This Day In History

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On the cold, snowy night of March 5, 1770, a mob of American colonists gathers at the Customs House in Boston and begins taunting the British soldiers guarding the building in protest of unpopular taxation.

The protesters pelted British troops with snowballs until Private Hugh Montgomery was hit, causing him to discharge his rifle into the crowd. The other soldiers began firing as well, until five colonists lay dead or dying.

Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, and James Caldwell died from their wounds, and their deaths are regarded by some historians as the first casualties of the American Revolutionary War.

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On this day in 1801, Thomas Jefferson is elected the third president of the United States. The election constitutes the first peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in the United States.

By 1800, when he decided to run for president, Thomas Jefferson possessed impressive political credentials and was well-suited to the presidency. In addition to drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had served in two Continental Congresses, as minister to France, as secretary of state under George Washington and as John Adams' vice president.

Vicious partisan warfare characterized the campaign of 1800 between Democratic-Republicans Jefferson and Aaron Burr and Federalists John Adams, Charles C. Pinckney and John Jay. The election highlighted the ongoing battle between Democratic-Republican supporters of the French, who were embroiled in their own bloody revolution, and the pro-British Federalists who wanted to implement English-style policies in American government. The Federalists abhorred the French revolutionaries' overzealous use of the guillotine and as a result were less forgiving in their foreign policy toward the French. They advocated a strong centralized government, a standing military and financial support of emerging industries. In contrast, Jefferson's Republicans preferred limited government, unadulterated states' rights and a primarily agrarian economy. They feared that Federalists would abandon revolutionary ideals and revert to the English monarchical tradition. As secretary of state under Washington, Jefferson opposed Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton's proposal to increase military expenditures and resigned when Washington supported the leading Federalist's plan for a national bank.

After a bloodless but ugly campaign in which candidates and influential supporters on both sides used the press, often anonymously, as a forum to fire slanderous volleys at each other, the then-laborious and confusing process of voting began in April 1800. Individual states scheduled elections at different times and although Jefferson and Burr ran on the same ticket, as president and vice president respectively, the Constitution still demanded votes for each individual to be counted separately. As a result, by the end of January 1801, Jefferson and Burr emerged tied at 73 electoral votes apiece. Adams came in third at 65 votes.

This unintended result sent the final vote to the House of Representatives. Sticklers in the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives insisted on following the Constitution's flawed rules and refused to elect Jefferson and Burr together on the same ticket. The highly influential Federalist Alexander Hamilton, who mistrusted Jefferson but hated Burr more, persuaded the House to vote against Burr, whom he called the most unfit manfor the office of president. (This accusation and others led Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel in 1804 that resulted in Hamilton's death.) Two weeks before the scheduled inauguration, Jefferson emerged victorious and Burr was confirmed as his vice president.

A contingent of sword-bearing soldiers escorted the new president to his inauguration on March 4, 1801, illustrating the contentious nature of the election and the victors' fear of reprisal. In his inaugural address, Jefferson sought to heal political differences by graciously declaring We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.

As president, Jefferson made some concessions to his opponents, including taking Hamilton's advice to strengthen the American Navy. In 1801, Jefferson sent naval squadrons and Marines to suppress Barbary piracy against American shipping. He reduced the national debt by one-third, acquired the Louisiana Territory, and his sponsorship of the Lewis and Clark expedition opened the west to exploration and settlement. Jefferson's first term ended in relative stability and prosperity, and in 1804 he was overwhelmingly elected to a second term.

The flawed

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On this day in 1898, French writer Emile Zola is brought to trial for libel for "J'Accuse," his newspaper editorial attacking the French army over the Dreyfus affair.

On January 13, Zola had published his editorial in the newspaper L'Aurore. The letter exposed a military cover-up regarding Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain, had been accused of espionage in 1894 and sentenced in a secret military court-martial to imprisonment in a South American penal colony. Two years later, evidence of Dreyfus' innocence surfaced, but the army suppressed the information. Zola's letter exposed the military's mistaken conviction.

Zola's letter provoked national outrage on both sides of the issue, among political parties, religious organizations, and others. Supporters of the military sued Zola for libel. He was convicted and sentenced to one year's imprisonment, but he fled France. In 1899, Dreyfus was pardoned, but for political reasons he was not exonerated until 1906. Shortly after Dreyfus' pardon, Zola returned to France, where he died in 1902.

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On this day in 1904, Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss, the author and illustrator of such beloved children's books as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham," is born in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Geisel, who used his middle name (which was also his mother's maiden name) as his pen name, wrote 48 books--including some for adults--that have sold well over 200 million copies and been translated into multiple languages.

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Hoping to raise sufficient funds to defend the vast new American territories won from the French in the Seven Years' War, the British government passes the notorious Stamp Act on this day in 1765. The legislation levied a direct tax on all materials printed for commercial and legal use in the colonies, including everything from broadsides and insurance policies to playing cards and dice.

Though the Stamp Act employed a strategy that was a common fundraising vehicle in England, it stirred a storm of protest in the colonies. The colonists argued that, as British subjects, Parliament could not impose taxes upon them without their consent, as given through the various colonial representative assemblies. Believing this right to be in peril, the colonists rioted and intimidated all the stamp agents responsible for enforcing the act into resignation.

Read the full story at History.com!

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On this day in 1911, President Ronald Wilson Reagan is born in Tampico, Illinois.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, served for two terms from 1981 to 1989. Known as The Great Communicator, he was the first actor to be elected president after two centuries of mainly lawyers and soldiers.

Born and raised in Illinois, Reagan took his first media job as a radio sports announcer in the Midwest. Buoyed by his on-air success, he journeyed to Hollywood and began acting in feature films in the 1930s. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, appearing in training and propaganda films. After the war, Reagan served as president of the Screen Actor's Guild from 1947 to 1952. At that time, he was a proponent of New Deal Democratic policies. He switched to the Republican Party in 1960.

Reagan delivered a rousing speech in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater at the Republican National Convention in 1964, which in effect launched his political career. After two terms as governor of California, he made a bid for the Republican presidential ticket in 1976, losing to Vice President Gerald Ford. In 1980, he gained the nomination and beat out embattled Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter to become president, ushering in a new era of conservatism in American politics.

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On this day in 1959, rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with "That'll Be the Day."

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly's band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.

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