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History's Happenings for November 5

FDR Wins First-Ever Third Term

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
(National Portrait Gallery)

The bets were that President Franklin Roosevelt would follow tradition and not seek a third term as president in the 1940 election. In addition, the Republicans had made significant gains in the Congress in the 1938 elections, and word was out that they likely would regain the White House, lost in 1932 when Roosevelt defeated Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover.

However, with Europe at war and tensions between America and Japan heating up, Roosevelt sought and was awarded the renomination of the Democratic Party.

The election was a tougher fight than his last. FDR defeated Republican challenger Wendell L. Willkie by a much closer margin than he had maintained over Alfred M. Landon in 1936. His 55-45% win was attributed to his experience with the international affairs of the day.

After the 1936 election, Roosevelt had started to see his popularity slip as some his programs, and their effect on the American scene, moved to the left away from traditional constitutional freedoms. Whether he could have secured the nomination in the absence of the international emergency, which he formally declared in September, 1940, is open to question. It is very unlikely that he could have defeated Willkie in such a scenario.

"Gunpowder Plot" Foiled

Responding to anti-Catholic laws passed by England's King James I, prominent Catholics devised a plot in 1605 to kill both the king and the members of the English Parliament.

Hiring soldier of fortune Guy Fawkes to carry out the deed, the plotters arranged to conceal 36 barrels of gunpowder in vaults under the House of Lords. The deal was that Fawkes would enter the vaults on November 5, 1605, when the king opened the joint Houses of Parliament, and set fire to the powder, afterward escaping overseas.

Fortunately one of the plotters let slip the scheme, apparently in an effort to save a friend from the blast, and Fawkes was arrested with fuse in-hand on the appointed day. Confessing under torture, Fawkes fingered the rest of the conspirators, who were arrested and either killed outright or hanged with him on January 31, 1606.

Since that time November 5 has been known as Guy Fawkes Day in Britain, and he is ceremoniously burned in effigy.

First U.S. Automobile Patent Granted

Studying newly conceived internal combustion engines at the 1879 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, engineer George B. Selden set about redesigning the best of the ideas to create a lighter, more efficient engine that could be used to power light vehicles.

On November 5, 1895, Selden received a U.S. patent for his engine, the first such patent issued in what would soon become a dominant industry.

Although he never entered upon its manufacture, he did arrange to receive royalties from those who did. In fact he received a royalty on virtually every automobile engine manufactured in the United States until the Ford Motor Company successfully challenged his patent in 1911.

Although one must wonder if Ford managed to pull a few strings, it was found by the courts that Selden's patent applied only to two-stroke engines, while automobiles had moved entirely to the four-stroke variety.

First Transcontinental Airplane Trip Completed

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

Britain, France Occupy Suez

Although the original international agreement in 1888 stipulated that the Suez Canal would be open to all vessels, of any nationality, in both peace and war, control of the Canal nonetheless was viewed as a strategic military (and financial) opportunity.

In a 1936 agreement with Egypt, Britain attained the right to station troops in the Canal Zone, purportedly to keep it open to all traffic but obviously positioning Britain to control its approaches in time of difficulties.

Real troubles began when, after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, Egypt refused passage to ships bound to or from the new Zionist state. In the early 50's, Egyptian nationalists threw fat on the fire by demanding the withdrawal of British troops and, under a new agreement signed in 1954, Britain concurred.

As Egypt leaned further to the left under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the U.S. and Britain withdrew previously promised support for the construction of the Aswan Dam on the upper Nile. In response, immediately after the last British troops departed in June, 1956, Nasser nationalized the Canal and informed the West that he would use the Canal's income to finance the dam.

On October 31, following an Israeli invasion two days before, British and French forces attacked Egypt with the goal of reopening the Canal to the free flow of international traffic. Egypt sank over three dozen vessels in the Canal to block it, and U.N. intervention was required to settle the dispute.

By November 5, 1956, British and French troops stood guard on the Canal, and the U.N. undertook to negotiate a truce which would withdraw the foreign troops and again free the Canal for international passage. Troops were removed by the end of the year, and the Canal cleared and reopened by March, 1957.

Egypt continued to maintain authority over the nationalized waterway, playing it as a chess-piece in future conflicts in the region, and continued to restrict Israeli passage until the Peace Accord of 1979 eased relations between the two countries.

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