Today in History


“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon”
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)

Being ask to post something about “History” is almost like being given a license to steal. You can ride off in any direction and still claim some tie it in with the subject.

Here are only a few of the people and events associated just with this week:

June 5
First manned public balloon flight – 1783
First installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin published – 1851
Robert F. Kennedy mortally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan – 1968
Ronald Reagan dies – 2004

June 6
William Quantrill killed – 1865
First federal gasoline tax (1 cent/gal) – 1932
First drive-in theater opens (enhancing the romantic prospects of several generations of American teenagers) – 1933
D-Day – 1944
George Orwell’s 1984 is published – 1949

June 7
Mohandas Gandhi’s first act of civil disobedience (Pietermaritzburg South Africa) – 1893

June 8
Muhammad dies at Medina – 632
Apache Chief Cochise dies in Arizona Territory – 1874
RFK buried at Arlington, near his brother – 1968

June 9
Battle of Brandy Station (largest Cavalry battle of the Civil War) – 1863
Donald Duck has his film Debut – 1934
“Pay as you go” income tax withholding instituted – 1943

June 10
Briget Bishop hanged (first of 19 victims of the Salem Witch trials) – 1692
Clyde Barrow wrecks car near Wellington Texas, and his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker Thornton, is badly burned. Earlier the same day, but almost 1,000 miles east, John Dillinger, with two other men, robs his first bank (New Carlisle, Ohio). Gets $10,600 – 1933

June 11
John Wayne dies – 1979

Anyone in this group who can’t find something to comment on out of that list is just not trying very hard.

My personal favorite from this week, however, involves a fellow named Richard Henry Lee. In the summer of 1776, Lee was 44 years old, the same age as George Washington, and was a well known and respected delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia. Even though fighting with the British had begun over a year ago, the sentiment in the Colonies for independence was far from universal, but Lee was part of the group that believed it was time to formally place the question before Congress. On June 7, 1776, he rose and offered the following resolution:
“That these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

The issue was debated for three days, and then the Congress resolved to delay further discussion until “The first Monday of July next.” They further resolved that “in the mean while, that no time be lost, in case the congress agree thereto, that a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration to the effect of the said resolution.”

Normal parliamentary procedure would have placed Mr. Lee, as the original mover of the resolution, as head of the committee for the preparation of the declaration. Lee had already proven himself an eloquent man in both speech and pen, so he would have, no doubt, written the bulk of the document himself. Just at that point, however, he was called home to Virginia due to a family emergency, and his younger fellow Virginian, 33 year old Thomas Jefferson, was appointed in his place. The rest of the committee was made up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.

Mainly through the urging of John Adams, Jefferson was assigned to produce a draft of the document, with the rest of the committee acting primarily as his editors. They crossed out some of Jefferson’s more inflammatory charges against George III and added a few of their own thoughts, but remained in the background so that sole authorship is generally attributed to Jefferson alone. The result, of course, was the document that became the bedrock of the American system of government.

On July 2, 1776, Congress voted for independence from England and adopted the final draft of Jefferson’s document, which was published two days later.
Today, it’s hard to imagine the Declaration of Independence in any other form. Except for an untimely family illness on June 10, 1776, however, it would almost certainly have been a different document written by a different man – another Virginian named Richard Henry Lee.

One of the quirks of history.

What about the Declaration of Independence? How is it holding up after 230 years?


27 Responses to “Today in History”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Captain!!! I love stories about these little “quirks” of history.

    I can say one thing about the Declaration: if Jefferson and his creative writing class felt strongly about everyone truly having a right – and a country – where the “pursuit of happiness” is fundamental, they surely accomplished their task. I don’t think this is a good thing overall.

    On the other hand, I don’t think they had a clue what they were unleashing when they included “all men are created equal,” but I am glad they opened that little can of worms. Over time, that idea (which I believe in on a spiritual level) has improved dramatically.

    And on my third hand, the wars over the inalienable right to both “life” and “liberty” rage on.

    Oh, if we want to mix religion into this very much (and brand me unpatriotic if you must), but I’ve always had a very hard time combining the Declaration with Christianity (i.e. honor the king, submit to the authorities, etc.).

  2. Joe Longhorn Says:


    If I recall correctly, Jefferson’s early drafts had “property” in the place of “happiness.” Glad they changed that one.

    I think there is a big difference between having a right to the pursuit of happiness and having a right to happiness itself. A lot of the problems in our society come from people believing they have the latter.

  3. Whitney Says:

    I’m really looking forward to your future posts and am glad that Al & JU talked you into doing this.

    Joe, I think you’re exactly right. Of course, those same people who think they’re entitled to neverending happiness also tend to think that someone else is supposed to provide it for them and that when they’re not happy, it must be someone else’s fault.

  4. Whitney Says:

    Al, You’ve always hid that third hand well. Guess you didn’t want us to call you a freak. 🙂

  5. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Welcome back Joe/Whitney! We’ve kept going, but it has been quieter w/o you guys around!

    (And Whitney, I’m afraid hiding my third hand doesn’t necessarily prevent people from labeling me a freak.) 🙂

    I’m probably thinking of the problem with “pursuit of happiness” a bit differently than you guys. Let me try to explain…

    I don’t think happiness is bad, but I think having it as an end-all goal is misguided (i.e. something to pursue). Love and justice are much more noble goals to pursue than personal happiness imho. Happiness is better employed as a by-product of more noble pursuits.

    I’m guessing that more of the people to which you refer (I may be wrong) are upset with injustice, which I think should be addressed. Now I’d suspect that they think “justice” will make them happy, which may or may not be true. (They subscribe to the same misguided goal in life.) But to me, dismissing their lot in life may not be proper just because no one has a “right to happiness.” I do think people have an inalienable right to justice.

    I’m thinking more of the folks who are the “haves” more than the “have-nots” who have wholeheartedly bought into the American ideal of pursuing happiness, which they are inclined to do selfishly, since that is the stated goal (pursue happiness). They have plenty, and others don’t, but since the American fundamental right is to “pursue happiness” instead of tend to injustice, they feel absolutely no responsibility to their fellow citizens.

    That’s more of what I was referring to…

    May be just parsing words, but that’s why they call me a freak.

  6. Capt MidKnight Says:

    According to my information, the phrase “life, liberty , and the pursuit of happiness” was in Jefferson’s original draft and survived unchanged into the final version. I’ve seen the phrase you refered to – “life, liberty and property” somewhere, but I can’t remember where.
    Mark Twain used it for one of his best quotations, though:

    No man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session

    Most people who know anything about the Declaration remember the first paragraph (When in the course of human events …) , the first sentence of the next one (We hold these truths to be self evident … life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), and the final statement where the signers mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. What most don’t realize is what a long and angry and overtly treasonous document it really was, given that it is addressed to the King of one of the 18th century’s superpowers by his supposed “subjects.”

    Jefferson’s original draft was even more incendiary than the final version we know today. In it, he listed 27 separate charges against George III. All were retained in the final version except the charge below, blaming the King for the slave trade. This paragraph was left in by his editors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, but was stricken in it’s entirety by the Congress – probably because the issue of slavery was too contentious, even within the Colonies themselves.

    he [the King] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

    To us, having read about and lived through the Civil Rights movement of the last 50 years, it probably seems the height of irony and hypocrisy for the above statement to have been written by someone who, at the time he wrote it, owned and worked over 100 slaves on his own land, and continued to do so for the rest of his life. This, however, was only one of the contradictions in Jefferson’s life. He was a fascinating, but deeply flawed genius.

    For any who are interested, I highly recomend the following source:
    American Scripture:Making the Declaration of Independence
    Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I just ran across a quote that explained what I meant to say much better.

    I’d like to sound really intelligent by citing my source as Alasdair McIntyre in an unpublished essay titled, “How to Identify Ethical Principles” which was prepard for the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (but the truth was I read it in The Hauerwas Reader).

    “The central preoccupation of both ancient and medieval communities was characteristically: how may men together realize the true human good? The central preoccupation of modern men is and has been characteristically: how may we prevent men from interfering with each other as each of us goes about our own concerns? The classical view begins with the community of the polis and with the individual viewed as having no moral identity apart from the communities of kinship and citizenship; the modern view begins with the concept of a collection of individuals and the problem of how out of and by individuals social institutions can be constructed.”

    Thus, I’m saying that the “pursuit of happiness” has become the mantra of individualism, and that individualism has had very negative effects.

  8. Joe Longhorn Says:


    I realize that it is supremely arrogant of me to suggest an improvement upon the Declaration, but maybe “peace” or “well-being” is a better fit than “happiness”.

    I quibble a bit with the pursuit of justice or love as inalienable human rights. To me, those are personal responsibilities that we should keep in mind when exercising our “inalienable” rights.

  9. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I’ve often wondered where Jefferson came up with the that phrase unalienable rights. He begins by simply asserting that such rights exist, as if that were a proposition agreed to by everyone … We hold these truths to be self evident … and he had no obligation to defend them. In fact, I’ll bet that a lot of folks in the Europe of 1776 would have denied that anything like the rights claimed by Jefferson for himself and the colonists existed, endowed by some “Creator” or not. First on that list would have been the English King and most of the members of the British Parliament.
    Even in America, …All men are created equal … meant, in actual practice, all white adult males who were land owners.

    My opinion is that The pursuit of happiness was meant to suggest a right of the individual to pursue whatever goals he feels might lead to his happiness without government interference, and not a right to be provided “happiness” by the government, as many have come to view it.

  10. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Good points everyone. Now “justice” IS mentioned in the preamble, so it is also a fundamental issue in American government. I just think that folks have seized the “pursuit of happiness” phrase with gusto to back up a desire for self-gratification (while ignoring a much higher commitment to one another).

  11. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Now “justice” IS mentioned in the preamble,


  12. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Let me do my best Barney Fife impersonation here…

    BARNEY: “How’s it start, Ange?”

    ANDY: “We”

    BARNE: “WE…..”

    ANDY (whispering): the people

    BARNEY: “We the people….”

    Okay, I’ll skip doing Barney…

    We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish JUSTICE… and so on…

  13. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Let me do my best Barney Fife impersonation here…
    We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish JUSTICE… and so on…

    Well, Barney, you might check your documents. That “Preamble” comes from the Constitution, 11 years down the road.

    The Declaration Of Independence starts:

    When in the course of human events …

  14. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Ah, a misunderstanding!

    I “was” talking about the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. You were talking about a preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

    I wasn’t aware of the DofI having something considered a preamble, so I assumed referring to a preamble was understood to refer to the Constitution.

    Kind of like in Arkansas when we referred to THE university, we knew everyone understood we were talking about the one in Fayetteville? Oh, and those Arkansas State folks hated us for that!

    And of course the Church of Christ referring to THE church? Same idea…

    My apologies: “Justice” was referred to in the Preamble to the United States Constitution, so it is considered a fundamental issue in American government. That’s what I should have written.

  15. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Didn’t the musical “1776” have a scene where Ben Franklin and Jefferson argue about whether it should be “inalienable” or “unalienable”?

  16. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I think so, and in the recently-released version, George W. Bush portrays George Washington and argues over “illegal-alienable rights.”

  17. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Didn’t the musical “1776” have a scene where Ben Franklin and Jefferson argue about whether it should be “inalienable” or “unalienable”?

    According to my source, the hand written final draft, approved by Congress had “inalienable,” but when the published version came from the printer, it had become “Unalienable.” A typo or a last minute change by the typesetter.

    Al, you’re right that the Declaration has no preamble. In going back over the posts, I never used the term nor did anyone else before you.
    No big deal. At least you knew that there were two different documents.

    Again, I don’t think most people realize what a long, angry and treasonous document the Declaration really was. Signing it was a BIG deal. If the revelution had failed, it would have been the only piece of evidence necessary to send all its signers to the gallows.

  18. juvenal_urbino Says:

    A few brief notes.

    “Life, liberty, and property,” comes from, IIRC, John Locke. Locke, of course, was the source for much of the DofI (some of it verbatim), and a major theorist of property and of what rights adhere to it. The Founders were deeply influenced by him.

    Locke argued in his “Second Treatise” that it was essential in a free society for every citizen to own property; without real property ownership, there could be no real liberty. Gordon Wood has a nice discussion of this in The Radicalism of the American Revolution. It’s a point modern conservatism, very much concerned with property rights, and very eager to lay claim to Locke, prefers not to acknowledge.

    As for books about the DofI, I recommend (but don’t wholly endorse) the classic, The Declaration of Independence, by Carl Becker. I think it’s still available in paperback. On Jefferson’s political philosophy in general, Garrett Ward Sheldon’s The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson is a terrific little book. (I’m glancing at it on my shelves right now, and it can’t be more than 100 pp. long. You could easily read it in a week.)

    Al — MacIntyre, Hauerwas. Tomato, tomahto. They’re both drinking from the same well. If you’re interested in reading the political side of communitarianism, check out Michael Sandel. He’s the leading American exponent.

    (Why do I have this sudden urge to say something about the Dewey decimal system?)

  19. juvenal_urbino Says:

    BTW, Cap’n: 18 comments already. History’s doing pretty well for its first post. 🙂

  20. Capt MidKnight Says:

    BTW, Cap’n: 18 comments already. History’s doing pretty well for its first post. 🙂

    Thanks, but I’m a little disappointed that nobody has picked up on Donald Duck’s film debut or the social impact of the drive-in theater, the source of many a fond memory for my generation. :}

  21. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I don’t think I wanna know what adolescents were inspired to do in the back seats of cars by Donald Duck drive-ins. I’m a-feared.

    The only memory I have of drive-ins is the little spiral doo-dad you were supposed to burn slowly inside the car to keep the skeeters away. In terms of working, it didn’t.

  22. juvenal_urbino Says:

    But since you’re curious about the other data points in your comment, Cap’n, I’ll mention the one about John Wayne dying.

    What do we think of John Wayne as an American icon? What do we think of the John Wayne brand of Americanism and the American character?

    I loved every John Wayne movie I ever saw when I was a kid. Except maybe “The Shootist” and “The Quiet Man,” neither of which I was mature enough to get. Now those are two of the handful of Wayne films I still like. The others are:

    “The Searchers” — because it’s brilliant. Brilliantly written, brilliantly shot, and, as rarely happened in Wayne’s films, brilliantly acted. And it deals with dark corners of the American character; corners we prefer not to visit.

    “The Shootist” — because it shows the Wild West era crashing on the rocks of a new age; the old heroes trying to figure out where they fit in, if at all. And it shows the downside to the previously glorified life of the gunfighter. Again, Wayne’s acting is good.

    “Angel and the Badman” — okay, I’ll admit it. I like this one for one reason and one reason only: Gail Russell. Hubba hubba. Otherwise, the film has little to recommend it.

    “In Harm’s Way” — because it shows the heroism of troops in combat, without making the mistake of making them all out to be heroes, or making any of them out to be superhuman.

    “The Quiet Man” — almost as good as “The Searchers” in almost every category. Besides, who doesn’t like the Irish?

    “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” — because it shows how legends often grow from much earthier, more compromised realities. (By this same logic, I hate “Fort Apache.”)

    “Big Jake” and “The Sons of Katie Elder” — because they, too, show that being a gunman was a mixed blessing at best, even in the heyday of the Wild West. Besides, they’re just big, fun, sprawling, quest-for-justice westerns. Lightweight morality plays.

  23. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I don’t think I wanna know what adolescents were inspired to do in the back seats of cars by Donald Duck drive-ins. I’m a-feared.

    By today’s standards, it was generally fairly innocent, but you have to remember, that was back when Elvis was considered a threat to young people’s morals if they showed him below the waist

  24. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Someone once said that John Wayne (Marion Michael Morrison) made a whole career out of playing the same character – himself.

    There’s something comforting about a John Wayne movie, sort of like finding a McDonald’s in downtown Beijing or checking into a Holiday Inn. You know it won’t be fabulous, but you won’t be disappointed either. You know what to expect.

    I won’t quibble over any of your selections except to offer an addition – Red River – because it shows Wayne’s character as human and fallible and includes a generally believable performance by Montgomery Cliff.

    I think Wayne deserved an Oscar more for “The Shootist” than for “True Grit.” My favorite scenes in The Shootist are when he explains to the Ron Howard character his personal code of behavior – “I won’t be wronged; I won’t be insulted; and I won’t be laid hands on.” – and when he explains how he managed to kill so many men when he was only a little above average marksman:

    It’s not always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing. Most men, regardless of cause or need, will hesitate. They’ll take a breath or blink an eye. I won’t

    That may have been from a Hollywood script, but you see the truth of that statement born out in the lives of many successful killers – on both sides of the law.

    Once, a few years ago, I was off on a research trip into Iowa. I was on my way to see and photograph the site of a Bonnie and Clyde shootout and bank robbery when I happened to drive through the little town of Winterset. There, on a side street off the town square, was the boyhood home of Marion Morrison, as he was known when he lived there, before he went out to Los Angles and played a little football for UCLA (I think) and got jobs through the Alumni on movie sets during the summer where he was ‘discovered.” I think his first role was as “Sandy the Singing Cowboy.”
    And the rest is History.

  25. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’ve never quite understood the high regard in which “Red River” is held. It seems painfully wooden, to me.

    I did overlook one I like, though. “The Cowboys.”

  26. Al Sturgeon Says:

    My dad watched all the John Wayne movies, and I missed the opportunity to really sit down and enjoy them with him. I wish I had another chance at that…

    But out of all the bits & pieces I grudgingly sat through, I do remember that I really enjoyed “The Cowboys.”


  27. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I’ve never quite understood the high regard in which “Red River” is held. It seems painfully wooden, to me.

    I did overlook one I like, though. “The Cowboys.”

    “Red River” was “painfully wooden’ in spots, that’s true, but then again, most of the westerns of that era – late 40s early 50s – were. I don’t know why, but I’ve watched it again lately – AMC or Fox Movie Channel or somewhere – and liked it better than I remembered.

    Yes, I can’t believe, being a life long John Wayne “geek,” that I forgot The Cowboys.

    Another one, for just good old slapstick fun, would have to be McClintock. So many other good character actors – not just “the usual suspects” you expect to see in every John Wayne film from the mid 50s on.
    Maureen O’Hara must have been a really good sport to do the mud slide scene.

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