This Day in History: "The Scarlet Letter" is Published

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This Day in History: "The Scarlet Letter" is Published
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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.

This Day in History: George Washington Signs the Postal Service Act

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This Day in History: George Washington Signs the Postal Service Act
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On February 20, 1792, President Washington formally created the U.S. Postal Service with the signing of the Postal Service Act, which outlined in detail Congressional power to establish official mail routes. The act allowed for newspapers to be included in mail deliveries and made it illegal for postal officials to open anyone's mail.

This Day in History: French Explorer La Salle Murdered

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This Day in History: French Explorer La Salle Murdered
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On March 19, 1687, Robert de La Salle was murdered by Pierre Duhaut during a mutiny while searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River.

La Salle left France in 1864 with four ships and 300 colonists in an attempt to establish a French colony on the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. However, the journey was ill-fated and plagued by pirates, hostile natives and poor navigation almost from the beginning.

After running one of his final ships aground near Navasota, Texas, the remaining 36 men led a mutiny and murdered Robert de La Salle.

This Day in History: The Boston Massacre

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This Day in History: The Boston Massacre
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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.

This Day In History: The Death of Guy Fawkes

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This Day In History: The Death of Guy Fawkes
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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.

This Day in History: George Washington is Born

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This Day in History: George Washington is Born
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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.

This Day in History: Thomas Jefferson is Elected as Third President of the United States

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This Day in History: Thomas Jefferson is Elected as Third President of the United States
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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.

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