Today in History
History's Happenings for November 7
Running on his handling of the war and a natural resistance to changing horses in mid-stream, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to history's first-ever (and only) fourth term on November 7, 1944.
His 53-46% victory over Republican Thomas E. Dewey was even closer than the 1940 contest, and was helped by his decision to drop incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace for new running mate Senator Harry S Truman.
The strain of the campaign, and the trip to the stressful Yalta Conference the following February, are believed to have resulted in Roosevelt's death of a massive cerebral hemorrhage just three months after his fourth inauguration, in April, 1945. Vice President Truman found himself thrown into the lions' den with little or no preparation, after the twelve-year reign of one of the century's most omnipresent personalities.
One of the world's foremost pioneers in the early investigation of radioactivity, Marie Curie (nee Sklodowska) was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 7, 1867.
Unable to pursue a higher education in Russian-dominated Poland, Marie followed her successful sister to Paris, where she enrolled in the Sorbonne. She graduated at the top of her class, with degrees in physics and mathematics and, in 1894 met French physicist Pierre Curie. They married in 1895.
Excited by Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery of x-rays the previous year, the Curies dove into the field of radioactivity. Following on the work of Henri Bacquerel, who had discovered the radioactive emissions of uranium, Marie found that thorium also emitted the strange rays. She also discovered that the amount of radiation emitted by the naturally occurring ore pitchblende exceeded that of its known content of uranium and thorium.
Processing an immense amount of the mineral, the Curies were able to separate out tiny quantities of two new radioactive elements, which they named polonium (after Marie's native land) and radium. They shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics with Bacquerel for the discovery.
After Pierre was killed by a runaway carriage in 1906, Marie went on to teach at the Sorbonne -- the first woman to do so -- and to continue the investigation into radioactivity. Working with other scientists, she was able to produce pure radium metal, and, in 1914, the University of Paris created an institute to support ongoing research into the element.
During World War I Marie helped train and support battlefield x-ray units which used radium as a source, even driving the ambulances to the front herself.
But her long exposure to the rays that so captured her interest eventually gave her leukemia, and she succumbed on July 4, 1934, never having patented nor asked for a single franc for her discoveries.
Pacifist Jeanette Rankin became the first women elected to Congress when she won her bid to represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives on this day in 1916.
The Russia of 1917 was oppressively ruled by Czar Nicholas II, and was pouring manpower into the European war at a rate far ahead of its ability to support with supplies. The incredible casualties at the front and the scarcity of food and even basic liberties at home had gradually stirred the people into a revolutionary fervor.
Nicholas should have been aware. There had already been an unsuccessful revolution in 1905 after the disastrous Russo-Japanese War, and moderate elements in the Duma (Russian Parliament) were again warning Nicholas of impending tragedy.
The tide broke in February, 1917, when socialist revolutionaries seized the government after a wave of popular disorder and forced the Czar to abdicate. A provisional government, composed of constitutional monarchists and moderate socialists, took control of the country. In Petrograd (St. Petersburg), center of the popular uprising, a separate socialist government had emerged, styling itself as a Soviet ("council"). Although the Petrograd Soviet nominally supported the Provisional Government, in fact the Soviet held the power of the masses.
The Provisionals and the Soviets divided over the issue of the continuance of the war in Europe. The Provisional Government vowed to fight through to victory, while the Soviet leaned more closely to the will of the people -- and at that level there was little stomach for continued war. Circling like vultures around the fringe of the revolution were the Bolsheviks ("majority"), a party of Marxist communists led by Leon Trotsky and the exiled Vladimir Lenin, who sought a complete disassembly of the old state and the installation of a government dominated by "professional revolutionaries". They also demanded an end to Russia's involvement in the war, at any price.
Further popular unrest and battlefield defeats led to purges in the Provisional Government, and the emergence of Alexander Kerensky, previously Secretary for War, as its Prime Minister. Kerensky began to rein in some of the freedom that had been restored by the Provisionals as he saw its position being threatened by further revolt. When a general under the command of Kerensky's government led an attack on Petrograd, the population rose against the army and the troops refused to fight. Whether or not Kerensky had approved the action was immaterial, the Provisional Government was powerless.
On October 24-25 (November 6-7 on the modern calendar) the Bolsheviks, now supported by the majority of the masses, stormed the Winter Palace and displaced the helpless Provisional Government in an essentially bloodless revolution.
The government was now under the control of the Bolsheviks, who set about creating a Soviet state that was not destined to remain bloodless. On November 8, 1917 Lenin, returned from exile, spoke before the new Congress of Soviets and told it like it was … "We shall now proceed to the construction of the socialist order."
Kerensky escaped to eventually settle in the United States and lecture in political science. He died in 1970.
Lenin died in 1924 after a bloody civil war, and was succeeded by Joseph Stalin, compared to whom Lenin was a pussycat.
(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.