of January. The president responsible for the recognition of this federal holiday was Ronald Reagan, who signed the bill authorizing its creation in 1983. It was observed for the first time in 1986, though some states resisted it by assigning it an alternate name or combining it with another holiday. It was observed by all 50 states for the first time in 2000. Dr. King will continue to be an admired American hero, and his “I Have a Dream” speech continues to be an inspiration: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
January 24, 1848
The California Gold Rush begins. Following the discovery of gold by James W. Marshall in Coloma, California, word quickly spread. The news brought roughly 300,000 people to California, reinvigorating the economy and leading to California’s statehood with the Compromise of 1850. It was one of the greatest acquisitions of the United States, following the Mexican-American War.
January 25, 1961
President John F. Kennedy delivers the first televised news conference. Held in the auditorium of the State Department venue, it was viewed by an estimated 65 million people. In the 37-minute event, Kennedy announced that he had postponed nuclear test negotiations with the Soviet Union until March; that the Soviets had released two survivors of a crashed U.S. RB-47 aircraft; and that the U.S. was increasing food aid to the Congo, which was embroiled in a civil war.
January 27, 1973
The Paris Peace Accords are signed, ending the Vietnam War. Officially known as the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho acted as negotiators. The treaty included the governments of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the provisional government of South Vietnamese revolutionaries. This agreement ended direct U.S. involvement, though some troops remained in Vietnam until 1975.
January 28, 1986
The Challenger Shuttle explodes shortly after takeoff. The crew consisted of Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. During the launch, the O-ring, which was not designed to fly under unusually cold circumstances, caused a breach in the SRB joint, which led to a fuel leak. The tragedy grounded the Space Shuttle fleet for nearly three years, and the Reagan Administration appointed a special commission to investigate.
January 30, 1882
President Franklin D. Roosevelt is born in Hyde Park, New York. The fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt and most commonly referred to as FDR, he originally served as a member of the New York Senate from 1911-1913, before serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913-1920 and then as Governor of New York from 1929-1932. A member of the Democratic Party, FDR assumed office during the Great Depression and remained president until World War II was near its end. His term lasted from 1933-1945, during which he enacted an economic policy called the “New Deal,” which consisted of large amounts of government spending in an attempt to reinvigorate the American economy. He served the longest term of any U.S. president and passed away on April 12, 1945. FDR remains very popular among Democrats.
January 31, 1865
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution is passed. The first of three Reconstruction amendments, it prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishable for a crime. Often regarded as one of the most important amendments introduced to the Constitution, it enforced President Lincoln’s vision for a new birth of freedom and paved the way for racial equality.
January is a remarkable month for American history. It starts with a declaration of freedom for slaves and ends with the fulfillment of that promise. We see a victory over British forces in one of the most defining battles in early American history, a holiday dedicated to one of the greatest peacemakers and civil rights heroes our nation has ever seen, and the anniversary of our president’s inauguration. In the midst of these monumental events, however, we also see tragedy, as we are reminded of the devastating Challenger explosion, during which seven space pioneers are killed. Even though we are reminded of this tragedy, we remember that we must remember all historical events, whether good or bad. January is filled with monumental occurrences, and I say we should all make it a New Year’s Resolution to educate fellow Americans on our history.