This Day In History

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On March 13, 1781, the German-born English astronomer William Hershel discovers Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun. Herschel's discovery of a new planet was the first to be made in modern times, and also the first to be made by use of a telescope, which allowed Herschel to distinguish Uranus as a planet, not a star, as previous astronomers believed.

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On the eve of a general parliamentary session scheduled for November 5, 1605, Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace, found Guy Fawkes lurking in a cellar of the Parliament building. Fawkes was detained and the premises thoroughly searched. Nearly two tons of gunpowder were found hidden within the cellar. In his interrogation, Fawkes revealed that he was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy organized by Robert Catesby to annihilate England's entire Protestant government, including King James I. The king was to have attended Parliament on November 5. Over the next few months, English authorities killed or captured all of the conspirators in the "Gunpowder Plot" but also arrested, tortured, or killed dozens of innocent English Catholics. After a brief trial, Guy Fawkes was sentenced, along with the other surviving chief conspirators, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered in London. On January 30, 1606, the gruesome public executions began in London, and on January 31 Fawkes was called to meet his fate. While climbing to the hanging platform, however, he jumped from the ladder and broke his neck, dying instantly.
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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 March 16, 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne's story of adultery and betrayal in colonial America, The Scarlet Letter, is published.

Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. Although the infamous Salem witch trials had taken place more than 100 years earlier, the events still hung over the town and made a lasting impression on the young Hawthorne. Witchcraft figured in several of his works, including "Young Goodman Brown" (1835) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which a house is cursed by a wizard condemned by the witch trials.

Hawthorne worked at Salem's custom house following a period of poor literary sales and financial hardships in order to provide for his growing family. After leaving the job, he spent several months writing The Scarlet Letter, which made him famous.

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Following Britain's bloodless Glorious Revolution, Mary, the daughter of the deposed king, and William of Orange, her husband, are proclaimed joint sovereigns of Great Britain under Britain's new Bill of Rights.

William, a Dutch prince, married Mary, the daughter of the future King James II, in 1677. After James' succession to the English throne in 1685, the Protestant William kept in close contact with the opposition to the Catholic king. After the birth of an heir to James in 1688, seven high-ranking members of Parliament invited William and Mary to England. William landed at Torbay in Devonshire with an army of 15,000 men and advanced to London, meeting no opposition from James' army, which had deserted the king. James himself was allowed to escape to France, and in February 1689 Parliament offered the crown jointly to William and Mary, provided they accept the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights, which greatly limited royal power and broadened constitutional law, granted Parliament control of finances and the army and prescribed the future line of royal succession, declaring that no Roman Catholic would ever be sovereign of England. The document also stated that Englishmen possessed certain inviolable civil and political rights, a political concept that was a major influence in the composition of the U.S. Bill of Rights, composed almost exactly a century later.

The Glorious Revolution, the ascension of William and Mary, and the acceptance of the Bill of Rights were decisive victories for Parliament in its long struggle against the crown.

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On this day in 1732, George Washington is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the second son from the second marriage of a colonial plantation owner.

An initially loyal British subject, Washington eventually led the Continental Army in the American Revolution and became known as the father of the United States.

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On this day in 1827, a group of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city's famous Mardi Gras celebrations.