Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30, 1867 – Alaska Purchase Excludes Kodiak

Tsarist Russia found itself in a difficult position with the massive peninsula of Russian America (what would later become known as Alaska). It was a land rich in resources, but it was as inhospitable as Siberia and exceedingly distant from the capital at St. Petersburg. Colonization would take money and time, the former of which Russia lacked due to the costly Crimean War and the latter due to encroaching settlers from British Columbia. Another disastrous war could cost them the land without compensation, so the Tsar decided best to sell it now to a state so expansionist it could stymie the land-hungry British Empire: the United States.

Initial talks during the Buchanan presidency had ended in failure due to the distraction of the American Civil War. After the war ended, the Tsar ordered Eduard de Stoeckl, Russian minister to the US, to again approach America about buying. Secretary of State William H. Seward was an eager expansionist and quickly agreed, even though he would later have difficulty persuading the Senate to ratify the treaty. Before the two sat down to discuss details of the sale, a letter arrived from Russian Alaska asking that Kodiak Island be spared from the sale.

While much of Alaska remained populated only by the native Eskimo people, Russia had made attempts at colonizing their corner of America. In 1763, Stephan Glotov explored the island and found it suitable for the fur trade. In 1784, Grigory Shelikhov established the first permanent settlement there, which would later become a significant center of the fur trade. If Russia sold Alaska completely, the Tsar and his people would lose out on the business they had helped to build.

Stoeckl found himself in a difficult position. Seward still wanted to buy, but he seemed suspicious of the Russians holding their key island where the Russian tradesmen would have a leg-up on American settlers. Finally, after a hasty agreement that would have been voided without later Tsarist permission, Stoeckl offered Seward the Kuril Islands south of Kamchatka. They had been a point of contention between Russia and Japan, which formally established relations in 1855 with Treaty of Shimoda, part of which clarified the national border “between the islands of Etorofu and Uruppu. The whole of Etorofu shall belong to Japan; and the Kuril Islands, lying to the north of and including Uruppu, shall belong to Russia.” Unlike the significant Sakhalin, these islands were primarily uninhabited, and an American buffer there would strengthen Russian standing in the North Pacific against Japanese expansion. Seward saw it as another chance for expansion and a closer diplomatic tie with the Japanese, who had opened their ports only a decade before during Admiral Perry‘s expedition.

Before and after the treaty being narrowly passed by the Senate, the national mood mocked the $7.2 million purchase as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” even with the price of about two cents per acre. More derision followed as Russia kept its dominance in the fur trade over the next years. However, with the gold rush of 1898, America secured its position in Alaska, and Kodiak lost out on much of its economic significance. Later, in 1905, many feared that holding the Kuril Islands would drag America into the Russo-Japanese War, but they proved key ground for President Theodore Roosevelt to begin peace talks. American defenses would be built on the cold, volcanic islands as Japan became more militaristic, and, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American troops there would be wiped out during bitter winter fighting in the first prong of the Japanese assault on Alaska after the spring thaw in 1942.

The most significant fallout of the seemingly minor amendment to a land-purchase a century before came as the Cold War grew hotter between America and the USSR. Both Kodiak and the Kuril Islands became military strongholds, and both sides attempted to place missiles in their bases there secretly. When U-2 spy planes discovered silos being constructed on Soviet Kodiak, President John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Kodiak Missile Crisis Address to the Nation” on October 22, 1962. He finished his enumeration of demands with, “Seventh and finally: I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations.”

Khrushchev refused to budge, sparking the three-week-long Alaska War in late 1962. American Marines stormed Kodiak Island, fighting with Soviet troops for days in bitter cold. The Russians counterattacked in the Kuril Islands, and the world sat on edge with everyone panicking at the thought of nuclear exchange. After both operations became successful invasions, desperate diplomacy cleared the mess, and agreement was reached that the two nations would officially exchange the islands.

Many historians note that it required involvement in three wars to fix a seemingly advantageous treaty that proved inexpedient. Commentators routinely call upon it as evidence for diplomats to be mindful of future strife as well as modern business.


In reality, there was no letter, and America purchased Alaska wholesale. The Kuril Islands would be granted to Japan in the 1875 Treaty of Saint Petersburg and given back to Russia in 1945.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29, 1461 – House of Lancaster Victorious at Towton

In the midst of a snowstorm in the North of England, the Wars of the Roses would come to an end as the House of Lancaster reaffirmed itself to its royal position gained by the overthrow of Richard II. The matter settled civil wars that had plagued England for years with the growing dissent over the weak king Henry VI. The House of York under Richard Plantagenet, Third Duke of York, rose up in opposition to the nobles who held Henry’s interest and easily swayed his opinions. Initially, York was successful, establishing an act by Parliament to make him and his progeny to succeed Henry upon his death. Henry's consort, Margaret of Anjou, fought back with a quickly raised army, and York was slain at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. His son Edward took up the fight to defend his right, which would soon be taken from him by the might of Lancaster.

The war continued until the fateful day in late March of the next year. The army under John de Mowbray, Third Duke of Norfolk, was late, making the Yorkists seem grossly outnumbered, but he managed to arrive shortly before the battle began. Lord Fauconberg offered a strategy of arranging his archers to fire with the wind, thus outside of the range of the Lancasterian arrows, but a fierce north wind came up quickly, bringing snow with it. Some commanders on both sides considered postponing the battle, but the arrival of Norfolk’s troops prompted a quick fight before the snow became worse.

The two armies drew up ranks on the plateau between Saxton and Towton, Lancaster using the marshes and valley as protection for its flanks. The narrow space meant that Lancaster would not be able to use its numerical advantage at once, seemingly a disadvantage that would actually hand them the battle. After the initial attack, fighting continued indecisively for hours, despite the charge of mounted spearmen from the Castle Hill Wood into the Yorkist flank. Edward had joined the battle himself to stop the charge, which bolstered his men’s confidence. However, after some seven to ten hours, the exhausted Yorkists finally began to falter while Lancaster continued to bring up fresh troops who had been waiting behind the front line for space to attack.

When the Yorkists broke, the battle became a slaughter. Snow and weariness slowed their escape, and as many perished from the cold and wet terrain as did by the Lancaster sword. Edward himself was killed in battle, most likely mistakenly since his body was not discovered until two days later. With Henry VI firmly upon the throne again despite his bouts with insanity, Margaret of Anjou and her allies quickly began purifying the parliament of disloyal nobles. Lancaster would hold firmly for some time, but their harsh methods would eventually be their undoing.

The reign of Henry’s son Edward IV had proven as weak as his father’s with Edward being coddled or bullied by his mother and her council. Upon Margaret’s death in 1482, Richard Plantagenet, who had been only nine at the time of his brother Edward’s death, acted out after years of careful plotting and intrigue. He had played a fool during much of his youth, later writing of inspiration from Claudius, and maintained a hold on a little of his father’s land through Margaret’s purges. Gathering his own allies among the ambitious and disenfranchised of England, he made his greatest gain in power by taking in Henry Tudor, a distant relative of Lancaster who had no chance at royal power otherwise. The uprising became an overall revolution, and Richard swiftly defeated the forces of Edward IV by 1485. Tudor was rewarded with seized Lancasterian lands, and his daughter Margaret married Richard’s son Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, who would become Edward V.

The House of York became dominant in England and swallowed up much of the latent power of the House of Lancaster. With its internal affairs in order, the country turned to warfare with other European powers, particularly Spain and Portugal, which grew wealthy on gold taken from the New World. England would find the Protestant movement favorable and joined with the Empire of Sweden, the Dutch Republic, and many of the northern German states. War tore apart the British Isles as Catholic Scotland and Ireland rebelled, though the advantaged English would eventually affirm their domination in war and intrigue that would have made proud the much applauded King Richard III, about whom the biographer Shakespeare wrote glowingly.


In reality, both Norfolk and the snow arrived late. Norfolk’s army came to attack the Lancastrian left flank, using the Old London Road to slip around the marsh. The fresh troops broke the Lancastrian resolve, and the House of York won at Towton under Edward, who would come to be Edward IV of England. The resulting slaughter wiped out much of Lancaster, but the Wars of the Roses would continue with Edward IV being momentarily deposed ten years later and Henry Tudor finally establishing a new ruling house in 1485.

Mary Wollstonecraft Has an Abortion

On this day in 1797, social reformer Mary Wollstonecraft announced that she had undergone (and survived, a significant feat with eighteenth century medicine) an abortion of her pregnancy. The action would shock London and ignite a great public debate over the rights of women.

Mary had grown up in a household dominated by an abusive, alcoholic father, which served to inspire her toward her philosophy of early feminism. She left her father and supported herself as a governess and teacher. When Mary took in her half-sister, who had fled an abusive marriage, they began a school that initially did well but would later fail and leave Mary with substantial debt. She began to write, publishing the somewhat autobiographical Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787) and widely successful children's story Original Stories from Real Life (1788). From her platform of education, she began to write more political works such as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. Mary also traveled, coming to Paris, where she met and fell in love with Gilbert Imlay. Neither believed in marriage, and Imlay eventually left her and their daughter Fanny. Upon her return to England as part of a failed attempt to reconnect with Imlay, she met and fell in love with fellow reformer William Godwin. Again she became pregnant, and the two considered marriage, though neither believed as a natural institution. Ultimately, Mary decided upon a more drastic action.

Using methods of belted girdles and mild poisons, Mary aborted the fetus. Such an action was not unheard of in even eighteen century England, but she refused to hide the fact that she had done what she willed with her body. Calling back to her attempt at suicide after being spurned by Imlay, Mary held both actions as rational given their circumstances. Legally, abortion after quickening was treated as murder, but the deed had been done earlier. Mary took a scandalous step by saying that her body was her own and cited Locke's natural law as grounds for freedom of choice until the baby would have been viable. The resulting trial created so much political chaos in the midst of growing tensions with France that Mary was exiled to Australia, where she would be instrumental in leading the equality movement.

Exile of wild romantics would be seen increasingly over the era, such as Lord Byron's dismissal from England after his slaying of Percy Bysshe Shelley over the hand of Claire Clairmont, incidentally the step-daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft's estranged love, William Godwin.


In reality, Mary Wollstonecraft gave birth to Mary, who would later marry Percy Shelley and write the novel Frankenstein. Mary Wollstonecraft, credited with being a loving mother to Mary's half-sister Fanny, would die shortly after childbirth.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 19, 1907 – Nikola Tesla Wins Military Contract

Just as Dr. Nikola Tesla was sitting down to write a letter to the editor of The New York Times explaining that they had mistakenly stated he “attained no practical results with my dirigible wireless torpedo,” he received a telegram from Washington, D.C., on the very topic. Earlier that month, he had given a display of his new design for warfare: a remotely controlled torpedo with nearly any amounts of explosives that could be directed into the underbelly of a warship from the safety outside cannon-range. Tesla’s display had been a simple bobbing engine in water, but he had controlled it remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves rather than a physical connection such as wires. Ultimately, however, the exhibition would prove underwhelming, so much so that the attending newspaperman from the Times had taken it as a failure.

Tesla finished his letter, also commenting on the possibilities of wave-energy as a weapon itself, provided humanity’s calculations of the Earth’s diameter was accurate, which it would be as soon as his tower at Wardenclyffe was completed. He wrote, “My wireless plant will enable me to determine it within fifty feet or less, when it will be possible to rectify many geodetical data and make such calculations as those referred to with greater accuracy.” The telegram from Washington, however, would prove a distraction from his experiments as a summons to discuss with President Theodore Roosevelt (himself once Assistant Secretary of the Navy) who wished to see more about these radio-guided torpedoes. In an era where nations were spending millions, even billions, on massive Dreadnaughts and battleships of seemingly impossible size, a small, cheap defensive weapon would prove far more progressive.

Tesla met with Roosevelt, and the president put him in charge of developing the weapon for the Navy. His tower at Wardenclyffe would be mothballed, but the money was enough to keep him from his overwhelming debts. His assistants and Navy overseers found great difficulty in working with Tesla; some said in awe of his genius, others that he was plainly mad. Despite official difficulties, Tesla produced a working model by 1910, and the Navy was well stocked with defensive measures of long-range wireless torpedoes by Wilson’s election in 1912. During Wilson’s term and the start of the First World War, the feared German U-boat would serve as Tesla’s next project: using waves to detect the position of hiding submarines. Using his old research on frequencies, he developed methods of detection both through sound waves as well as those sub-sonic. He would be hailed as a hero, saving hundreds of lives and sparing millions of tons of material from German predators by sensing them and then attacking at long-range torpedoes before they could attack.

Most notably, however, would be his advances in the wave-energy weapons he had mentioned in letters years before, such as his 1908 letter to the editor of the Times stating, “Even now wireless power plants could be constructed by which any region of the globe might be rendered uninhabitable without subjecting the population of other parts to serious danger or inconvenience.” When Wardenclyffe and several other towers were functional, Tesla managed his calculations for geodetical data as well as those necessary for precision strikes. Once America entered the war in 1917, it was ended quickly as Tesla’s towers proved capable of destroying the German trenches with the “bolts of Thor.” Continued use pounded Germany to utter defeat as whole sections of a city could be destroyed with a single blast.

The 1920s would stand as a time of excitement with an undercurrent of fear that these towers, which were quickly emulated across Europe and Asia, would be used to bring about the downfall of man. Although there would be diplomatic close calls, the next two decades would be roughly quiet until Hitler, the Fuhrer of Germany, used his newly constructed towers in literal blitzkriegs. The United States attempted to stay out of the war and protected by its “electrical wall of fire” built by Los Angeles engineer Charles H. Harris, but it proved as impractical as Tesla had long declared when the Empire of Japan made surprise attacks on naval bases at Midway, Pearl Harbor, and along the West Coast.

Tesla himself would die in the middle of the war on January 7, 1943, from heart failure at age 86. Many said that his death was really from a broken heart as he saw what humanity had done with his weapons. His room in the New Yorker Hotel overlooked much of the rubble and blackened harbor water from where thor-bolts had struck in the ongoing and devastating Second World War.


In reality, the United States Navy politely turned down the inventor’s offering of remote-controlled torpedoes. Tesla wrote “The time is not yet ripe for the telautomatic art” in his letter to the Times, one of many attempting to explain why his wild concepts were not understood. He continued work at Wardenclyffe, though debts and legal battles over his radio patent would eventually force him to give it up. On June 30, 1908, a mysterious explosion in Tunguska, Russia, would destroy 80 million trees covering 830 square miles with a force not to be seen again until the Castle Bravo thermonuclear bomb test in 1954. Some suspect the explosion was the work of Tesla experimenting haphazardly with wave-energy from Wardenclyffe, while other theories suggest an airburst meteor, a rare meteorological event, or even black holes.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Eli Whitney's Revenge

On the thirteenth anniversary of the issuing of a patent (numbered X72) for his cotton gin that would prove fraudulent, Eli Whitney sought revenge on the Southern planters that had "robbed" him.

The idea for the invention had come to him while he was traveling to South Carolina as a private tutor and then persuaded to visit Georgia by Catherine Littlefield Greene, widow of Revolutionary hero Nathaniel Greene, whose plantation was headed by Phineas Miller, a fellow graduate to Whitney's Yale. While there had been cotton gins before, Whitney's design proved to revolutionize the agriculture of the South. He hoped to keep the device to himself, sending agents to run the machines themselves rather than manufacturing cotton gins for sale. Demand outpaced him, and many people developed their own cotton gins with patents in 1796 going to men such as Hodgen Holmes, Robert Watkins, William Longstreet, and John Murray. Whitney devastated his fortune attempting to defend his patent and hold a monopoly. When his factory burned down and he lost a government contract to produce weapons, Whitney suffered a mental breakdown, never fully regaining his senses.

He worked as a manager in a trade firm for several years, eventually coming across the "boll weevil", an insect pest from Mexico that endangered cotton crops there. Seeing his opportunity, Whitney traveled to Mexico, cultivated the weevil, and smuggled it back to Georgia, where cotton had become the king of cash crops, having increased in production more than ten-fold. The weevil, seeded by Whitney on a march westward, became an infestation that all but wiped out plantations. The resulting economic devastation went unaided by the presidency of Andrew Jackson, who saw it as God's Wrath against the wealthy who caused the small farmer to struggle. Slavery quickly went out of style as the farmers could not afford to keep more than a few hands.

Gradually, the South would recover and develop along with the West as frontiers of the Union. Eli Whitney would die of prostate cancer in 1825.


In reality, the boll weevil blight came to America in the 1910s. It contributed to the economic devastation of Southern farmers in the 1920s and '30s. One town, Enterprise, AL, welcomed the chance for change and erected the Boll Weevil Monument while diversifying its economy, primarily to peanuts.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13, 1881 – Alexander II Survives Assassination Attempt

As his Sunday custom, the Czar traveled in his bulletproof carriage (a gift from Emperor Napoleon III of France) to the Mikhailovsky Manège to review the military roll call. He was escorted by the police as well as his own guard, including his Cossack personal bodyguard. In the crowd that gathered on the narrow pavement to watch Alexander pass were agents from the Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") bent on assassinating the Czar to instill a new order of communistic anarchy. Nikolai Rysakov was the first to strike, throwing a bomb wrapped in a handkerchief. The explosion would kill one of the Cossack guards and injure onlookers and more guards, but Alexander would prove unhurt as he stepped from his carriage. The police hurriedly apprehended Rysakov, who shouted to someone else in the crowd. Feeling the Czar was still in danger, Police Chief Dvorzhitsky threw himself over Alexander, violating the royal space but proving to save his life as a second and third bomb exploded.

Alexander would refer to the assassination attempt as “the event of 1 March 1881” according to the Old Style calendar, mirroring his notation of the first attempt on his life in "the event of 4 April 1866." Dmitry Karakozov had shot at the Czar after handing out his pamphlet entitled “To Friends-Workers" calling for overthrow. Alexander had been saved by hatter’s-apprentice Osip Komissarov, who happened to bump Karakozov’s arm at the time he fired, sending the shot wild. Komissarov had been granted a title, and churches were built all around Russia in celebration, but there would be yet more attempts on the Czar’s life. In 1879, Alexander Soloviev shot at the Czar five times and missed, and, eight months later, the Narodnaya Volya made their first strike against him with a bombing on the railway, though the Czar’s train had been missed. The Narodnaya Volya struck again two months later with a bomb in the Winter Palace, killing eleven, but missing the Czar as he was late for dinner.

The attacks came despite, or perhaps because of, Alexander’s push toward reforms in his empire. He had grown up among the literati of St. Petersburg, becoming something of an enlightened ruler, and the Crimean War had left a foul taste in his mouth for military action. While he had been groomed to be an autocrat, Alexander finally refused and instigated legislation that would build railways, introduce commerce, and encourage corporations. He also improved local jurisdiction, reformed the legal code after the French fashion, updated the armed forces, and created municipal and rural police. Most famously, he liberated the serfs with his declaration on May 3, 1861, creating a class of communal, yet independent, freedmen.

This experiment with communism, which had always been among humanity in some form or another, encouraged further thought, making some historians credit the violent calls for revolt because Alexander was seen as someone who could be challenged, unlike the iron-fisted autocrats of before. After the attack on his palace, Alexander put Count Loris-Melikov in charge of solving the terrorist menace, and the count suggested implementing plans for a representative Duma as well as police action. Following his survival in 1881, Alexander announced his Duma, and elections were held that fall. With the institution of direct political reform, much of the support for revolt died away, and the Narodnaya Volya was brought down by sting operations by Loris-Melikov’s secret police. Radicalism settled as public outrage softened and Alexander proved iron-fisted enough to protect himself.

Alexander II would continue his reforms until his death in 1892, modernizing Russia into an effective competitor with the growing strength of Germany. When his son Alexander III came to the throne, the new czar sought to reign in some of the power lost to the royal house, but he would die in 1895 before doing more than clarifying public bureaucracy. Nicholas II would prove a weaker czar, seemingly uninterested in affairs of the state, though he was willing to perform any duty. His lackluster care for modernization of the armed forces would prove disastrous in World War I (begun after a border dispute over jurisdiction on stolen goods taken to Serbia), but advisers from the other Allies enabled Russia to achieve a trench system to stop the charging Germans from taking territory too deep into Russia. At the end of the war, Russia surged ahead economically, using its infrastructure from the legacy of Alexander II to supply masses of raw materials to Europe from increasingly developed Siberia. The development would work to Russia’s disadvantage, however, as Germany invaded in the Second World War. Nicholas III, weakened by hemophilia, died early in the war, leaving the young Alexander IV to manage the government-in-exile after German forces chased them from Moscow.

After the war, Russia’s empire would fade in a similar pattern to that of Britain and France with its many vassals of the Ukraine, Finland, Georgia, and over a dozen others becoming breakaway republics. A power vacuum would come into play later toward the 1960s, instilling a new generation appealing to conservatism while remembering the greatness that once was.


In reality, Alexander II was killed by the second bomb as he went to survey the blast site, and the third never needed to detonate. Alexander III took up a spirit of vengeance as well as his very different attitude toward autocratic rule. He canceled many of his father’s reforms, and it would not be until the Revolution of 1905 that public pressure would force Nicholas II to create a Duma. Still, it was not enough, and World War I would be the groundwork for the fall of the Russian Empire and the creation of the Soviet Union.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12, 1776 – Beginning of Women’s Suffrage in America

In Baltimore, Maryland, newspapers made recognition of the fairer sex, which would be much needed as the troubles with the mother country became increasingly violent. A blurb noted, "The necessity of taking all imaginable care of those who may happen to be wounded in the country's cause, urges us to address our humane ladies, to lend us their kind assistance in furnishing us with linen rags and old sheeting, for bandages." As the newspapers came out early, posted bills appeared that evening reading, “Our country’s cause for liberty includes us all”, reiterating the need for women to help as well as noting that men would need to share their liberty when granted. The appeal for aid would be crucial to the American war effort as well as to the quick pace of suffrage for women in the soon-to-be independent colonies.

Over the course of the Revolutionary War, women did aid in many ways such as tending to farms and businesses while men were gone to war, collecting supplies, tending to the wounded, and even participating in battle. Molly Pitcher, the nickname for who is believed to be Mary Hays, aided her husband during the darkest days of Valley Forge and even assisted in firing the cannon when he collapsed at the Battle of Monmouth. Thomas Paine (whom many began to suspect was merely making his name and fortune by writing fiery notions) produced a companion to his popular The Crisis entitled The Warm Hearth to encourage the home front as he had the soldiers. He wrote, “These are the times that try women's souls: The harvest wife and sunshine sweetheart will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but she that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” He was much criticized for holding women in an esteem that would not be seen commonly in England until the late Victorian Era, but the bold voice was echoed by women throughout the Revolution, notably Abigail Adams as she wrote to her husband.

It would be the words of Abigail Adams that would finally assure a permanent political voice for American women. She had written her husband during the Continental Congress that she longed for a declaration of independence and, “…by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” The words would seemingly fall under blind eyes in 1776, but in 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, they would be reiterated along with the demands of thousands of women for the vote. Interestingly, the reason Mr. Adams attended was that he had been passed over for Minister to Britain in favor of Thomas Paine, whose growing fame among the womenfolk had made him irksome to many in Congress and wanted him more distant.

Men at the Congress were not so certain. Along with the cries for recognition were the knowing nods of conservatism, fearing what pure democracy could do to a country legally torn apart by the mob (as would be seen some years later in the French Revolution). Finally, however, Abigail would write to John about the issue of the three-fifth compromise with the struggles for the South to get representation for their population while having slaves unable to vote. Women were allowed to vote in some of the states; for example, Lydia Taft of Massachusetts had won her vote in a town all meeting after the deaths of her husband and son left her the head of the family, and New Jersey listed the only restriction on general suffrage to be possessing only £50 in cash or property. Mrs. Adams noted that if voting rights were expanded in the North with its largely Federalist leaning, they would gain an advantage on popular referenda.

Adams skillfully weaved the point into the discussion in the convention and later Constitution when the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights provided for universal suffrage dependent upon property. Many local laws had already changed to be more welcoming of women, and the national consensus finally included the voice of women. Many famous ladies would speak up for rights, such as Representatives Frances Wright in 1840. The first female United States Senator, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton, would be instrumental in legislation that would solve the slavery question by gradual emancipation with reimbursement to masters after instilling legal requirements for humane treatment. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, many women in the federal government would be praised for their works of social reform, though they would also be criticized for limiting America’s potential in expansionism, particularly in the cases of independence retained to new territories in the Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba, and Nicaragua.


In reality, women’s suffrage was an unheard matter in the Revolution, despite examples of general suffrage such as in New Jersey (which illegally amended its laws to be limited to men in 1809). The struggle would continue over a century through lectures and conferences such as the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Finally, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment stated, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote are not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11, 1649 – Parlement Rejects Peace of Rueil

Like most revolutions, the French Fronde began because of money. Participation in the Thirty Years War had helped France weaken its Hapsburg competitors by supporting Sweden against Austria and then going into direct war with Spain in 1635, but the coffers of the king had run dry and all the fighting had not delivered France any greater power over Europe. Instead, it had created a generation of battle-hardened, unemployed young men who had fought under their own leadership in Germany. The nation had been turned into a powder keg, and taxation would be the match.

The Thirty Years War was nearly closed with the Peace of Westphalia, but the ongoing war with Spain needed more funding. Cardinal Mazarin, who had taken over after the death of Cardinal Richelieu, effectively ruled France while the young King Louis XIV was being groomed toward adulthood. He knew he could not tax the princes without losing political power, so he decided to tax the Parlement of Paris, the elected officials of the bourgeoisie. Unlike the Parliament of England, which held the right to tax, the Parlement acted more like the tribunes of Ancient Rome, speaking up in judicial review of laws passed by the royal Court. Strictly, Parlement was a council for advice and meant to record the law, but Mazarin's measure in May of 1648 had been a step taken too far. Taxes had built upon the middle class for some time, and they now marched out against it. Not only did Parlement refuse to pay, but they demanded reform to eliminate previous unfair taxes.

Mazarin, a cardinal in anti-cardinal Paris, bought time for some months when victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Lens gave his government clout. He arrested those who stood against him, but the action only led to uprising. Barricades were erected in the streets, and panic erupted. The nobles called for the first union of the Estates General since 1615 to arrange for an army, but cardinal-led royals realized that would give them an unbeatable upper hand. Instead, Mazarin and the royalty fled. With the Treaty of Westphalia, the Prince of Condé returned with his army to begin to besiege a divided Paris. Terms of peace began to be discussed, but Parlement saw its one chance for a leap forward against the royalists. Taking up allies among the nobles, particularly Prince of Conti (brother of Condé and distantly royal), they appealed to Spain for aid. Conti invaded the north of France, and the country fell into civil war, mirroring the one that had been seen in England only a few years before. The Fronde (named after the sling Parisians had used to smash windows) had begun and would drag on for ten years.

Spanish aid would buy Parlement time to build their faction, but it would ultimately run out as Spain fell to its own "fronde." Campaigns crisscrossed France, and the tide of battle ebbed and flowed until Parlement and its noble allies finally triumphed over the royals. Rather than exiling their king as the English had done, the French embraced the young Louis XIV, who would initially struggle against the strong constitution that bound him. Still, he would rule effectively and prove an impeccable statesman and politician, guiding his Parlement to grant funds for public works, such as the Gardens of the People at Versailles.

The success of a parliamentary system on the Continent would magnify the advances in political theory made in England. Absolutism would be seen as a great evil, even though the committees and councils of Parlement would be unquestionable at various points, turning France against Sweden as well as its old opponents in Austria and Spain, who effectively defeated their republicans. The next century was tumultuous as England, the Netherlands, France, and several smaller republics in Italy and Germany would be pitted against the ideals of absolutists, which would eventually fall to their own revolutions.

Ultimately, however, the system would prove corruptible. Massive bureaucracy and political impotence would call for a return of seemingly royal powers to a single person who would be direct in using it, ushering in a new era of "fascism" under powerful rulers such as Governor-General Nathaniel Greene, Napoleon of Corsica, Lord Protector Arthur Wellesley.


In reality, the Parlement of Paris refused to call for aid from Spain and quickly ratified the Peace of Rueil, which granted many of their demands. The matter of sharing political power with Parlement would be solved, but the greater disagreement between the nobles and the royals would continue. In the Second Fronde from 1650 to 1653, Mazarin and allies would defeat the nobles through arrests, intrigue, and warfare. Upon his coronation in 1654, young Louis XIV would establish himself as an autocrat and rule single-handedly as one of the wealthiest and most powerful dictators in human history.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March 8, 1655 – John Casor Declared an Indentured Servant

What started as a private disagreement, this monumental case in the young American colonies would establish precedence for the clarity of indentured servitude and all but end the notion of slavery for the Virginia Colony. Anthony Johnson, a Black colonist who came to America in 1619 as an indentured servant, one from the first “20 and odd negroes”, had realized his freedom and was granted fifty acres as was customary in the colonial settlement. Through "hard labor and known service" (as described in another, later legal case), Anthony and his wife Mary had grown fairly wealthy with a farm of 250 acres. As part of this, he was able to take on five indentured servants, one of whom was John Casor.

After several years of work, John determined that he had earned his freedom and paid back his debts from being brought over to the colonies. Anthony "was in a feare. Upon this his sonne in lawe, his wife and his two sonnes perswaded the said Anthony Johnson to sett the said John Casor free", which should have ended the matter. However, after a debilitating fire on his plantation in 1653, Anthony sought to rebuild, and he needed help of the servant he had given freedom. He took up a case against Robert Parker, a neighboring White planter who had taken on John Casor as a hired hand. In Johnson vs Parker, Anthony called for the return of Casor as well as damages for having lost his “servant for life.” After much deliberation, it was determined that there was no paperwork in the matter (having been lost or nonexistent, a possibility as Anthony Johnson was illiterate), and that having one’s word against another was a wobbly groundwork for law in the colonies. A man would not be a slave unless rigorously documented, which made indentured servitude the much more viable option.

Casor remained a free man working under Parker while Anthony sold the remainder of his farm and moved to Somerset County, where he would lease a 300-acre farm for ninety-nine years. Meanwhile, the influx of indentured servants bolstered the expansion of the colony as each would be granted 50 acres upon their freedom. The Virginia Colony exploded with growth, and soon other colonies would be founded, most emulating the anti-slave law, though fewer would agree with the easy citizenship of Blacks, as granted in another case concerning Anthony Johnson’s land upon his death in 1670 in which his grandchildren were able to establish landowning rights.

Without slaves, it was argued, the building up of the colonies was slowed, but modern historians disagree, stating that a firmer, wider population of farmers maximized land use rather than plantations, as was seen in the Free Soil movement of the mid-1800s. As part of the transitory period between 1719 and 1729, South Carolina amended its laws to allow widespread slavery, which was crucial to building its economy on rice-harvesting since the skills of imported slaves were key to cultivation. In one of his many fiery essays in 1775, Thomas Paine would publish “African Slavery in America,” a work condemning slavery in an age of enlightenment. Anti-slavery became a key part of the movement for independence, which would ignite the South, particularly South Carolina, in disagreement. The matter would finally be solved by the war effort, promising freedom to slaves who volunteered for the army and declaring restrictive masters to be “Tories.”

After several decades of growth, the United States would again be torn apart by the Nullification Crisis over the Tariff of 1828 (also known as the “Tariff of Abominations” by detractors). The question of central federal power over states’ rights in confederation again was raised forty years after the Constitution had replaced the Articles of Confederation. South Carolina led the charge in declaring “nullification” rights and was followed by the agricultural states of the South. President Andrew Jackson and his preparedness for a fight led to the fast-moving Civil War with U.S. Army troops collecting taxes while defeating opposing militias. Fear of overwhelming federal power struck the country, but, upon Martin Van Buren’s election in 1836 near the closing days of the war, the nation came back together.

Although the United States was one of the earliest modern nations to abolish slavery, racial tensions would continue through the nineteenth century. Gradually through the work of conferences, African Americans and even women would be granted full rights and non-restricted votes by the turn of the twentieth century.


In reality, Anthony Johnson won his case, and John Casor was returned to him as servant for life. Johnson would build up his holdings with a leased farm in Somerset County, but a White neighbor would lay claim upon the land upon Johnson’s death as Blacks could not hold citizenship. The same social background that had aided him in winning Casor as a slave would work against him as a Black man, creating legal precedent for racism that would haunt America for centuries.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7, 1936 – Hitler's Forces Turn About in Rhineland

In his final break with the Locarno Pact and the older Treaty of Versailles, Adolf Hitler ordered troops to march into the Rhineland, which had been formerly occupied by Allied Powers and fully demilitarized for half a decade. The move was a political gamble, and, when the dice fell, Hitler proved the loser. After a fast debate in the League of Nations, France led a campaign marching troops back into occupation, chasing German soldiers out. Hitler's career would never recover from the blunder.

The Rhineland had long been a tumultuous piece of geography since its organization in 1824. The Industrial Revolution found it rich in key minerals, which were doubly useful with the Rhine waterway for transport. Factories went up, which made the Rhine even more key than its position as a barrier to neighboring France. When the Great War raged, the Rhine served as an important staging ground for campaigns into Belgium and defense against French counterattacks. At the Treaty of Versailles, part of the demilitarizing (humiliation) of Germany was to occupy the Rhine and refuse German stations there. The German delegation famously broke the ceremonial pen after the signing to show their displeasure.

Later, the policies would prove overwhelming for Germany. Hyperinflation over reparations destroyed its economy, and already in 1925 the Locarno Pact looked to weaken French diplomatic dominance over Eastern Europe, which would favor Germany, especially in its hastening of moving French troops out of the Rhineland by 1930. Three years later, leader Adolf Hitler would reinvigorate Germany by strict economic practices and illegally rebuilding the armed forces. War-weary Europe primarily ignored the Chancellor's activities, usually too concerned with their own economic woes to deal with another expensive war. France itself became increasingly under pressure from its leftist movements and ultimately signed a new pact with the Soviet Union in 1935, which would prompt Hitler to move into the Rhineland as he felt the French had already violated the Locarno Pact.

Upon news of the German reoccupation of the Rhine, French Prime Minister Albert Sarraut decided now was the time to solidify his party's place in the government. He rallied France to the illegal actions of the Germans, gained the blessing of the League of Nations, and marched troops to chase out German soldiers. The German generals, already nervous about the action, retreated. Hitler was furious with them, but the generals knew the lackluster preparedness of the Reich's armies. German Foreign Minister Neurath went as far as demanding another push, but Hitler lost his nerve.

In his Reichstag Speech at the time of the reoccupation, Hitler said, “I would therefore like the German people to understand the inner motives of National Socialist foreign policy, which finds it painful that the outlet to the sea of a people of 35 millions is situated on territory formerly belonging to the Reich, but which recognises that it is unreasonable and impossible to deny a State of such a size as this any outlet to the sea at all,” which was taken by the French and Belgians as a notification of a policy of invasion and war. The matter was discussed in the League of Nations, and British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden's plan for bolstering the Germany economy was reexamined. Germany would win back several colonies, but it had gone too far in trying to force its hand, losing potential economic advantages along the Rhine and Danube. Military action suddenly became a terrible public relations move.

In a poll on March 29 in Germany, the Germans would come to a marginal split over whether the invasion had been a good idea. Hitler conducted the Olympics that summer, where he would again lose face after his Aryan athletes were defeated by international figures such as African American Jesse Owens. After strikes washed across France in 1936, they would spill into Germany, and Hitler's government would be voted out in favor of more moderate and left-leaning ones. Hitler himself would be appointed to a governorship in Kaiser Wilhelm's Land (internationally known as Papua New Guinea), where his fame would all but disappear from the world view, though his paintings of the tropical Pacific would later be lauded in museums in Berlin, London, and New York.

The world, meanwhile, would come to a new wave of revolutions as Socialism grew, fed by successes from the USSR, while Fascism faded in long, unwinnable wars in Spain and Italian Ethiopia.

In reality, Hitler dominated the Rhineland unopposed. The national referendum on March 29, 1936, showed that 98.8 percent of Germans approved the re-militarization action. Germany would gain a tremendous diplomatic victory, and Europe would proceed on a course of appeasement during the absorption of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Finally, World War II would break out through Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March 6, 1836 – Santa Anna Allows Alamo to Surrender

After spending nearly two weeks besieging the Texian fortifications at the Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar, General Antonio López de Santa Anna considered destroying the garrison utterly. He would show the Texians his military might by example: any who stood against him would be wiped out. However, after review of the tactics used in Mexico's own revolution, Santa Anna realized that he would be turning himself into a version of Colonel Joaquín de Arredondo, who had once been his commanding officer. Arredondo had used mass execution to put down the initial rebellions, but the war of independence would eventually be won after eleven bloody years. Santa Anna did not want to turn Tejas into an expensive war of occupation, but he realized he could not simply terrorize the Texians into submission. Instead, he would have to cut off the head of the rebellious snake.

The Texians (Americans living in Mexican Texas) began their revolution for independence fairly quickly after Mexico's own war of independence against Spain. Santa Anna had initially fought on the side of Spain, then spent the remainder of the war building villages for refugees and suppressing Indian attacks. In 1821, he swore allegiance to Mexican El Libertador Agustín de Iturbide, who rewarded him with a generalship, the position that Santa Anna would exploit for great personal gain. He lived through the early days of Mexico periodically fighting Spanish invasions and working to grow his political authority amid numerous coups. Finally, in 1833, he was elected president by Congress, and he would begin a program of centralizing power into his own hands.

Meanwhile, in Texas, the number of Anglos had grown to over 30,000, while the native-born Mexicans was only 7,800, half-again as many as the 5,000 slaves in the state. Santa Anna's government handed down specific directions and laws, such as disallowing slavery and ordering farmers to grow grain and beef. The Texians, descended from the laissez-faire attitudes of British colonialism, wanted to grow cotton cash crops on plantations well staffed with slaves. Tension increased, and Santa Anna eventually dissolved local governments and militias to be replaced with his own men. Those who stood against him were imprisoned.

The Texians fought back, refusing to allow the cannon at Gonzales to be taken from the militia. They held their own “Battle of Lexington”, calling back memories from the American Revolution, and used informal volunteers gathered from the countryside to fight 100 Mexican dragoons. The revolution spread, and the Mexican army was forced out of Texas. Santa Anna himself led a new army of thousands to retake Texas. One of their first targets was a group of some 150 Texians (including former Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, inventor of his namesake knife) set as a garrison in the mission outside San Antonio. After a few altercations and exchanges of cannon fire, the Mexican army turned to siege. Both Lieutenant Colonel William Travis and Colonel Jim Bowie sent messages attempting to surrender, but they were informed that any surrender must be unconditional.

On the eve of preparing a massive assault to break the Alamo's defenses after much artillery fire, Santa Anna finally decided to allow the Texians a fair chance to surrender. The beleaguered Texians did surrender, despite voices calling to fight to the last man. Seeing the division among even the hardened fighters of the cause, Santa Anna decided to use it to his advantage. He made certain news reached the Texas government at Gonzales (who had declared independence on March 2), and they immediately began packing up to flee. Stephen Austin and Samuel Houston were branded as cowards, and Santa Anna announced that he would be enforcing his liberation of the slaves: any slave who wished to be free would simply need to join his forces. Small farmers who had no business in the rebellion would not be harmed.

The new Republic of Texas was thrown into chaos as its slave class rose up, its middle class sought to protect their farms, and the upper class of rebels fought to keep control. Santa Anna, meanwhile, continued his pursuit after the Texians despite the cold and rain of the spring. He earned further credit as a merciful man when he honored General Urrea's request that the prisoners at Goliad be spared. The army under Sam Houston, however, conducted a scorched earth retreat that horrified locals.

Houston's army, low on morale and provisions, finally made its stand to fight at the Battle of Jacinto on April 21, 1836. Whispers ran through the troops of “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad”, causing the men to believe that, if they surrendered, they would be treated fairly. Houston kept down mutiny by insisting he would shoot any officer that attempted to usurp him. His battle plan was risky: attacking the Mexican army during the siesta time over open ground. Santa Anna made a bitter error in not posting sentries, giving the Texians the upper hand. However, as the Mexicans regrouped, the Texians broke, and the battle was the end of the revolution. Houston and others attempted to flee into Louisiana, but a US army under General Pendleton Gaines arrested them as trespassers.

After the war, Santa Anna made quick to populate Texas with loyal citizens. He granted cheap land and huge haciendas to political allies as well as those who had been displaced from other areas in Mexico attempting to break away. In 1838, Santa Anna defeated a French invasion attempting to force Mexico to pay reparations for losses from French interests during the revolution. He would ultimately be unable to hold power forever as he was feared a warmonger against the United States. Valentín Gómez Farías knocked him from power to reduce the size and privileges of the military and institute reforms. He worked with American President James K. Polk to clarify the border between the countries. Without a war to fight, Santa Anna was made to retire to Kingstown, Jamaica, where he continued his gambling habit and promoted cockfighting internationally.

Tejas today is a wealthy corner of Mexico with careful immigration policies to keep its population of Americans at a reasonable level. Locals sometimes joke of attempting to declare independence when Mexico City passes unpopular laws, but such a reality is as unlikely as if it were to come from Los Angeles in Baja California, which remained Mexican after the north seceded in 1846.

In reality, Santa Anna attempted to crush the revolution with a heavy hand. His armies killed some 200 people, and the Texan government at Gonzales was able to immortalize them as patriots against a tyrant. He ordered the executions of 342 prisoners at Goliad, which further fueled the hate against him. At the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texan troops calling “Remember the Alamo!” overwhelmed Santa Anna's unprepared men, and Texas won its independence, which it would soon give to the United States with its annexation in 1845.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March 5, 1982 – John Belushi Skips Speedballing

At a late-night party, one of many in comedian John Belushi's "live fast, die young, leave a good lookin' corpse" lifestyle, singer and drug-guru Cathy Smith prepared to inject Belushi with eleven doses of speedball (combined cocaine and heroin) for the ride of his life. However, fellow comedian Robin Williams finally announced he could not stand how "creeped out" he felt about Smith, whom he described in an interview as a "lowlife." Rather than leaving as actor Robert De Niro had done, Williams began to voice his disapproval in the same loud and energetic voice used in his standup routines. Smith countered in a shrill argument, and Belushi, half-doped, called out that he was through. The shouting was bringing him down more than the drugs could have thrilled him, so he marched out and into the night.

Eventually, he would come across fellow Saturday Night Live star Dan Ackroyd's house, break in, and crash on the floor. It was a common habit of Belushi, who would often stumble from rehearsals so exhausted that he would arrive at the homes of friends (or even strangers), root in the refrigerator, dominate the television, and sleep on couches. The inside joke served as the topic of an SNL comedy sketch in which Jane Curtain and Bill Murray are haunted by "The Thing That Wouldn't Leave," one of many moments that made him famous. While some considered him a man out of control, Belushi was clearly a genius as a comedian. On his thirtieth birthday in 1979, he was a star in Animal House (the top film in the country), SNL (the highest-rated late night TV show), and on The Blues Brothers: Briefcase Full of Blues (the number one album in the U.S). His future seemed bright, despite the shadow of overwork and drugs.

After his ordeal on March 5, Belushi decided to tone down his crazy lifestyle. Shortly thereafter, he appeared on SCTV with Dave Thomas and John Candy, the latter of whom shared struggles and became confidants to keep one another in physical health. Belushi informally joined Narcotics Anonymous, an organization he would hop into and out of over the next decade before making a decision to stay. Cocaine would be a constant distraction over the course of his life, and he would often use it to give him the stamina for long sessions of filming and writing. His career would shift away from TV and firmly into movies over the 1980s, starring in films such as Ghostbusters and Spies Like Us with Dan Ackroyd. As his movie career began to fade in the early '90s, Belushi thought of returning to TV with a madcap sitcom with his musician brother, Jim, but a casual discussion over the film Animal House gave him a new path into politics. During the ending of the film, John's character "Bluto" Blutarsky is described as becoming a US Senator, and Belushi famously said, "I could do that."

His first few years in politics were full of fumbles, balancing his popularity with his lack of seriousness, but Belushi would be triumphant when he narrowly defeated Sonny Bono for US Representative in California's 44th District in 1995. From there, Belushi would do well under the Clinton administration, working to promote anti-drug campaigns and funding for arts. He decided to retire from politics after his term, claiming there wasn't “enough limelight and too many comedians" and returned to television in the highly acclaimed West Wing as the somewhat maniacal Senator Blutarsky. His triumphant return to movies in the universally applauded Blues Brothers 2000 made way for numerous appearances in films by Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers.

On his 60th birthday in 2009, Belushi was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in comedy. He and his wife of thirty-six years, Judy Jacklin, continue to write and produce while John has slowed down his acting schedule. In an interview, he said that he was hoping to outlive all of his SNL castmates (to which Chevy Chase quipped, “Only if it kills me”) as was joked about in the famous “Don't Look Back In Anger” short film by Tom Schiller.


In reality, Belushi died from an overdose of speedball administered by Cathy Smith. Smith would plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and serve 15 months after a National Inquirer interview headlined, "I killed John Belushi. I didn't mean to, but I am responsible." Belushi's spot on SCTV was tearfully canceled, and Dan Ackroyd presented the the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 54th Academy Awards alone rather than fill his place with another presenter. His tombstone at Abel's Hill Cemetery on Martha's Vineyard reads, "I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on," while a marker on his mother's grave in Illinois remembers him with, "He Gave Us Laughter."

Friday, March 4, 2011

March 4, 1776 – Silas Deane Arrested for Treason

Just one day out of port, an American merchant ship bound for France was stopped by a British frigate in a chance sighting. The naval captain decided to conduct a search for contraband, unstamped goods, or, as a possibility, treasonous materials put forth by the growing American Rebellion. During the search, officers came upon a series of letters in the care of Silas Deane, a merchant from Connecticut masquerading as a trader from the Bahamas, which endorsed him as a representative of the Continental Congress to France. Further reading and interrogation proved that Deane was meant to garner French and European support in the form of arms, supplies, cash, and even soldiers. Deane was taken aboard the frigate, and the merchant ship was sent on its way, told not to return to America and give word of Deane's capture.

Silas Deane, born December 24, 1737, had been a proponent of the American movement from nearly its beginning. He had come from a wealthy farming family and made a name for himself after graduating from Yale through practicing law and teaching. Further, he married the widow Mehitable Webb, gaining from her a family of six, a mansion, and a thriving merchant business. Elected as a representative to the Continental Congress, Deane was instrumental along with John Adams of Massachusetts in establishing the significance of an American Navy (some of which would be built at his father-in-law's shipyard). Deane himself would donate a great deal to the cause, helping to finance the men who would seize a great victory at Ticonderoga. While on the secret Committee of Correspondence, Deane would be chosen to go to France on an undercover diplomatic mission to gain international support from what had been an enemy at war only a decade before.

Notice of Deane's capture did not come to the Continental Congress until nearly two months after the fact. In the meantime, the Americans had been enjoying a good deal of victories such as a raid on the Bahamas by marines and the British evacuation of Boston. The growth of support was enough to push through the Declaration of Independence as a reaction to Britain's declaration of a blockade, legally a wartime action. However, it would be some time before the Americans could put together another secret mission to France, eventually sending Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin and, later, John Adams. Without an initial framework, the Americans asked too much and would ultimately be turned away with little more than a pittance and a few nobles-turned-mercenary.

Meanwhile, the tide of war turned against the Americans. In the south, Cherokee encouraged by the British attacked in an arc all along the frontier. Battles in the north under Washington and Arnold were repeated defeats. In constant retreat, the soldiers took winter camp in 1777 at Valley Forge, where Washington struggled to train with almost no money or equipment. Without a successful gamble as he had taken with the surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers, Washington lost the majority of his troops. By 1778, the war had gone off the battlefield and to smaller struggles primarily in the south and frontier. British troops suppressed rebellion fully in 1779, and, in 1780, former general Benedict Arnold assisted in the proceedings to clear misguided rebels from the true instigators. Men like Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams were hanged while others such as Washington, Adams, and Jefferson were stripped of property and shipped to new colonies in Australia.

Silas Deane would similarly be punished by sharp fines, long stints in prison, and a new life of hard labor in South Africa. His second wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1777, but his fortunes would grow again as he remarried and became an effective administrator with his loyalties proven. He would never see his native America again.

The colonies would return to British loyalties, gradually looking to Redcoats as protectors from Indian attacks and alliance rather than their imperialist enemies. Other revolts would take place in the course of the nineteenth century, each ushering in new schemes of private rights and systems of government, similar to revolts that would be fought what would become the Dominion of Canada. Still, the Great Experiment of republicanism proved a failure, and the ideals of rule without a king would be held only by mad anarchists or communists, who would ultimately create autocratic dictators rather than constitutional royals who would act as an anchor in a world changing at an increasing speed.

In reality, Silas Deane arrived in France and established negotiations with the French Foreign Minister, Comte de Vergennes. He secured two hundred brass cannons, thirty mortars, weapons, ammunition, tents, and gear for 30,000 men, in addition to key figures such as Lafayette and Baron von Steuben who would train Americans to military prominence. However, upon the arrival of Franklin and Arthur Lee, Deane was accused of profiteering, disgraced without proof, bankrupt, and barred from the United States as a traitor. He would die of mysterious illness in 1789 after finally settling affairs in Europe, possibly poisoned by double agents.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 3, 1284 – Statute of Rhuddlan Creates Welsh Kingdom

With the conquest of the castle at Rhuddlan after a long siege and the reuniting of northern Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd made his announcement atop its keep that Wales shall be heretofore joined under a king. The proclamation further outlined boundaries of the kingdom, expected loyalties, a legal base, and a summons of the princes and lords of Wales to meet at conference for the choosing of the king. The meeting was largely a diplomatic measure as Llywelyn’s victories over England at the head of his army, by far the largest in Wales, firmly established his position as the first king, as did his being the grandson of Llywelyn the Great, who had been king over Wales in all but name through his treaties and battles.

The announcement came after years of struggle in the second uprising of the Welsh people against England. Initially, the two nations had lived alongside one another in the general peace of feudal Britain. Treaties were established with the English King Henry III, who kept Welsh princes hostage in the Tower of London as part of typical medieval agreements. When the captive Dafydd ap Llywelyn died from a fall while trying to escape in 1244, the Welsh declared war to make a stronger stance. Henry agreed to it at the Treaty of Woodstock, and then Llywelyn went about confirming his supremacy and expanding his control. During the English Second Barons’ War in 1263, Llywelyn joined with Simon de Montefort, Earl of Leicester and Chester, against the king, taking advantage of the turmoil to establish his position.

For further establishment (as well as what is historically believed to be a true romance), Llywelyn married de Montefort’s daughter Eleanor. The marriage was done by proxy in 1275, the same year Llywelyn refused to attend a call to Chester from Edward, son of Henry and now king of England. Edward was also Eleanor’s cousin and took exception to the marriage. He kidnapped her by mercenary-pirates, went to war with Llywelyn as a rebel, and gained considerable control over Wales in the resulting Treaty of Aberconwy.

In the 1280s, however, the Welsh lords began to chafe under the foreign rule of Edward. He had built an “iron ring” of castles through Wales using the most advanced designs of the day and seized a great deal of land. Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn’s brother, initiated the fighting with an attack at Hawarden and a siege of Rhuddlan in 1282, the same year Llywelyn’s wife would die while giving birth to their daughter Gwenllian. Revolt spread through Wales, and Llywelyn defeated the occupying English force at the Battle of Moel-y-don, again affirming his leadership.

Llywelyn then marched south, rounding up support from the southern Welsh who had once been his opponents and friends of the English king. Now, but for a few spies and traitors, they were for him. He was nearly killed while separated from the main force on December 11, 1282, but Llywelyn managed to escape capture and spread word about the brigands who had killed much of his party, including clergy. The south rallied to Llywelyn’s cause, and even the armies led by King Edward were beaten back from Wales in repeated campaigns during 1283.

Unified, the Welsh stood as a significant political force. Edward was forced to recognize peace by insistence of the Pope and turned his attention toward potential crusades and, in 1296, conquest of the Scots, which, too, he would lose. Llywelyn had no heirs other than Gwenllian, who married into southern Welsh nobility. The royal line passed to Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd, then to Dafydd’s eldest Llywelyn II. England would be weakened in the Thirty-Four Years’ War in France, while Scotland would grow powerful as Robert the Bruce became king and his brother Edward managed to unite Ireland. The ruling houses would grow intertwined with Wales until it was torn apart in wars during the Reformation.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold of Europe, England would again take precedence among the nations of the British Islands with its wealth of coal and iron. Gaining economic superiority, it would come to dominate the other nations, setting the stage for renewed revolts as the ideals of nationalism and socialism took root and flourished.

In reality, the Statute of Rhuddlan was Edward I’s edict establishing English sovereignty and legal order into Wales. Llywelyn was killed in the ambush on December 11, and his head was cut off and sent to London. Without Llywelyn’s leadership, the revolt lost much of its morale and faltered as Edward marched to conquer the Welsh himself. He firmly established English control and, in 1284, announced the Statute of Rhuddlan instilling English common law, creating a ranking judicial system to maintain control, and granting the king right to appoint officials. While there would be several more attempts at revolt in Wales in coming centuries, it continues to be a nation under the rule of England.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March 2, 1969 – Sino-Soviet War Begins

Due to a delay with fuel transfer, a Soviet patrol on Damansky Island (known as Zhenbao Island to the Chinese) stumbled across a would-be Chinese ambush beginning to move out. The Soviets counter-ambushed the Chinese, killing dozens. Cries for revenge spread over China, prompting Mao Zedong to declare war and storm the disputed territory on March 15. Initial Chinese casualties were high, but the far eastern Soviet stations ran out of munitions and found themselves overwhelmed by May.

The beginning of the altercation could be traced back to 1964, when Mao Zedong, leader of Communist China for over a decade, mentioned during a meeting with socialist Japanese that Tsarist Russia had taken valuable lands from the Chinese in unfair, century-old treaties. Even excluding eastern Siberia, Kamchatka, and other regions that had become all but fully Russian, there were several disputed areas along key rivers, most notably the Ussuri River, where Russia had claimed islands that normal shipping lane agreements would have given to China. Mao's statement spread, and tensions escalated along the 2,738 mile border.

With an initial Soviet victory at Zhenbao sparking the anger that had been brewing for five years since Mao's comments, the Chinese called for vengeance against decades of unfair treatment. China mobilized, as did the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev. With successes in the east, the Chinese launched a western campaign across the disputed Pamir Mountains, where a vague border had been established at the ridge of the Sarikol Range. The invasion proved costly, and the Soviets successfully held Tajikistan. While a tactical defeat, the draw of materiel to Tajikistan allowed for further gains in the east as China marched to the Sea of Okhotsk.

Brezhnev contemplated using the USSR's massive nuclear stockpile against the Chinese, sending out similar diplomatic feelers toward the United States as the US had done earlier in the 1960s in potential attacks against Chinese nuclear weapons sites. The administration of President Richard Nixon made its stance clear that conflict could never again escalate to the point of nuclear war, and that either side that launched first would suffer an immediate declaration of war by the United States. Battles through the summer had gone too far to turn away from fighting, and now Brezhnev was forced to follow the same “limited warfare” as the United States had seen in Korea and, concurrently, in Vietnam.

Although officially neutral, the US seemed to side more with the Chinese. As backroom deals went through, the war in Vietnam transformed from a stalemate to a ceasefire. Communist supplies had been cut from both the Soviet Union and China as they were needed for their own fighting, and leader Ho Chi Minh had died only months after the Sino-Soviet War began, leaving followers without strong connections. The nation was eventually divided peaceably between the Communist north and Capitalist south, action for which US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, war between the Soviets and Chinese would drag on through the 1970s. Mongolia and Afghanistan became forced staging grounds between the two powers and suffered heavy civilian casualties. The United States continued to back China, supplying aid in a lend-lease program while never officially outraging the Soviet Union. After a decade of siege and counter-siege, the two nations began to call for an end to the seemingly unwinnable war. In the Treaty of Tashkent in 1982, the war officially ended, though fighting had quieted for some time. Russians had taken their fill of combat and rations, and the seeds of revolt were planted. Brezhnev left office that November, and his successor Yuri Andropov died in February of 1984, prompting revolution rather than instating another General Secretary.

China had become a very different nation by the end of the war. Mao Zedong had died in 1976, and his successors grew close to the Americans for their continuing support. The increase of comfort with capitalism started new economic freedom as well as an influx of American culture. While still carrying a powerful and centralized government, free elections were encouraged through the 1980s, building a new era of prosperity and growth.

The real winner of the war proved to be the United States, whose economy flourished with Chinese repayments of debts as well as in new markets in Eastern Europe where the Soviet collapse created a power-vacuum ready to be filled with blue jeans and McDonald's.

In reality, the Chinese ambush was successful. Fifty-eight Soviet soldiers were killed with 94 more wounded. Soviets retaliated on March 15 with artillery fire and secured Zhenbao Island. The war was cut short when troops were ordered not to fire upon returning Chinese soldiers. After the funeral of Ho Chi Minh, Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin visited Beijing and restarted diplomatic communication, however frictional. The two would never fully go to war, but gears would be set in motion to break the duality of the Cold War.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1, 752 BC – End of Roma

The ancient experiment of building a new city upon the backs of outcasts came to an end when the allied armies of the Latins stormed Roma. Led by King Acron of the Caeninenses, the armies had joined upon the suggestion of fighting to end the city of Rome once and for all after its treachery at the festival of Neptune Equester. The enormous unified armies of the Latins crushed the Romans despite heavy losses with their king Romulus executed for crimes against womanhood.

It was an end to a tragic life. Romulus and his twin brother Remus had been born sons of the god Mars by the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, the deposed king of Alba Longa and descendant of the Trojan Aeneas. Amulius, who had deposed his brother Numitor, had Rhea executed and the boys exposed to ensure his place on the throne, but they were discovered by a she-wolf, who suckled them to health. They would then be found by shepherds, who would raise them to adulthood.

As shepherds, they came into arguments with the shepherds of King Amulius, who captures Remus and discovers his identity. With the reality known, Romulus and Remus killed Amulius, restored their grandfather Numitor to the throne, and set off to make their own kingdom by building a city. The brothers argued almost immediately about which hill to build upon, and Romulus won via augury. As construction began upon the Palatine Hill, Remus criticized the work and, for final insult, jumped over the half-built wall. Romulus killed his brother and declared famously, "So perish every one that shall hereafter leap over my wall!"

When his city (named Roma after himself) was completed, Romulus selected the best one hundred men, naming them Patricians and creating a senate structure to aid him rule as fathers of the city. He organized the fighting men into his newly invented “legion” and depended more heavily on infantry than cavalry. The revolutionary city exploded in population, attracting exiles, criminals, runaways, ne’er-do-wells, and general vagrants. Most of these were males, and so the boomtown became grossly disproportionate with the sexes.

Taking Numitor’s advice, Romulus decided to celebrate the festival of Neptune and invited the Latin people of the surrounding cities. Many came, particularly the Sabines. At Romulus’ signal, the men of Rome pounced, carrying off as many virgins as they could—683 according to ancient sources. Rather than sexual rape, the kidnapped women were invited to marry Roman husbands and granted shared property and civil rights in a city of free men. The women agreed to these progressive ideals, but the cities of their fathers rallied to take back their daughters. As they began to march, the Caeninenses held as spies detected the strength of the Roman army. Deciding to use cunning to deliver might, their king Acron called for a council with the other kings of the Antemnates, Crustumini, and the Sabines. Their unified army overwhelmed the Romans and decimated the city, punishing any woman who wept for her lost husband (and rights). Romulus, who had committed the sin of fratricide, was deserted by Mars and punished by Juno.

As per the ancient prophecy that the descendants of Aeneas would lead to a great nation, the truth came as Acron used the opportunity to create a permanent military confederation with the other cities. Unlike many of the Greek empires where dominant cities ruled over weaker ones and demanded tribute, the confederation was one of equals, usually only seen under the duress of war against a common enemy. The Italian Confederation would spread over the peninsula and create many colonies in the west while successfully defeating Greek attempts to colonize from the east.

Despite centuries of success, the Confederation would eventually be broken by the strength of the Carthaginian Empire, the embodiment of the curse of its ancient queen and abandoned lover of Aeneas, Dido. Carthage would go on to build a widespread merchant empire through Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa until its own fall by invasion of the German Vandals. Even with its ultimate failure, the Italian ideals of confederation and equality would be a landmark looked back upon by political thinkers in the Enlightenment, serving as groundwork for breakaway Angle colonies of the New World (giving freedom to men but notably ignoring liberties of slaves and women).

In reality, the Latin towns attacked Rome one by one, and Romulus soundly defeated each in turn. The first were the Caeninenses with their king Acron killed in battle. Romulus returned to his city to hold the first “triumph”, a parade celebrating victory in battle and containing many thankful sacrifices to the gods, primarily Jupiter. Rome would have many more triumphs over its years of transforming from a kingdom to a republic to an empire and conquering the known world from the Pillars of Hercules (Spain) to the Euphrates (Mesopotamia) as well as serving as a model for renewed theories of government in the 1700s.

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