Today in History
History's Happenings for September 21
The 1890's, much like today, was a time of self-satisfaction in America. The new middle class had emerged comfortably from mid-century industrialization; politically, liberalism (though clearly distinct from modern liberalism) had taken root with its wide views of personal freedom and equality; and science had decided it had discovered about all there was to be discovered. Life was comfy. It was truly the "gay nineties".
In the fall of 1897, a little girl named Virginia, apparently reaching that age when doubt about childhood magic starts to creep in, wrote a letter to the New York Sun worrying whether Santa Claus really existed.
In a response that seems to break with the humanist tendencies of the times, editor Frank P. Church wrote his renowned and inspiring editorial in answer to little Virginia's concern. We think his response is still valid and meaningful today.
The New York Sun, September 21, 1897:
"Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
"He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
"Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
"You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
"No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!"
The Sun reprinted this editorial every Christmas season until it went out of business in 1949. Many newspapers continue to print it today.
As Mr. Church intimated ... just when you think you know everything, remember that on the scale of God's universe, you know nothing.
Having risen in Revolution in the summer of 1789 against King Louis XVI and the last vestiges of feudalism in western Europe, the French people had succeeded in establishing a popular National Assembly and a constitutional monarchy.
Unfortunately, Louis wasn't having any of it. He quickly tired of his new role and, pressured by avowed republicans and a war with Prussia and Austria, the French people again rose and deposed the monarchy on August 10, 1792.
Six weeks later, on September 21, a newly-elected National Convention declared the First Republic, ending over a thousand years of continuous royal rule in France that traced its roots from the likes of Charlemagne and Saint Louis (IX).
Depending upon your point of view, life in the early republic wasn't much of an improvement over the Bourbon monarchy. The first two years saw the infamous Reign of Terror of Maximilien Robespierre and his leftist Jacobin faction, established to combat not only the actual crises following the earlier revolution, but imagined ones as well. Heads rolled off the guillotine like hailstones off a roof … including Louis' and his queen, Marie Antoinette's.
By 1794, the French Army had quelled its enemies abroad, and the domestic scene had quieted down somewhat. Robespierre had thankfully taken his well-deserved turn on the infernal machine, and France was ruled by a relatively benign Directory that nonetheless did not settle things between Monarchists and the Left.
On the heels of continued tension, in 1799 a young artillery officer who had distinguished himself in the recent wars overthrew the Directory and claimed power. Napoleon Bonaparte ruled the French Republic as First Consul until 1804, when he declared himself Emperor of a new French Empire.
Thus ended the First Republic. Today, France is enjoying her Fifth Republic, so there is still much to tell between the two.
Herbert George (H. G.) Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England on this date in 1866.
A prodigious writer beginning in 1895, Wells produced over 80 books before his death in 1946. He is best known for his science fiction, especially The Time Machine (1895), which wove into its story political commentary as well as adventure, and The War of the Worlds (1898). The latter was made famous by Orson Welles' radio dramatization in the 1930's, which caused pockets of panic due to its realism. Wells also produced the highly popular scholarly work, The Outline of History, in 1920.
Wells was cynical about the future of mankind, as is somewhat evident in The Time Machine, and was for awhile a member of the Fabian Society, which advocates social equality and collectivism along Communist lines without the class struggle. But, similarly to earlier science fiction writer Jules Verne, Wells is credited with much foresight in his descriptions of future civilization.
When Germany surrendered in May of 1945, she was immediately occupied by the four conquering armies -- the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union -- each responsible for a carefully (and highly politically) delineated zone of responsibility. Berlin, which lay in the Soviet zone, was also divided four ways.
After four years of military governance, during the last part of which Berlin was sustained by flown-in supplies as the Soviets blockaded access through their zone, the western portion of Germany was permitted to again form a German government.
On this date in 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany ("West Germany") was declared, with its capital in Bonn and Konrad Adenauer as its first Chancellor since Adolf Hitler. The next month, the Soviets followed suit, organizing the German Democratic Republic ("DDR" or "East Germany") within their zone, with (East) Berlin as its capital.
The two very different Germanys survived until 1989, when the wall erected by the East to prevent defections was torn down, and the swift move to reunification, effected in 1990, was begun.