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History's Happenings for November 2

Birth of President James K. Polk
1795

President James K. Polk

Called "Young Hickory" after his idol Andrew Jackson, the eleventh president of the United States was the first dark horse candidate to gain the nation's highest office.

James Knox Polk was born on November 2, 1795 in Mecklinburg County, NC., the son of a frontier farm family and a direct descendant, through his mother, of John Knox, Scottish founder of the Presbyterian Church. Born sickly, Polk was determined to train his mind to overcome his physical handicap.

Unable to read or write until he was 18, Polk nonetheless mastered Greek and Latin, and subsequently graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina in 1818, with degrees in mathematics and the classics. It was during this time that Polk adopted Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson as lifelong inspirations.

After studying the law in Nashville and being admitted to the bar, Polk accepted a position as clerk to the Tennessee General Assembly. The position whetted his appetite for politics and, when he ran for his own seat in 1823, was elected.

Ever the Jeffersonian democrat, Assemblyman Polk quickly became a champion of the working class -- which in Tennessee consisted primarily of small, often poor, usually indebted farmers. It was by this constituency that he was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1825. Immediately upon arriving in Congress, he became embroiled in the argument over the election of President John Quincy Adams, who had received fewer popular and electoral votes than candidate Andrew Jackson but, because there had not been a majority, was placed into office by a vote of the House of Representatives. Polk's first speech in the House projected his view that the people's will had been subverted, and that the electoral system should be replaced by direct popular vote. When Jackson did win election to the presidency in 1828, Polk led his supporters in the House.

In 1835, as Jackson's followers evolved into the modern Democratic Party, they selected Polk as Speaker of the House. Jackson's retirement in 1836 began a stormy period for the Democrats, and Polk left to accept a term as Governor of Tennessee.

The presidential election of 1844 found former President Martin Van Buren's stance against the admission of the state of Texas had fouled his chances in the South and West and, despite repeated balloting, the Democratic convention could not nominate him. Instead, Polk was brought forward as a dark horse compromise candidate, and nominated on the ninth ballot.

The election turned on westward expansion, and Polk was forcefully in favor not only of Texas' statehood, but also of the annexation of the Oregon territory, disputed with Britain. The Democratic motto of "54-40 or fight!" represented the U.S. claim for Oregon all the way to the 54 40' parallel -- almost to Alaska. But it was only the splitting of the New York vote by the small Liberty Party that handed Polk the presidency.

As president, Polk sought to reduce import tariffs -- a move popular with the small-farmer constituency, but unpopular with manufacturers looking for protection. Similarly he moved to re-establish the Independent Treasury -- forerunner of the Federal Reserve -- originated by President Van Buren, in order to stifle currency speculation.

But it was the west that most marked his administration.

The U.S. claim to the Oregon Territory up to the 54 40' parallel -- modern British Columbia -- was offset by a similar claim by Britain to what is now Oregon and Washington. In a compromise that made a lot of geographical sense, Polk surrendered his claim in exchange for a similar British concession, and the U.S. boundary was set at its current position -- the 49th parallel.

The problem in Texas was not so simply resolved. President Tyler had annexed Texas shortly before Polk's inauguration, so its dispute with Mexico over the slice of land between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers became a U.S. problem. Polk sent a representative to Mexico City to offer $40 million to resolve the issue, as well as buying New Mexico and California. The Mexicans wanted none of it.

Angered, in early 1846 Polk sent U.S. troops under General (later President) Zachary Taylor into the disputed Texan sliver. A fracas followed in which 16 American soldiers died. Polk's request for a Declaration of War was celebrated by southerners and westerners, but angered northerners, who foresaw the expansion of slavery in the west. Nonetheless, the Mexican War was on.

Fortunately it was short. Generals Kearney and Fremont made short work of New Mexico and California, while General Winfield Scott invaded Mexico proper at Veracruz, marching inland to capture Mexico City in September 1847. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 gave the U.S. New Mexico and California, as well as the disputed Texan border, at a discounted price of $15 million.

The new territories raised again the issue of slavery which Polk, a slaveholder himself, viewed as a necessary evil. He strived to take no side on the issue, thus allowing the party to fracture further. Abolitionist Democrats splintered off, reinforcing the pro-slave character of the Party. But the Compromise of 1850 momentarily decided the problem for the new territories.

His health poor, satisfied with what he had accomplished in a single term, Polk retired in 1848, succeeded by Zachary Taylor. He lived only another year, passing away in 1849 at the age of 53.

Birth of Pioneer Daniel Boone
1734

A well-known American pioneer and explorer who blazed a trail into the Kentucky valley, Daniel Boone was born on November 2, 1734 near Reading, PA.

Subsequently raised in North Carolina, Boone gained his woodsman's skills there and served with the British during the French and Indian War of the 1750's. A decade later, he began exploring along the banks of the Kentucky River, then part of the western American wilderness. In 1775 he was hired by a trading company in the Carolinas to establish a road by which interested colonists could follow his lead into the Kentucky valley.

On their behalf he founded the settlement of Boonesborough in eastern Kentucky, and built a fort there. Colonists followed by his Wilderness Road and the settlement became a permanent village despite occasional troubles with native Indians during the Revolution.

Boone moved on to a new settlement at Boone's Station and, ultimately left Kentucky in 1788. He subsequently set down roots in modern West Virginia and, just before it was sold to America, St. Louis in the Louisiana territory. He died there in September, 1820.

Washington Bids Farewell to Army
1783

General George Washington

(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
On the other hand, if you'd like to try writing
one  ... send it in! )

Birth of President Warren G. Harding
1865

President Warren G. Harding

The first born after the Civil War, and often regarded as the worst (stay tuned), the twenty-ninth president of the United States was born on November 2, 1865 in Blooming Grove, OH.

As a young man, Warren Gamaliel Harding studied law, sold insurance, taught school and worked for the local newspaper. Angered by the paper's editorials, he bought his own, the Marion Star. The paper prospered and Harding involved himself in community affairs, joining all the right clubs and making friends through his easy-going manner. As the turn of the century approached, he joined the Republican Party, and was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1898 as a strongly pro-business candidate.

After four years in the state Senate and another two as lieutenant governor of Ohio, Harding disappeared from politics until asked by fellow Ohioan, President William Howard Taft, to nominate him for reelection in 1912.

At the time, Taft was at odds with his former champion, Theodore Roosevelt, because of his departure from the latter's populism, and his growing preference for business interests. The riff caused Roosevelt to also seek the Republican nomination for president.

When Taft received the nomination, Roosevelt split from the party and ran on his own independent "Bull Moose" platform. On the stump, Harding attacked Roosevelt at every turn. The upshot of the Republican split was, of course, the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson,

In 1914, Harding secured election to the U.S. Senate, where he supported protective import tariffs and, for political reasons, the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition). He opposed the wartime excess profits tax on business, and voted against the post-war League of Nations for fear that it would drag the U.S. into another European conflict. Harding's friendly personality and consistent conservatism won him both friends and political supporters.

The election of 1920 saw a rising backlash against Wilsonian politics. Although generally regarded as a far-sighted president, Wilson had nonetheless brought the country to war in Europe, with its accompanying casualties and price inflation. And although he had not been president to sign the Sixteenth Amendment, Wilson's presidency witnessed the first eight years of the Federal income tax. Throwing his hat into the ring, Harding emerged to suggest a "return to normalcy" -- which to him meant lower taxes, fewer foreign entanglements, and more profits. He was attacked for having too many slogans and too little substance.

But luck -- and a deadlocked Republican Convention -- was in his corner. In a quandary reminiscent of the 1844 election when another dark horse, James K. Polk -- also born on November 2 -- took the laurels, the dealmakers of the Party retired to find a compromise candidate. That compromise was Harding, who took the nomination on the tenth ballot. Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge would be his running mate.

Harding campaigned from his front porch in Marion, a tactic made famous by President William McKinley, trying his best to avoid making commitments and to play to both sides of the hotter issues. Unfortunate proof that voters respond more to slogans than to substance, Harding was elected by a then unheard-of 61% majority.

Harding's real failing as president was not so much his own character as it was his choice of advisors and subordinates. Although he chose some well-qualified and upright men for his cabinet -- future president Herbert Hoover was his Secretary of Commerce -- too many positions were filled by friends who, in the end, betrayed and embarrassed him.

Though his campaign lacked substance, Harding was nonetheless true to his ideals as president. He acted quickly to repeal the wartime excess profits tax, to raise import tariffs, and to limit immigration. He called a special session of Congress soon after his inauguration to consider, among other things, the Versailles Treaty ending the World War. Although Congress refused to approve the Treaty, or abide by its requirements, it did insist on all of the rights and privileges it granted to the victors. It was this kind of oppressive attitude by the former Allies that gave unintended support to Adolf Hitler in rallying his countrymen against the "betrayal" of Versailles.

Unfortunately, Harding's administration is best known for scandal (sound familiar?). In early 1923, his friend and head of the Veterans Bureau fled the country after bilking the government out of $200 million. He was caught and imprisoned in 1925. His Attorney General, a political supporter, was found to have profiteered on alcohol taken from government stores. The Justice Department was accused of taking bribes from bootleggers.

The most famous eruption of his administration was the Teapot Dome Scandal. Early in his presidency, Harding had transferred responsibility for the U.S. Strategic Oil Reserves at Teapot Dome (near Casper, WY) from the Navy to the Department of the Interior -- both run by friends. In 1922, the Secretary of the Interior leased out the oil fields without competitive bids -- an immediately suspicious practice in government. A Senate investigation begun in late 1923 found that the Secretary had pocketed $400,000 from the oil companies for his "services".

The President, far from trying to cover for obvious corruption, was distraught that he had been betrayed by so many friends. During a long and heavily scheduled trip to Alaska in the summer of 1923, the stress caught up with him. Stopping in San Francisco, President Harding fell ill and died on August 2, apparently from an embolism. He was succeeded by Vice President Coolidge.

Fortunately, Warren Harding did not live to see the worst of the revelations about his crooked friends.

North, South Dakota Admitted to Union
1889

Mt. Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota
(South Dakota Tourism)

Home to both harsh and beautiful environments, and sacred to the native American Indian, the Dakota Territory entered the Union as North and South Dakota on November 2, 1889, our 39th and 40th states.

The grasslands of the Dakotas attracted wandering tribes as long ago as 15-20,000 years, but are better remembered as the home of such peoples as the Cheyenne, the Ojibwa and the great Sioux nation. The foreboding yet beautiful Black Hills area in the west was sacred to the Sioux and others.

The first Europeans were French explorers and fur traders, who followed on France's claim to the area as part of Louisiana in 1700. Settlement was understandably slow in coming to the remote area. Finally, in 1797, the first fur trading post was built, in the north on the Pembina and Red Rivers.

After the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, getting with it the Dakotas, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on an expedition into the newly acquired territory to map and explore it. They reached the Dakotas in 1804, spending the winter in the north, where they met French trader Toussaint Charbonneau in a Mandan village. When they set out again in the spring, Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife, Sacajawea, traveled with them. Sacajawea was able to secure help -- rather than the opposite -- when they later encountered her tribe. The two continued on with the expedition until it again returned through the Dakotas.

The fur trade continued to grow in the early 1800's, but settlement still lagged. However, the great westward expansion of the nation in the mid-1800's, with the accompanying admission of states and creation of territories, encouraged the small population in the Dakotas to also seek organization as a territory. Interest in Washington was small. But the possibility encouraged more people to move to the area and, by 1857, land companies had also staked out settlements in the south. On March 2, 1861, President James Buchanan signed the enabling act to create the Dakota Territory -- which also included much of Montana and Wyoming. The capital was set at Yankton, in the south.

As the white population grew, inevitably conflict arose with the American Indian tribes, especially the Sioux who, as a nation of many tribes, were by far the largest group. The Bozeman Trail -- a main route to the gold fields of Montana -- crossed Sioux territory in the Dakotas and was a particular source of irritation. The Treaty of Fort Laramie, in 1868, traded the trail for peace, and recognized Sioux ownership of over 60 million acres of modern South Dakota, including the Black Hills.

Unfortunately the deal didn't survive the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874. At first attempting to uphold their end of the Fort Laramie bargain, U.S. troops did their best to bar invading prospectors. But when negotiations to buy mining rights from the Sioux collapsed, the troops cleared out, and the sacred area was soon overrun by miners. Infamous mining towns like Deadwood City sprang up overnight.

Clashes with the Sioux occurred mainly outside of the Dakotas -- the most famous being the battle with Colonel George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry along Montana's Little Big Horn River in 1876, that cost the lives of all 260 men. But the great Sioux nation couldn't resist federal numbers and firepower, and most retired to the reservation to try to subsist in peace.

Mining and the advance of railroads witnessed a boom in Dakota population in the late seventies and eighties -- by 1880 the white population had reached 82,000. But the onset of drought in 1886 began to turn the tide, as farmers disappointed with a drier-than-expected climate began to leave.

During the height of the boom, pressure for statehood mounted. The relocation of the territorial capital to Bismarck, in the north, fueled interest in a separate state for the south. Since the territory had largely been settled by Republicans from the Midwest, Washington under the Democratic Cleveland administration was not anxious to see the creation of two Republican states. So the issue waited until the incoming Harrison presidency brought with it a Republican Congress in the 1888 elections. On November 2, 1889, the territory was admitted as two states, the North winning a coin toss to be the first.

North Dakota's Stats

Capital: Bismarck
Land Area: 70,703 square miles (17th)
Population (1994): 637,988 (47th)
Largest Cities: Fargo (74,111/1990), Grand Forks (49,425/1990), Bismarck (49256/1990)
Nicknames: Sioux State, Peace Garden State, Flickertail State.
Motto: "Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable."
Emblems: Wild prairie rose, western meadowlark, petrified wood.

South Dakota's Stats

Capital: Pierre
Land Area: 77,116 square miles (16th)
Population (1994): 721,164 (45th)
Largest Cities: Sioux Falls (100,814/1990), Rapid City (54,523/1990)
Nicknames: Coyote State, Sunshine State.
Motto: "Under God, the people rule."
Emblems: Pasque flower, Chinese ring-necked pheasant, coyote, honeybee.

Balfour Declaration Creates Jewish Palestine
1917

In a move that presaged the eventual founding of the state of Israel, on November 2, 1917 the British government issued a statement supporting the foundation of a Jewish homeland within the existing autonomous region of Palestine.

The reasons for the Declaration, issued by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, had less to do with altruism than the exigencies of the World War, then raging in Europe. The British hoped to not only curry favor with Jews living in both Allied and enemy countries, but also to secure for itself safe occupancy of the strategic central Middle Eastern area then loosely controlled by the Palestinians.

The Declaration recognized the legitimacy of Zionism, and offered British protection for the state-within-a-state that it sought to create. It also mandated that the rights of non-Jewish inhabitants would be protected.

After the War, the League of Nations adopted the concept of the Declaration, and in July, 1922 created the Palestinian Mandate, an area placed under British protection and within which the Jewish homeland would be created.

Chasing after allies during the War, Britain had made conflicting promises over the Middle Eastern lands it had taken from the Ottomans. As a result, its rule over the Mandate see-sawed back and forth between assuaging Palestinian fears of the loss of their own homeland, and Jewish demands for steadily increasing immigration. Arab revolts broke out in the twenties and, more severely, in the mid-thirties with the rush of Jewish immigrants from Nazi Germany. Britain responded by restricting immigration which, in turn, gave rise to Jewish terrorism against British Rule.

In 1947, with the recent Holocaust in Europe driving world sympathy for Zionism, Britain finally threw its hands up and declared the Mandate to be an unworkable situation. The issue of Palestinian versus Jewish rights in the area was turned over to the new United Nations to resolve and, though the state of Israel was created in 1948, the contest of rights remains.

First Commercial Radio Broadcasts
1920

Radio transmissions were not new as the 1920's dawned -- backyard hobbyists had built and operated their own sets from the early days of the century, broadcasting a mixed bag of music, speeches and nonsense mainly to other hobbyists. By 1912, the government had already seen fit to license radio operators, having issued about 8,000 such licenses.

Radio also found use in business and, of course, the military. During the First World War President Woodrow Wilson, in an act more reminiscent of later totalitarian regimes, ordered the confiscation of all civilian radios and the banning of non-military broadcasts.

But the first casual commercial station had to wait for the end of the War. In 1916 David Sarnoff, an employee of the American Marconi Company (and later chief of RCA and the NBC radio network), had suggested to his superiors that radio could become a common appliance in the average American household. The company wasn't interested, and the War interrupted further thought about the matter.

After the war, commercial interest slowly began to emerge. On November 2, 1920, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh took it upon itself to establish the first commercial station, broadcasting from the roof of its factory. Managed by project engineer Frank Conrad, station KDKA was licensed by the Department of Commerce and broadcast a blend of programming targeted at generating public interest in the purchase of home receivers. It carried no ads, and the costs were borne by Westinghouse.

Other companies followed suit and by 1929 over ten million households were tuning in. As the market for new receiver sales topped out, stations looked to the idea of paid advertising to support their programming, a concept not unanimously received as good for the medium. Nonetheless alternatives were few, and commercial radio became not only a booming success in the next decade, but a lifeline to suburban and rural America as well.




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